The Southern Living Cookie Cookbook

Holiday 2016

Presenting a winter wonderland of 30 spectacular homemade goodies to share with your friends, family—and Santa, of course.


By Lisa Cericola and Kaylee Hammonds
Photos by Iain Bagwell Prop styling by Mindi Shapiro Levine Food styling by Torie Cox

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.


BAR

If you really want to shine at the cookie exchange, bake and take a collection of festive treats, from cranberry shortbread to white chocolate-peppermint blondies.

Lemon Crumble Bars

Lemon bars are always a crowd-pleaser, and they'll be even more popular topped with a sweet oat crumble.

COOKIE BASE

  • 1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup powdered sugar
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • 10 Tbsp. cold salted butter, cut into ½-inch pieces, plus more for greasing pan

FILLING

  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • ⅔ cup fresh lemon juice (from about 4 lemons)
  • ¼ cup cornstarch
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 1 Tbsp. salted butter

TOPPING

  • ½ cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 Tbsp. powdered sugar
  • 2 tsp. lemon zest
  • ⅛ tsp. salt
  • ⅜ cup salted butter
  • ½ cup uncooked regular rolled oats

  • Prepare the Cookie Base: Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease an 8-inch square baking pan with butter. Line pan with parchment paper, allowing paper to extend past edges of pan. Grease parchment. Pulse flour, powdered sugar, and salt in a food processor until combined, about 3 times. Add butter; pulse until mixture resembles coarse sand, 6 to 7 times. Press flour mixture into prepared pan. Bake in preheated oven 15 minutes.
  • Prepare the Filling: Combine granulated sugar, lemon juice, cornstarch, and salt in a medium saucepan; bring to simmer over medium-high. (Do not bring to a boil.) Lightly beat eggs and yolks in a medium bowl. Add ½ cup of the hot sugar mixture to eggs, whisking constantly. Gradually add egg mixture to remaining sugar mixture in saucepan, whisking constantly. Cook, whisking constantly, until thick and bubbly, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in butter until melted and combined. Spread hot filling evenly over prepared cookie base.
  • Prepare the Topping: Pulse flour, powdered sugar, lemon zest, and salt in a food processor until combined, 5 to 6 times. Add butter; pulse until mixture forms pea-size pieces, 4 to 5 times. Add oats; pulse until combined, 2 to 3 times. Using your hands, press the mixture together into small clumps. Sprinkle clumps evenly over filling, pressing lightly to adhere. Bake at 350°F until top is lightly browned, 35 to 40 minutes.
  • Cool completely in pan. Lift Lemon Crumble from pan using parchment as handles. Trim the edges, if necessary, and cut into 16 bars.

SERVES 16 (serving size: 1 bar) ACTIVE 25 min. TOTAL 1 hour


No-Bake Fudgy Toffee Bars

These gooey bars will be your new favorite no-bake cookie. Serve chilled for less mess.

  • Salted butter for greasing pan
  • 1 ½ cups heavy cream
  • 3 Tbsp. powdered sugar
  • 3 (4-oz.) semisweet chocolate baking bars, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2 (11-oz.) pkg. caramels
  • ⅓ cup evaporated milk
  • 17 graham cracker sheets
  • 2 (1.4-oz.) chocolate-covered toffee candy bars (such as Heath), coarsely chopped

  • Line a 9-inch square baking pan with parchment paper, allowing parchment to extend over sides of pan. Grease paper.
  • Combine heavy cream and powdered sugar in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium-low, stirring occasionally. (Do not bring to a boil.) Place chopped chocolate in a medium bowl. Pour cream mixture over chocolate; let stand 1 minute. Gently stir mixture until chocolate melts and mixture is smooth. Stir in vanilla.
  • Combine caramels and evaporated milk in a saucepan over medium-low. Cook, stirring often, until caramels melt and mixture is smooth, 9 to 10 minutes. Remove from heat; let stand 10 minutes.
  • Place 1 layer of graham cracker sheets in bottom of prepared pan, breaking crackers to fit as needed. Pour one-third of the caramel mixture over crackers. Using an offset spatula, smooth caramel to edges of pan. Pour one-third chocolate mixture over caramel; smooth chocolate to edges of pan. Repeat layers 2 times with remaining graham cracker sheets, caramel mixture, and chocolate mixture, ending with chocolate. Sprinkle chopped toffee candy bars over top. Chill, uncovered, 4 hours or overnight.
  • Lift toffee bar mixture from pan using parchment. Trim edges if necessary. Cut into 16 pieces. Serve chilled.

SERVES 16 (serving size: 1 piece) ACTIVE 30 min. TOTAL 4 hours, 30 min., including 4 hours chilling


White Chocolate-Peppermint Blondies

We gave the classic blondie a Christmas makeover.

BLONDIES

  • 1 cup salted butter, softened, plus more for greasing pan
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup white chocolate chips
  • 1 cup coarsely crushed peppermint candies (about 40 candies), divided

ICING

  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • ¼ cup salted butter, softened
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • ¼ tsp. peppermint extract
  • 2 to 3 Tbsp. heavy cream

  • Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a 13- x 9-inch baking pan with butter. Line pan with parchment paper, allowing paper to extend over edges of pan. Grease paper.
  • Prepare the Blondies: Combine butter and granulated sugar in a large bowl. Beat with an electric mixer on medium speed until well combined, about 3 minutes. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating until combined after each addition. Beat in vanilla and salt. Add flour; beat on low speed just until combined, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in white chocolate chips and ½ cup of the crushed peppermints, reserving remaining crushed peppermints.
  • Spread batter in prepared pan; smooth top with a spatula. Bake in preheated oven until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean, 20 to 22 minutes. Cool completely in pan. Lift blondies from pan using parchment paper as handles. Remove and discard paper; trim browned edges.
  • Prepare the Icing: Combine powdered sugar, butter, vanilla, and peppermint extract in a medium bowl; beat on medium speed until smooth. Beat in 2 tablespoons of the cream. Add up to 1 additional tablespoon cream, if necessary, until icing reaches a spreadable consistency. Spread Icing over top of blondies. Sprinkle with reserved crushed peppermints. Cut into 3-inch squares; cut squares into triangles.

MAKES about 4 ½ dozen (serving size: 1 triangle) ACTIVE 20 min. TOTAL 1 hour, 40 min.


Cranberry Shortbread Bars

Freeze the shortbread dough, and then grate it in a food processor to get the most tender crust.

  • 1 ½ cups fresh or frozen cranberries
  • ¼ cup water
  • 1 cup granulated sugar, divided
  • ¾ cup salted butter, softened, plus more for greasing pan
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour

  • Bring cranberries, water, and ¼ cup of the sugar to a boil in a small saucepan over medium-high. Cook, stirring and smashing berries occasionally, until mixture thickens, 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from heat, and cool completely.
  • Beat butter, salt, and remaining ¾ cup sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes. Add egg yolks and vanilla; beat on low speed until combined. Add flour to butter mixture; beat on low speed until combined.
  • Turn dough out onto a lightly floured work surface; knead until dough comes together, 3 to 4 times. Shape into a 14-inch-long log. Cover with plastic wrap, and freeze at least 1 hour or overnight.
  • Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a 9-inch square baking pan with parchment paper, allowing paper to extend past edges of pan. Grease paper.
  • Remove plastic wrap from dough log; cut in half crosswise, and cut each piece in half lengthwise. Feed dough log quarters through the chute of a food processor fitted with a shredding blade. Press half of grated dough into the bottom of prepared pan. Spread cranberry mixture over dough, leaving a ½-inch border. Top with remaining half of grated dough, pressing to seal edges.
  • Bake in preheated oven until firm and golden brown, 33 to 35 minutes. Cool in pan. Lift cranberry shortbread from pan using parchment as handles; cut into rectangles; then cut into triangles.

SERVES 24 (serving size: 1 bar) ACTIVE 20 min. TOTAL 2 hours, 5 min.


CUT-OUT

Do you have visions of sprinkles, sparkles, and festive-shaped treats? Break out the cookie cutters and get rolling on this year's flavorful mix.


Soft Sugar Cookie Trees

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.

COOKIES

  • 1 cup salted butter, softened
  • 1 ½ cups powdered sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2 ½ cups cake flour
  • ¼ tsp. baking powder
  • ¼ tsp. salt

ICING

  • 4 oz. cream cheese, softened
  • ¼ cup salted butter, softened
  • 2 ½ cups powdered sugar
  • ½ tsp. vanilla extract
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • 2 Tbsp. sour cream

ADDITIONAL INGREDIENT

  • Green sparkling sugar

  • Prepare the Cookies: Beat butter with an electric mixer on medium-low speed until creamy. Add powdered sugar, egg, egg yolk, and vanilla; beat on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.
  • Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl. Add flour mixture to butter mixture; beat on low speed until combined, about 2 minutes. (Dough will be very soft and sticky.)
  • Transfer half of dough onto plastic wrap, and wrap tightly, shaping into a 4-inch disk. Repeat process with remaining half of dough. Chill 2 to 12 hours.
  • Preheat oven to 350°F. Unwrap 1 dough disk, and roll to ¼-inch thickness on a lightly floured surface. Cut with a 5- x 3 ½-inch tree-shaped cutter, rerolling scraps once. Place cookies, 2 inches apart, on parchment paper-lined baking sheets.
  • Bake in preheated oven until set, 8 to 9 minutes, switching pans top rack to bottom rack halfway through baking. (Cookies should not brown.) Cool on pans 2 minutes. Remove cookies to wire racks, and cool completely, about 30 minutes. Repeat process with remaining dough disk.
  • Prepare the Icing: Beat cream cheese and butter on medium speed until well combined and smooth, about 2 minutes. Add powdered sugar, vanilla, and salt; beat on medium-low speed until smooth, about 3 minutes. Add sour cream, and beat until incorporated.
  • Spread icing over cookies, and sprinkle evenly with green sparkling sugar.

MAKES about 1 ½ dozen cookies (serving size: 1 cookie) ACTIVE 30 min. TOTAL 3 hours


Chocolate Cutout Cookies

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.

COOKIES

  • ¾ cup salted butter
  • ½ (4-oz.) 60% cacao bittersweet chocolate baking bar, finely chopped
  • 2 (1-oz.) unsweetened chocolate baking squares, finely chopped
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 1 cup unsweetened cocoa, divided

ICING

  • 1 ½ cups powdered sugar
  • 1 Tbsp. meringue powder
  • 4 to 5 tsp. water
  • Red liquid food coloring
  • Green liquid food coloring

ADDITIONAL INGREDIENTS

  • Red sparkling sugar
  • Green sparkling sugar
  • Prepare the Cookies: Combine butter, bittersweet chocolate, and unsweetened chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl, and microwave on HIGH until chocolate melts and mixture is smooth, about 1 minute, stirring every 15 seconds.
  • Beat chocolate mixture, granulated sugar, and brown sugar with an electric mixer on medium speed until well combined, about 3 minutes. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Add vanilla, and beat until incorporated.
  • Whisk together flour, baking soda, salt, and ¾ cup of the cocoa in a bowl. Add flour mixture to chocolate mixture; beat on low speed until well combined, about 2 minutes. (Dough will be very soft.) Transfer half of dough onto plastic wrap, and wrap tightly, shaping into a disk. Repeat process with remaining half of dough. Chill dough 2 hours.
  • Preheat oven to 325°F. Let 1 dough disk stand at room temperature 10 minutes. Sprinkle work surface with 2 tablespoons of the cocoa. Unwrap dough disk, and roll to ¼-inch thickness on cocoa. Cut with a 2 ½-inch round cutter, rerolling scraps once. Place cookies 2 inches apart on parchment paper-lined baking sheets.
  • Bake in preheated oven until just set, about 8 minutes, switching pans top rack to bottom rack halfway through baking. Cool on pans 5 minutes; remove cookies to wire racks, and cool completely, about 30 minutes. Repeat process with remaining dough disk and 2 tablespoons cocoa.
  • Prepare the Icing: Beat powdered sugar, meringue powder, and 4 teaspoons of the water on medium speed until well combined, 3 to 4 minutes. Add up to 1 teaspoon more water, ¼ teaspoon at a time, and beat until desired consistency is reached. Divide icing between 2 bowls. Stir in food coloring, 1 drop at a time, until icing reaches desired shades of red and green. Place icing into piping bags, and pipe trees onto tops of cookies. Sprinkle with sparkling sugar.

MAKES 40 cookies (serving size: 1 cookie) ACTIVE 30 min. TOTAL 3 hours


Almond Stars

These aromatic cookies are made with almond flour (in the gluten-free section of the supermarket) and almond paste.

COOKIES

  • 1 cup almond flour
  • 1 ½ cups salted butter, softened
  • ½ cup almond paste, crumbled
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ tsp. salt

ICING

  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 4 tsp. meringue powder
  • 6 to 7 tsp. water

ADDITIONAL INGREDIENT

  • 1 cup sliced almonds, toasted

  • Prepare the Cookies: Preheat oven to 350°F. Spread almond flour in an even layer on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Bake in preheated oven until lightly toasted, about 10 minutes.
  • Beat butter, almond paste, and vanilla with an electric mixer on medium-low speed until well combined, about 4 minutes. Add powdered sugar; beat on low speed until well combined, about 2 minutes.
  • Whisk together all-purpose flour, toasted almond flour, and salt in a bowl. Add flour mixture to butter mixture; beat on low speed until just combined. Turn dough out onto a work surface; knead until dough comes together, 4 to 5 times. Divide dough in half. Shape each half into a 6-inch disk, and wrap each disk in plastic wrap. Chill 1 hour.
  • Preheat oven to 350°F. Let 1 dough disk stand at room temperature 10 minutes. Unwrap dough disk, and roll to ¼-inch thickness on a lightly floured surface. Cut with a 3 ½-inch star-shaped cookie cutter, rerolling scraps once. Place cookies 2 inches apart on parchment paper-lined baking sheets.
  • Bake in preheated oven until edges are golden brown, 9 to 10 minutes, switching pans top rack to bottom rack halfway through baking. Cool on pans 2 minutes. Remove cookies to wire racks, and cool completely, about 20 minutes. Repeat process with remaining dough disk.
  • Prepare the Icing: Beat powdered sugar, meringue powder, and 6 teaspoons of the water on medium speed until well combined, 3 to 4 minutes. Add up to 1 teaspoon water, ¼ teaspoon at a time, and beat until desired consistency is reached. Spread icing over cookies, and top with toasted almonds.

MAKES about 2 dozen 3 ½-inch cookies (serving size: 1 cookie) ACTIVE 30 min. TOTAL 2 hours, 10 min.


Sparkling Snowflake Sugar Cookies

Adults will love these elegant cookies, made with a touch of brandy. And they're great for a Hanukkah party.

COOKIES

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 1 cup cold salted butter, cut into ½-inch pieces
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 2 Tbsp. brandy or whole milk

ICING

  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 4 tsp. meringue powder
  • 2 to 3 Tbsp. water
  • Blue liquid food coloring
  • Blue sparkling sugar
  • White sparkling sugar

  • Prepare the Cookies: Pulse flour, granulated sugar, and salt in a food processor until combined, 3 to 4 times. Add butter, and pulse until mixture resembles coarse sand, 5 to 6 times. Add egg yolks and brandy; process until clumps begin to form, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Turn mixture out onto a lightly floured work surface; knead until dough comes together, 3 to 4 times. Divide dough in half; shape each half into a 6-inch disk. Wrap each disk with plastic wrap, and chill 1 hour.
  • Preheat oven to 350°F. Let 1 dough disk stand at room temperature 10 minutes. Unwrap dough disk, and roll to ¼-inch thickness on a lightly floured surface. Cut with a 3 ½-inch snowflake-shaped cutter, rerolling scraps once. Place cookies 2 inches apart on parchment paper-lined baking sheets.
  • Bake in preheated oven until set and beginning to brown on edges, 9 to 10 minutes, switching pans top rack to bottom rack halfway through baking. Cool on pans 2 minutes; remove cookies to wire racks, and cool completely, about 20 minutes. Repeat process with remaining dough disk.
  • Prepare the Icing: Beat powdered sugar, meringue powder, and 2 tablespoons of the water on medium speed in a medium bowl until well combined, 3 to 4 minutes. Add up to 1 tablespoon water, ¼ teaspoon at a time, until desired consistency is reached. Add food coloring, 1 drop at a time, and beat until frosting is desired color. Spread icing on cookies, and sprinkle with sparkling sugars.

MAKES about 3 ½ dozen cookies (serving size: 1 cookie) ACTIVE 30 min. TOTAL 2 hours, 10 min.


Spicy Molasses Gingerbread People

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.

COOKIES

  • ¼ cup dark molasses
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 3 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup packed light brown sugar
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • 1 Tbsp. ground ginger
  • 1 Tbsp. lemon zest
  • 2 tsp. orange zest
  • 2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. ground cloves
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • ½ tsp. baking soda
  • 1 cup cold salted butter, cut into ½-inch pieces

ICING

  • 1 ½ cups powdered sugar
  • 1 Tbsp. meringue powder
  • 4 to 6 tsp. water

  • Prepare the Cookies: Whisk together molasses, egg, and egg yolk in a bowl.
  • Process flour, brown sugar, granulated sugar, ginger, lemon zest, orange zest, cinnamon, cloves, salt, and baking soda in a food processor until well combined, about 1 minute. Add butter; pulse until mixture resembles coarse sand, 5 to 6 times. Add molasses mixture; pulse until mixture begins to clump, 5 to 6 times.
  • Turn mixture out onto a lightly floured work surface, and knead until mixture comes together, 5 to 6 times. Divide dough in half; shape each half into a 4-inch disk. Wrap each disk in plastic wrap, and chill 1 hour or up to 2 days.
  • Preheat oven to 350°F. Unwrap 1 dough disk, and roll to ¼-inch thickness on a lightly floured surface. Cut with a 5- x 3-inch cookie cutter, rerolling scraps once. Place 1 inch apart on parchment paper-lined baking sheets.
  • Bake in preheated oven until set, 11 to to 12 minutes, switching pans top rack to bottom rack halfway through baking. Cool on pans 2 minutes; remove cookies to wire racks, and cool completely, about 30 minutes. Repeat with remaining dough disk.
  • Prepare the Icing: Beat powdered sugar, meringue powder, and 4 teaspoons of the water on medium speed in a medium bowl until well combined, 4 to 5 minutes. Add up to 2 teaspoons water, ¼ teaspoon at a time, beating until desired consistency is reached. Spread icing on cookies, and decorate as desired.

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.