30 Holiday Cookie Hacks

These clever tips, easy twists and genius time-savers will have you baking like a pro, even if you're a cookie rookie.


By Tara Bench
Photos by Johnny Miller Food Styling by Susan Spungen

1) Big dippers

Give store-bought cookies a holiday makeover by dipping them in chocolate and sprinkling on fun toppings. Melt two 3.5-oz. bars of semisweet, bittersweet, milk or white chocolate (for a smooth, glossy finish, temper your chocolate—use our easy method on page 115). Now you're ready to dip and decorate. Dunk the cookies in the chocolate and then in chopped nuts, poppy seeds, dragées, crushed peppermints, coconut flakes, sanding sugar or whatever you dream up! Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet and chill until set.

2) Gingerbread Caramel Filling

Mix 1 cup caramel sauce with 1½ tsp. each ground cinnamon and ground ginger, and ¼ tsp. ground cloves. Spoon into cookies.

3) Marshmallow-Mint Filling

Mix 1 cup marshmallow creme with ¼ cup crushed peppermints. Spoon into cookies; top with more crushed candies.

4) Mocha Melt Filling

Microwave 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips at 50 percent power in 15-second increments, stirring in between, until just melted. In another bowl, microwave ¼ cup heavy cream and 2 tsp. instant espresso powder on high in 15-second increments until just steaming; mix into chocolate. Spoon into cookies before the chocolate sets.

5) Orange Cream Filling

Microwave 2 cups white chocolate chips and 2 tbsp. heavy cream at 50 percent power in 15-second increments, stirring in between, until just melted. Stir in 1½ tbsp. orange zest. Spoon into cookies before the chocolate sets; top with more zest.

6) Rose-Merry Filling

Mix 1 cup vanilla frosting with 1½ tsp. chopped rosemary and 1 tsp. lemon zest. Spoon into cookies; top with more rosemary.

7) Instant Icing

Got 15 seconds? Then you've got icing! In a bowl, microwave your favorite store-bought frosting on high until melted, 10 to 15 seconds. Using a spoon, drizzle on cookies (like the sugar and gingerbread cutouts pictured here), or grab a pastry brush and use the melted frosting as a glaze.

Out of food color? Tint vanilla frosting in these flavorful ways.

8) Light Pink Dissolve 2 tsp. Country Time Pink Lemonade powder in 2 tsp. water; mix with ½ cup frosting.

9) Yellow Dissolve ½ tsp. Kool-Aid Lemonade powder in ½ tsp. water; mix with ½ cup frosting.

10) Orange Dissolve 2 tsp. Tang powder in 1 tsp. water; mix with ½ cup frosting.

11) Hot Pink Mix ½ cup frosting with ¼ tsp. Crystal Light Fruit Punch powder.

12) Purple Dissolve ½ tsp. Kool-Aid Grape powder in ½ tsp. water; mix with ½ cup frosting.

13) Blue Mix ½ cup frosting with ¾ tsp. Mio Blueberry Lemonade liquid concentrate.

14) Green Dissolve ½ tsp. sugar-free Jell-O Lime powder in 2 tsp. hot water; mix with ½ cup frosting. Use immediately.

15) Easiest ever frosting

Memorize this formula—2 cups + 1 stick—and you can whip up frosting in an instant. Using an electric mixer on medium-low, beat 2 cups confectioners' sugar with 1 stick room-temperature butter. Add a teaspoon or so of water or milk to thin to your desired consistency. Makes about 1½ cups.

16) Surprise twist

To make candy cane–colored swirls, fill one pastry bag with red frosting and another with white. Secure the tops with rubber bands; snip off ½ inch from the tips. Place both bags in a third pastry bag fitted with a coupler (available at crafts stores). Close the third pastry bag with a rubber band, fit with an open star tip and start piping!

17) Crispy Canes

In a large pot, melt 4 tbsp. butter over medium. Add 10 oz. marshmallows; cook, stirring often, until melted, 3 to 5 minutes. Off heat, stir in ½ cup white chocolate chips and ¼ cup crushed peppermints. Stir in 6 cups puffed rice cereal; press into a greased 9-by-13-inch pan. Cool, then cut out with a candy-cane cutter. Drizzle with Instant Icing made with vanilla frosting (see #7) and sprinkle with crushed peppermints. Makes about 16.

18) Chocolate Haystacks

Microwave 2 cups chopped white or semisweet chocolate at 50 percent power in 15-second increments, stirring in between, until just melted. Stir in 3 cups frosted corn flakes. Spoon onto 2 parchment-lined baking sheets. Sprinkle with colored sugar; chill until set, about 30 minutes. Makes about 20.

19) Coconutty Snowballs

In a bowl using an electric mixer on medium, beat 1 cup confectioners' sugar, 1 cup sweetened shredded coconut, ½ cup almond flour, ¼ cup chopped dried cranberries, 1 tsp. orange zest, 2 tbsp. orange juice, ½ tsp. pure vanilla extract and a pinch of salt until just blended. Roll into 1-inch balls; roll in chopped toasted sliced almonds. Makes about 30.

20) Peanut butter Pretzel Bars

Microwave ½ cup peanut butter, ½ cup chocolate chips, 6 tbsp. butter and ½ tsp. pure vanilla extract on high in 15-second increments, stirring in between, until just melted. Add 1 cup crushed pretzels and 1 cup confectioners' sugar. Using an electric mixer on medium, beat to blend. Immediately press into a foil-lined 8-inch square pan. Microwave 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips at 50 percent power in 15-second increments, stirring in between, until just melted. Pour over cookie base. Decorate immediately with sprinkles and pretzels. Let stand until set, about 1 hour. Cut into 2-inch squares. Makes 16.

21) Gelty pleasures

For homemade Hanukkah coins, spray both sides of round vanilla cookies, like Golden Oreos, with gold or silver food spray. Let the cookies dry; spray with another coat, if needed. Transfer to small mesh bags and tie with ribbon.

22) Stroke of genius

Jazz up cookies with edible paint! Place 3 egg yolks in separate bowls. Mix with food color and use a paint brush to decorate cookies before they go in the oven. The colors will get brighter after they're baked. (Pictured here on Soft Sugar Cookies; recipe below.)

23) Holiday sparklers

Add shimmer to your next cookie swap! Roll dough into balls, roll in colored sugar, press slightly to flatten and bake. (Pictured here on Soft Sugar Cookies; recipe below.)

24) Mini menorah

Using a piping bag fitted with a small plain tip or a resealable bag with the corner snipped off, decorate the cookie with yellow, white and blue frosting. Use sanding sugar for the flames and menorah base.

25) Snowflake

Using a piping bag fitted with a small plain tip or a resealable bag with the corner snipped off, decorate the cookie with lines and dots of white frosting. Sprinkle with clear sanding sugar.

26) Rudolph

Frost the cookie with chocolate frosting. Add broken pretzels for antlers, white M&M's and black icing for eyes and a red M&M's for a nose.

27) Poinsettia

Using a piping bag fitted with a leaf tip, pipe green frosting leaves between the star points. Pipe red frosting petals on top and decorate the center with a yellow M&M's.

28) Starry Santa

Frost one star point red for a hat. Add white-frosting details. Use frosting to stick on pieces of licorice for eyes and a cinnamon candy for the nose. Cover the rest with white icing for the beard.

29) Slab happy!

Save time on chilling, rolling and cutting by making pretty plaid bar cookies.

Plaid Gingerbread Bars

Prep | 15 min Bake | 20 min Makes | 24

  • 1 batch Spiced Gingerbread Cookie dough (see previous recipe)
  • 2 batches Easiest Ever Frosting (see #15) or 2 tubs (16 oz. each) store-bought vanilla frosting
  • Food color (we used red, yellow and green)

  • Preheat the oven to 350°. Line a 9-by-13-inch baking pan with parchment, allowing a few inches of paper to hang over the two long sides. Press the gingerbread dough evenly into the lined pan.
  • Bake until the top is dry, 18 to 20 minutes. Transfer to a rack and let cool completely in the pan. Using the parchment paper overhang, lift the cookie out of the pan and invert onto a cutting board; remove parchment.
  • Place half the frosting in a medium bowl; tint with red food color and spread on the cookie. Divide the remaining frosting between three small bowls. Tint one yellow, one green and leave one white. Place the frosting in three separate resealable bags, snipping off a tiny corner of each. Decorate the cookie with stripes of yellow, green and white frosting, forming a plaid pattern. Cut into 24 squares.

30) In the round

No need for a cutter: Turn classic shortbread into decked-out Christmas trees.

Christmas Tree Shortbreads

Prep | 15 min Bake | 25 min Makes | 16

  • 1 batch Vanilla Thumbprint Cookie dough (see previous recipe)
  • 4 tbsp. green colored sugar
  • Instant Icing (see #7)
  • M&M's Minis, dragées and yellow gum drops

  • Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350°. Halve the cookie dough and press each half into two parchment-lined 9-inch round pans.
  • Using the tines of a fork, gently crimp the edges of the dough. Sprinkle 2 tbsp. green colored sugar over the dough in each pan. Bake until golden around the edges and just cooked in the middle, about 25 minutes. While the cookies are still warm, cut each into 8 wedges directly in the pan. Place pans on a rack; let cool completely.
  • Fill a resealable plastic bag with vanilla Instant Icing, snip off a small piece from the corner of the bag and form garlands over the trees. Decorate, using M&M's minis and dragées for ornaments and yellow gum drops for stars.