Holiday Cookies

by Keisha McDaniel

If you have a sweet tooth, the season is synonymous with one thing: Holiday cookies. They’re given as hostess gifts in festive tins, they’re used in giant dessert platters, and they make for wonderful family baking traditions.

But have you ever wondered where, exactly, your favorite holiday cookie came from? Did you ever bite into a deliciously spiced gingersnap and wonder when they became so popular? Knowing what has gone into them will make you enjoy them even more than usual. Here are four of the most popular ones and some of 26Health’s favorite recipes.


Gingerbread Men

Gingerbread Men

Gingerbread men are a holiday classic — it doesn’t feel like Christmas if you don’t decorate at least one! Gingerbread has been around a very long time, and gingerbread men specifically have an interesting history. According to Carole Levin, director of the medieval studies program at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and author of The Reign of Elizabeth I, they date back Queen Elizabeth I’s 16th-century reign. During that time, the royal family was known for elaborate dinners that included marzipan shaped like fruit, castles, and birds, and the Queen also had a royal gingerbread maker who created gingerbread men to represent foreign dignitaries and people in her court. At the same time, folk-medicine practitioners, AKA witches and magicians, prescribed them as “love tokens” for young women to help men fall in love with them.


Linzer Cookies

Linzer tarts are made of an almond dough with a sweet jelly filling inside, and they are definitely a holiday favorite. These cookies originated in the town of Linz in Austria many years ago, where they were called Linzertorte. A traditional Linzetorte is comprised of a buttery dough made of almonds, lemon zest, and cinnamon, and filled with black currant preserves. In America, raspberry replaced the black currants, which is how many of us eat them.

Linzertortes have been a traditional European Christmas cookie since about 1653, when they were made by baker Johann Konad Vogel in Austria. They are a little time-consuming to make, but well worth it.


Italian Rainbow Cookies

Rainbow cookies might not technically qualify as cookies (they’re basically layers of sponge cake with chocolate frosting and a jelly filling), but they’re delicious, and a lasting tradition this time of year. They are typically made of three layers of red, green, and white sponge cake. According to Italian Sons and Daughters of America, many people believe that rainbow cookies are an Italian-American recipe, something created to honor the Italian flag by Italian-American bakers. This doesn’t seem out of the realm of possibility, however, the site also points out that some people have spotted rainbow cookies in Italy around Christmastime, suggesting that maybe they’re more authentic than most people believe.


Spritz cookies

Spritz cookies are a holiday staple for many thanks to their delicious taste and fun appearance. They are essentially butter cookies made with a cookie press, which makes it easier to create the cutest holiday designs.

Spritz cookies originate from Scandinavian countries, where they are a traditional Christmas cookies. According to What’s Cooking America, the name comes from the German word spritzen, which means “to squirt.” This is because the dough is pushed and squirted through a cookie press. One Norwegian tradition is to make them in the shapes of S’s and O’s, but today, they’re often made into Christmas trees, stars, and more.

Here are some of our favorites…


Frosted Eggnog Cookies

vegan (adapted from Cooking Classy)


2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp nutmeg

1/2 tsp cinnamon

3/4 cup vegan margarine

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup light brown sugar

3 tsp egg replacer powder mixed with 1/4 cup water (or 2 eggs, for non-vegan)

1 tsp vanilla

1/2 cup coconut milk eggnog (Silk soynog works too, or just regular eggnog)


1/2 cup vegan margarine

3-5 tbsp eggnog

3 cups powdered sugar

Preparation Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF (175ºC) and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

  2. In a large bowl, cream together the margarine and sugars with a fork until fluffy.

  3. Whisk in the egg replacer, vanilla, and eggnog.

  4. Sift in the flour, baking powder, and spices and mix until combined.

  5. Scoop out the cookie dough by the tablespoon and roll into balls before flattening onto the baking sheet.

  6. Bake for 12-15 minutes.

  7. While the cookies are cooling, prepare the frosting by combining the ingredients in a food processor.

  8. Start with 3 tbsp of eggnog and add more as needed until the frosting is thick and creamy.

  9. Once the cookies are completely cool, frost generously and top with a sprinkle of nutmeg.


Gingerbread Dreidels

Preparation Instructions

  1. Whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, spices, and salt in a large bowl and set aside.

  2. Beat the margarine and brown sugar together in the bowl of an electric mixer until fluffy. Mix in the eggs and molasses.

  3. Add flour mixture, mixing on low until just combined.

  4. Divide dough into thirds and wrap each part in plastic.

  5. Refrigerate until cold and firm, about one hour or up to two days.

  6. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Roll out dough on a lightly floured work surface to a 1/4-inch thick. (The easiest way to do this is to roll the dough out between two pieces of parchment paper. Lightly flour the paper on the bottom).

  7. Cut the dough into shapes of your choice, such as dreidels or (if you want to be more traditional) gingerbread men.

  8. Transfer the cookies to a parchment-lined cookie sheet, spacing them at least two inches apart. If the dough gets too soft while working with it place the dough, still on the parchment, on a cookie sheet in the freezer for a few minutes to firm up. Once the cookies are cut out and on the baking sheets refrigerate them the cookies firm up again, about 15 minutes.

  9. Bake cookies until crisp but not dark, 12 to 14 minutes. Let cool on sheets on wire racks.

  10. When cool, you can decorate the cookies with icing and sprinkles. When you pipe designs, sprinkle the icing with sanding sugar and let it sit for five minutes before tapping off the excess sugar. Then let the icing set completely at room temperature, which will take an hour or so, depending on how thick it is.

  11. Store cookies between layers of parchment or waxed paper in an airtight container for up to a week.


6 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for work surface

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

4 teaspoons ground ginger

4 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cloves

1 teaspoon finely ground pepper

1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt (use 1 1/4 teaspoons if using salted margarine)

1 cup (2 sticks or 1/2 pound) margarine

1 cup packed dark-brown sugar

2 large eggs

1 cup unsulfured molasses (not blackstrap)

Royal Icing (see below) and assorted sprinkles for decorating

Royal Icing

4 tsp dried egg whites

1/4 cup room temperature water

1 tsp lemon juice (or 1/4 tsp cream of tartar)

3 cup powdered sugar

Royal Icing

  1. Mix water and egg whites in the bottom of a mixing bowl. Let stand 3-5 minutes.

  2. Add lemon juice or cream of tartar. Beat on high speed until stiff peaks form.

  3. Add powdered sugar one cup at a time and mix well. The resulting icing should also be about stiff peak thick.

  4. Transfer to an airtight container and store for up to two weeks.

    This icing may be thicker than necessary depending on how you are using the icing to decorate. Transfer some of the icing to a bowl and stir in a bit of water or lemon juice at a time until it reaches the desired consistency. If using the icing for flooding a cookie a line drawn in the frosting with a knife should melt back into the rest of the icing by a count of 10. If it gets there before 7 or 8 add a bit more icing to thicken it a bit.


Oatmeal Cranberry Walnut Cookies


1 cup oats

1 cup flour

1/4 cup hazelnut ground

1/2 cup walnuts crumbled

1/3 cup oil or margarine

1/3 cup sugar

1/3 cup blackstrap molasses or agave

1/4 cup soy milk or rice milk

1/2 cup dried cranberries

1/2 cup raisins

3/4 tsp baking powder

3/4 tsp cinnamon ground

1/2 tsp vanilla extract or 1 tsp vanilla sugar

1/4 tsp salt

Preparation Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F.

  2. Mix all dry ingredients, cranberries, and raisins in a large mixing bowl.

  3. Add soy milk, oil, and molasses and mix gently until a dough forms.

  4. Wet your hands with water, scoop and form lumps about the size of ping pong balls.

  5. Lightly press lumps down on a baking sheet with 2 in / 5 cm between them.

  6. Bake for 11-14 minutes until golden brown and cookies have flattened out.

  7. Remove from oven and cool for 5 minutes.

Variations: It almost goes without saying that if you don’t like raisins, simply double the number of dried cranberries!


Cherry Chocolate Cookies


1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour

½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder

¼ tsp baking soda

¼ tsp baking powder

¼ tsp salt

½ cup butter, room temperature

1 cup of sugar

1 egg

1-1/2 tsp vanilla

1 jar maraschino cherries (about 48), drained, reserve the juice

½ cup granulated sugar

½ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

1 Tbsp butter

Preparation Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350ºF. In a bowl combine flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt; set aside.

  2. In a mixing bowl, beat butter and sugar with an electric mixer on medium-high for one minute.

  3. Beat in egg and vanilla for 2 minutes.

  4. Gradually mix in dry ingredients over 3 additions.

  5. Shape into 1-inch balls. Roll in sugar. Place 2 inches apart on a parchment-lined baking sheet.

  6. Press your thumb into the center of each ball to make a well. Place a cherry (or half cherry) in the well.

  7. Bake for 10-12 minutes until the edges are firm.

  8. Transfer to a rack to fully cool.

To make the icing

  1. Heat chocolate chips with butter in the microwave on high for 30-second increments, stirring, until melted. Add 3 Tbsp of reserved cherry juice and stir until smooth.

  2. Add additional juice if needed to get to a ‘drizzle’ consistency.

  3. Spoon or pipe over cooled cookies.

  4. Let the chocolate dry before storing.


Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookies


2 c.up all-purpose flour

1 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. kosher salt

1/2 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup canola oil

1/4 cup water

2 tsp. pure vanilla extract

1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips

1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Preparation Instructions

  1. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt. Toss with chocolate.

  2. In the second bowl, break up brown sugar, making sure there are no lumps.

  3. Add granulated sugar, oil, water, and vanilla and whisk to combine.

  4. Add flour mixture and mix until just combined (there should be no streaks of flour).

  5. Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper.

  6. Spoon out 2-inch mounds of dough, spacing 2 inches apart.

  7. Freeze 30 minutes.

  8. Heat oven to 375°F. Bake cookies, rotating position of pans after 6 minutes until edges are golden brown, 9 to 12 minutes total.

  9. Let cool. Makes 35-40 cookies.


Slice and Bake Chocolate and Pistachio Cookies


1 c. all-purpose flour

1/2 c. unsweetened cocoa

1/4 tsp. baking soda

1/4 tsp. Kosher salt

1/2 c. unsalted butter, at room temperature

1/2 c. sugar

2 tsp. pure vanilla extract

1 large egg

1/2 c. shelled unsalted pistachios, chopped

Preparation Instructions

  1. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt.

  2. Using an electric mixer, beat butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.

  3. Reduce mixer speed to low and beat in vanilla and egg to combine.

  4. Add flour mixture, beating until just incorporated.

  5. Divide dough in half; using plastic wrap to guide, roll into 2 logs, about 8 inches long and 11⁄2 inch in diameter.

  6. Roll in pistachios to evenly coat, then wrap in plastic wrap.

  7. Refrigerate until firm, at least 1 hour.

  8. Heat oven to 350°F.

  9. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

  10. Slice dough into 1⁄4-inch- thick rounds and transfer to prepared baking sheets.

  11. Bake until tops feel sandy to the touch, 11 to 13 minutes.

  12. Cool on sheets 2 minutes, transfer them to wire racks to cool completely.


Keto Peanut Butter Cookies


1 1/2 c. smooth unsweetened peanut butter, melted (plus more for drizzling)

1 c. coconut flour

1/4 c. packed keto-friendly brown sugar, such as Swerve

1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

Pinch kosher salt

2 c. keto-friendly dark chocolate chips, such as Lily’s, melted

1 tbsp. coconut oil

Preparation Instructions

  1. In a medium bowl, combine peanut butter, coconut flour, sugar, vanilla, and salt. Stir until smooth.

  2. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

  3. Using a small cookie scoop, form mixture into rounds then press down lightly to flatten slightly and place on a baking sheet.

  4. Freeze until firm, about 1 hour.

  5. In a medium bowl, whisk together melted chocolate and coconut oil.

  6. Using a fork, dip peanut butter rounds in chocolate until fully coated then return to the baking sheet.

  7. Drizzle with more peanut butter.

  8. Freeze them until chocolate sets, about 10 minutes.

  9. Serve cold. Store any leftovers in the freezer.


Chocolate Fudge

Actually Makes the Best Hanukkah Gelt


3 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

14 oz can sweetened condensed milk

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/4 tsp salt


  1. Combine ingredients in a microwave-safe bowl and heat in the microwave for 1 minute, then stir. Even if the chocolate chips don’t appear melted, they might combine beautifully. If more time is required, continue heating in the microwave in increments of 10 seconds.

  2. Spread into a baking tray that has been sprayed with oil or lined with parchment or waxed paper.

  3. Refrigerate for 1/2 hour.

  4. Cut fudge into desired shapes and wrap in foil.

  5. Make sure to store it in the refrigerator because it becomes a bit soft at room temperature.

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