Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Holiday Cookies
For cookie swaps, gift-giving or simply enjoying throughout the season, we've got you covered in the cookie department.
Of all the things we love about the holidays—the carols, the lights, the parties—baking cookies just might be our favorite. This fun activity not only fills the house with wonderful aromas of toasty sweetness and spice, it creates lasting memories for family and friends. The only challenge when it comes to holiday cookie baking? Which cookie to choose! You’re likely familiar with the shortbread and sugar sorts—but have you tried your hand at a spritz, or a linzer? Do you know the difference between a gingersnap and a gingerbread? Is a windowpane the same as a stained-glass cookie? Is a crackle a crinkle? Whether you have all the answers or not, you’re in the right place—especially if you're ready to roll up your sleeves and get baking. Here's a rundown of 16 stand-out holiday cookies along with a bunch of our very favorite recipes.
Sometimes called holiday cutouts, Sugar Cookies are the season’s MVC (most valuable cookie) for a reason: Buttery, sweet and moist, they're also simple to make and super fun to decorate. Once you roll out the dough for cookies like our Simple Sugar Cookies or Holiday Cutout Cookies, use cutters to form a variety of shapes, and then decorate with royal icing, sprinkles, dots, colored sugar and more. Gather up a group of kids and adults for a cookie decorating party. Along with classic decorating supplies, crushed candy canes, colorful jelly beans and mini M&Ms make pretty toppings, too. Our tips for holiday cookie decorating provide more fun ideas.
Toasty linzer cookies are an adaptation of linzer torte—a Viennese classic filled with jam and topped with a lattice design—and a perennial favorite. After cutting out the nutty, lightly-spiced dough into circles or other shapes, you'll make a second peekaboo cut out in half of the shapes. Once baked, sandwich two cookies together with jam in between, placing the peekaboo cookies on top, so the colorful jam can shine through, then finish with an elegant dusting with of confectioners’ sugar. Our Raspberry-Almond Linzer Cookies are a go-to classic.
There are few holiday cookies prettier than windowpanes, also known as Stained-Glass Cookies. The base is a sweet, chewy sugar cookie, often in a round or star shape, with the middle cut out. After par-baking, the cookies are filled with crushed hard candies in different colors, then popped back into the oven where the candies melt and harden, resulting in a gorgeous stained-glass look. Remember to bake your cookies on a parchment-lined baking sheet, which will help keep those hardened candies from sticking to the pan.
To make these whimsical cookies, you'll roll cookie dough into balls, then indent them with your thumb (or a spoon!) to create space for a spoonful of delicious filling. Often made with sugar cookie dough and filled with jam, as in our Jam Thumbprints, these cookies are not limited to a specific dough or filling. For a fun twist, try our Peanut Butter and Chocolate Thumbprints—a tasty combination made with peanut butter cookie dough and a creamy chocolate filling.
Crisp and buttery, our Spritz Cookies are classically made by putting dough through a cookie press to form pretty shapes like Christmas trees and flowers. Spritz cookies are often sprinkled with sanding sugar for extra sparkle.
Spice cookies are generally sweetened with molasses and brown sugar and flavored with a delightful combination of warming spices. These Chewy Spice Cookies, for example, include ginger, cloves and nutmeg, but allspice and cinnamon are also commonly used. Fun takes on the classic include our Fresh Ginger Cookies and Oatmeal and Pie Spice Cookies. Yum!
Layer filling between two cookies and press together—voila, you’ve got yourself a sandwich cookie. Some favorites include our holiday-themed Sugar Cookie Stars; rich Chocolate Ganache Sandwiches; and Nutella-inspired Chocolate Hazelnut Sandwiches.
A Christmas classic for good reason, our Gingerbread Cookies use all the traditional holiday spices (ginger, cinnamon and cloves), and roll out smooth and pliable, making it easy to cut out Old-Fashioned Gingerbread Men or other shapes. All that’s left to do is decorate!
As you might have inferred from the name—snap!—gingersnap cookies are often crisper than spice or gingerbread cookies. Our Gingersnaps with Crystallized Ginger double down on the ginger, using both jarred and fresh iterations for an extra spicy cookie.
There are only six ingredients in our Classic Shortbread, and yet it’s hard to stop eating these crisp, crumbly love letters to butter. This type of cookie takes well to added flavors, as our recipe for Lemon Chamomile Shortbread shows.
One of the most famous Jewish cookies is Rugelach. And while the secret to this rolled cookie’s flaky-yet-tender texture is cream cheese, as you can see in our Apricot and Walnut Rugelach, one of our alternate recipes for Rugelach employs a savvy shortcut: store-bought pie crust!
Not to be confused with the pastel French confection macaron, Coconut Macaroons are sticky, sweet and chewy yet quite light, thanks to an egg white meringue. They are delicious plain, dipped in chocolate, or flavored with nuts, citrus or both, like in our Lemony Almond Macaroons.
Icebox cookies are any kind of cookie that you roll into a log and keep wrapped in wax paper in the fridge (aka the “icebox”) or the freezer, as you can see in our three-step primer on DIY Slice-and-Bake Cookies. Our Glazed Lemon Cookies is a longtime reader favorite.
Our Cinnamon Pinwheels are a great reminder of how versatile Basic Sugar Cookie Dough really is. Once you make the dough, you roll it out, sprinkle with cinnamon sugar and roll into a log. All that's left to do is slice and bake. The result looks and tastes like the cookie version of a cinnamon bun. You can use the pinwheel technique with jam or chocolate in place of cinnamon sugar for fun variations; use two or more differently flavored doughs; or color the dough in various shades with food coloring to emphasize the pinwheel effect.
Crackle (or Crinkle) cookies have all sorts of things going for them. For one: The name is irresistible. What sounds more delicious than a Crackle? (Answer: A Crinkle.) These large, cake-y cookies are crisp on the outside and chewy on the inside, and often coated with powdered sugar to emphasize the cracks that happen as they bake. (See our extra chocolaty Chocolate Crinkles.) Instead of powdered sugar, our Peanut Crackle Cookies are coated with an egg wash for shininess, and chopped peanuts for crunchy texture.
Italian for "twice-cooked", biscotti are classic cookies that are, literally, twice baked. Our Almond Biscotti are a perfect example. The dough is shaped into logs and baked until just firm. Once cooled, the logs are sliced crosswise to form the familiar biscotti shape. The cookies are then baked again, flat-side down, until crisp. Our bet is that you'll find them doubly delicious—especially when dipped into coffee.