My mother gave me her brown eyes, sense of humor, and an intrinsic need to show up at any Christmas-themed event with a box of homemade cookies weighing several pounds, at least. My mother also passed on her Judaism to me, but this is not, as you might think, in conflict with our Christmas cookie obsession.
When I was little, my mother would thrust these boxes into my hands as she sent me off to join the friends that graciously invited me to share in their celebrations. The first sign I was slowly (and delightedly) turning into her came when I got my first job out of college, and began testing recipes in October for the small cookie boxes I planned to pass to each of my coworkers that December.
A box of homemade Christmas cookies is, to me, the perfect gift. It’s thoughtful, beautiful, and almost guaranteed to be appreciated by the recipient. But you can’t just choose any mix of cookies to put in your box. To craft your cookie menu, you should think carefully about the mix of flavors, textures, colors, shapes, and any dietary restrictions your recipients might have. I usually like to make four or five different types of cookies, a mix of Christmas classics and more modern variations on seasonal flavors. It’s a lot to balance, so to help, here are the parameters I use when creating my Christmas cookie menu every year.
My must-have elements in a Christmas cookie box:
- Something chocolate
- Something with jam or fruit
- Something spiced and/or ginger
- A type of sugar cookie
My like-to-have elements:
- A green cookie
- A red cookie
- A mint cookie
- A pinwheel cookie
- A sandwich cookie
- Cute shape—hearts, stars, gingerbread men
- A gluten-free cookie
- A vegan cookie
Most of the time, a cookie on the menu combines two or more of these elements. For example: A chocolate sandwich cookie with peppermint creme ticks chocolate, mint, and sandwich off your list. A menu that combines most of these elements, and includes a good variety of textures, might look like this:
- Tiny, Salty, Chocolaty Cookies by Alison Roman for NYT Cooking
- Spiced Brown Butter Linzer Cookies by Claire Saffitz for Bon Appétit
- Spiced Molasses Cookies by Claire Saffitz for Bon Appétit
- Tie-Dye Butter Cookies by Rick Martinez for Bon Appétit (I’ve added peppermint extract to the icing for these and crushed candy cane for decoration)
- Vegan Gluten-Free Gingerbread Men by Minimalist Baker
I also usually like to include a cookie that’s not at all a classic. One year, I made these Matcha Cookies. Though matcha isn’t an expected Christmas flavor, these are perfectly warm and sweet, and the green is totally festive. Last year, I included these gorgeous Neapolitan Cookies, which were a huge hit.
Most years, I build my menus from the cookbooks my mother insists on sending me even when I insist I have no room left for them in my apartment. She tells me I need them, and she’s usually right.
You could build an excellent menu using just Sarah Kieffer’s 100 Cookies. This book is the one I reach for when I want to make something completely classic, like a jam thumbprint, but also includes innovative recipes like the Smoky Butterscotch Cookie, which I included on my menu one year. The sweetness of the homemade butterscotch combined with a savory smoke flavor, topped with fleur de sel, led me to become totally addicted.
One of my newer essentials is Jesse Szewczyk’s Cookies. I’m obsessed with the gorgeous photography and food styling, but even more so with Szewczyk’s creative and bold flavors. If you want to make something surprising and eye-catching for your box, Szewczyk’s Brownie Sandwich Cookies with Blood Orange Marshmallow Creme are stunning and decadent. Cookies also includes a section of savory cookies, like Rosemary Brown Butter Cookies, which are sure to impress as appetizers for any holiday party.
An all-time favorite is Claire Saffitz’ Chewy Molasses Spice Cookies from her incredible book, Dessert Person. The combination of ginger, black pepper, allspice, and cloves in this recipe give these cookies a warming effect, which is perfect for winter. I also love that Saffitz has you roll the dough in demerara sugar, which adds some extra sweetness, a bit of crunch, and a lovely sparkle. Though I find that Saffitz’s recipes in Dessert Person are easy to follow, if you need some extra guidance she demonstrates how to make many of them (including these cookies) on her YouTube channel, which is fun to watch whether you need the tips or not.
This year, I’m excited to try some recipes from The Cookie Bible, a new book from Rose Levy Beranbaum which has an entire chapter dedicated to holiday cookies. Beranbaum is the author of 13 of other cookbooks, including the The Cake Bible and The Baking Bible, which many home bakers swear by. The Cookie Bible includes recipes for almost any cookie you can think of, and many more you likely haven’t yet, like Caramelized Maple Macadamia Squares.
As you assemble your boxes, remember to line any cardboard in parchment paper so that the boxes don’t get oily. Freeze any cookies you want to ship, so that they’ll be fresh when they arrive. And do yourself a favor and save some for yourself to enjoy.