A few evenings after we decorated our Christmas tree and placed it in the front window, we looked outside to see a child with his mouth wide open, gaping in awe and admiration at our ornament-laden tree. More than the letters to Santa/ long lists of wants, I love seeing my kids’ excitement on Christmas Eve when they leave a plate of cookies for Santa, along with a handwritten note and a drawing. Their eager anticipation of Santa won’t last forever, so I want to hold onto this innocent part of their childhood for as long as I can.
Santa’s cookies usually include a combination of store-bought and homemade. The holidays bring out everyone’s inner baker. Some families have traditional recipes handed down through the generations. For others, it may be as simple as slicing and baking pre-made refrigerated cookie dough. Some communities host elaborate cookie exchanges, which can lead to the establishment of temporary cookie-baking sweatshops in previously peaceful kitchens. Regardless of how homemade the cookies are, baking Christmas cookies is all about sharing and tradition, and a whole lot of butter, sugar and flour.
For your holiday potlucks, parties, cookie exchanges and perhaps for Santa, I’m sharing some of our recent favorites (click on the titles for the recipes). These are all takes on cookie classics with flavor variations inspired by international flavors (as Santa might encounter as he circumnavigates the globe tomorrow night). Have fun making and eating lots of cookies, but make sure to save some for Santa. Merry Christmas!
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For all you chocolate fiends out there, this is a simple but sophisticated take on a chocolate butter cookie. It is just slightly sweet with its base of bittersweet chocolate and is festooned with a festive salty garnish of pistachios and sparkling demerara sugar. Enjoy this with a cup of milky tea or a cappuccino. I adapted this from a recipe that originally appeared in Gourmet, 2003.
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Have you experienced the delight of an oozy caramel accented with the crunch of sea salt? The first taste will make you feel like your palate has gone to finishing school. Inspired by these confections as sophisticated as only the French could make, I have created a brown sugar shortbread with a sprinkle of sea salt on top.
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Inspired by the Mexican tradition of wrapping tamales for Christmas, I’ve encapsulated the essence of a sweet corn tamale into a cookie. This cookie tastes something like a corn muffin but even better, because it’s a cookie. These have chewy centers and crisp edges, to satisfy both camps of cookie eaters. To gild this lily, I’ve rolled the edges in golden sugar, pretty enough to decorate a Christmas tree, and special enough to leave for Santa.
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An iconic treat in Taiwan is the pineapple cake. It’s beloved because it intensely captures the flavor of Taiwan’s prized, sweet pineapples. The classic cake looks like a thick fig newton. The crust is somewhere between a shortbread and a cake, and the pineapple filling is thick and chewy, almost like the French paté de fruit. Taiwanese people go crazy for these, but to the uninitiated they can be an acquired taste and texture. So I’ve tried to capture the essence of pineapple cakes into a more familiar treat by reversing the ratio of shortbread to pineapple. Like the original, this shortbread filled with diced pieces of dried pineapple is great with tea.