Secrets of great Christmas cookies

Make the best holiday treats

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Cookies are as much a mainstay of the Christmas holiday season as candy canes and Santa Claus. This year, learn the secrets of great Christmas cookies and make holiday treats the whole family will remember.

Whether you’re participating in a cookie swap or just want to get in the holiday spirit, Christmas is all about cookies. Drop cookies, freezer cookies, gingerbread and more — the sheer variety is dizzying! Check out these tips from cookie masters to cut the stress and up the enjoyment.

Plan ahead

Don’t leave your cookie making to the last minute. “Start early!” advises John Griffin, the voice behind the blog Kitchen Riffs. “It's better to make a batch a day for a week rather than try to squeeze it all into a weekend.” 

Variety

If you’re planning on making more than one batch of cookies, mix it up. “Mix flavors, colors, shapes and textures when choosing the cookie recipes,” says Alanna Kellogg of Kitchen Parade. “You don’t want all chocolate cookies any more than all round shapes, all nut-based cookies any more than all iced cookies, all butter cookies more than all meringue cookies.”

Old and new

It’s easy to turn to our old standbys year after year, but also think about mixing things up to keep it fresh and fun. “Our family had a bunch of traditional cookies,” says Griffin, “and every year my mother would bake many of them, though not all (some of the recipes she did every other year or so). But she always included a new recipe or two, some of which became every year favorites.”

Fresh ingredients

For the best baked goods, make sure your ingredients are fresh. “Baking powder and baking soda lose their oomph,” says Kellogg. “Unless you’re a regular baker or happen to have new containers, invest in new ones.” She also suggests getting fresh flour and Crisco.

Tip: Butter temperature is important in baking, so make sure to follow the directions.

Line your sheets

To make cleanup a snap, line your baking sheets with parchment paper. Besides making for fewer dishes, Christey Denney of The Girl Who Ate Everything says it also makes for better cookies. “I've done tests, one batch with it and one without parchment paper and the ones with parchment paper always win.” Kellogg agrees, saying that “I’ve learned to prefer parchment, for the bottoms of the cookies turn slightly crispy and golden. With silicone mats, the cookies bake fine but the texture just seems off to me.”

Don’t over bake

When making your cookies, remember that they’ll continue to crisp as they cool, so be sure not to over bake them. “This is a pet peeve of mine,” says Denney. “It ruins everything about the cookie when it's over baked... the texture, the color, the taste...”

Time to decorate

Finally, the cookies are out of the oven and cooled and it’s time to give them that final Christmas touch. Kellogg prefers sprinkles over decorating sugars, and recommends adding a touch of flavored extract to the icing. No pastry bags? No problem. Kellogg recommends snipping a small corner off a plastic freezer bag and using that instead.

Have fun!

Most importantly, have fun! Get the kids involved and make it a family tradition. Break out old favorites, try new ones and don’t be afraid to get a little messy. It’s all in the name of holiday spirit!

More Christmas cookie inspiration

Christmas cookie recipes
Christmas and holiday cookie pops
How to decorate cookies

Katherine Martinelli is an internationally published food and travel writer and photographer. In addition to writing for Fabulous Foods, Katherine also contributes to various sections of SheKnows She recently released her first cookbook, Puff Pastry at Brunch: 10 Sweet and Savory Recipes to Start Your Morning (Hang Time Press, 2012). Katherine writes about her adventures in food at KatherineMartinelli.com.