Metro-East Living

5 Christmas cookies to sweeten up your holiday recipe collection

Espresso Snowflakes get a dusting of powdered sugar and nutmeg just before serving.
Espresso Snowflakes get a dusting of powdered sugar and nutmeg just before serving. MCT

Baking Christmas cookies requires commitment.

If you’re a veteran at it, you know this. Get the recipes out; make a shopping list. Shop, unpack, organize on the counter. I typically take my recipe cards and set each in a different area of the kitchen. Then, I place all the ingredients and utensils/bowls specific to that recipe next to the card. For example, I have only one recipe that calls for cream of tartar and butter extract, so they go with the card for the Mexican Wedding Cookies. The vegetable oil sits with the Christmas Sandwich Cookies, which also gets the biggest bowl I own and the Swedish wire mixing spoon (for stiff batter). And so forth.

On my center island I put the common ingredients, like flour, sugars and butter (to soften), vanilla, plus measuring cups, spoons and cookie sheets (there are never enough of these).

Then, I have to strategize: What gets baked first? How many recipes need 350 degrees? What dough (those darn wedding cookies) needs to sit in the freezer for at least an hour before rolling out?

While something’s in the oven, I race downstairs to the basement to retrieve all my holiday tins. I cut wax or parchment paper circles or squares to fit inside and between layers of anything gooey (Pecan Pie Bars).

And you know, this certainly takes more than a full day or two in the kitchen. But that’s where the magic happens: I tend to feel harried and a bit stressed this time of year, then I start making cookies and relax and smile. Working with my hands and knowing what I create will bring smiles to the faces of friends and family, I guess that’s my gift to myself as well as others.

With that in mind, here are five cookie recipes you might want to add to your Christmas collection.

Holiday cookie tips

  • Check freshness of baking powder, baking soda and spices like cinnamon.
  • Have all ingredients measured and ready to go.
  • Use several baking sheets. Line them with parchment paper for easier cleanup.
  • Make sure the butter is softened but not too warm. It will behave better in the oven.
  • Use unsalted butter.
  • Be sure cream cheese is at room temperature. Cold cream cheese doesn’t whip well.
  • Don’t over-mix the dough or the cookies will turn out hard. If using a stand-up mixer, stop mixing when you hear the mixer groan a little and slow down.
  • If you are using jams for filling thumbprint cookies, test them first. Use jams that won’t thin out in the oven. A raspberry filling from Solo works well and can be found at most supermarkets.
  • Cool cookies one minute on a baking sheet, then transfer to a wire rack to finish. They’ll continue to bake if left on the baking sheet.

Mary Spencer, owner of Taste, A Cook’s Place, in Northville, Calif.

Sand Tarts

2 sticks butter

1 1/4 cups powdered sugar, divided

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 teaspoon water

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 cups chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, with an electric mixer, cream butter and 1/4 cup sugar. Add vanilla and water; mix well.

Gradually add flour and continue to mix until well combined. The dough will be a little stiff. Add pecans and mix well. Using about 1 tablespoon of dough per cookie, shape into small crescents or short rolls.

Bake on ungreased baking sheets 18 to 20 minutes.

Place remaining sugar in a shallow dish. Remove cookies from oven and when cool enough to handle, roll in confectioners' sugar. Handle these gently, as they can break or crumble easily.

Lemony Moons & Stars

1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) butter, at room temperature

2 1/2 cups powdered sugar, divided

3 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons lemon zest, divided

2 teaspoons lemon extract

3 cups (12.75 ounces) flour

3 tablespoons cornstarch

3/4 teaspoon salt

5 teaspoons fresh lemon juice, more if needed

Heat the oven to 325 degrees.

In the bowl of a stand mixer using the paddle attachment, or in a large mixing bowl using an electric mixer, beat the butter and 1 cup powdered sugar over medium speed until creamy. Beat in 3 tablespoons lemon zest and the extract.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, cornstarch and salt. Beat in the dry ingredients over low speed.

Shape the dough into a disk, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until chilled and firm, about 1 hour.

Roll the chilled dough to a thickness of 3/8 inch between two sheets of lightly floured wax paper to prevent sticking. Cut the dough into desired shapes using cookie cutters.

Place the cookies an inch apart on cookie sheets and bake until the edges are slightly golden, about 10 minutes, depending on size. Cool on racks until the cookies are just warm.

To make the glaze, combine the remaining 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar and remaining 2 teaspoons lemon zest and fresh lemon juice in a medium bowl, whisking until smooth (add additional lemon juice or water to thin or powdered sugar to thicken, if needed).

To frost, turn the warm cookies over and dip the tops into the glaze. If desired, sprinkle with yellow sugar. Set aside until the glaze is hardened. Store the shortbread in tins with wax paper separating the layers.

Yield: 4-dozen (3-inch) cookies

Per serving: 106 calories, 1 gram protein, 13 grams carbohydrates, 6 grams fat, 15 mg cholesterol, 6 grams sugar, 37 mg sodium.

Los Angeles Times

Santa’s Coat Buttons

Santa’s coat buttons are so much fun to make with a group of children.

2 cups (9.5 ounces) flour

2/3 cup powdered sugar

1/2 teaspoons salt

1 cup (2 sticks) plus 2 tablespoons butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces, at room temperature

1/4 cup red decorating sugar

1 teaspoon white decorating sugar

In the bowl of a food processor, combine the flour, powdered sugar and salt. Add the butter, pulsing until the dough comes together.

Remove the dough and divide in half. Shape each half into a log about 1 1/2 inches in diameter, rolling in waxed paper. Chill the dough until firm enough to slice, at least 30 minutes.

Heat the oven to 350 degrees, and line 2 baking sheets with parchment. Pour the red sugar into a small bowl or baking dish to a thickness of about 1/2 inch.

Cut each dough log into half-inch rounds. Press each round lightly onto the sugar to coat, then place, sugar side up, onto the parchment-lined baking sheet 1 to 2 inches apart. Sprinkle a few white crystals on top of each cookie for added sparkle. Use the blunt end of a skewer or similar item to make 2 indentations for “buttonholes.”

Bake the cookies for 8 minutes, then reverse the sheets and continue to bake until the cookies are golden on the bottom (no coloring on top), 8 to 12 minutes longer. Cool on racks.

Yield: 3 dozen cookies

Per serving: 93 calories, 1 gram protein, 9 grams carbohydrates, 6 grams fat, 15 mg cholesterol, 4 grams sugar, 33 mg sodium.

Los Angeles Times

Hazelnut Nutella Thumbprints

*Editor’s note: Feel free to substitute walnuts or pecans in this recipe. The taste won’t be exactly the same, but it will still make delicious cookies.

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/3 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened

2/3 cup sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 egg yolk

2 tablespoons whole milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup finely chopped hazelnuts*

1 egg white, lightly beaten

1/2 to 1 cup Nutella (hazelnut spread)

Toasted whole hazelnuts*

In a small bowl, combine flour and cocoa powder; set aside.

In a medium bowl, beat butter with an electric mixer on medium speed for 30 seconds. Add sugar and salt; beat until combined, scraping the side of the bowl occasionally.

Beat in egg yolk, milk and vanilla until combined. Beat in the flour mixture. Cover and chill in the refrigerator for 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease 2 baking sheets or line them with parchment paper. Shape dough into 1-inch balls. On a sheet of waxed paper, place the chopped hazelnuts. Dip the balls in the egg white and roll in the chopped nuts. Place cookies 1 inch apart on a prepared baking sheet.

Using your thumb, make an indentation in the center of each cookie. Bake 10 to 12 minutes, or until edges are firm.

Remove from oven and immediately use the rounded side of a 1-teaspoon measuring spoon to press down the center of each cookie. Transfer to wire racks and cool.

Once cool, spoon or pipe with a pastry bag fitted with a round tip a teaspoon of Nutella into the center of each cookie. Press a whole hazelnut on top.

Yield: 30 cookies

Per serving: 115 calories, 7 grams fat, 12 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams protein, 23 mg sodium, 15 mg cholesterol, 1 gram fiber.

Mary Spencer, owner of Taste, A Cook’s Place, in Northville, Calif.

Espresso Snowflakes

Instant espresso powder gives these simple shortbread cookies powerful flavor. Dust them with confectioners’ sugar just before serving for the prettiest presentation.

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

3/4 cup packed light brown sugar

2 tablespoons instant espresso powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1/3 cup confectioners’ sugar

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Cream together butter, brown sugar, espresso powder and salt in a large bowl with an electric mixer until smooth, 3 to 5 minutes.

Add flour, 1/2 cup at a time, until incorporated, scraping down sides of bowl as necessary.

Divide dough into 2 portions. Press each into a 5-inch disk, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes and up to 2 days.

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Line several baking sheets with parchment paper.

Roll dough to 1/4-inch thick on a lightly floured countertop. Turn dough often, loosening it from the countertop with a large, offset spatula to prevent sticking.

Use a 3-inch snowflake cookie cutter to cut dough, rerolling and cutting scraps. Place cut cookies on prepared baking sheet, 1 inch apart. Bake until firm, 15 to 18 minutes. Slide cookies, still on parchment, onto wire racks to cool completely. Store cookies in airtight container at room temperature up to 3 days.

Place cookies on rimmed baking sheets (this will contain the mess). Whisk together confectioners’ sugar and nutmeg in a small bowl. Spoon mixture into a fine strainer and shake strainer over cookies to dust heavily just before serving.

Yield: 36 (3-inch) cookies