In fact, there are so many ways to make cookies and so many flavor options, the possibilities seem endless. How do you decide which ones to bake for the holidays for gifting, swapping and, of course, eating? We have a couple of family favorites that Must Be Made Every Year (cream cheese cookies, Viennese hazelnut crescents), and some that are rotated into active duty every few years (snowballs, Italian cookies).
But then there's wiggle room to audition new recipes. Here are some that caught our eye recently, including two that are gluten-free.
CINNAMON SWIRL COOKIES
"You can replace the cinnamon sugar in this recipe with 2 tablespoons of colored sugar; or, for a flavorful variation, we also created a maple-pecan swirl cookie. To get the maple-pecan mixture to stick, we grind the nuts fine and mix the sticky maple syrup and pecans with an egg yolk to bind them together." Makes about 48 cookies.
2 1/2 cups (121/2 ounces) all-purpose flour
3/4 cup (5 2/3 ounces) superfine sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces and softened
2 tablespoons cream cheese, softened
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1. Using stand mixer fitted with paddle, mix flour, superfine sugar and salt until combined. Add butter, 1 piece at a time, and mix until crumbly and slightly wet, 1 to 2 minutes. Add cream cheese and vanilla and mix until dough just begins to form large clumps, about 30 seconds. Knead dough in bowl by hand a few times until it forms large cohesive mass.
2. Transfer dough to counter and divide in half. Form each half into 5-inch square, wrap squares tightly in plastic wrap, and refrigerate until firm yet malleable, about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, whisk granulated sugar and cinnamon together in small bowl; set aside.
3. Working with 1 piece of dough at a time, roll between 2 large sheets of parchment paper to 12-by-7-inch rectangle. Remove top piece of parchment and sprinkle with half of cinnamon sugar, leaving 1/4-inch border along edges. Spritz sugar lightly with water to dampen.
4. With short side facing you, roll dough into tight log, pat log to measure 7 inches, and smear seam with your fingers to seal. Wrap logs tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, about 2 hours.
5. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Trim and discard about 1/2 inch from both ends of logs. Slice chilled dough into 1/4-inch-thick rounds and space them 1 inch apart on prepared sheets. Bake, 1 sheet at a time, until light golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes, rotating sheet halfway through baking. Let cookies cool on sheet for 3 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack. Cool completely before serving.
-- Adapted from "The Perfect Cookie: Your Ultimate Guide to Foolproof Cookies, Brownies & Bars" by the editors at America's Test Kitchen (America's Test Kitchen, 448 pp., $35)
PEPPERMINT CANDY CANES
"You can substitute sanding sugar for the granulated sugar used to decorate the exterior of the cookies ... for a super sparkly finish." Makes about 72 cookies.
21/4 cups (111/4 ounces) all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
16 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup (51/4 ounces) granulated sugar, plus 1/2 cup for rolling
1/2 cup (2 ounces) confectioners' sugar
2 large egg yolks
2 teaspoons peppermint extract
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
12 drops red food coloring
1. Whisk flour and salt in bowl. Using stand mixer fitted with paddle, beat butter, 3/4 cup granulated sugar and confectioners' sugar on medium-high until fluffy, 3 to 6 minutes. Add yolks, peppermint extract and vanilla, beat until well incorporated. Reduce speed to low, slowly add flour mixture, and mix until combined.
2. Set aside half of dough; add food coloring to remaining dough and mix fully. Shape each half into 5-inch square, wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and refrigerate until firm, about 2 hours.
3. Adjust oven racks to upper-middle and lower-middle positions and heat oven to 325 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Spread remaining 1/2 cup granulated sugar in shallow dish.
4. Roll each dough square into 9-inch square on piece of parchment. Flip 1 dough square on top of other dough square and gently roll to adhere. Cut square in half and refrigerate until firm, about 15 minutes. Cut 1 half into 41/2-by-1/4-inch strips. Gently twist each strip into spiral, rolling to smooth out edges. Roll in granulated sugar, shape into candy canes and space 1 inch apart on prepared sheets.
5. Bake until edges are light brown, 13 to 15 minutes, switching and rotating sheets halfway through baking. Let cookies cool on sheets for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire rack. Repeat with remaining dough.
-- Adapted from "The Perfect Cookie: Your Ultimate Guide to Foolproof Cookies, Brownies & Bars" by the editors at America's Test Kitchen (America's Test Kitchen, 448 pp., 448 pp., $35)
These chewy-crisp, gluten-free cookies are from Anja Schwerin, a cook/food blogger based in Germany. Note: Almond flour, aka almond meal, is made from finely ground almonds and is available at health food stores. These cookies can be stored in an airtight container overnight. Makes 30 cookies.
1/2 cup sesame seeds
1 1/2 cups almond flour (see above note)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/3 cup honey
1/3 cup tahini
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Spread sesame seeds in pie plate.
2. In small bowl, whisk almond flour with baking soda and salt. In large bowl, mix honey with tahini and vanilla extract. Add the dry ingredients and stir until well incorporated.
3. Using a 1 1/2-inch scoop, scoop dough into balls. Roll balls in sesame seeds, then flatten them into 1/4-inch-thick rounds. Transfer the rounds to prepared baking sheets, about 2 inches apart.
4. Bake cookies for about 8 minutes, until bottoms are golden; shift pans from top to bottom halfway through. Transfer cookies to rack and let cool before serving.
-- Adapted from "Desserts: More Than 140 of Our Most Beloved Recipes" by the editors of Food & Wine (Oxmoor House, 272 pp., $34.99)
FLOURLESS COCOA COOKIES
"Whenever I'm called upon to make something gluten-free, I opt for classics that are naturally sans wheat flour ... These cookies are tender, delicately chewy, and incredibly chocolaty." Makes 22 cookies.
3 large eggs
3 cups powdered sugar
1 1/4 cups unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup bittersweet chocolate chunks
Maldon salt, for sprinkling
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees with racks in upper and lower thirds of oven. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
2. In medium bowl, lightly whisk eggs. Set aside. Sift together powdered sugar, cocoa powder, cinnamon and sea salt. Add to eggs, whisking until mixture forms smooth batter, about 1 minute. Add vanilla and chocolate chunks and mix until fully incorporated; switch to rubber spatula if necessary.
3. Use 2-tablespoon scoop to portion batter onto prepared baking sheets, leaving about 1 1/2 inches between cookies. Sprinkle a little Maldon salt on each cookie.
4. Bake cookies, rotating sheets from front to back and top to bottom at halfway mark, until set around edges and cracked on top, 10 to 12 minutes. The cookies may look slightly underbaked in center. Cool completely on pans.
-- Adapted from "The Fearless Baker: Simple Secrets for Baking Like a Pro" by Erin Jeanne McDowell (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 384 pp., $30)