5 Holiday Cookie Recipes You Have to Try This Season

Why settle for grocery store-bought when achieving home-baked perfection is this enjoyable and easy?


1. Jammy Thumbprints


A simple butter cookie dough meets any flavor of jam you like. They get their name from the thumb depression made in each cookie before adding a smidge of jam and then baking. But don’t feel obligated to stick with jam. Fill the depression with Nutella, caramel sauce, a dab of buttercream frosting or even a chocolate Kiss. Another idea: After forming the dough ball – and before adding your filling – dip the dough in egg white, then roll in crushed walnuts or pecans.

Photo by Kevin J. Miyazaki


1 cup unsalted butter softened to room temperature 
¼ tsp. sea salt
½ cup + 1 tbsp powdered sugar
2 egg yolks
2 tsp. vanilla
5½ tbsp. cornstarch 
2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour 


½ cup jam of your choice, such as raspberry or apricot


Preheat oven to 375. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. 

Place the butter and salt in a large bowl or mixing bowl. Using a hand mixer, or the paddle mixer on your stand mixer, cream the butter, without making it fluffy, for about 1 minute. Then add the sugar and cream the mixture until smooth (about a minute or two). Add the egg yolks and vanilla and mix to combine until the yolks are completely incorporated into the mix. Avoid over-mixing.

In a separate bowl, sift the cornstarch and flour together and stir well. Add the flour-cornstarch mixture to the butter mixture, and mix together on the lowest setting on your mixer, or use a mixing spoon. Only mix until most of the flour has been moistened with the butter mix, and the dough forms clumps. Stop mixing and bring the dough together to form a smooth ball. You can use a mixing spoon and/or lightly dusted hands to do this. The dough will be sticky. 

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and let it rest for at least 15 minutes.

Take a small spoon (or 1.5- 2 tbsp cookie scoop) and scoop a portion of the cookie dough. Roll this portion into a smooth, round ball. Please the cookie ball on the parchment paper and use your thumb or finger (with short nails!) to create a well in the middle of the cookie. Press straight down to create a narrow well, rather than a wide well.  Repeat with the rest of the cookie dough. Maintain about an inch of space between the cookies on the baking tray. Fill a second baking tray with the remaining cookie dough. 

Fill the wells to the brim with jam. If the jam is too stiff, microwave it for about 5 – 10 seconds to soften it, but not make it warm. 

Refrigerate the thumbprint cookies for at least 30 minutes or overnight.

Bake for 10-12 minutes, until the edges start to turn golden brown in color. Remove from the oven and let the cookies cool completely. Serve at room temperature. 



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2. Seven-Layer Bars With a Twist

Also known as Hello Dolly bars, these chewy, coconutty 1960s-era treats have an extra flavor punch from the addition of instant coffee. These bars are truly customizable. Instead of pecans, use walnuts or hazelnuts. Butterscotch or peanut butter chips can be swapped in for the milk chocolate ones. 

Photo by Kevin J. Miyazaki


1 Tbsp + 1 ½ tsp. instant coffee granules
2 tsp. hot water
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into chunks
1 1 /2 cups honey graham cracker crumbs (contents of one cellophane wrapped package in a box, crushed)
1 1/3 cups milk chocolate chips
1 1/3 cups semisweet chocolate chips
1 1/3 cups sweetened shredded coconut
1 (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk
1 ½ cups chopped pecans


Dissolve coffee in small cup; set aside.

Adjust rack to center of oven. Line pan with aluminum foil. Place butter chunks in pan.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. While oven heats, place pan with butter in it just until butter melts. Remove pan from oven. Carefully tilt pan (which will be hot) so melted butter runs most of the way up each side. 

Sprinkle graham cracker crumbs over butter on bottom of pan, covering as evenly as possible. Repeat with chips and coconut. 

In small bowl, combine condensed milk and dissolved coffee. Stir to mix well.

Drizzle this mixture over the layers a little but at a time, covering as much of the surface as possible.  Sprinkle nuts evenly on top. With back of large spoon, pat nuts into mixture slightly.

Bake in oven for 30-35 minutes, turning pan front to back about halfway through baking time. When done, the top will be golden-brown and the edges will be bubbling. Cool to room temperature, then cover tightly. Let stand overnight before cutting. Store airtight at room temperature or in the fridge.

3. Pecan Tassies


These two-bite size “pies” are the easiest nut tarts you’ll ever make. If you don’t have a mini muffin pan, use a full-size muffin pan instead to make larger (but fewer) tassies. To really bring out the flavor of the pecans, don’t skip the step of toasting them first. Or buy chopped roasted unsalted pecans in stores like Trader Joe’s. 

Photo by Kevin J. Miyazaki


8 tbsp. butter, cold from the fridge and cut into pieces
1 c. flour
3 oz. cream cheese, room temp
1/2 tsp. kosher salt


These can be made in a food processor, stand or hand mixer or by hand. Mix all ingredients until the dough comes together.  Form into 24 balls and place in tart pans.  If you have the time, you can chill the pans with the dough balls in them for a half hour; that makes the dough less sticky and easier to press. Press all the way up the sides of the pan, but be sure the bottoms aren’t too thin.


1 egg
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
1 tbsp. melted butter 
1 tsp. vanilla
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
1 cup toasted chopped pecans


Preheat oven to 350.  

Whisk all the filling ingredients together well. Sprinkle a few pecans in each tart shell and spoon a bit of the filling over, being careful not to overfill because they swell as they bake.  If your filling looks a bit shy, you can top with a few pieces of additional pecan.

Bake for about 20 minutes until golden brown.  Cool in the pans for about 5 minutes before loosening the tarts with a sharp knife and removing them to cool completely on a rack. 

4. Chocolate Crinkles


So simple and quick, the perfect cookie-baking project to make with kids. The crunchy exterior surrounds a fudgy, chewy middle, a bit like a brownie. The semi-sweet (or bittersweet, or even white chocolate) chips pump up the exquisitely chocolatey flavor.  

Photo by Kevin J. Miyazaki


1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
8 tbsp. (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/4 cups (10 oz./315 g) sugar
2 eggs
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup of semisweet chocolate chips


Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease 2 baking sheets with butter. Put the powdered sugar into a bowl and set aside.

In another bowl, using a wooden spoon, stir together the flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar on medium speed until creamy, about 3 minutes. Turn off the mixer and scrape down the bowl with a rubber spatula. Add 1 egg and beat on medium speed until blended. Add the other egg and vanilla and beat until blended.

Turn off the mixer and add the flour mixture. Beat on low speed just until blended.

Using a tablespoon, scoop up a rounded spoonful of dough. Using your hands, roll the dough into a ball, then roll the ball in the confectioners’ sugar until covered. Place the ball on one of the prepared baking sheets. Repeat, spacing the balls about 2 inches (5 cm) apart.

When 1 baking sheet is full, put it in the oven and bake the cookies until they are crackled and puffed, 10 to 12 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool for 15 minutes. Transfer the cookies to the wire rack and let cool completely. Repeat to bake the remaining cookies. Makes about 24 cookies.

5. Decorated Cutouts


Classic rolled sugar cookies never disappoint. Think of them as tiny canvases for your creativity. In lieu of a piping bag, you can make one out of parchment paper. Google “parchment paper piping bag” and you’ll find simple instructions.  

Photo by Kevin J. Miyazaki


⅔ cup butter, softened 
¾ cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder 
¼ teaspoon salt 
1 egg 
1 tablespoon milk 
1 teaspoon vanilla 
2 cups all-purpose flour 


In a large bowl, beat butter on medium to high speed for 30 seconds. Add sugar, baking powder and salt. Beat until combined, scraping sides of bowl occasionally. Beat in egg, milk and vanilla until combined. Beat in as much of the flour as you can with the mixer. Using a wooden spoon, stir in any remaining flour. Divide dough in half. Cover; chill about 30 minutes or until dough is easy to handle. 

Preheat oven to 375°F. On a lightly floured surface, roll dough, half at a time, until 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick. Using 2- 
1/2-inch cookie cutters, cut dough into desired shapes. Place cutouts 1 inch apart on ungreased cookie sheets. Repeat with the remaining dough. 

Bake about 7 minutes or until edges are very light brown. Transfer to wire racks; cool. If desired, frost with icing of your choice and decorate with colored sugar, sprinkles and candies. 

Find a royal icing recipe here

This story is part of Milwaukee Magazine‘s December issue.

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Ann Christenson has covered dining for Milwaukee Magazine since 1997. She was raised on a diet of casseroles that started with a pound of ground beef and a can of Campbell's soup. Feel free to share any casserole recipes with her.