7 Delightfully Delicious Christmas Cookies

Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/rwentechaney/

Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/rwentechaney/

Searching for the origin of leaving cookies for Santa leads to many different explanations. Some date it to a pagan ritual, associated with the winter solstice. Another historical link ties it to Clement Clarke Moore’s The Night Before Christmas, with Santa’s belly that “shook like a bowl full of jelly,” cementing our image of Santa as a man with an incurable sweet tooth. However the Christmas cookie tradition started, it has bonded the two together. So in honor of that “jolly old elf,” here are 7 perfect Christmas cookies to leave for good old Saint Nick, take to a party, or feed your own sweet tooth.

1. Russian Tea Cakes

This cookie goes by a number of names, including Mexican Wedding Cakes. These little, round shortbread-esque cookies are covered in powdered sugar, making them appear as if they were covered in snow, which is perfect for the holidays.

Ingredients:

1 cup butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
6 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup chopped walnuts
1/3 cup confectioners’ sugar for decoration

Directions: Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. In a medium bowl, cream butter and vanilla until smooth. Combine the 6 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar and flour; stir into the butter mixture until just blended. Mix in the chopped walnuts. Roll dough into 1 inch balls, and place them 2 inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 12 minutes in the preheated oven. When cool, roll in remaining confectioners’ sugar. Yield: 3 dozen.

Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/lonbinder/

Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/lonbinder/

2. Pecan Tassies

Not only are these cookies a tasty treat, but the presentation is bound to impress. They are baked in mini muffin pans, making them resemble mini pecan pies.

Ingredients:

2 cups margarine/butter
4 (3 ounce) packages cream cheese
4 cups all-purpose flour
3 eggs
2 1/2 cups packed brown sugar
3 tablespoons melted butter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 pinch salt
1 1/2 cups chopped pecans

Directions: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (175 degrees C). In a medium bowl, mix together the margarine and cream cheese until well blended. Beat in flour, 1 cup at a time, until the mixture forms a smooth dough. Roll into small balls, and press into the bottoms and sides of tart pans or mini muffin pans.

In another bowl, mix together the eggs, brown sugar, butter, vanilla, and salt. Stir in the pecans. Use a spoon to fill each of the crusts 2/3 full with the filling mixture. Bake for 15 to 18 minutes in the preheated oven, until shell is light brown, and the filling has puffed up. Cool, and carefully remove from pans. Yield: 5 dozen.

Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/kristinausk/

Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/kristinausk/

3. Sugar Cookies

For many people, it just isn’t Christmas without a plate full of sugar cookies, cut into shapes of reindeers, stars, trees, and other holiday themes. Whip up these sugar cookies when you want a plate full of cookies that will delight in look and taste.

Ingredients:

1 cup of butter, softened
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 egg
1 1/2 teaspoons almond extract
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt

Directions: In a large bowl, cream butter and confectioners’ sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in egg and extracts. Combine flour and salt; add to creamed mixture and mix well. Chill for 1 to 2 hours. On a lightly floured surface, roll dough to 1/8-in. thickness. Cut with 2 to 1/2 inch flour-dipped cookie cutters. Place on greased baking sheets. Bake at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 7 t0 9 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove to wire racks to cool. Yield: 6-7 dozen.

Frosting Ingredients:

6 tablespoons butter, softened
3 cups confections’ sugar
2 to 4 tablespoons milk
food coloring, colored sugar, edible glitter, or sprinkles of choice

Directions: For frosting, in a small bowl, combine the butter, sugar, vanilla, and enough milk to achieve a spreading consistency. Tint with food coloring if desired. Frost cookies; decorate as desired.

Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/sanfranannie/

Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/sanfranannie/

4. Rugelach

Rugelach is actually a Jewish pastry, typically eaten during Hanukkah. But rugelach has made its way into Christmas cookie recipe collections. If you’re looking to try something new, it will make an excellent addition to your cookie tray this year

Ingredients:

8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 pound unsalted butter at room temperature
1/4 cup granulated sugar plus 9 tablespoons
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3/4 cup raisins
1 cup walnuts, finely chopped
1/2 cup apricot preserves, pureed in a food processor
1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon milk, for egg wash

Directions: Cream the cheese and butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until light. Add 1/4 cup granulated sugar, salt, and vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour and mix until just combined. Dump the dough out onto a well-floured board and roll it into a ball. Cut the ball in quarters, wrap each piece in plastic, and refrigerate for 1 hour. To make the filling, combine 6 tablespoons of granulated sugar, brown sugar, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, raisins, and walnuts.

On a well-floured board, roll each ball of dough into a 9-inch circle. Spread the dough with 2 tablespoons apricot preserves and sprinkle with 1/2 cup of the filling. Press the filling lightly into the dough. Cut the circle into 12 equal wedges–cutting the whole circle in quarters, then each quarter into thirds. Starting with the wide edge, roll up each wedge. Place the cookies, points tucked under, on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Chill for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Brush each cookie with the egg wash. Combine 3 tablespoons granulated sugar and 1 teaspoon cinnamon and sprinkle on the cookies. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until lightly browned. Remove to a wire rack and let cool. Yield: 4 dozen.

Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/75898532@N00/

Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/75898532@N00/

5. Gingerbread Cookies

Just like iconic sugar cookies, gingerbread men and women pop up in houses throughout the holiday season. As seen with the rugelach, and sugar cookies, the dough will need to be refrigerated, so plan ahead to give yourself plenty of time to bake and decorate.

Ingredients:

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 3/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
1 large egg
1/2 cup molasses
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest (optional)

Directions: Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Prepare baking sheets by lining with parchment paper. In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon, and cloves until well blended. In a large bowl (KitchenAid’s great for this) beat butter, brown sugar, and egg on medium speed until well blended. Add molasses, vanilla, and lemon zest and continue to mix until well blended. Gradually stir in dry ingredients until blended and smooth.

Divide dough in half and wrap each half in plastic and let stand at room temperature for at least 2 hours or up to 8 hours. (Dough can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 4 days, but in this case it should be refrigerated. Return to room temp before using.) Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease or line cookie sheets with parchment paper. Place 1 portion of the dough on a lightly floured surface. Sprinkle flour over dough and rolling pin. Roll dough to a scant 1/4-inch thick. Use additional flour to avoid sticking. Cut out cookies with desired cutter — the ginger bread man is our favorite of course. Space cookies 1 1/2 inches apart.

Bake 1 sheet at a time for 7-10 minutes (the lower time will give you softer cookies) Remove cookie sheet from oven and allow the cookies to stand until the cookies are firm enough to move to a wire rack. After the cookies are cool you may decorate them any way you like.

Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/vp/

Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/vp/

6. Chocolate Peppermint Thumbprints

Peppermint has an iconic Christmas status of its own. Candy canes hang from trees, while the flavor is used in desserts, and drinks throughout the season. You can even give the cookies a little sparkle by rolling them in sanding sugar, instead of granulated, before baking.

Ingredients:

2 cups all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled)
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon fine salt
1 1/4 cups (2 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
5 ounces semisweet chocolate chips (3/4 cup)
1/2 teaspoon pure peppermint extract

Directions: Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, with racks in upper and lower thirds. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder, and salt. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat 1 cup each butter and sugar on medium-high until light and fluffy, 3 minutes. Add egg and vanilla; beat to combine. With mixer on low, gradually add flour mixture and beat to combine.

Place 1/2 cup sugar in a small bowl. Roll dough into 1-inch balls, then roll in sugar to coat. Place balls, 1 inch apart, on two parchment-lined baking sheets. Bake 5 minutes. Remove sheets from oven; with the small end of a melon baller or the bottom of a small round measuring spoon, make an indentation in center of each cookie. Bake until cookies are just set but still look moist, 4 minutes (do not overbake). Let cool on sheets on wire racks.

In a microwave-safe bowl, microwave chocolate chips and 1/4 cup butter in 10-second increments until melted; stir in peppermint extract. Let cool until thick enough to pipe, 5 minutes. Transfer mixture to a large zip-top bag; snip 1/4-inch hole in one corner. Pipe chocolate into cookie indentations.

Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/yevgene/

Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/yevgene/

7. Paradise Macaroons

Macaroons — not to be confused with the sandwich-like macarons — have long held a spot on the Christmas cookie platter, and this highly rated recipe will have guests wanting to continue indulging in this holiday treat.

Ingredients:

2 (7 to 8-ounce) packages sweetened shredded coconut
2 ounces sweetened condensed milk
Pinch kosher salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 large egg whites at room temperature
5 ounces granulated sugar
12 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
1 ounce vegetable shortening
2 ounces finely chopped dry-roasted macadamia nuts

Directions: Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Combine the coconut with the sweetened condensed milk, salt, and vanilla in a medium mixing bowl. In the bowl of a stand mixer with a whisk attachment, beat the egg whites on medium speed until foamy. Gradually add the sugar and continue to whip the whites until medium peaks form, 6 to 7 minutes. Gently fold the egg whites into the coconut mixture.

Scoop tablespoon-sized mounds onto a parchment-lined half sheet pan and bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown. Immediately transfer the parchment with the macaroons to a cooling rack. Cool completely before topping. Fill a 4-quart pot with enough water to come 2 inches up the side, set over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Combine the chocolate chips and shortening in a small metal or glass mixing bowl and set over the simmering pot. Stir occasionally until melted, then remove from the heat.

Dip the cooled cookies in the chocolate mixture, sprinkle with the chopped macadamia nuts and place on parchment paper to set, about 30 minutes. Yield 3-4 dozen.

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