Last night, I taught my second baking class at Whole Foods, Holiday Cookies Made Easy. The chocolate snowfall cookies in the picture were just one of the four recipes we made. The others were my mother's sugar cookies with easy icing (which I'll profile at another time), lemon/lime/pink grapefruit tassies, and jam-filled cookie windows.
From my experience I’ve found there are three key elements to achieve the perfect mix of cookies for your holiday gift box or dessert tray: flavor, texture, and color.
Flavor: Try to choose a variety of cookies that feature different flavors. Some typical cookie flavors to choose from include: chocolate, vanilla, butter or sugar, nut, mint, citrus, berry fruit, or spice.
Texture: Also go for cookies that have different kinds of mouth-feel, for example, crunchy, soft, creamy, chewy, crispy, or fluffy.
Color: Go for contrasting colors. Use icing and sprinkles to add color if necessary.
Arrange your finished cookies on a nice tray. To give as gifts, buy a flat shirt box at a 99-cent store, wrap the outside in holiday paper, and line the inside with colored tissue paper. You could also clean out an empty potato chip canister and cover it in wrapping paper. Another option is an empty box of parchment paper, wrapped and filled with cupcake liners for the cookies. Finally, buy a baking pan, line with colored tissue, and fill with cookies, and maybe even a recipe or two.
One last suggestion: Keep a few extra go-to, easy recipes in case you need to fill in gaps at the last minute. Bake your favorite chocolate chip cookies, or whip up a batch of peanut butter blossoms, always popular and easy.
Here's the recipe for those chocolate cookies in the picture:
Chocolate Snowfall Cookies
(adapted from Williams-Sonoma’s Essentials of Baking)
Makes about 30 cookies
These easy-to-make cookies look very impressive and taste like a rich brownie with a sweet crunchy crust. TIP: Do not let them rest on baking sheets too long after they come out of the oven or they’ll get burned on the bottoms.
4 ounces good-quality unsweetened chocolate, chopped (I like Ghirardelli)
¼ cup unsalted butter
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup cocoa powder (Dutch-processed is recommended, but I’ve used regular)
2 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
4 large eggs
2 cups sugar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 ½ cups mini semisweet chocolate chips
½ cup confectioner’s sugar
1. Melt the chocolate and butter, while stirring, on top of a double boiler placed over simmering water. Once melted, remove and set aside to cool. In a medium bowl, stir together flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt.
2. In a stand mixer, beat eggs, sugar, and vanilla on medium speed about 3 minutes, until light in color and thick. Beat in melted chocolate-butter on low until blended. Add dry ingredients just to combine. Fold in chocolate chips. (NOTE: this process can be done by hand with a wire whisk.)
3. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and chill in freezer for about 1 hour, until dough is firm enough to roll into balls.
4. Preheat oven to 325. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Place confectioner’s sugar in a bowl.
5. Roll a rounded tablespoon of dough into a ball between your palms, then roll in confectioner’s sugar until completely covered. (It should look like a powdered-sugar covered Munchkin from Dunkin Donuts.) Place the cookies 3 inches apart on baking sheets. Make sure to set them firmly on the sheet so they stay in place.
6. Bake the cookies, 1 sheet at a time, until tops are puffed and crinkled and feel firm when lightly touched, 13-17 minutes. Let the cookies cool on the baking sheets, but NO MORE THAN 5 MINUTES, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely. Freeze, or store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days.