Go Cookie Crazy!

Rachael's sister, Maria Betar, starts her holiday cookie baking the minute Thanksgiving is over. Gingerbread for Rach. Something lemony for their mom. Candy-cane anything for her daughter, Jessica. “I make a fresh batch of cookies every day between Thanksgiving and Christmas,” she says. “I flip on the Christmas lights and there's Bing in the background. It's 5 a.m. and I'm in my happy place.” Take a peek inside Betar's holiday baking workshop with these 11 delicious, family-favorite recipes. Choose a few—or make 'em all!—and start your own sweet tradition. (5 a.m. wakeup optional.)


By Nina Elder
Photos by Ted Cavanaugh
Above Image | Almond Spritz and Sparkly Lemon Sandwich cookies.

This cookie is kind of a joke between Rachael and me because she loves gingerbread and she loves the deer that live at her country house. Sure, she could do without them grazing in her garden, but she has yet to meet an animal she doesn't love—even if that animal is eating all her kale!”

Gingerdeer

Makes | about 2½ dozen 2-inch cookies Prep | 15 min (plus chilling) Bake | 6 min

  • 3½ cups flour
  • 1 cup molasses
  • ½ cup (packed) light brown sugar
  • 3 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1½ tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • ½ tsp. ground allspice
  • ½ tsp. ground cloves
  • Colored frosting and assorted sprinkles, for decorating

  • In a large bowl, using an electric mixer on low, beat the flour, molasses, brown sugar, butter, ginger, baking soda, cinnamon, salt, allspice, cloves and ¼ cup cold water until blended. Gather into a ball, divide in half, flatten each half into a disk and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour.
  • Position racks in the top and bottom thirds of the oven; preheat to 350°. On a lightly floured surface, roll out one dough disk into a ¼-inch-thick round. Using lightly floured cookie cutters, cut out shapes. Repeat with the second disk. Gather scraps, roll out, and cut out more cookies. Divide between two nonstick or parchment-lined baking sheets, spacing about 1 inch apart. Bake until cookies do not spring back when touched, rotating the sheets and reversing from the top to bottom racks halfway through baking, 6 to 8 minutes. Transfer the cookies to a wire rack; let cool. Decorate as desired.

One-Bite Cashew Snowballs

Makes | about 5 dozen Prep | 20 min Bake | 20 min

  • 1½ cups very finely chopped salted cashews (about 7½ oz.), toasted
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • ⅓ cup sugar
  • 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • Confectioners' sugar, sifted, for rolling

  • Position racks in the top and bottom thirds of the oven; preheat to 325°. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer on low, beat the cashews, flour, butter, sugar and vanilla, stopping occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl, until well blended.
  • Using a 1-inch (2 tsp.) cookie scoop, scoop the dough onto two nonstick or parchment-lined baking sheets, spacing about 1 inch apart. Bake until lightly browned, rotating the sheets and reversing from the top to bottom racks halfway through baking, 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool slightly on the sheets.
  • Place the confectioners' sugar in a large bowl. While the cookies are still warm, roll in the sugar to coat. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely.

Glittery Peanut Butter Blossoms

Makes | about 2 dozen Prep | 30 min (plus chilling) Bake | 10 min

  • 1⅓ cups flour
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • ¾ tsp. baking powder
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • ¾ cup (packed) light brown sugar
  • ⅔ cup peanut butter
  • 1 stick plus 1 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • Coarse colored sugar and chocolate candies, such as Hershey's Kisses, for decorating

  • In a small bowl, whisk the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer on medium, beat the brown sugar, peanut butter, butter, sugar and egg, stopping occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl, until blended. Add the dry ingredients; beat on low just until blended. Refrigerate the dough until slightly firm, about 30 minutes.
  • Position racks in the top and bottom thirds of the oven; preheat to 375°. Using a 1-inch (2 tsp.) cookie scoop, scoop the dough and roll in the colored sugar. Divide between two nonstick or parchment-lined baking sheets, spacing about 2 inches apart. Bake until lightly browned, rotating the sheets and reversing from the top to bottom racks halfway through baking, 10 to 12 minutes. Press a chocolate candy into the center of each. Let cool on the sheet 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack; let cool until the chocolate is firm, about 30 minutes.

“My mother's father, who was Sicilian, would put nuts in anything (pasta, meatballs, ratatouille), so pignoli are a taste of home for her.”

Pignoli Crunch Cookies

Makes | about 2 dozen Prep | 25 min Bake | 15 min per batch

  • ⅓ cup sliced almonds
  • 1 tube (7 oz.) almond paste
  • ⅔ cup sugar
  • 2 large egg whites
  • 1¼ cups (10 oz.) pine nuts (pignoli)

  • Position rack in the center of the oven; preheat to 350°. In a food processor, pulse the almonds to a fine powder (don't grind to a paste). In a large bowl, crumble the almond paste into small pieces. Add the sugar and egg whites. Using an electric mixer on low, beat until blended. Increase the speed to medium; beat, stopping often to scrape down the sides of the bowl, until smooth. Add the ground almonds; beat on low until blended.
  • Place the pine nuts in a bowl. Using a 1-inch (2 tsp.) cookie scoop, drop the dough into the nuts; turn to coat. Repeat with the remaining dough and pine nuts. Place on a nonstick or parchment-lined baking sheet, spacing about 2 inches apart. Bake until the pine nuts are light golden brown and the cookies are a bit springy when touched, rotating the sheet halfway through baking, about 15 minutes. Transfer the cookies to a wire rack; let cool. Repeat with the remaining dough on clean, cold baking sheets.

Glazed Molasses Cookies

Makes | about 5 dozen Prep | 30 min Bake | 12 min per batch

Cookies

  • 1½ cups flour
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • ½ tsp. ground ginger
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • ⅓ cup sour cream
  • ⅓ cup molasses
  • 1 large egg

Glaze

  • 1 cup confectioners' sugar, sifted
  • 1–2 tbsp. milk
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon

  • For the cookies, position racks in the top and bottom thirds of the oven; preheat to 375°. In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger and salt. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer on medium, beat the sugar, butter, sour cream, molasses and egg, stopping occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl, until well blended. Add the dry ingredients; beat on medium just to blend.
  • Using a 1-inch (2 tsp.) cookie scoop, scoop the dough onto two nonstick or parchment-lined baking sheets, spacing about 1 inch apart. Bake until puffed and slightly cracked on top, rotating the sheets and reversing from the top to bottom racks halfway through baking, 12 to 18 minutes. Let cool on the sheets for about 2 minutes, then transfer the cookies to a wire rack; let cool. Repeat with the remaining dough on clean, cold baking sheets.
  • For the glaze, in a medium bowl, whisk the confectioners' sugar, 1 tbsp. milk and the cinnamon, adding more milk by the teaspoon if too thick. Line two baking sheets with parchment. Working with 1 cookie at a time, dip the top of the cookie into the glaze and transfer to the baking sheets. Let the cookies stand until the glaze sets, about 1 hour.

Rach's husband, John, loves brownies with nuts. I think of these crinkles as walnut brownies in Christmas cookie form.”

Chocolate-Walnut Crinkles

Makes | about 2 dozen Prep | 25 min Bake | 15 min

  • 2 oz. unsweetened chocolate, chopped
  • 2 tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ½ cup finely chopped walnuts, toasted
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tbsp. Dutch process cocoa powder
  • 1½ tsp. baking powder
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • Confectioners' sugar, sifted, for rolling

  • Position racks in the top and bottom thirds of the oven; preheat to 300°. Place the chocolate and butter in a small bowl. Microwave on high, stirring every 30 seconds, until melted; let cool. Scrape into a large bowl. Add the flour, sugar, walnuts, eggs, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt. Using an electric mixer on medium, beat until well blended, stopping occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl, about 1 minute.
  • Using a 1-inch (2 tsp.) cookie scoop, scoop the dough and roll in the confectioners' sugar. Divide between two nonstick or parchment-lined baking sheets, spacing about 2 inches apart. Bake until crackly on top and soft in the middle, rotating the sheets and reversing from the top to bottom racks halfway through baking, about 15 minutes. Transfer the cookies to a wire rack; let cool.

Old-Fashioned Oatmeal Cookies

Makes | about 2 dozen Prep | 25 min Bake | 10 min

Cookies

  • 1½ cups flour
  • 1½ tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup (packed) light brown sugar
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1½ tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • 2¾ cups old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 1 cup raisins
  • ½ cup chopped pecans, toasted

Icing

  • 2 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
  • 2 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1–2 tbsp. apple cider

  • For the cookies, position racks in the top and bottom thirds of the oven; preheat to 350°. In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer on medium-high, beat the butter and both sugars until creamy, stopping occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl, about 2 minutes. Add the eggs and vanilla; beat to blend, stopping occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl, about 1 minute. Add the dry ingredients; beat on low just to blend. Add the oats, raisins and pecans; beat on low just to blend.
  • Using a 2-inch (scant 3 tbsp.) cookie scoop, scoop the dough onto two nonstick or parchment-lined baking sheets, spacing about 2 inches apart. Bake until light golden brown, rotating the sheets and reversing from the top to bottom racks halfway through baking, 10 to 12 minutes. Transfer the cookies to a wire rack; let cool.
  • For the icing, in a bowl, whisk the confectioners' sugar, butter and 1 tbsp. cider until smooth, adding more cider by the teaspoon if needed until icing is just thin enough to drizzle off the tines of a fork. Drizzle the icing over the cooled cookies; let stand until icing sets, about 30 minutes.

“Jessica, my daughter, has a candy-cane problem. At 24, she still giggles, grabs the candy canes off the Christmas tree and hoards them for herself.”

Chocolate Peppermint Bites

Makes | about 3 dozen Prep | 25 min Bake | 7 min per batch

Cookies

  • 2 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ⅔ cup unsweetened natural cocoa powder
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • ½ cup buttermilk
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • ½ tsp. baking powder
  • ½ tsp. mint extract
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 2 cups flour
  • ½ cup chocolate chips

Toppings

  • 1 cup confectioners' sugar
  • ¼ cup unsweetened natural cocoa powder
  • 2 tbsp. butter, melted
  • 1–3 tbsp. milk
  • ½ tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • About 9 oz. peppermint candies or candy canes, crushed

  • For the cookies, position racks in the top and bottom thirds of the oven; preheat to 400°. In a small bowl, microwave the chocolate on medium in 30-second bursts, stirring occasionally, until melted. Transfer to a large bowl. Add ½ cup water and the remaining cookie ingredients, except the flour and chocolate chips. Using an electric mixer on low, beat until the ingredients are well blended, stopping occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl, about 2 minutes. Add the flour and chocolate chips and beat on low until blended, about 1 minute.
  • Using a 1½-inch (1 tbsp.) cookie scoop, scoop the dough onto two nonstick or parchment-lined baking sheets, spacing about 2 inches apart. Bake until the cookies spring back when pressed with a finger, rotating the sheets and reversing from the top to bottom racks halfway through baking, 7 to 9 minutes. Transfer the cookies to a wire rack; let cool. Repeat with remaining dough on clean, cold baking sheets.
  • For the toppings, sift the confectioners' sugar and cocoa powder into a medium bowl. Whisk in the butter, 1 tbsp. milk and the vanilla, adding more milk by the teaspoon until a smooth, creamy frosting forms. Dip the tops of the cookies into the frosting; top with the crushed candy. Let stand until set, about 30 minutes.

“My son, Nick, fell in love with oranges during a family trip to Sicily when he was 3, and they've been his favorite fruit ever since. He's 16 now!”

Orange Butter Slice & Bakes

Makes | about 3 dozen Prep | 25 min (plus chilling) Bake | 8 min per batch

  • 2½ cups flour
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 large egg
  • 4½ tsp. orange zest
  • 3 tbsp. orange juice
  • Colored sugar, for decorating

  • In a small bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder and salt. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer on medium, beat the sugar and butter until light and fluffy, stopping occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl, about 2 minutes. Add the egg and the orange zest and juice. Beat on low until blended, stopping occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl, about 1 minute. Add the dry ingredients; beat on low just to blend. Cover and chill 1 hour. Transfer the dough to a sheet of parchment or wax paper; form into a 1½-inch-diameter log. Roll in colored sugar, then roll in the paper and freeze until firm, at least 2 hours.
  • Position racks in the top and bottom thirds of the oven; preheat to 400°. Unwrap the dough and cut into ¼-inch-thick slices. Divide between two nonstick or parchment-lined baking sheets, spacing 1 inch apart. Bake until golden brown around the edges, rotating sheets and reversing from top to bottom halfway through baking, 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer the cookies to a wire rack; let cool. Repeat with remaining dough on clean, cold baking sheets.

“I pull out the cookie gun even if I still have piles of presents to wrap, because you can make a ton of cookies quickly. And it's really satisfying to shoot the dough right out of the gun and onto the cookie sheet.”

Almond Spritz

Makes | about 6 dozen Prep | 25 min (plus chilling) Bake | 6 min per batch

  • 2¼ cups flour
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tsp. almond extract
  • ½ tsp. baking powder
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • Colored sugar, for decorating

  • In a large bowl, using an electric mixer on low, beat all the ingredients, except the colored sugar, until smooth, stopping occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl. The dough will be crumbly at first, but will be smooth after 2 to 3 minutes. Refrigerate until firm, 1 to 2 hours.
  • Position racks in the top and bottom thirds of the oven; preheat to 400°. Using a cookie press and following the manufacturer's instructions, press the cookies directly onto two cold baking sheets (don't line with paper or use nonstick sheets), spacing about 2 inches apart. Sprinkle with the colored sugar. Bake until pale golden brown on the bottom, rotating the sheets and reversing from the top to bottom racks halfway through baking, 6 to 8 minutes. Transfer the cookies to a wire rack; let cool. Repeat with the remaining dough on clean, cold baking sheets.

Sparkly Lemon Sandwich Cookies

Makes | about 16 sandwich cookies Prep | 25 min Bake | 7 min per batch

  • 1⅓ cups flour
  • 1½ tsp. baking powder
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 6 tbsp. plus 1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 tbsp. plus 1 tsp. lemon zest
  • 3 tbsp. lemon juice
  • 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • Colored sugar, for decorating
  • 2 cup confectioners' sugar

  • Position racks in the top and bottom thirds of the oven; preheat to 400°. In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder and salt. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer on medium-high, beat the sugar and 6 tbsp. butter until light and fluffy, stopping occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl, about 2 minutes. Add the egg, 2 tbsp. lemon zest, 2 tbsp. lemon juice and the vanilla. Beat until light and fluffy, stopping occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl, about 2 minutes. Add the dry ingredients; beat on low just to blend.
  • Using a 1-inch (2 tsp.) cookie scoop, scoop the dough and roll in colored sugar. Place onto two nonstick or parchment-lined baking sheets, spacing about 2 inches apart. Bake until the cookies spring back when pressed with a finger, rotating the sheets and reversing from the top to bottom racks halfway through baking, 7 to 9 minutes. Transfer the cookies to a wire rack and let cool. Repeat with the remaining dough on clean, cold baking sheets.
  • In a small bowl, using an electric mixer on medium, beat the remaining 1 stick butter, 1 tsp. zest, 1 tbsp. juice and the confectioners' sugar until smooth. Spread about 1 tbsp. frosting on the flat sides of half the cookies. Sandwich with the remaining cookies.