The holiday baking season is about to move into full swing! We all know that special sugary treats are a must-have around Christmas time, and they’re fun to make with the kids who are ready to convince Santa they’ve been good. Along with Christmas cookies, you might be planning a spread of goodies that include fruitcakes, peanut brittle, scones, puddings, tarts, and gingerbread houses — and that’s just the beginning of the happy holiday spirit. If you’re as excited as we are, then here’s a handy step-by-step guide to getting your game on. For best results, you’ll need good-quality ingredients, a stocked pantry, the right kitchen tools.

Step One: Christmas cookie recipes

Maybe you learned everything you know about baking Christmas cookies from your mom and grandma. After all, the best Christmas cookie recipes are those passed down through your family. What’s not passed down as often are culinary practices that can make a difference in how your recipes come together and bake. Fortunately, these things are easy to learn and make that family recipe even better.

Flour

It’s best to sift your flour if the recipe calls for it. It’s an extra task but will help ensure the soft and chewy texture that takes you to the top of the cookie-exchange popularity list. Flour is your most important ingredient, so don’t limit yourself to the all-purpose version. Consider using unbleached flour or cake flour for lighter baked goods. For gluten-free recipes, use specialty flours like almond or chick-pea.

Cream cheese

Keep ingredients at room temperature before mixing them to avoid overworking the gluten in your dough, which can make it tough. This is especially important for keeping sugar cookies light and flaky. Butter and cream cheese are much easier to integrate when they are softened, and some cooks also recommend room-temperature eggs. Keep track of your “egg-ventory” with our clear container that protects shells much better than a store bought container. 

Spices

Spices like nutmeg, cinnamon, and ginger can be bought whole and ground as needed to keep their flavor fresh. If you don’t want to grind spices on your own, a fresh store bought supply ensures the best essence and flavor. Store spices in a cool, dark place for no longer than six months. (You’ll also want decorations like red and green sprinkles, colored sugar, and crushed candy canes.)

Baking powder, soda, and salt 

Baking powder and baking soda are two very different things, so make sure you know which one your recipe calls for. Also, make sure both are fresh so your Christmas cookies don’t come out flat. Fluffy cookies like gingerbread men usually call for baking soda, as does the classic sugar cookie. Baking powder is not as commonly used, but you’ll need it from time to time. Fine sea salt is best for baking and finishing baked goods (such as those chocolate chip cookies with crisp edges or salted caramels). Avoid using coarse kosher salt that won’t dissolve quickly.

Butter

For best results, use unsalted butter for all your baked goods. Softer than standard sticks of butter, it will help prevent the dough from becoming greasy. If you do use salted butter, subtract a fraction of salt from the recipe. If you decide to make sugar cookies with salted butter, for example, you might not even add any salt at all. For chocolate chip cookies, cut the salt in half for balance (you can always sprinkle a little salt on chocolate chip cookies after they’re baked if they need it).

Step Two: Baking Christmas cookies

Holiday baking is an art, so think like an artist to create scrumptious treats that everyone will enjoy. You’ll begin with a blank canvas (the cookie dough you make) and a deadline (Christmas eve or Christmas dinner) and all the resources your kitchen has to offer. To get your production started, go with easy Christmas cookie recipes for long-standing favorites like thumbprint cookies, gingerbread cookies (don’t forego the molasses), and those classic sugar cookies that come to life with colored royal icing and colorful sprinkles. Move on to the more ambitious holiday cookies like peanut butter and chocolate kiss drops, buttery shortbread cookies with raspberry jam, chocolate crinkles, and those spritz cookies requiring that complicated cookie press you only bring out once a year.

Pie crust

When making a crust, the key to success is keeping things cold: Work quickly with dough that has been refrigerated before rolling it out; measure ingredients carefully using a scale instead of a measuring cup. Once you get the hang of using the scale when you bake, you’ll see it is not any more difficult and brings better results.

Experiment

Allow yourself to experiment or borrow inspiration from magazines and TV. Pour yourself a cup of hot cocoa and enjoy the process, thinking outside your usual box. Dried cranberries can be decorations alongside sprinkles and chocolate chips, confectioner’s sugar can be “snow,” and melted white chocolate drizzled over chocolate butter cookies is superb (use white chocolate chips for melting in the microwave). For the filling of sandwich cookies, you can substitute peanut butter or raspberry jam for the usual marshmallow creme. Come up with your own fun twist, and invite your mother in law to help! (Give her some hot cocoa too.)

Baking sheets

Make sure all your baking sheets are completely flat. If they’re not, the cookies will bake unevenly and lose their shape. Nothing is sadder during the holiday season than a warped sugar cookie that should join the rest of the batch but instead winds up in the trash. Fudgy cookies have a tendency to stick, so bake them on parchment paper. Parchment paper is also a good choice for cookies with cinnamon sugar coating and shortbread cookies that can easily burn.

Decorating

Decorating is the fun part, but it’s also the time when things can go very wrong. If you aren’t careful, one misplaced line of icing can destroy a promising work of art. When decorating cookies with royal icing (the best option for a classic Christmas cookie), make sure the cookie is completely cooled before beginning. Pull aside a few cookies as practice prototypes, and use professional decorating tools.

Melted chocolate 

Melted chocolate can be used to coat pretzels, graham crackers, and “buckeyes.” You can also drizzle it on scones and shortbread. Melting chocolate is a little tricky, but most cooks find the double-boiler method works the best. Chocolate kisses are another source of rich chocolate flavor, especially when they are melted into a delicate thumbprint cookie or peanut butter ball. (Chocolate-based cookies and fudge are both great gluten-free options for those on special diets.)

Safety

Potholders will be your best friend as you bake. Build up a collection for all types of situations. You need big thick potholders for heavy pies and cakes, square potholders for lightweight cookie sheets, and festive potholders for carrying cookie trays to the holiday table or to include in Christmas basket gifts. Our Kay Dee Designs Christmas Village Pocket Mitt is a perfect choice.

Step Three: Cookie platters

Even though the whole family is more than willing to consume your inventory of holiday treats, think like a salesperson to get the most mileage from your hard work. The best Christmas cookies ideas should make their way outside the home, so host a cookie exchange and make some new friends who like to bake as much as you do. Try a fun contest for the best sugar cookie and require each attendee to bring an easy Christmas cookie recipe to share.

A cookie exchange gives you an excuse to make a double batch. An exchange might give everyone a chance to try just one bite of each creation and take home cookie platters stacked with their favorite choices. You can also share your best Christmas cookie recipes or even set up a station for decorating sugar cookies together. At some cookie swaps, the participants exchange cookie dough for quick batches of sugar cookies and other Christmas cookies that are best fresh-baked.

And go!

As we head into the holiday season, we’re ready to celebrate what’s closest to our hearts with holiday baking and its resulting treats. Whether you want to focus on decorating cookies with your kids or baking up batches of delicious delights to give as gifts this season, be sure to take care in advance by stocking up on ingredients ahead of time. You’ll also want decor for your holiday table, so take a look at our holiday tablecloths, placemats, and linens.

For those who are new at cooking during the holidays, feel free to browse our blog posts for easy cookie recipes and other helpful tips about making Christmas cookies. We’ll be back soon with another post, so stay tuned!