The Baltimore Sun

There's something different about a holiday cookie. It's not only great-tasting and good-looking; it's also often a bridge to the past. And more than the everyday cookies we might make for our own families, holiday cookies are meant to be shared with a wider circle - the neighbors and friends, postal workers and teachers so important to our daily lives.

It's in that spirit that we offer our annual issue of best cookie recipes from readers. From the 120 recipes we received, we baked our way to 10 favorites. Each cookie has become special to the person who shared it, from the Hungarian nut slices a Towson widower sent in memory of his wife to the Italian cookies a Laurel woman's father twisted into whimsical shapes.

We'll be sending out a cookbook prize for each of the winning recipes. Our prize? A new batch of cookies - and stories - for the holidays.


Here are some tips for making and sharing your cookies this season:

* Have a little friendly competition at your cookie exchange, recommends Hersheys.com. "Make up some fun categories (The Cookie Santa can't Refuse, Most Decorative Cookie, etc.), supply a couple of prizes, and then let your guests vote for the winners," the Web site says.

* You'll find lots of ideas for hosting a cookie swap from a cookie party veteran at cookie-exchange.com. One of them - baking your cookies early - makes the treats easier to transport, because they'll dry out a little.

* Packing cookies for mailing? Air-popped popcorn can help them get there in one piece, says Martha Stewart's Web site. Put a scoop or two of the popcorn (make sure it has no oil) on the bottom of your mailing box, set the cookie tin on top of that, then cover with more popcorn.

* Avoid storing soft and crisp cookies together, says Goodhousekeeping.com. The chewy ones will soften the crunchy ones.

* To get a perfectly round sliced cookie, store your logs of dough in empty paper-towel tubes, says Fine Cooking's latest annual cookbook.

* Here's how to make inexpensive colored sugar at home, from The America's Test Kitchen Family Baking Book: Sprinkle about 1/2 cup granulated sugar evenly over the bottom of a pie plate or metal bowl. Add about 5 drops of food coloring and mix thoroughly. To be sure color is evenly distributed, push sugar through a fine-mesh sieve, then spread on a pie plate or baking sheet and let dry completely.


Jean Penman Psaros cut this recipe out of a magazine long ago, and the confection has been a fixture in her holiday baking for about 10 years. She likes the coconut, because "it sort of comes as a surprise," and her family loves that flavor. We liked the way the coconut and orange notes harmonized in this pretty cookie.

(makes 2 1/2 to 3 dozen)

1 1/4 cups unsweetened flaked coconut

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

2 1/4 cups sifted powdered sugar (sifted, then measured; divided use)

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

3/4 teaspoon coconut extract

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 tablespoons grated orange peel

1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake coconut on a rimmed baking sheet until light golden, stirring occasionally, about 12 minutes. Watch carefully.

Using an electric mixer, beat butter, 1/2 cup of powdered sugar and both extracts. Blend well. Beat in flour, orange peel and salt. Stir in coconut. Cover and chill at least 1 hour or up to 1 day. Soften dough slightly before shaping.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper. Using 1 level tablespoon of dough for each cookie, roll dough into balls. Place on prepared sheets, spacing 1 inch apart.

Bake until golden on the bottom but pale on top, about 17 minutes. Roll hot cookies in the rest of the powdered sugar; reserve the sugar that's left over. Cool cookies on a rack and roll in reserved powdered sugar again, coating generously.

Store in an airtight container at room temperature.

Courtesy of Jean Penman Psaros, Sparks

Per cookie (based on 3 dozen): : 131 calories, 1 gram protein, 7 grams fat, 5 grams saturated fat, 16 grams carbohydrate, 1 gram fiber, 13 milligrams cholesterol, 34 milligrams sodium


This oatmeal cookie is chock-full of flavors and textures - just as Paige Coyle hoped it would be when she created it in an attempt to win her neighborhood's annual picnic cookie contest. We thought this cookie was special enough to make for the holidays. Coyle says it freezes well, too.

(makes about 4 dozen)

7 ounces macadamia nuts, chopped

1 cup unsalted butter, softened

1 cup packed light-brown sugar

1/2 cup white sugar

2 eggs at room temperature

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon pumpkin-pie spice

1/2 teaspoon salt

3 cups old fashioned oats (divided use)

1 cup sweetened coconut

one 12-ounce bag white chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread nuts on a cookie sheet and bake for 8 minutes, giving them a shake after 4 minutes. Set aside. With an electric mixer cream together the butter, brown sugar, white sugar, eggs and vanilla extract until smooth.

In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, pumpkin-pie spice and salt; mix into the sugar mixture.

Using small batches, process 1 1/2 cups of the oats in a food processor or blender for just 10 seconds. Stir the other 1 1/2 cups old-fashioned oats, the processed oats, coconut, toasted nuts and white chocolate chips into the sugar/flour mixture.

Drop batter by spoonfuls onto an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake 10 to 12 minutes, until light and golden. Do not over-bake. Cool on a wire rack.

Courtesy of Paige Coyle, Raleigh, N.C.

Per cookie: : 170 calories, 2 grams protein, 10 grams fat, 5 grams saturated fat, 19 grams carbohydrate, 1 gram fiber, 20 milligrams cholesterol, 66 milligrams sodium


Richard J. Kopro sent this recipe in memory of his wife, Mildred, who he said made dozens of these cookies for family and friends during their 62 years of marriage. We liked the balance of nuts, poppy seeds and slight sweetness in this slim cookie, which would go nicely with tea.

(makes about 5 dozen)

1 cup soft butter

1 cup sugar

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1 1/2 cups finely chopped almonds

1/2 cup poppy seeds

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 cups flour

2 tablespoons sugar, for rolling

Cream butter and sugar in a large bowl. Add egg, vanilla and cinnamon and beat 2 to 3 minutes.

Add almonds and poppy seeds and beat 1 minute. Gradually stir in salt and flour by hand and mix until incorporated. Refrigerate dough for about 30 minutes.

Form the dough into 2 rolls, about 2 inches in diameter each. Roll the cylinders in the 2 tablespoons sugar. Wrap rolls in wax paper and refrigerate 2 to 3 hours.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Cut chilled dough into 1/4 -inch slices and place on an ungreased cookie sheet. (Tester's note: We lined ours with parchment paper.) Bake about 20 minutes, or until edges are golden brown.

Courtesy of Richard J. Kopro, Towson

Per cookie: : 78 calories, 1 gram protein, 5 grams fat, 2 grams saturated fat, 8 grams carbohydrate, 1 gram fiber, 12 milligrams cholesterol, 12 milligrams sodium


Sandy Mack of Laurel wrote that this was her father's recipe, which he made every Christmas for years for his family and friends until he died in 1999. "My mom has continued the tradition and makes them for us," she says. "It's just been a fun thing." These cookies have a flexible dough that's very easy to twist into all sorts of shapes, which makes for a nice alternative to decorating cutouts.

(makes about 6 dozen)

6 cups all-purpose flour, sifted

1 cup sugar

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/2 cup shortening

1/2 cup (1 stick) margarine or butter, softened

3 eggs, slightly beaten

1/4 cup milk

1 teaspoon vanilla

anise seed to taste (We used 1 teaspoon.)


3 cups powdered sugar

1/4 cup water

sprinkles for decoration

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Place flour, sugar and baking powder in a large bowl and mix together by hand. Add shortening and margarine and knead by hand. Add eggs, milk and vanilla and again knead by hand. Sprinkle anise seed into the dough and knead until well mixed.

Take small amounts of the dough and make thin ropes, then twist into shapes - wreaths, bows, pretzels, figure 8s, etc. (The dough will puff up when it's baked, so make the ropes as thin as possible.) Do not make the shapes too large; all should be about the same size to ensure even baking.

Place on nonstick cookie sheets, or line sheets with parchment paper. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until light brown on the bottom. Cool on a wire rack.

Mix powdered sugar and water to make a fairly thick icing. Spread over cooled cookies and decorate with sprinkles.

Courtesy of Sandy Mack, Laurel

Per cookie: : 95 calories, 1 gram protein, 3 grams fat, 1 gram saturated fat, 16 grams carbohydrate, 0 grams fiber, 9 milligrams cholesterol, 19 milligrams sodium


Carol Moran wrote to us that she found this recipe in The New German Cookbook, by Jean Anderson and Hedy Wurz. "My mother who was born in Germany baked a similar cookie, but her original recipe was lost after her death," Moran wrote. "I wanted to keep her memory and traditions alive, so I searched for a recipe that would remind me and my family of her and her culinary delights."

Moran makes these and six other types of cookies each year for family and friends. She especially likes the nutty taste of this cookie, and its contrast with the lemony glaze. So did we.

(makes about 4 dozen)

12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

2/3 cup granulated sugar

finely grated zest of 1 lemon

1 1/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg or ground mace

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 extra-large egg yolks

1 cup finely ground blanched almonds

1 cup finely ground walnuts

1 2/3 cups sifted all-purpose flour

1 1/2 cups unsifted confectioners' sugar blended with 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (for glaze)

Cream the butter, granulated sugar, lemon zest, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt in a large electric mixer bowl at high speed for 2 to 3 minutes, until light and fluffy. Reduce the mixer speed to low, add the egg yolks, and beat for 1 minute.

Add the almonds, walnuts and flour and beat at lowest mixer speed just enough to combine.

Divide the dough in half, shape each half into a ball, then flatten into a 6-inch circle. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for about 2 hours. When ready to proceed, preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Roll each half of the dough to a thickness of 1/8 inch between sheets of lightly floured wax paper. Slide the papers of dough onto a baking sheet, set in the freezer, and chill for 5 minutes, so that the dough will be easier to cut. Very gently peel off the top sheet of wax paper.

Using a lightly floured 2 3/4 -inch star cutter, cut into the cookies, right on the bottom sheet of the wax paper. Then, using a lightly floured spatula, carefully transfer the cookies to lightly greased baking sheets, spacing 1 inch apart.

Bake the cookies in the middle of the oven for 10 to 12 minutes, or until lightly browned around the edges. Cool the cookies on the baking sheets on wire racks for 3 minutes. Remove to a large wooden board and cool about 5 minutes longer.

To glaze the cookies: : Using a pastry brush, brush the still-warm cookies with a thin wash of the glaze. Let the glaze harden and apply a second thin layer. Once the glaze has hardened, layer the cookies between sheets of wax paper and store in airtight containers.

Note:: This glaze has a strong lemon flavor. If you'd like yours to be a little less lemony, substitute 1 tablespoon water for one of the tablespoons of lemon juice.

Courtesy of Carol Moran, Phoenix

Per cookie:: 102 calories, 2 grams protein, 6 grams fat, 2 grams saturated fat, 11 grams carbohydrate, 1 gram fiber, 16 milligrams cholesterol, 14 milligrams sodium


Carolyn Ward found this recipe in an old cookbook - she can't remember the title - and has been making it since her daughters, now grown, were little.

"I like it because it's easy and the lemon," she said. "For Christmas I bring them into work, and everybody just loves them."

(makes 20)

1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened

one 3-ounce package cream cheese, softened

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

cooking spray

2/3 cup sugar

2 large eggs, beaten

3 tablespoons butter or margarine, melted

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Beat 1/2 cup butter and the cream cheese at medium speed with mixer until creamed. Gradually add flour, beating well. Shape pastry into twenty 1-inch balls. Press balls into miniature muffin pans coated with cooking spray. Set aside.

Combine sugar and next 3 ingredients; stir well. Spoon mixture evenly into pastry shells. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes. Cool in pan on wire rack for 10 minutes. Remove from pan and cool completely on wire rack.

Courtesy of Carolyn Ward, Glen Burnie

Per cookie: : 130 calories, 2 grams protein, 8 grams fat, 5 grams saturated fat, 13 grams carbohydrate, 0 grams fiber, 42 milligrams cholesterol, 21 milligrams sodium


This recipe comes from a long-ago issue of Better Homes and Gardens Christmas Cookies magazine, wrote Colleen Dalton of Lutherville. "I've always relished the combination of chocolate and raspberry, and this cookie is rich in both flavors," she wrote. We thought they were pretty as well as tasty.

(makes 40 cookies)

3/4 cup butter or margarine

3 ounces unsweetened chocolate

1 1/2 cups sugar

3 eggs

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

one 12-ounce jar seedless raspberry jam or apricot preserves

6 ounces semisweet chocolate pieces

In a medium saucepan, melt butter and unsweetened chocolate. Remove from heat; stir in sugar. Blend in eggs, one at a time. Add vanilla. Stir in flour. Spread in greased 15-by-10-by-1-inch baking pan. Bake in a 325-degree oven 15 to 20 minutes or until done. Cool.

In a small saucepan, heat jam until just melted. Spread over the top of the cookies. Let stand until set. Cut cookies in half lengthwise, then crosswise to make 4 rectangles. Loosen edges and remove from pan. Stack 2 rectangles, preserves side up. Trim edges, if necessary.

Cut into 2-by-1-inch bars and place on cooling rack placed over waxed paper. Repeat with remaining rectangles. In a small saucepan stir chocolate pieces over low heat until melted. Drizzle over the top of each cookie. Chill to harden chocolate.

Note:: If you're having trouble getting the chocolate pieces to drizzling consistency, stir in a little cream over low heat.

Courtesy of Colleen Dalton, Lutherville

Per cookie:: 129 calories, 1 gram protein, 6 grams fat, 4 grams saturated fat, 19 grams carbohydrate, 1 gram fiber, 25 milligrams cholesterol, 10 milligrams sodium

pecan delights

Marie Mezewski says she got the recipe for these pecan bars from "one of those gossip sheets." Her family really liked them, so she renamed them Pecan Delights. This is a very sweet, festive cookie that said "holidays" to us.

(makes 36 bars)

2 cups flour

1/2 cup confectioners' sugar

1 cup cold margarine or butter

one 14-ounce can condensed milk

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla

one 6-ounce package almond brickle chips (such as Heath)

1 cup chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine flour and sugar. Cut in margarine until crumbly. Press firmly in the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch baking pan and bake 15 minutes.

In a medium bowl, beat milk, egg and vanilla. Stir in chips and pecans. Spread evenly on crust. Bake 25 minutes or until golden brown. Cool and cut into bars. Store in the refrigerator.

Courtesy of Marie B. Mezewski, Baltimore

Per bar: : 162 calories, 2 grams protein, 10 grams fat, 5 grams saturated fat, 16 grams carbohydrate, 1 gram fiber, 24 milligrams cholesterol, 28 milligrams sodium


Cara Tana found this recipe years ago in an issue of Martha Stewart Living, and it's been one of her most-requested cookies ever since. "They smell wonderful when baking and they have never failed me," she wrote to us. "The best results come from really chopping up the chocolate. Not pulverizing it, per se, but really chopping it up while still retaining some bigger pieces."

This makes a very chocolaty, gingery cookie, full of strong flavors.

(makes 2 dozen)

7 ounces best-quality semisweet chocolate

1 1/2 cups plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

1 1/4 teaspoons ground ginger

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 tablespoon cocoa powder

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter

1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger

1/2 cup dark-brown sugar, packed

1/2 cup molasses

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 cup granulated sugar

Line 2 baking sheets with parchment. Chop chocolate into 1/4 -inch chunks; set aside. In a medium bowl, sift together flour, ground ginger, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and cocoa.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter and grated ginger until whitened, about 4 minutes. Add brown sugar; beat until combined. Add molasses; beat until combined.

In a small bowl, dissolve baking soda in 1 1/2 teaspoons boiling water. Beat half of flour mixture into butter mixture. Beat in baking-soda mixture, then remaining flour mixture.

Mix in chocolate; turn out onto a piece of plastic wrap. Pat dough out to about 1 inch thick; seal with wrap; refrigerate until firm, 2 hours or more.

Heat oven to 325 degrees. Roll dough into 1 1/2 -inch balls; place 2 inches apart on baking sheets. Refrigerate 20 minutes. Roll in granulated sugar.

Bake until the surfaces crack slightly, 10 to 12 minutes. Let cool 5 minutes; transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Courtesy of Cara Tana, Stoneleigh

Per cookie: : 150 calories, 2 grams protein, 6 grams fat, 4 grams saturated fat, 23 grams carbohydrate, 0 grams fiber, 10 milligrams cholesterol, 57 milligrams sodium


This recipe is named for Esther Weiner's late sister, Hilda Levine, who passed it on to other members of her family. Weiner has added her own touches, including adding lemon zest and sliced almonds and increasing the amount of almond and lemon extracts. Sometimes she adds dried cranberries, too. She likes to take these mandelbrot to family events, where they pair well with fruit and sweeter cookies on a dessert tray.

(makes about 6 dozen)

4 eggs

1 cup sugar

1 cup vegetable oil

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

1/2 teaspoon lemon extract

zest of 1 lemon

juice of 1 lemon

4 cups flour, pre-sifted

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup sliced almonds

sugar and cinnamon for sprinkling (about 4 tablespoons sugar, 2 tablespoons cinnamon)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and spray 2 cookie sheets with cooking spray. Beat the eggs well until light in color, about 2 minutes. Add the sugar and oil; beat well. Add the vanilla, almond extract, lemon extract, lemon zest and lemon juice.

Combine flour, baking powder and salt in a separate bowl. Turn mixer to low speed and spoon in the dry ingredient mixture. Dough will be quite stiff and sticky. Add sliced almonds to the batter, stirring on a low speed for 30 seconds.

Turn dough out on floured surface and divide into 5 parts. Form 3 long strips on 1 pan and 2 strips on the other pan; each strip should measure about 2 1/2 inches wide. Sprinkle strips with a mixture of sugar and cinnamon; bake for 20 minutes in a preheated oven.

When done, remove from oven, slice the strips crosswise and turn each piece on its side, sprinkle with sugar/cinnamon mixture and return to the oven for about 7 minutes. Repeat by turning the pieces on the other side. Sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon and bake again for 7 minutes.

Cool on baking rack. Mandelbrot can be stored in a tight container, and also freezes well.

Courtesy of Esther Weiner, Baltimore

Per cookie: : 78 calories, 1 gram protein, 4 grams fat, trace saturated fat, 9 grams carbohydrate, trace fiber, 12 milligrams cholesterol, 46 milligrams sodium

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