The Sunset Cookie Swap


From across the West, you sent us your best recipes. Here they are, along with one from us in return, to sweeten your holidays.

By Margo True
Photos by Erin Kunkel

Elsa's Chocolate-Dipped Macaroons

Makes | About 20 cookies Time | 1½ hr, plus 1 hr to chill

These macaroons are the most delicious we've ever tasted in the Test Kitchen. The recipe comes from Karen Dannenbaum of Topanga, California, who inherited it from her mother, Elsa, an outstanding cook. Of all the recipes Elsa left behind in her handwritten notebooks, "this was one of her best, and a family favorite," Dannenbaum says.

  • 12 oz. sweetened flaked coconut, divided
  • ⅔ cup powdered sugar
  • ¼ cup plus 1 tbsp. cream of coconut*
  • 1½ oz. (2½ tbsp.) neufchâtel cheese
  • 2 tbsp. coconut flour*
  • 1 large egg white
  • ½ tsp. vanilla extract
  • Pinch of sea salt
  • 6 oz. semisweet chocolate

  • Preheat oven to 325° with racks in upper and lower thirds. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
  • Put 7 oz. (2⅔ cups) flaked coconut and the powdered sugar in a food processor and whirl 30 seconds. Add all remaining ingredients except chocolate. Whirl until coconut is well chopped, scraping down inside of processor once.
  • Pour remaining 5 oz. (1¾ cups) flaked coconut into a medium bowl. Drop a generous tablespoonful of dough into bowl and gently toss to coat with coconut. Roll into a ball between your palms, then roll in coconut again and set on baking sheet. Repeat with remaining dough and flaked coconut, setting cookies about ½ in. apart (they don't spread much).
  • Bake until golden around the top and edges, switching position of pans halfway through, 25 to 30 minutes total. Slide parchment with cookies onto a cooling rack to cool completely.
  • Break or chop chocolate into small chunks, put in a small microwave-safe bowl, and heat in 20-second bursts until almost melted. Stir to melt completely. If very liquidy, let cool until as thick as sour cream.
  • Line a baking sheet with waxed paper or parchment. Hold one cookie at a time by the top and dip the bottom into chocolate about ½ in. up the side of cookie. Set on baking sheet and chill 1 hour to set chocolate.

*Find cream of coconut and coconut flour at well-stocked grocery stores.

MAKE AHEAD Up to 2 weeks, chilled airtight.

PER COOKIE 148 Cal., 49% (73 Cal.) from fat; 1.8 g protein; 8 g fat (6.7 g sat.); 32 g carbo (1.7 g fiber); 61 mg sodium; 1.9 mg chol. GF/LC/LS/V

Donna's Molasses Cookies

Makes | About 45 cookies Time | 1 hr, plus 2 hrs to chill

"This recipe is from my mother-in-law's box of typed 3- by 5-in. cards, handed down from her mother," says Beryl Schwartz of Ojai, California. "Nothing reminds us of the holidays like the aroma of molasses wafting through the house!" Schwartz adds cloves and ginger for extra spice and rolls the cookie balls in turbinado sugar for crunch.

  • ¾ cup vegetable shortening*
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1½ tsp. baking soda
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 to 2½ tsp. cinnamon
  • 2 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1 tsp. ground cloves
  • ⅓ cup molasses (not blackstrap)
  • 2 tsp. finely shredded fresh ginger
  • About ¾ cup turbinado sugar for rolling

  • In a medium bowl with a mixer on medium-high speed, beat shortening with granulated sugar until fluffy. Scrape down bowl and beat in egg.
  • In a small bowl, dissolve baking soda in 2 tsp. warm water. Sift flour and ground spices into a medium bowl.
  • Beat baking soda mixture into shortening, then add flour mixture in alternating batches with molasses and fresh ginger. Cover with plastic wrap and chill 2 to 3 hours and up to overnight.
  • Preheat oven to 350°. Scoop dough into 1-tbsp. balls. Roll in turbinado sugar.
  • Set balls on greased baking sheets at least 2 in. apart. Bake until dry-looking around edges, 8 to 10 minutes. Let cool on baking sheets just until set, then transfer to cooling racks.

*Look for "trans fat–free" on the label.

MAKE AHEAD Baked cookies, up to 1 week, airtight at room temperature.

PER COOKIE 86 Cal., 33% (28 Cal.) from fat; 0.7 g protein; 3.1 g fat (1.4 g sat.); 14 g carbo (0.3 g fiber); 45 mg sodium; 7.4 mg chol. LC/LS/V

Chocolate Lace Sandwich Cookies

Makes | About 50 cookies Time | 2 hrs, plus 2 hrs to firm

"I call these the "backache" cookies because I always make a double batch, sitting hunched over at the table," says Fran Pepoon of Roseville, California. She has been baking these chocolate cookies, which have a subtle hit of orange and vanilla, every Christmas for 30 years, adapting them over time from a recipe given to her by a friend. Two tips: The cookies tend to stick and spread, so be sure to use a nonstick baking-sheet liner or parchment, and don't bake more than 12 cookies on each sheet.

  • 1 cup quick-cooking rolled oats
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ½ cup salted butter, melted
  • 1 large egg, beaten with a fork
  • 1½ tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2 tsp. orange juice
  • 3 tbsp. flour
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 6 oz. semisweet chocolate chips

  • Preheat oven to 325° with racks in upper and lower thirds.
  • In a medium bowl, mix oats, sugar, and butter together with a wooden spoon. Stir in egg until well blended, then vanilla and orange juice. Add flour and salt and stir to mix. Batter will be somewhat thick.
  • Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or nonstick baking liners. Drop batter by half-teaspoonfuls onto sheets, at least 2 in. apart (cookies will spread), up to 12 per sheet. Bake until golden brown, switching positions of sheets halfway through, 8 to 10 minutes total.
  • Cool cookies on baking sheets until just holding their shape, about 2 minutes (don't wait until they're completely cool, as they will be harder to remove). With a thin metal spatula, gently transfer to cooling racks and let cool completely.
  • Put chocolate chips in a microwave-safe bowl and heat in 20-second bursts until almost melted. Stir to melt completely.
  • Thinly spread chocolate on flat side of half of cookies. Sandwich with another cookie and let harden on racks, about 2 hours at room temperature.

MAKE AHEAD Up to 1 week, airtight at room temperature.

PER COOKIE 58 Cal., 46% (27 Cal.) from fat; 0.6 g protein; 3 g fat (1.8 g sat.); 7.7 g carbo (0.4 g fiber); 38 mg sodium; 9.1 mg chol. LC/LS/V

Chocolate Thumbprints with Caramel and Sea Salt

Makes | About 40 cookies Time | 1½ hrs

The starting point for this cookie was a recipe that reader Colette Tihista-Longin of Great Falls, Montana, found in a recipe collection at a yard sale. "I adapted it to include caramel and sea salt. It's a hit every year at our cookie exchange." Despite the cookie's name, a wooden spoon makes a neater depression than your thumb will.


  • 1 cup flour
  • Generous ½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • ½ cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • ⅔ cup granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 tbsp. heavy whipping cream
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • ½ cup sparkling sugar or powdered sugar for rolling, or just leave plain


  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 6 tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into tbsp.-size chunks
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • ¼ tsp. fine sea salt, plus about ½ tsp. for sprinkling

  • Make cookies: Preheat oven to 350°. Sift flour, cocoa powder, and salt into a bowl. In another bowl with a mixer on medium speed, beat butter and granulated sugar until pale and fluffy. Reduce speed to low and add egg yolk, cream, and vanilla. Gradually beat in flour mixture.
  • Scoop dough into rounded 1-tsp. portions and roll into balls, then roll balls in sparkling or powdered sugar to coat. Place 2 in. apart on parchment paper–lined baking sheets. With end of a thick-handled wooden spoon, gently press an indentation into center of each cookie. Bake until cookies are just set, about 10 minutes. (The depressions tend to fill in a bit as they bake, so as soon as they're out of the oven, give them another press with the spoon if necessary.) Slide parchment with cookies onto cooling racks and let cool. If you've used powdered sugar, sift a little more onto the cookies.
  • Make caramel: Put granulated sugar in a large nonstick frying pan; spread evenly. Heat over medium-high heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. Sugar will form clumps but eventually will melt and turn into a dark, amber-colored liquid, about 6 minutes. As soon as it's liquefied, reduce heat to medium-low. Add butter and stir until incorporated. Stirring constantly, drizzle in cream. Boil 1 minute, stirring, then remove from heat and stir in ¼ tsp. sea salt. Scrape into a bowl and let cool completely.
  • Assemble cookies: Spoon about ¼ tsp. caramel into each cookie, then sprinkle with a few grains of sea salt.

*You'll have more caramel than you need, but that's never a bad thing—it's great on ice cream. Don't be tempted to cook a half-batch of caramel, as it won't cook right and will seize up.

MAKE AHEAD Caramel, up to 5 days, chilled (let soften at room temperature before spooning into cookies). Baked cookies, up to 1 week, chilled airtight.

PER COOKIE 104 Cal., 48% (49 Cal.) from fat; 0.7 g protein; 5.5 g fat (3.4 g sat.); 13 g carbo (0.3 g fiber); 45 mg sodium; 21 mg chol. LC/LS/V

Tout Sweet Russian Cakes


Makes | About 40 cookies Time | 2½ hrs, plus 4 hrs to chill

As we were soliciting cookie recipes for this story, we also asked which cookie you wished you knew how to make. The consensus: the melt-in-your-mouth butter-and-nut cookies called Russian tea cakes or Mexican wedding cakes. This version is from Yigit Pura of Tout Sweet Pâtisserie, in San Francisco and Palo Alto, CA. We love it for its extreme crispness and toasty brown-butter flavor, and because it's not too sweet; most of the sugar is on the outside.

  • 1 cup (140 g*) hazelnuts
  • 1 cup plus 6 tbsp. (310 g) unsalted butter, cut into ½-in. chunks, at cool room temperature
  • ⅓ cup plus 2 tbsp. (90 g) granulated sugar
  • ¾ tsp. kosher salt
  • Scant 1 tbsp. (10 g) vanilla-bean paste*
  • 1 tbsp. cognac or brandy
  • 3 cups plus 2 tbsp. (435 g) flour
  • About 1½ cups powdered sugar for rolling

  • Preheat oven to 325°. Toast hazelnuts on a rimmed baking sheet until light golden brown and skins start to split, 8 to 10 minutes. Rub warm nuts in a kitchen towel to remove most of skins (it's okay if some stick). Let cool and chop coarsely.
  • Using a stand mixer with the paddle attachment (or a handheld mixer with beaters; cookies will be slightly crumblier), beat butter, granulated sugar, and salt on medium speed until evenly mixed and fluffy, 4 to 5 minutes.
  • In a small bowl, whisk together vanilla-bean paste and cognac. Scrape into butter mixture and mix to incorporate.
  • On low speed, gradually mix in flour, scraping bowl as needed. Add hazelnuts and mix 30 seconds more.
  • Immediately scoop cookies into 1½-tbsp. (25 g) portions and roll into balls. Chill, covered, at least 4 hours and up to 2 days.
  • Preheat oven to 325° with racks in upper and lower thirds. Stack a baking sheet on a second sheet (to help cookies get evenly golden brown). Repeat with 2 more baking sheets. Line top sheet in each stack with parchment paper and set chilled cookie portions on parchment about 1 in. apart.
  • Bake cookies 20 minutes. Switch positions of pans and rotate each 180°; then bake until medium golden brown, almost like biscotti, 25 to 30 minutes more. Slide parchment with cookies onto cooling racks and let cool completely.
  • Put powdered sugar in a large, wide bowl, then roll cookies in powdered sugar. Repeat, lightly pressing sugar onto cookies to form a thick, fluffy coat.

*Pura recommends weighing ingredients on a kitchen scale, since it's more precise. Find vanilla-bean paste at

MAKE AHEAD Through step 5, up to 2 days, chilled airtight, or 2 months, frozen (thaw overnight in fridge before proceeding). Baked cookies, 2 to 3 days, airtight at room temperature, or up to 2 months, frozen.

PER COOKIE 146 Cal., 52% (76 Cal.) from fat; 1.7 g protein; 8.6 g fat (4.2 g sat.); 16 g carbo (0.6 g fiber); 30 mg sodium; 17 mg chol. LC/LS/V