In a former life as a pastry chef, I baked many elaborate things on a daily basis: hand-pulled Austrian strudel dough, sheet cakes seven layers tall to be cut into painfully precise 1-inch squares and, of course, cookies.
While cookies in and of themselves weren’t the most challenging thing I made on a daily basis, it was a different story around the holidays. People came to expect something dramatic and festive, code for “overly complicated.”
It was a similar story when I became an editor at a food magazine. Holiday cookies were expected to scream “special.” This was good for newsstands and “social engagement,” but I can tell you who it wasn’t good for: anyone who didn’t consider themselves an especially gifted baker — or anyone who had, you know, other things to do in December.
I’ve been complicit in this, creating more than a few cookie recipes that I look at now and think, “Yeah, I’m not gonna do that.” I’ve become more realistic about what I’m willing to do when it comes to “festive” and “special.”
To me, festive and special shouldn’t require an art degree, or even a stand mixer. Cookies should make you feel proud and accomplished, not panicked and stressed.
These cookies are appropriate for those who swear they “can’t bake,” and meant to make you feel simultaneously festive and relaxed while you watch “Love, Actually” for the ninth time this week. Now doesn’t that sound nice?
Toasted Coconut Shortbread
These straightforward slice-and-bake cookies are elevated by a dip in sanding sugar, also called sparkling or decorating sugar, or just plain sugar sprinkles. This large-crystal sugar keeps its shape and sparkle when baked. Find it in supermarkets and other stores that carry decorating supplies.
- 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons cold salted butter (2-1/4 sticks), cut in 1/2-inch pieces
- 1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup (55 grams) light brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1-3/4 cups (255 grams) all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup (45 grams) unsweetened shredded coconut, plus more for rolling
- 3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 large egg, well beaten
- Sanding sugar
Beat butter, sugars and vanilla on medium-high until fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes.
Scrape down bowl. With mixer on low, slowly add flour, followed by coconut and beat just to blend.
Divide dough in half; place each half on a large piece of plastic wrap, flatten and sprinkle with cinnamon. Fold plastic over to cover dough and keep your hands from getting sticky. Roll each piece into a log (this creates a subtle cinnamon swirl in the center).
Continue shaping each piece (just like you’re playing with clay); rolling it on the counter until each half is a log about 2 inches in diameter. Chill until firm, at least 90 minutes.
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment. Brush logs with beaten egg, then roll in unsweetened coconut.
Slice each log into 1/4-inch-thick rounds. Dip each round on one side in sanding sugar (no need to brush with more egg, the sugar should stick). Arrange on prepared baking sheet, sugar-side up, about 1 inch apart. Bake until edges are just beginning to brown, about 10 to 12 minutes. Let cool slightly before eating them. Makes about 2 dozen.
Tip: Dough can be made 1 week ahead. Tightly wrap in plastic and chill, or freeze up to 1 month. Cookies can be baked 5 days ahead. Store in plastic wrap or an airtight container.
All you need to shape this dead simple one-bowl dough are your hands (and maybe a helper or two). This merger of a brownie and a spiced molasses cookie are tiny in size by design to complement their intensity.
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter (1 stick)
- 1 tablespoon grated ginger (optional)
- 1-1/2 cups (190 grams) all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup (45 grams) cocoa powder
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1 teaspoon EACH ground cinnamon, ginger and kosher salt
- 1/3 cup (65 grams) granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup molasses
- 1 large egg
- Sanding or granulated sugar, to decorate
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment.
Melt butter in small pot over medium heat and add ginger, if using. Remove from heat and let sit a few minutes.
In a large bowl, whisk flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ground ginger and salt.
In a separate bowl, whisk together sugar, molasses, egg and ginger-flavored butter. Slowly mix into dry ingredients, until no dry spots remain.
Using your hands, roll balls of dough about the size of a quarter (dough will be soft — if it is too soft, pop into the fridge for a few minutes to firm up). Roll balls in sanding sugar and place on prepared baking sheets about 1-inch apart.
Bake until just puffed and baked through, 6 to 8 minutes. Let cool completely before eating. Makes about 40 cookies.
Nutritional information unavailable.