Sweeter by the Dozen

This hit parade of holiday cookies features the classics your loved ones look forward to enjoying all year long—but with a fun twist. From multicolored shortbread to winter white (chocolate) biscotti, each is extra-special. Bake a few batches, box them with care, and finish with a shiny bow.


By SARAH DiGREGORIO
Photos by AARON DYER recipes by SHIRA BOCAR
Above Image | If you think these images were created on a computer, look closely. Prop stylist Sonia Rentsch cut colorful pieces of acetate to create vivid “3-D” gifts, bows, and patterns. How’s that for homemade?

These coriander-and-cardamom-spiced biscuits, known as speculaas in northern Europe, are usually embossed with wooden molds, but we did the job with crocheted doilies. Look for thick ones, as they'll leave the clearest imprint; then create the shapes with snowflake cutters. A confectioners'-sugar glaze dries to a frosty matte finish.

Glazed Spiced Snowflakes

Active Time: 1 hr. 5 min. Total Time: 3 hr. Makes: 7 large, 12 medium, and 36 small cookies

The pattern on these buttery, spiced speculaas cookies is created by placing a doily on top of the dough and then using a rolling pin to imprint the design in it. The thicker the doily, the clearer the imprint. (For a detailed how- to, go to marthastewart.com/snowflake-cookies.) The simple sugar glaze dries to a frosty finish.


  • 3½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • ½ teaspoon ground cardamom
  • ¼ teaspoon ground coriander
  • ⅛ teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1½ sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup packed dark-brown sugar
  • 1½ cups confectioners' sugar
  • ¼ cup whole milk, plus more if needed
  • ⅛ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

  • Whisk together flour, baking soda, salt, and spices. In a large bowl, beat butter with brown sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add half of flour mixture, then ⅓ cup water, then remaining flour mixture, beating on low after each addition until just incorporated. Shape dough into 3 disks and wrap each in plastic. Refrigerate until firm, at least 1 hour and up to overnight.
  • Working with one disk at a time, roll out to ¼ inch thick on lightly floured parchment. Cover with a doily; gently roll to make an imprint. (Dough should now be about ⅛ inch thick.) Remove doily and freeze dough until firm, about 15 minutes. Cut dough first using a 5-inch snowflake-shaped cutter, then cut remaining dough using a 3-inch snowflake-shaped cutter and 1½-inch snowflake-shaped cutter. Chill and reroll scraps. Arrange large cookies on one parchment-lined baking sheet and medium and small cookies on another; freeze until firm, about 15 minutes. Preheat oven to 325°.
  • Bake until cookies set around edges, 16 to 18 minutes for large, 12 to 14 minutes for medium and small. Transfer cookies on sheets to wire racks; let cool completely.
  • Whisk together confectioners' sugar, milk, and vanilla until smooth. If necessary, add more milk, ½ teaspoon at a time, until glaze is slightly thicker than heavy cream. Dip each cookie, design-side down, into glaze, tilting to evenly coat, then transfer to racks until glaze is set, about 10 minutes. Cookies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature up to 3 days.

Edible Art

How do you improve on the simple perfection of shortbread? Go ombré! For this eye-catching display, red and green food coloring were used to tint the dough in successively darker shades (the yellow ones are au naturel). Pipe these figure eights when the dough is room temperature, but chill them before baking for the sharpest shapes.

Shortbread Swirls

Active Time: 35 min. Total Time: 1 hr. 30 min. Makes: 28

Give this universal favorite a modern update by creating an ombré of color. Each batch of dough can be divided in half for two colors. For red/pink and green/light-green variations, tint the dough to a light shade before dividing, then separate in half and add more dye to one half for a deeper color. (The golden variation shown on page 137 has no food color.) To make all five colors pictured, you'll need to make three batches of dough. A cookie press can also be used in place of the piping bag.


  • 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise, seeds scraped
  • ¾ cup confectioners' sugar
  • 1 egg yolk
  • Gel food color (available at amazon.com)

  • Preheat oven to 350°. Whisk together flour and salt. In a large bowl, beat butter with vanilla seeds and confectioners' sugar on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add yolk and beat until incorporated, 1 minute more. Gradually add flour mixture and beat on low until just combined. Tint with food color as desired.
  • Transfer dough to a pastry bag fitted with a ½-inch star tip (such as Ateco #825). Pipe into S shapes, each about 3 inches long and 1 inch wide, spaced 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheets. Freeze until firm, about 20 minutes.
  • Bake until edges are light golden, 16 to 18 minutes. Transfer cookies on sheets to wire racks; let cool completely. Cookies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature up to 3 days.

Many Moons

Our iconic crescents aren't as innocent as they look. They're infused with brandy and fragrant freshly grated nutmeg—yes, we're talking eggnog in cookie form. Enlist a rasp or grater to grind the nutmeg seeds into a fine powder, then toss the baked cookies in confectioners' sugar while they're still warm so it sticks to them easily.

Brandy-Nutmeg Crescents

Active Time: 30 min. Total Time: 2 hr. 20 min. Makes: About 2 dozen

This one goes out to eggnog lovers everywhere. For the best flavor, grate your nutmeg fresh; we like a Microplane for the job.


  • 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1½ teaspoons freshly grated nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1½ sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup confectioners' sugar, plus more for serving
  • 2 tablespoons brandy
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

  • Whisk together flour, nutmeg, and salt. In a large bowl, beat butter with ½ cup confectioners' sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add brandy and vanilla; beat until combined. Reduce speed to low and add flour mixture, beating until just combined. Divide dough into 2 disks; wrap each in plastic and refrigerate until firm, at least 1 hour and up to overnight.
  • Preheat oven to 350°. Working with one disk at a time (keeping the other refrigerated), scoop 1 tablespoon dough and roll into a 3-inch log. Gently pinch ends and curve to form a crescent. Arrange 1 inch apart on parchment-lined baking sheets.
  • Bake until edges are golden, 16 to 18 minutes. Transfer cookies on sheets to wire racks; let cool 5 minutes. Meanwhile, place remaining ½ cup confectioners' sugar in a shallow bowl. Working in batches, toss warm cookies in confectioners' sugar, then transfer to racks and let cool completely. Cookies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature up to 3 days. Dust with more confectioners' sugar before serving.

Sweet Spots

Even delicate sandwich cookies can pack a flavorful punch when you use twice the chocolate. These boast cocoa in the shortbread as well as milk chocolate in the peppermint-ganache filling. The peekaboo cutouts can be made with a small, fluted round cutter, as we did here, or you can try a star or tree shape for a festive touch. Drive the point home with chopped peppermint candies.

Double-Chocolate Peppermint Sandwiches

Active Time: 1 hr. 5 min. Total Time: 3 hr. 15 min. Makes: 30

Peppermint patties inspired these chocolate shortbread cookies. You can use small snowflake, Christmas tree, or other holiday cutters to make the cutout windows. Bake the cutouts at 325° until the edges are firm, 6 to 8 minutes.


  • ¾ cup unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
  • ⅓ cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
  • ⅛ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
  • ¾ cup confectioners' sugar
  • 1 large egg, room temperature
  • ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 4 ounces milk chocolate, finely chopped (¾ cup)
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • ½ teaspoon pure peppermint extract
  • ¼ cup peppermint candies, finely chopped (3 tablespoons)

  • Whisk together flour, cocoa, and salt. In a large bowl, beat butter with confectioners' sugar on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy. Beat in egg and vanilla. Gradually add flour mixture, beating to combine. Divide dough into 2 disks; wrap each in plastic and refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour.
  • Preheat oven to 325°. Working with one disk at a time (keeping the other refrigerated), roll out on lightly floured parchment to a scant ⅛ inch. Cut out 60 rounds total with a 1¾-inch fluted round cutter. Chill and reroll scraps (if dough becomes too soft, freeze 15 minutes). Use a ½-inch fluted round cutter to cut out centers of half of rounds. Arrange rounds 1 inch apart on parchment-lined baking sheets. Freeze until firm, 15 minutes. Brush off excess flour with a dry pastry brush.
  • Bake, rotating sheets once, until edges are firm, 13 to 15 minutes. Transfer cookies on sheets to a wire rack; let cool completely.
  • Place chocolate in a heatproof bowl. Heat cream in a small saucepan over medium-high until just bubbling around edges. Remove from heat; stir in peppermint extract. Pour mixture over chocolate; let stand 10 minutes, then stir until smooth. Let stand, stirring occasionally, until firm enough to spread, about 30 minutes.
  • Spread 1 teaspoon filling on each uncut cookie; top with cut cookies. Sprinkle chopped candies in window of each top cookie. Refrigerate until set, about 20 minutes. Assembled cookies can be stored in refrigerator up to 2 days.

Fruit Bowls

These little gems were inspired by torta sbrisolona, a crunchy almond-enriched tart from northern Italy. The nutty dough plays two roles: It forms the cookies and is also crumbled on top. The dough is a snap to make, too—you just cut butter into flour. With your fingers, press it into rounds, then spoon jam on top. (Cranberry was our test kitchen's hands-down favorite.)

Streusel Jammies

Active Time: 50 min. Total Time: 1 hr. 35 min. Makes: 24


  • 1½ cups blanched almonds
  • 1¾ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon pure almond extract
  • 1½ sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
  • ½ cup assorted jams, such as cranberry, apricot, blueberry, and cherry, separately whisked until smooth

  • Finely grind almonds in a food processor. Preheat oven to 350°. Whisk together almonds, flour, sugar, salt, and almond extract. Cut in butter with a pastry blender until it's completely incorporated.
  • Line 2 baking sheets with parchment. Firmly press 2 tablespoons dough into the bottom of a 2½-inch round cookie cutter, then gently lift cutter to leave dough on parchment. Repeat, spacing cookies evenly on sheets, until you've made 24 rounds. Dollop 1 teaspoon jam into center of each round, alternating flavors. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of remaining dough around border of each cookie.
  • Bake, rotating sheets once, until golden brown at the edges, about 24 minutes. Transfer cookies on sheets to wire racks; let cool completely. Cookies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature up to 2 days.

Big Dippers

Biscotti make great gifts if you're shipping them or traveling far, because they're sturdy and keep beautifully for at least a week. The stealth ingredient in this version is cornmeal. It adds a subtle crunch and a hint of roasted-corn sweetness that's delicious with tart cherries, salted macadamia nuts, and rich white chocolate. Once the cookies are cool, dip them in melted white chocolate and sprinkle with nonpareils.

Cornmeal, Cherry, and White-Chocolate-Chunk Biscotti

Active Time: 30 min. Total Time: 2 hr. 40 min. Makes: About 2 dozen

Cornmeal adds a nice crunch and hint of sweetness to these dunkers. The salted macadamia nuts balance out the richness of the white chocolate.


  • 1½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup fine cornmeal
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • ½ cup dried cherries, coarsely chopped
  • ½ cup salted roasted macadamia nuts, coarsely chopped
  • 7½ ounces white chocolate, coarsely chopped (1½ cups)
  • White nonpareils, for sprinkling

  • Preheat oven to 350°. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, and salt on low speed. Add eggs, vanilla, and butter and beat on medium until combined. Fold in cherries, nuts, and ½ cup white chocolate until just combined.
  • On a parchment-lined baking sheet, form dough into a 13-inch log; flatten to 3 inches wide and 1 inch thick. Bake until just golden and firm to the touch, about 30 minutes. Transfer on sheet to a wire rack; let cool 20 minutes. Reduce oven to 300°.
  • Transfer log to a cutting board. Using a serrated knife, cut crosswise into ½-inch slices. Arrange, cut-sides down, on another parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake until firm to the touch, about 30 minutes. Transfer biscotti on baking sheet to rack; let cool completely. Biscotti can made to this point up to 1 week ahead and stored in an airtight container at room temperature up to 3 days.
  • Melt remaining 1 cup white chocolate over a double boiler or in a microwave. Transfer to a coffee mug. Dip sides of biscotti in melted chocolate on a diagonal; transfer to a baking sheet fitted with a wire rack. Let set slightly, 10 minutes; sprinkle with nonpareils. Refrigerate until set, about 10 minutes. Finished biscotti can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature up to 3 days.

French Twists

Crisp, caramelized palmiers look as if they belong in a patisserie, but these are made with store-bought all-butter puff pastry and do not require a degree in pastry arts. You just fold the dough inward from the edges, chill it, slice it crosswise, and bake. (In a nod to morning buns, we sprinkled them with cinnamon, sugar, and orange zest first.) To get the sweet shape, make sure the dough is very cold when you cut it.

Spiced Orange Palmiers

Active Time: 30 min. Total Time: 1 hr. 40 min. Makes: About 2 dozen

For this classic, we had morning buns on our minds and added orange zest and cinnamon to the sugar.


  • ½ cup sugar
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Finely grated zest of 1 orange
  • 1 sheet all-butter puff pastry, thawed

  • In a small bowl, combine sugar, cinnamon, and zest. Sprinkle half of mixture on a clean work surface.
  • Place puff pastry on top; sprinkle with remaining mixture. Gently roll out to a ⅛-inch-thick rectangle, pressing sugar into dough. Lightly draw a line down center of rectangle. Starting from edges, fold dough halfway toward center, then fold edges again to reach center. (Folds should look like an open book.) Fold one half over other half (as if closing the book). Wrap in plastic and freeze until very firm but not frozen, about 20 minutes.
  • Preheat oven to 425°. Cut dough crosswise into ½-inch-thick slices. Working in batches, arrange slices 2 inches apart on an ungreased baking sheet. Flatten each cookie with the heel of your hand to about ¼ inch thick.
  • Bake cookies, one sheet at a time, until deep golden on underside, about 10 minutes. Carefully flip each cookie with a metal spatula; continue baking until crisp, about 8 minutes more. Transfer cookies on sheet to a wire rack; while cookies are still warm, loosen with spatula to prevent sticking. Let cool completely. Cookies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature up to 1 day.

High Rollers

The secret to these exceptional rugelach is the tender, flaky, slightly tart (thanks to cream cheese) dough and the intense sweet-tart apricot filling—made from simmering dried apricots with sugar and vanilla and then whirring them in the food processor. A sprinkling of ground pistachios complements the vibrant fruit; if possible, use Sicilian ones, which are a brilliant green.

Pistachio and Dried-Apricot Rugelach

Active Time: 1 hr. Total Time: 4 hr. 45 min. Makes: 32

Simmered dried apricots with a hint of vanilla are a perfect combination of tart and sweet. (We tested apricot jam in this filling, and it wasn't the same!) The mixture is slathered on rounds of cream-cheese dough, which is sliced into wedges and rolled into crescents before baking. The dough and filling can be made a couple of days in advance and refrigerated to make assembly easier (the dough disks wrapped in plastic, the filling in an airtight container).


Dough

  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting

Filling

  • 2 cups dried apricots
  • ⅔ cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • Pinch of kosher salt
  • 1 cup shelled pistachios, preferably Sicilian
  • 1 large egg, lightly whisked
  • Sanding sugar, for sprinkling

  • Dough: In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat butter with cream cheese, granulated sugar, and salt on medium-high speed until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add flour and beat on low until just combined. Divide dough into 3 disks; wrap each in plastic and refrigerate until firm, at least 1 hour and up to overnight.
  • Filling: In a small saucepan, bring apricots, 1⅓ cups water, granulated sugar, vanilla, and salt to a boil. Reduce heat to low; simmer until apricots are tender and most of liquid has been absorbed, 12 to 14 minutes. Transfer apricot mixture to a food processor and pulse until smooth. Let cool completely. (You should have about 2 cups filling; if not, thin slightly with water, a teaspoon at a time.)
  • Meanwhile, finely grind pistachios in food processor. On a lightly floured surface, roll out one disk of dough to a 10-inch circle, ⅛ inch thick. Spread evenly with ⅔ cup apricot mixture. Sprinkle with ¼ cup ground pistachios. With a pizza wheel, cut circle into quarters, then cut each quarter in half, then in half again, so you have 16 wedges. Starting at outside edge of each wedge, roll up into a crescent shape. Arrange 1 inch apart on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Brush with beaten egg, and sprinkle with sanding sugar and 1 tablespoon ground pistachios. Refrigerate until firm, about 30 minutes. Repeat with remaining dough.
  • Preheat oven to 325°. Bake, rotating sheets halfway through, until golden brown, 35 to 40 minutes. Transfer rugelach on sheets to wire racks; let cool completely. Rugelach can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature up to 3 days.

Art Direction by Jaspal Riyait; Prop Styling by Sonia Rentsch; Food Styling by Shira Bocar