The Best Holiday Cookie Recipes

IMG_5706From warm gingersnaps to cheesecakes tasting like spring, the stretch from Thanksgiving to New Year’s is definitely baking season. Here are some easy recipes and decorating tips to get you started. Enjoy!

Gingersnap Cookies
2-¼ cups unbleached all-purpose flour

2-3/4 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. baking soda

¼ tsp. table salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1-1/3 cups granulated sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
1/4 cup molasses
3 Tbs. finely chopped crystallized ginger

Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and heat the oven to 350°F. Line two large cookie sheets with parchment or nonstick baking liners.

In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, ground ginger, baking soda, and salt. In a large bowl, beat the butter and 1 cup of the sugar with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until well blended. Add the egg, molasses, and crystallized ginger; beat well. Add the dry ingredients and mix on low speed until well blended.

Pour the remaining 1/3 cup sugar into a shallow bowl. Using a 1-Tbs. cookie scoop, a small ice cream scoop, or two tablespoons, shape the dough into 1-inch balls. Roll each ball in the sugar to coat. Set the balls 1-1/2 to 2 inches apart on the prepared cookie sheets.

Bake, rotating the sheets halfway through baking, until the cookies are puffed and the bottoms are lightly browned, 12 to 14 min. If you touch a cookie, it should feel dry on the surface but soft inside. The surface cracks will look a bit wet. Let the cookies sit on the cookie sheet for 5 min. and then transfer them to a rack to cool completely.

Courtesy Fine Cooking Magazine

Lemon Cheesecake Squares

9 graham crackers (about 5 oz.)
2 oz. (4 Tbs.) unsalted butter, melted
1 lb. cream cheese or Neufchatel (1/3-less-fat cream cheese), at room temperature and cut into approximately 1-inch pieces

3/4 cup granulated sugar

3 Tbs. fresh lemon juice (from 1 or 2 lemons)
1 Tbs. finely grated lemon zest
2 large eggs
1 recipe Lemon Curd, warm or at room temperature

For the crust:

Cut two 8×16-inch pieces of parchment. Put the strips in an 8×8 baking pan (preferably straight-sided) so that they cross each other and the excess hangs over the pan’s sides. Push the parchment into the bottom and corners of the pan.

Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 325°F.

Break the graham crackers into a food processor and process until finely ground. Add the melted butter and pulse until the mixture resembles damp sand. Transfer the crumbs to the lined pan and press them firmly and evenly into the pan. Set aside.

For the cheesecake:

Rinse, dry, and reassemble the food processor. In the cleaned bowl, combine the cream cheese, sugar, lemon juice, and lemon zest. Process until smooth, about 30 seconds, stopping halfway to scrape the sides of the bowl. Add the eggs and process until the mixture is perfectly smooth and blended, stopping to scrape the sides of the bowl as necessary, about another 20 seconds.

Pour the cheesecake mixture into the prepared pan. Bake until the sides are slightly puffed and the center is dry to the touch, about 40 minutes. While the cheesecake is baking, make the Lemon Curd for topping the squares.

To finish:

When the cheesecake comes out of the oven, pour all of the curd onto the cheesecake and use an offset spatula to spread it evenly. Let cool to room temperature and refrigerate for at least 5 hours, preferably overnight. You can refrigerate it uncovered, as no detectable skin forms on the curd.

When the cheesecake is thoroughly chilled, carefully lift it out of the pan using the parchment “handles” and onto a cutting board. Slide the parchment out and discard it. Using a large, sharp knife, cut the cheesecake into quarters, and then cut each quarter into four equal squares.

Courtesy Fine Cooking Magazine

Lemon Curd

1/2 cup fresh lemon juice (from 2 or 3 lemons) 1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 oz. (2 Tbs.) unsalted butter, cut into pieces

Set a fine strainer over a medium bowl. In another medium bowl, whisk the lemon juice, sugar, and eggs until thoroughly combined and most of the sugar has dissolved.

Pour the lemon mixture into a small, nonreactive saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon or heatproof spatula, until the curd is steaming (but not boiling) and thickened and registers about 175°F on an instant-read thermometer, 3 to 7 minutes.

Take the curd off the heat, add the butter, and stir until the butter has melted. Pour the curd through the strainer to get rid of any lumps. Set aside but use to top the cheesecake while still warm.

Snow Balls

1 cup butter

¼ cup sugar

2 cups ground pecans

2 cups sifted flour

Confectioner’s sugar (powdered sugar)

Cream butter until soft. Add sugar, pecans and flour; mix well. Shape into balls using about a teaspoon of dough for each cookie. Bake in slow oven (300°f) on ungreased baking sheet. Bake about 45 min. Roll in powdered sugar when first taken from oven. Then later when cooled.

Makes about 4 dozen

Courtesy Kathryn Bruttomesso-Clarke

Cookie Decorating Tips

-If you want your sugar cookies shiny (and even more unhealthy!) brush them with corn syrup as they come out of the oven, and then sprinkle them with gelatin.

-Royal icing is great for decorating cookies and easy to color. Use gel food color if you want less of an artificial aftertaste. Royal icing dries hard and is easy to pipe.

-If using buttercream icing, wait for the cookies to COOL COMPLETELY before icing, or the icing will melt.

-Sounds obvious (it’s in the recipe, right!) but make sure your butter and eggs are room temperature before using.