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THEY SAY THE WAY TO A MAN'S HEART is through his stomach, and Saint Nick is no exception to the rule…he just happens to have a sweet tooth. But it's not a slice of coconut cake or buttermilk pie we leave out in his honor; when Christmas Eve rolls around, only a cookie will do. And what better gift for the elf who has it all? Cookies are small but mighty, encompassing a range of flavors and traditions as diverse as the South.
Whether thick and chewy or thin and crisp, Christmas cookies are something Southerners do particularly well. Maybe it's our appreciation for White Lily, or our steadfast refusal to skimp on fresh butter; maybe it's because we keep a bag of fat pecans at the ready, or that we've got the best sorghum and molasses in the world. Then again, maybe it's the wild blackberries and scuppernongs we turn into jam, or that we count cookie cutters and rolling pins among our most precious family heirlooms.
In my family, Christmas cookies were a herald of the season, appearing in my Kentucky home as soon as we'd recovered from Thanksgiving. I can remember being small enough to sit on the kitchen counter, dunking spoonfuls of sticky dough into a dish of cane sugar, then graduating to jammy thumbprint cookies, an army of frosted gingerbread men, and ever more elaborate creations from year to year.
The recipes my brother and I tackled invariably came from Southern Living, and the infinite back issues Mama kept in wicker baskets right by her reading chair. She made no effort to protect them from our messy hands, and today they're a batter-stained, cinnamon-scented, chocolate-splattered testament to holidays we spent all together in the kitchen.
And that is why I'm so excited to find myself within these very pages to introduce this year's spirited cookie feature—sure to be a collection of memories in the making. Organized into five categories of treats, from laid-back quick bars to frosted cutouts with a decidedly artistic flair, these delicious recipes offer something for every baker.
Lemon bars are always a crowd-pleaser, and they'll be even more popular topped with a sweet oat crumble.
SERVES 16 (serving size: 1 bar) ACTIVE 25 min. TOTAL 1 hour
These gooey bars will be your new favorite no-bake cookie. Serve chilled for less mess.
SERVES 16 (serving size: 1 piece) ACTIVE 30 min. TOTAL 4 hours, 30 min., including 4 hours chilling
We gave the classic blondie a Christmas makeover.
MAKES about 4 ½ dozen (serving size: 1 triangle) ACTIVE 20 min. TOTAL 1 hour, 40 min.
Freeze the shortbread dough, and then grate it in a food processor to get the most tender crust.
SERVES 24 (serving size: 1 bar) ACTIVE 20 min. TOTAL 2 hours, 5 min.
These tender cookies are even better when topped with cream cheese icing. Make the dough up to 2 days ahead. It will be easier to roll when it's very cold.
MAKES about 1 ½ dozen cookies (serving size: 1 cookie) ACTIVE 30 min. TOTAL 3 hours
Cut-out cookies don't have to be vanilla. This year, try a deep, dark chocolate version. Dust your cutting board with cocoa powder to preserve the color and flavor.
MAKES 40 cookies (serving size: 1 cookie) ACTIVE 30 min. TOTAL 3 hours
These aromatic cookies are made with almond flour (in the gluten-free section of the supermarket) and almond paste.
MAKES about 2 dozen 3 ½-inch cookies (serving size: 1 cookie) ACTIVE 30 min. TOTAL 2 hours, 10 min.
Adults will love these elegant cookies, made with a touch of brandy. And they're great for a Hanukkah party.
MAKES about 3 ½ dozen cookies (serving size: 1 cookie) ACTIVE 30 min. TOTAL 2 hours, 10 min.
We gave the traditional gingerbread cookies a kick with warm spices, orange and lemon zests, and the deep flavor of molasses. The icing is made with meringue powder, which can be found at craft or baking supply stores.
MAKES about 2 ½ dozen cookies (serving size: 1 cookie) ACTIVE 30 min. TOTAL 2 hours, 10 min.
To read the rest of The Southern Living Cookie Cookbook, see the December 2016 issue of Southern Living in the Texture app.
Here's all the food for a fit and happy 2017—savory breakfast waffles, homemade probiotics, satisfying steak dinners, super-nutritious brownies, and more.
Here's all the food for a fit and happy 2017—savory breakfast waffles, homemade probiotics, satisfying steak dinners, super-nutritious brownies, and more. Our expert editors offer easy-to-keep resolutions and smart strategies to reach peak health while savoring every delicious bite.
2016 was a great year in food trends: Poké went mainstream, Nordic sandwiches became all the rage, and just about everything was served in some form of bowl. So what are the amazing, hearty, healthy, and delicious dishes that are going to dominate next year? We’ve got them all here. And we hope you’re very, very hungry.