7 Easy Recipes for Your Holiday Cookie Exchange

A tray full of dozens of different kinds of cookies is sure to make the holidays a bit brighter, but unless you’re Martha Stewart, who has time to do all that baking? Enter the holiday cookie exchange. At these gatherings, each person shows up with enough of their favorite holiday cookie so that every guest can take home a dozen or so. After the party, you have a vast array of baked goods for your cookie table at home without all the fuss. Even better, you don’t need to be a master baker to get in on the action. Even the most inexperienced cooks can make any of these seven easy recipes, which are perfect for a Christmas cookie exchange.

1. Snowball Cookies

snowball cookies

Snowball cookies | iStock.com

Snowball cookies — also known as Mexican wedding cakes or Russian tea cakes — are a festive addition to any holiday cookie platter. Plus, with just six ingredients and minimal prep time, it’s easy for even the most harried of bakers to whip up a batch. Recipe from Allrecipes.com. Makes about 2 dozen cookies as written; double if you need a large quantity.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup butter
  • ½ cup confectioners’ sugar, plus more
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup chopped pecans
  • ¼ cup finely crush peppermint candy canes (optional)

Directions: Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Add the butter, ½ cup of confectioners’ sugar, and the vanilla to a large bowl. Cream until fully combined. Stir in the flour, chopped pecans, and salt.

Roll dough into 1-inch balls and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake for about 15 minutes, until bottoms are golden, being careful not to overbake. Before cookies have cooled, roll them in confectioners’ sugar. Let cool, then roll in confectioners’ sugar again. If you like, add the finely crushed candy canes to the confectioners sugar before the second dusting.

2. Chewy Gingerbread Cookies

gingerbread cookies

Gingerbread cookies | iStock.com/Liefvoort

Slightly spicy gingerbread cookies are a perennial holiday favorite. These chewy treats from Wholefully are seasoned with plenty of ginger, plus cloves, cinnamon, and pepper and are ready in just 45 minutes. Makes 3 dozen cookies.

Ingredients:

  • ¾ cup unsalted butter, softened
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • ½ cup packed brown sugar
  • ¼ cup molasses
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
  • ⅛ teaspoon black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • Granulated sugar, for rolling

Directions: Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Cream together the butter and sugars in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.

Add the molasses, egg, and vanilla and mix until well combined. Then add the baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, pepper, and salt. Mix until just combined. Add the flour and mix until well combined, scraping the sides of the bowl as necessary.

Cover the dough and chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Remove the dough from the fridge and roll into 1-inch balls. Then, roll each ball in granulated sugar. Place on the prepared baking sheet, leaving at least 2 inches between each cookie.

Bake for 7 to 8 minutes, just until the cookies start to crack and the edges begin to brown. Do not overtake. Remove from oven and let cookies rest on the baking sheet for a minute or two. Then, transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely.

3. No-Bake Chocolate Rum Balls

Balls of coconut and chocolate

Chocolate rum balls | iStock.com/simonidadjordjevic

Not a baker? Not a problem. Even the most clueless cook can make these five-ingredient, no-bake chocolate rum balls from Babble. (If you’d prefer an alcohol-free cookie, substitute orange juice for the rum.) You will need to plan ahead, though, since the dough needs to chill in the refrigerator for 3 hours. Makes 1½ dozen cookies.

Ingredients:

  • 1 (12-ounce) package chocolate wafers, finely crushed
  • 2½ cups flaked coconut, divided
  • 1 cup finely chopped walnuts or pecans
  • 1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
  • ¼ cup rum or orange juice

Directions: In a large bowl, toss together the cookie crumbs, 1½ cups of the coconut, and the walnuts. Stir in the sweetened condensed milk and rum; mix well. Cover and refrigerate for 3 hours, or overnight.

Roll the dough into 1-inch balls and roll the balls in the remaining coconut. Store in a tightly covered container in the refrigerator.

4. Peppermint Fudgy Brownie Cookies

peppermint candies

Peppermint candies | iStock.com

A box of brownie mix saves the day in this super-simple Christmas cookie recipe, which is perfect for when you forgot the office cookie exchange is tomorrow. The addition of crushed candy canes and chocolate chips makes these cookies extra festive. Recipe from Life’s Ambrosia. Makes 3 dozen cookies.

Ingredients:

  • 1 (19.5-ounce) package brownie mix
  • 1¼ cup all purpose flour
  • ¼ cup brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 3 to 5 tablespoons cold water
  • 1 teaspoon mint extract
  • 1 cup semi sweet chocolate chips
  • 2 to 3 candy canes, cut into small pieces

Directions: Whisk the brownie mix, flour, and brown sugar together in a large bowl. Stir in the eggs, one at a time, using a heavy spoon. Add the melted butter, 3 tablespoons of cold water and mint extract. Stir to combine. Batter will be thick. Fold in the chocolate chips, cover, and refrigerate for 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease a baking sheet or line with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.

Roll about 1 tablespoon of dough into a ball and place on the cookie sheet. Repeat with the remaining dough, leaving about 3 inches between the cookies. Press down slightly on the cookies but don’t flatten completely. Bake for 5 minutes.

Remove cookies from oven and top each with a few pieces of crushed candy cane. Return cookies to oven and bake for 5 to 6 minutes more. Remove from oven and let cool on the baking sheet for a few minutes, then transfer to a wire rack.

5. Sugar Cookies

sugar cookies

Undecorated sugar cookies | iStock.com

Sugar cookies are a must-have on your holiday treat table. This simple and versatile recipe from Good Housekeeping takes just 10 minutes to make and creates the perfect blank canvas for decorating. If you have time, make your own icing and get creative with your designs, but if not, simply garnish with colored sugar crystals or nonpareils and they’ll taste just as good. Makes 5 dozen cookies.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1½ cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • Ornamental frosting (optional, see recipe here)
  • Sugar crystals or other holiday cookie décor

Directions: In large bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt. In separate large bowl, with mixer at low speed, beat butter and sugar until blended. Increase speed to high; beat until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Reduce speed to low; beat in eggs and vanilla until mixed, then beat in flour mixture just until blended, occasionally scraping bowl with rubber spatula. Divide dough into four equal pieces; flatten each piece into a disk. Wrap each disk with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

Preheat oven to 350 degree Fahrenheit. Remove one piece of dough from refrigerator. On lightly floured surface, with floured rolling pin, roll dough until slightly less than ¼-inch thick. With floured 3-inch to 4-inch cookie cutters, cut dough into as many cookies as possible; reserve trimmings. Place cookies, 1 inch apart, on two ungreased large cookie sheets.

Bake until edges are golden, 12 to 15 minutes, rotating cookie sheets between upper and lower oven racks halfway through. Transfer cookies to wire rack to cool. Repeat with remaining dough.

When cookies are cool, prepare the ornamental frosting if you like; use along with sugars and candies to decorate cookies. Set cookies aside to allow frosting to dry completely, about 1 hour. Store in tightly covered container (with waxed paper between layers if decorated) at room temperature for up to 2 weeks, or in freezer up to 3 months.

6. Glazed Maple Cookie

maple syrup

Bottles of maple syrup | iStock.com

Shortbread cookies with a maple glaze are a welcome alternative to the chocolate- and peppermint-flavored concoctions crowding holiday cookie trays this time of year. If you bring a few dozen of these sweet treats to your cookie exchange, you can be sure people will be begging you for this recipe from Martha Stewart. Makes 40 cookies.

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour, spooned and leveled
  • 1 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1½ cups pure maple syrup
  • 2 large egg yolks

Directions: Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, with racks in upper and lower thirds. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour and salt. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in ½ cup maple syrup and egg yolks. With mixer on low, beat in flour mixture.

Drop batter by tablespoons, 3 inches apart, onto two baking sheets. Using a flat-bottomed glass dipped in flour, flatten cookies to a ¼-inch thickness. Bake until golden at edges, 12 to 15 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through. Transfer cookies to wire racks to cool. In a small saucepan, simmer 1 cup maple syrup until reduced to ¾ cup. Spoon over cookies.

7. Salted Caramel-Stuffed Chocolate Chip Cookies

mixing bowl of chocolate chip cookie dough

Chocolate chip cookie dough | iStock.com/Tamilisa Miner

Chocolate chip cookies are delicious any time of year, but during the holidays, they come stuffed with a special surprise — sweet and melty caramels. Recipe from The Recipe Critic. Makes 20 cookies.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup plus 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • ¾ cup light brown sugar
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup semisweet or milk chocolate chips
  • 20 Rolo chewy caramels
  • Coarse sea salt, for sprinkling

Directions: Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Whisk the flour, baking soda, cornstarch, and salt in a medium bowl. Add the butter and sugars to a second medium bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer and beat until fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla and beat until fully combined. Add the wet ingredients to the bowl with the dry ingredients. Fold in the chocolate chips.

Roll 2 tablespoons of cookie dough into a ball. Place a caramel in the center and fold the dough over. Place on the cookie sheet. Bake cookies for 8 to 10 minutes, until light golden brown. Remove from oven and let cookies rest for 10 minutes before sprinkling with sea salt and transferring to a wire rack.

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