I think one of the best features of Christmas is the barrage of amazing cookie recipes thrown down our chimneys each year. With every cookie recipe that we bake at home, we come closer to understanding the magical and rather delicate science that is cookie-making. There are tons of things I’ve learned over the years when it comes to cookies. I’ve gone from making hard-as-stone cookies years ago to soft and chewy ones with pools of chocolate in between, and this isn’t an overnight transformation. It’s one that comes when you persevere, and cookies are so rewarding in that sense— the more you strive, the better they’ll be—until you find yourself in a position where you understand the delicate balance of ingredients, why brown sugar lends chewiness, while white sugar will yield a snappier cookie, why we turn the tray around for even baking or simply why chilling cookies is so very important. There are tons of factors that come into play, but let’s tackle them step-by-step, shall we?
There are four cookie recipes in this feature and the first of these is a simple enough Spiced Honey Brown Butter Shortbreads. The spice used is the same as a Lebkuchen gingerbread cookie. I love how the anise in the spice mix works so well with the honey and toffee notes of brown butter. Its nutty taste, crumbly texture, and buttery rich mouthfeel make these cookies a Christmas miracle waiting to be baked. I think it’s implied that I urge you to use proper, good quality honey because that tastes totally different from the readily available Dabur stuff on shelves. These shortbread biscuits are chilled for a minimum of 3 hours before they’re rolled in sugar and then sliced and baked. Feel free to make extra dough as they freeze really well and can be sliced and baked if peckish friends nag you to give them a cookie. Use a coloured sanding sugar instead of regular sugar to add a more festive touch if you like. I could go through an entire batch of these cookies, but I wont.
The second recipe is for Chewy Ghee Gingerbread Cookies. The trick to any good gingerbread is to use ginger in all its shapes and forms. I use a mix of chopped ginger candy and dried ginger in this recipe. Chilling this dough really well before baking it ensures that the cookies don’t spread too much, and are perfectly chewy in the centres. Since I’ve never been a fan of the bend and snap gingerbread cookies, these are godsent.
Cookie number three is a Christmas Spiced Snickerdoodle Cookie adapted from the do-it-yourself snickerdoodle guide from Stella Parks’ book Bravetart. I use the leftover Lebkuchen spice from the shortbreads to make these Christmas-spiced snickerdoodles and they are so delicious. Stella uses coconut oil in addition to butter to make these cookies, but say if you’re averse to coconut oil, just use Nutralite instead.
Last, these Bournvita chocolate cookies are the most intense chocolate chip cookies ever. I have a log in my freezer right now, ready to slice and bake for whenever the twins want chocolate chip cookies. They come together in a flash. The log can thaw in the brief time that it takes the oven to preheat, then simply slice the cookie log and bake. The cookies are done when the tops of the cookies look dry.
Spiced Honey Brown Butter Shortbread Cookies
Yield makes 2 logs, 9-inches each
These delicate, buttery cookies are rich, but it's the nuttiness of the brown butter and the spice mix that really make these perfect for Christmas.
Butter 226g, plus more
All-purpose flour 2 1/4 cup
Lebkuchen spice mix 1 1/2 tsp
Salt 1/2 tsp
Caster sugar 1/2 cup
Regular sugar 1/4 cup
Honey 1/4 cup
Vanilla extract 1 tsp
Egg yolk 1
Lebkuchen spice mix (makes 1/4 cups and you’ll need extra if you’re planning on making any of the other cookies that use this mix)
Cinnamon 2 quills
Cloves 2 tsp
Malabar Allspice 1/2 tsp
Nutmeg 1/4 tsp
Coriander seeds 1/2 tsp
Green Cardamom seeds 1/2 tsp
Sonth or dry ginger 1/2 tsp
Fennel seeds 1/2 tsp
Star anise 1/2 of a star
You want to start by making the spice mix. Grind together all the ingredients of the spice mix in the jar of a mixer grinder of high power blender. When done, keep covered or sealed tight shut in a jar till needed.
Next up, time to brown the butter. Keep a metal bowl in the freezer. Heat the butter over a medium-low heat in a saucepan till it is bubbling. Let the butter bubble away merrily swirling the pan till the colour of the butter goes from pale to a lovely amber. Feel free to take the pan off the heat if you can’t tell the colour through the froth that starts to rise to the top. Take the brown butter off the flame and set it aside to cool for 5-10 minutes. Now pour the contents of the pan into the metal bowl that’s been in the freezer to let it cool further. Put the butter back in the freezer for half an hour to let the brown butter solidify.
Weigh the brown butter again, adding a bit more butter until it is 226g again. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, add the brown butter, spice mix and sugar and cream this mixture until it is smooth. You don’t need this mixture to become light and fluffy, just to combine everything together. Next add the egg and honey and again beat to combine. Once this is done, tip in all the flour and mix on low speed till it forms crumbly disparate bits. Stop the machine, take the bowl off the stand mixer and using your spatula combine everything together into a ball. Tear two pieces of clingfilm and divide the dough in half. Wrap both doughs in clingfilm, working the dough till it forms 2 9-inch logs. Transfer the dough to the refrigerator and let it chill for 2 hours at least.
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees celsius and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Add the granulated sugar to a plate and roll one of the two logs in the sugar pressing it a bit to coat the sides. Slice the dough into rounds and place on the cookie sheet leaving at least 2-inches of space between each cookie.
Transfer the baking tray to the oven to the middle rack, or if you’re using a toaster oven like me (Morphy Richards 40 RCSS 40-Litre Stainless Steel Oven Toaster), lowest rack because the heat source can end up being too close for the middle rack. Bake the cookies for 6 minutes first, then turn the cookie sheet after 6 minutes and let it continue baking for an additional 4 minutes. You don’t want to get too much colour on the cookies. The cookies are done when golden around the edges and still light in the centre. Take them out and let them finish cooling on the baking tray, for about 15 minutes.
Troubleshooting: I’ve baked several batches of these and in my oven, I found that the bottom tends to start browning faster at times, which is when I shift the heat from Top + Bottom to just top. This applies to all cookies really. It’s always best to get friendly with your oven and a cheap oven thermometer, available on Amazon is a great investment for this.
Chewy Ghee Gingerbread Cookies
Yield 18 small cookies or 9 large
Use a mix of ginger candy and dried ginger with spices and molasses to make the best, chewy gingerbread cookies. Unlike the biscuits that snap when bent, these are delicious because of their intense texture, which is between a gingerbread cake and a cookie. Best eaten warm.
All-purpose flour 2 cups
Cinnamon 1 tsp
Ground ginger 1 tsp
Ginger candy 2 tbsp, chopped up, available at dry fruit stores
Cloves 1/2 tsp
Baking soda 1 tsp
Baking powder 1/4 tsp
Salt 1/2 tsp
Ghee 1/2 cup
Caster sugar 3/4 cup
Grandma’s Molasses 1/4 cup
Demerara sugar 1 cup
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, begin by creaming together the ghee, butter, caster sugar and the molasses over medium speed till it is light and fluffy, scraping down the sides as you go. Add the egg to this mixture and continue to beat it in till combined.
Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, all the spices and salt together and add half of this mixture into the bowl of the stand mixer. Continue to beat over medium speed till the flour is incorporated. Take the bowl off the stand mixer and add the remaining flour and using a spatula fold the rest of the flour in by hand. Transfer the dough to a piece of cling film, wrap and place in a metal bowl in the refrigerator to chill for 2 hours.
Add the Demerara sugar to a plate.
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees celsius and line 2 cookie sheets with baking paper. Portion out the dough into dough balls of 2 tbsp each and roll them, then toss each ball into the Demerara sugar and transfer to the baking tray. You ought to work speedily here and every tray that’s ready to be baked can be chilled for a further 5-10 minutes in the freezer before it is ready to be baked. This is to avoid the cookie from spreading too much.
Transfer one of the trays to the oven in the middle or lowest rack depending on how close your cookies will be from the heat source and let it bake for 6 minutes, turning the tray after 6 minutes and letting it continue baking for an additional 4 minutes, or until the tops look a bit cracked. Take the tray out of the oven and let the cookies finish cooling on the sheet itself, another 15 minutes, before transferring them to a wire rack to finish cooling.
Christmas Spiced Snickerdoodle Cookies
Yield 13 cookies
The Lebkuchen spice mix from the shortbread cookies in the same feature also make a delicious snickerdoodle cookie that's perfectly crispy at the edges and chewy in the middle.
All-purpose flour 300g
Coconut oil 100g (you can also use room temperature Nutralite here)
Salt 3/4 tsp
Baking powder 1 tsp
Lebkuchen spice mix 1 tsp
Vanilla extract 1 tbsp
Egg 1, fridge-cold
For the sugar topping
Caster sugar 50g
Lebkuchen spice mix 1 1/2 tsp
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, add the butter, coconut oil, sugar, salt, baking powder, lebkuchen spice mix and vanilla and beat on low speed for a minute before turning the speed up to medium and cream for 4 minutes or until fluffy, scraping down mid-way. Add the egg with the mixer still running
Next up, add all the flour and reduce the mixer’s speed to low to incorporate all the flour and let it come together as a proper dough. Divide the dough into 13 equal bits and place them on a lined cookie sheet leaving 2 1/2 inches of space in between cookies and transfer to the freezer to chill for 10-15 minutes as you finish forming the remaining balls of dough. Mix together the caster sugar and the spice mix and set aside.
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees celsius as the dough chills. When the oven is hot and ready, take a tray out of the freezer, flatten out the balls of dough slightly and sprinkle over some of the caster sugar and spice mix over each of the flattened balls of dough and transfer to the oven.
Bake for 6 minutes, then turn the tray around and continue to bake for 2 additional minutes. For the final 3-4 minutes, shuffle the tray from the bottom to the middle rack. This step was necessary for my own OTG oven, but say you’re baking this in one of those industrial-sized ovens, middle rack is what you go for with none of the fuss.
The cookies are done when the cookies are firm around the edges and puffy domed in the centre. Cool on the cookie tray itself for 15 minutes, before transferring them to a wire rack to finish cooling. Add some more of the spiced sugar on top and you can enjoy these warm as well if you like.
adapted from Bravetart by Stella Parks
Bournvita Chocolate Cookies
Yield 18 cookies
These chocolate cookies draw from childhood nostalgia and a bit of technique from some of my favourite Christmas cookies to create an all-new eggless cookie recipe that tastes incredible.
All-purpose flour 1 1/4 cup
Cocoa powder 25g
Baking soda 1/2 tsp
Caster sugar 150g
Grandma’s molasses 1 tbsp
Vanilla extract 1 tsp
Salt 1/4 tsp
Dark chocolate 140g, cut into very small chunks
Whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, Bournvita, salt and soda in one bowl.
In another bowl, beat the butter, but not till fluffy, just until it is smooth, and add the two sugars, molasses and vanilla. Now beat till fluffy and by hand, for two minutes. Add all the flour and beat again till it forms little bits of crumbly dough. That’s fine. Add the chopped chocolate and now work the mixture with either your spatula or by hand till it comes together as a cohesive dough, kneading inside the bowl itself if necessary. Divide the dough into two and wrap each of the two doughs in cling film and try to shape into a log as much as possible.
Chill this dough in the refrigerator for 3 hours at least.
Preheat the oven to 160 degrees celsius and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
Take one of the two logs and slice them into 1/2 inch circles using a sharp knife. If they are falling to pieces, you haven’t cut the chocolate into small enough pieces, but don't fuss. Just squeeze the dough back together as neatly as you can. Place the cookies leaving an inch of space between the cookies at least.
Give the cookies 5-10 more minutes in the freezer before transferring them to the oven to the middle rack for bigger ovens, lowest rack for smaller ones like mine where middle can be too close to the heat source, and bake for 10 minutes, turning halfway, and checking the cookies at the 7/8 minute mark. If they look dry without any chocolatey gloss on them, they’re done. Pull them out and let them finish cooling on the rack itself, for 15 minutes at least.