Christmas Cookie Swap Classics

‘Tis the season… okay, it’s always cookie season.

We LOVE the true classics… sugar cookies shaped like snowflakes, snicker-doodles and gooey chocolate chip cookies… but today we’re here to revive some Christmas cookie classics you may have forgotten about!

Whether you’re baking for Thanksgiving, a holiday cookie swap party, to leave out for Santa, or to enjoy for yourself… our list is sure to spice up your life! We’ve broken down our list in order of what we found to be easy, intermediate, difficult and… take a look, give them a try and report back – tell us how it goes!

WARNING: consuming the desired amounts of the following sweet treats may result in what we call “extra holiday weight.”

Easy:

 

Salty Sweet Chocolate Bark

My mom always makes an obscene amount of extraordinarily delicious food around the holidays… and we love her for it. This simple salty/sweet bark was always on the list! Every holiday season you’re going to run into a lot of predictable peppermint bark – but as an alternative, this salty sweet chocolate bark could not be easier or yummier! For the same reasons you love chocolate covered pretzels, peanut M&Ms and salted caramel lattes – you’ll love this bark. Follow our step-by-step video below- we dare you not to eat it all before you make it to your cookie swap!

 

 

 

Peanut Butter Blossoms

These cookies are as recognizable as they are delicious. Another staple in the McDermott household every holiday season… and whattdya know? Our friends at Betty Crocker came through with a recipe that yields enough PB Blossom cookies for an exchange party. These are delicious, classic, and of course, easy-peasy!

What you’ll need:

  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar set to the side
  • approx. 7 dozen Hershey’s® Kisses® Brand milk chocolates

Heat oven to 375°F. In large bowl, beat 1/2 cup granulated sugar, the brown sugar, peanut butter, butter and eggs with electric mixer on medium speed, or mix with spoon. Stir in flour, baking soda and baking powder.

Shape dough into 1-inch balls; roll in additional granulated sugar. Place about 2 inches apart on un-greased cookie sheet.

Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until edges are light brown. Immediately press 1 chocolate candy in center of each cookie while they’re still soft. Remove from cookie sheet to wire rack.

 

Intermediate:

 

Italian Anise Cookie

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MY ALL TIME FAVORITE. I’ve ranked this recipe as intermediate because it takes an incredibly deft hand to nail the flavor and texture of these Christmas classics. Anise tastes like black licorice… not everyone’s favorite. BUT if you use the flavor sparingly and in conjunction with lemon and vanilla extract, it gives these cookies a floral/citrus kiss that’ll have you re-evaluating the world’s distaste for licorice. If you’re REALLY not into anise… extra lemon or orange extract may be substituted… but try it, you’ll like it!

Like many classics, each family has their own version: this is mine!

What you’ll need:

COOKIES

  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 1/2 cup sugar
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 3 drops anise extract
  • 3 drops lemon extract
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 4 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

ICING

  • 2 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 3 tablespoons milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon anise or lemon extract (or mix, to taste!)
  • nonpareils (multi-colored round sprinkles)

Preheat oven to 350° and line a few cookie sheets with parchment

Combine sugar, eggs, anise, lemon, and vanilla extracts. Add softened butter a little at a time, mixing on low speed for a minute. Combine dry ingredients in separate bowl and slowly add to wet mixture. Mix well until a soft dough is formed. Chilling the dough for 15 minutes is optional.

Drop a teaspoon of dough a few inches apart from one another (dough WILL expand to about twice its size in the oven – so to avoid a SUPER COOKIE, leave plenty of space between each)

Bake for 16 to 18 minutes or until light golden brown. These cookies will not get MUCH color, so once they begin to crack on the top and brown on the bottom… they’re good to go.

While they’re baking, make your icing. Combine ingredients, adding milk sparingly until desired consistency is achieved. Drizzle the glaze over the warm cookies and immediately sprinkle with nonpareils. Cool on a wire rack, and go do something else or you’ll want to immediately eat the entire batch.

ENJOY!

 

Potato Candy

While the Irish aren’t particularly known for great cuisine… they sure know how to use the heck out of a potato! As someone who had never tried this before, I was incredibly intrigued at the prospect of creating something sticky-sweet out of a potato… as a major fan of all things potatoes: mashed potatoes, baked potatoes, french fried potatoes, potato tots… I knew my starchy friend wouldn’t let me down. This recipe wasn’t the easiest – but only because having never made it before, I kept second guessing my dough’s consistency. Believe me, I’m down to try and try again until I get it just right!

 

Difficult:

 

Eggnog Florentines

 

These have been ranked difficult because I went into it thinking they’d be intermediate at most… and I burned the first batch! These are AMAZINGLY crisp and nutty, but don’t let them out of your sight for a second or they’ll turn on you. Also, sandwich cookies are inherently difficult because there’s a whole separate recipe just for the filling… and assembling them all takes some time and patience.

But um… WOW. I knew just by the looks of ’em they’d become a new favorite, and they are! Eggnog is such a classic flavor that even your very first bite of these crisp beauties will invoke warm Christmas memories. Thanks to the folks at Smitten Kitchen for a great step-by-step recipe with mouth-watering pictures.

Below is their recipe with VERY SLIGHT modifications based on how much spice I personally used while making them.

What you’ll need:

PECAN FLORENTINES

  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup pecan halves
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, cold is fine
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

EGGNOG FILLING

  • 4 large eggs, hard-boiled
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 tablespoon whole milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • Pinch of ground cloves
  • 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

Make the florentines: Heat oven to 350°. In a food processor, combine the flour, pecans, cinnamon and salt and pulse until the nuts are very finely chopped, about 1 minute. Turn the nut mixture out into a large bowl.

In a small-medium saucepan set over high heat, combine the butter, sugar, heavy cream and syrup and bring it to a boil. Boil the mixture for one full minute, then turn off the heat and add the vanilla. Pour this caramel mixture over the nut mixture and stir to combine them. Set aside for at least 30 minutes, until it has cooled. Mixture will firm up and seem worrisome, but you should not be worried.

Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Using a 1/2 or 1 teaspoon measure, scoop the dough into small balls and place them 3 inches apart on prepared baking sheets. Bake 7-9 minutes until the cookies are flat, thin and golden brown. They will not crisp until they are cool, so don’t worry if they’re soft.

Let cool on baking sheets for 5 or so minutes (so they’ll set up a little) before using a thin metal spatula to carefully transfer the cookies to paper towels to blot excess oil for a couple minutes. After they’ve been blotted, transfer cookies to a cooling rack.

Make the eggnog filling: Peel the eggs and separate the yolks from the whites. Press the egg yolks through a fine-mesh strainer so that they become mashed and powdery. Place in a large bowl with butter, confectioners’ sugar, milk, vanilla, nutmeg, cloves and salt. Beat together until smooth, then raise mixer speed and beat until mixture is thick and frosting-like, about three minutes.

Spread a dollop of eggnog filling on one cookie, then gently press a second one on top of it. Repeat with remaining cookies and filling. Place them in the fridge for 10 minutes before serving, to firm up the filling.

 

Linzer Cookies

 

These are adorable and delicious… but don’t let that fool you! Having never made these before, these ended up being slightly more difficult than anticipated. The hardest part was keeping the jelly neat and not oozing out of the heart and sides. I do have hope that with a few more tries (and twist my arm, I’ll make these again) this recipe could be demoted to intermediate. Practice makes perfect!

I’ve always trusted Ina Garten for a great recipe, so I tried her Mini Linzer Cookies. What you’ll need:

  • 3/4 pound unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 3 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup good raspberry preserves
  • Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting

Preheat the oven to 350°. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix together the butter and sugar until they are just combined. Add the vanilla. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour and salt, then add them to the butter-and-sugar mixture. Mix on low speed until the dough starts to come together. Dump onto a surface dusted with flour and shape into a flat disk. Wrap in plastic and chill for 30 minutes.

Roll the dough 1/4-inch thick and cut 2 3/4-inch rounds with a plain or fluted cutter. With 1/2 of the rounds, cut a hole from the middle of each round with a heart or spade shaped cutter. Place all the cookies on an un-greased baking sheet and chill for 15 minutes.

Bake the cookies for 20 to 25 minutes, until the edges begin to brown. Allow to cool to room temperature. Spread raspberry preserves on the flat side of each solid cookie. Dust the top of the cut-out cookies with confectioners’ sugar and press the flat sides together, with the raspberry preserves in the middle and the confectioners’ sugar on the top.

 

And if you’re feeling especially daring…

 

French Macaron

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No we’re not talking fluffy coconut macaroons here. French Macarons are the delicate sandwich cookies sent to us from heaven… at least that’s how they taste.

Oh my… where do I begin? The frustration and time put into perfecting these little beauties is oh so worth it. But I promise you, it doesn’t matter how experienced you are with baking… this will take a few attempts to perfect. Achieving a perfectly smooth shell with petite ruffled “feet” on each cookie is near impossible… don’t worry, the “mess ups” still taste great!

There are quite a few varied recipes for macarons. Today we’ll emulate lifestyle goddess Martha Stewart – I used her recipe and was able to (7 attempts later) create some magic in the kitchen – and just look at how cute they turned out with their little sprinkles!

What you’ll need:

FOR THE MACARONS

  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 3/4 cup almond flour
  • 2 large egg whites, room temperature
  • Pinch of cream of tartar
  • 1/4 cup superfine sugar

FOR THE FILLING

  • Salted butter
  • Raspberry jam
  • Powdered sugar

Okay I’ll admit it… I didn’t measure my ingredients for the raspberry butter cream. If I could guess I’d say I used a stick of softened salted butter… at least 5 tablespoons of raspberry jam… and kept adding powdered sugar until it whipped up in my mixer into a frosting-like consistency and tasted right. Whoops! When you have to continue tasting this magical concoction as you adjust and add ingredients… you’ll thank me for not recording the measurements. Sampling raspberry buttercream is really what Christmas is all about.

Another thing I found was incredibly helpful was having a piping bag – none of that snipping a corner off a sandwich bag business – to be sure each cookie turns out the same size and shape, you’ll appreciate the control a piping bag gives you.

DIRECTIONS:

Pulse confectioners’ sugar and almond flour in a food processor until combined. Sift mixture 2 times.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Whisk whites with a mixer on medium speed until foamy. Add cream of tartar, and whisk until soft peaks form. Reduce speed to low, then add superfine sugar. Increase speed to high, and whisk until stiff peaks form, about 8 minutes. Sift flour mixture over whites, and fold until mixture is smooth and shiny.

Transfer batter to a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch plain round tip, and pipe 3/4-inch rounds 1 inch apart on parchment-lined baking sheets, dragging pastry tip to the side of rounds rather than forming peaks. Tap bottom of each sheet on work surface to release trapped air. Let stand at room temperature for 15 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees. Bake 1 sheet at a time, rotating halfway through, until macarons are crisp and firm, about 8-10 minutes. After each batch, increase oven temperature to 375 degrees, heat for 5 minutes, then reduce to 325 degrees.

Let macarons cool on sheets for 2 to 3 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack. (If macarons stick, spray water underneath parchment on hot sheet. The steam will help release macarons.)

Sandwich 2 same-size macarons with 1 teaspoon filling. Serve immediately.

And let’s not forget… a big glass of milk to wash it all down!

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