holiday cookies.

Dedicated to my sister who, for the first time, made a gigantic cookie assortment for her office. I am beyond proud.

This is what I like to call The Tier One Cookie Assortment. All of these cookies are tailor-made to make in large quantities for either many individual gifts or a big office cookie tray. I don’t think it does anyone any favors if you stress over finicky recipes when you’re in the throes of the holiday baking season, so this is my gift to you. Four crazy-simple, crazy-good cookie and bar recipes for you. 

Each of these treats involve some sort of “holding pattern,” which i think makes them perfect because you can do it in stages, and on your own timetable. I think it’s a good sign when a summary of a recipe is “mix everything together, flatten into a disk, chill.” DONE. I can definitely do that, and so can you. I used to stress myself out with trying to make all sorts of schmancy cookie things, but these four are all proven crowd-pleasers, and guaranteed to be a hit wherever they go. Promise.

You have work to do, so I won’t ramble. The recipes:

Raspberry Shortbread Bars

Adapted from Food & Wine Annual Cookbook 2006: An Entire Year of Recipes. A fabulous all-purpose resource if there ever was one. I plan on getting the whole series at some point.

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 sticks (1 1/2 cups) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 to 2 cups seedless raspberry preserves (depending on how much raspberry you want in them and how well it spreads for you)
  • confectioner’s (icing) sugar, for dusting

In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder and salt. In another medium bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar at low speed until combined. Beat in the egg yolks and vanilla. Add the dry ingredients and beat at low speed until a soft dough forms. Halve the dough and form into logs. Wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate until firm, at least 2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 350° and butter an 9 x 13-inch glass baking dish. Working over the baking dish, coarsely shred 1 log of dough on the large holes of a box grater, evenly distributing the dough in the baking dish. Do not pat or press the dough. In a medium bowl, stir preserves until smooth; this helps when you begin to spread. Using a spoon, dollop the preserves over the dough and gently spread it in an even layer. Grate the second log of dough on top. Using a rubber spatula, tuck in any shreds of dough sticking to the side of the baking dish to prevent them from burning.

Bake the shortbread on the middle rack of the oven for about 45-50 minutes, checking around the 40-minute mark for doneness, covering it with foil halfway through baking. The shortbread is done when the pastry is golden all over. Let cool completely, then cut into bars. I cut mine into maybe 1 x 1-inch squares. Dust the tops with confectioners’ sugar and serve.

No-Fail, No-Spread Sugar Cookies

Officially my own recipe, including variations. We’ve used it for years in our family and they are a HUGE hit any time of year.

Also awesome: you can safely make a double batch of these and they’ll still turn out great. See note at the bottom for variations.

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) butter, softened
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • zest of one lemon normal-size lemon (optional)

In a medium bowl, combine the flour and salt with a wire whisk. In either a large mixing bowl or a food processor (which is what I use for these most often), beat the butter and sugar until fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add the egg and the vanilla (and lemon zest, if using) and beat until incorporated. Add flour mixture in 2 parts, beating after each addition until blended. Be careful not to overmix these; you want a nice, soft dough with no dry spots.

Using your hands, gather dough together into a ball, and flatten into a disk on a piece of plastic wrap. wrap tightly and refrigerate at least 1 hour until firm.

When you’re ready to roll, preheat your oven to 325˚F. Lightly flour a surface, keeping some extra flour on hand in case your dough starts to stick. Roll out dough to 3/8 inch thickness. I like a thick sugar cookie for several reasons; one, it stays tender, and two, they are so much easier to cut that way. Cut out your cookies and place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake cookies, one tray at a time (seriously, no cheating) for 13-15 minutes. Mine tend towards the 13 minute mark. If you roll them thinner, make sure you reduce the time by a few minutes. Cookies should be done but not browned.

A word about variations: 

I’ve found that some people love the lemon zest version, and some want a more “vanilla” cookie. If you want it even more vanilla-ish, I’d suggest leaving out the lemon zest, reducing the white sugar to 1/2 cup, and adding 1/4 cup dark brown sugar. Alternately, if you like an almond flavor to your cookie, add 1/4 teaspoon almond extract when you add the vanilla. Add or leave out the zest. Honestly, I think I’ve used all dark brown sugar and no white sugar in these a few times and they’ve been lovely also. You’ll find the way you like best.

The Royal Icing: at least, How I Do It.

I don’t particularly believe the cream of tartar version is the best way to do royal icing. My foolproof, always-I-use-this icing recipe is as follows:

  • 2 egg whites, beaten to form soft peaks
  • 4 cups confectioners (icing) sugar
  • EITHER the juice of one lemon (strained) OR 1 teaspoon vanilla extract with some water on standby for extra liquid

Beat your egg whites in an immaculate bowl until soft peaks form. add in confectioners sugar. Going slowly, drizzle either your lemon juice or your vanilla extract into the bowl until desired consistency is reached. If you are doing the vanilla version and you run out, use water. Your consistency should depend on what you’re using it for: if you’re “flooding” the cookies (think full coverage/paint can), you’ll want it a little thinner. if you’re drawing with it, you may want it a bit thicker. and you can do both: make it thick, separate it into your bowls and color (using food color paste, people…it works much better than the liquid for bold colors), then drip a few drops of water in the bowls you want to be thinner.

Millionaire’s Shortbread

For millionaire’s shortbread (aka the homemade Twix bar), I’ll direct you to the Lido Deck, er,  this post.

Chewy Chocolate Gingerbread Cookies

For Chewy Chocolate Gingerbread Cookies, if you would be so kind as to go to this post.

Happy baking to all this holiday season. You can totally do this.

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