It’s hard to imagine the winter holidays without cookies. But what is a Christmas cookie? Ask three people to name one, and you’ll likely get three answers. Still, the answers likely have things in common. They probably require special tools or rich ingredients. They likely involve loads of time messing with cookie cutters, icings, and extra decorations. Most of all, they—and all the other cookies on the holiday tray—are likely only made once a year.
Despite the effort that goes into Christmas cookies, I’m often overwhelmed by layers and sugar and, after the third pass of the tray, want something just a little sweet and a little simple. That’s where this week’s cookies come in. They’re simple enough you can make them any time of the year. They’re also easy to make ahead, freeze, and pull out freshly baked just before serving. And they’re still so delicious they can hold their own among fancier creations.
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1/4 cup molasses
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2–3 inches fresh gingerroot (about 1-1/2 tablespoons when grated)
1/3 cup crystalized ginger
1/2 cup granulated sugar, for rolling
In a large bowl, cream together the butter, brown sugar, and 3/4 cup of granulated sugar until smooth. Beat in the egg, molasses, and vanilla. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, and spices; stir this into the molasses mixture until just combined. Peel the gingerroot using the edge of a spoon, and then grate it using a ginger grater or zester. Finely chop the crystalized ginger by hand using a sharp knife. Stir gingers into the dough. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight.
Remove the dough from the fridge. Pour the remaining 1/2 cup of granulated sugar into a small bowl. Shape a generous tablespoon of dough into a ball, roll it in the sugar, and place it on an ungreased cookie sheet. Repeat with the remaining balls, spacing them about 2 inches apart, until the sheet is full.
Bake at 350°F for about 10 minutes, until lightly browned yet still soft. Immediately remove the cookies to a wire rack to cool. Scrape any crumbs from the cookie sheet and roll and bake the remaining dough. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 weeks. Makes about 60 cookies.
Tips & Tricks
- With softened butter and a wooden spoon, gingersnaps and snickerdoodles (see below) are easy to make by hand, and you can feel what the dough is doing. If your butter is too hard, try creaming it with a pair of forks instead of turning on an electric mixer.
- By using unsalted butter, you control the sodium in the recipe. If you substitute salted butter, reduce the salt you add to the flour mixture by half.
- The various forms of gingers in this recipe are what make it so special. The cookies just won’t be the same if you leave one out.
- For these cookies, you’ll end up with a slightly soft center and crisper exterior. If you roll more clumps—about a teaspoon’s worth—into smaller balls, you’ll end up with more snap in about twice the number of cookies.
Twice as Tasty
The marketing geniuses at Toll House have made chocolate chip cookies the American standard. My mom must have made thousands of them over the years. But the cookie jar I remember most vividly was filled by my grandmother. And Grandma Tiny’s cookie jar was almost always brimming with snickerdoodles.
I don’t know how snickerdoodles came to be the standard cookie in our family, just as I don’t know how Vanilla Bean Cookies and Chocolate Rum Balls became the family’s signature Christmas sweets. But I am sure that by the time I was eating them, Grandma Tiny no longer followed a recipe; she simply knew how many handfuls of flour and sugar to add to each batch. And they turned out perfectly every time: slightly sweet, slightly chewy, and with that special tang provided by cream of tartar. Grab some if it’s not already in your kitchen; otherwise, you’ll just end up with a sugar cookie.
1/4 cup coconut oil
1-1/2 cups granulated sugar
2-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons granulated sugar, for rolling
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
Mix the dough as you would for Triple Gingersnaps, creaming together the butter, coconut oil, cups of sugar, and eggs in one bowl and mixing the flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, and salt in another before combining. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight.
Remove the dough from the fridge. Mix the remaining 2 tablespoons of granulated sugar with the cinnamon in a small bowl. Ball up a generous tablespoon of dough, roll it in the cinnamon coating, and place it on an ungreased cookie sheet. Repeat with the remaining balls, spacing them about 2 inches apart, until the sheet is full.
Bake at 400°F for 10–12 minutes, until firm in the centers but only lightly browned on the bottoms. Immediately remove the cookies to a wire rack to cool. Scrape any crumbs from the cookie sheet and repeat the process with the remaining dough. Store an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 weeks. Makes about 60 cookies.
Tips & Tricks
- As with her pie crust, my grandmother used vegetable shortening as the fat in these cookies, converting from butter during the war and sticking to it in her final decades. I avoid Crisco in both pies and cookies but find pure butter affects flavor and texture. The solution is butter and coconut oil.
- These cookies roll into balls at room temperature without clinging to your hands but bake best when the dough has been chilled. If you have extra time after mixing, roll and coat the dough balls, pack them on a tray, and place them in the fridge; dough balls piled in a bowl will likely stick together before they chill and need to be rerolled.
- Snickerdoodles and Triple Gingersnaps can be easily made ahead and baked straight from the freezer. Shape the dough, roll it in sugar, and place it on the cookie sheet. Freeze the entire sheet for an hour, and then slide the dough balls into a labeled zip-close freezer bag. To bake, place the frozen dough balls on a cookie sheet and slide them into a preheated oven, adding 2 minutes to the baking time. Frozen dough keeps for at least 2 months.
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