Traditions start here with two dozen reader recipes tested and tasted by the Tampa Bay Times.

Edited by Janet Keeler
Photography by Scott Keeler
Cookies tested by Karen Pryslopski, Michelle Stark & Barbara Moch
Design by Lee Glynn & Alexis N. Sanchez

Edited by Janet Keeler
Photography by Scott Keeler
Cookies tested by Karen Pryslopski,
Michelle Stark & Barbara Moch
Design by Lee Glynn & Alexis N. Sanchez

Christmas cookies past and present

Previous cookie issues

Share the joy

Click on the images to share these two Christmas cookie recipe cards with all your Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest friends.

Christmas Cookie recipe card

Christmas Cookie recipe card

Cookie baking tips

  • Read recipe twice before making your shopping list and preparing. Unless you are an experienced baker, don’t experiment unless you’ve made the recipe once.
  • Gather all ingredients before you start. The French call this mise en place (everything in its place), and it makes the process much smoother.
  • Cool cookie sheets between batches; better yet, buy two or three sheets. Don’t grease the cookie sheet unless the recipe calls for it, or cookies may spread and brown too quickly around the edges.
  • Chilling the dough before baking and using parchment paper reduce spread in the oven.
  • Make cookies the same size so they will finish baking at the same time.
  • Lightly oil the cup before measuring syrup, honey and other sticky ingredients and the ingredient will pour out easily.
  • To make chopping dried fruit easier, coat the blade of a heavy chef’s knife with nonstick cooking spray. Or, use kitchen shears to snip the fruit apart.
  • Just a drop of moisture can cause melted chocolate to become lumpy, also called seizing. If this should happen, stir in 1 tablespoon of vegetable shortening for every 3 ounces of chocolate. Do not use butter because it contains water.
  • When the recipe calls for chocolate that is to be melted, be it white, milk or dark, use baking chocolate that comes in squares, not chips. Chips and morsels are formulated to keep their shape even when exposed to heat.
Sources: Tampa Bay Times staffers, Internet and wire services

Baking ingredients tips

  • Use unsalted butter, and if a recipe calls for margarine, make sure it’s in stick form rather than from a tub. Do not use margarine that’s less than 60 percent fat.
  • To keep cookies from spreading too much, use butter that’s just soft enough to cream with sugar, but not so warm that it melts the moment it gets in the oven. Butter is ready when it yields to slight pressure, and depending on the temperature of your house, this will take at least an hour sitting on the counter. With the air conditioner blasting, you might even be able to leave it overnight.
  • Eggs should be at room temperature. Cold eggs can cause melted chocolate to seize or softened butter to firm up, creating tough cookies. To bring eggs to room temperature, set them out on the counter while the oven is preheating.
  • In general, use the chocolate that’s called for in the recipe. Swapping milk chocolate for semisweet may result in cookies that taste too sweet and lack chocolate flavor.
  • When the recipe calls for chocolate that is to be melted, be it white, milk or dark, use baking chocolate that comes in squares, not chips. Chips and morsels are formulated to keep their shape even when exposed to heat.
Sources: Tampa Bay Times staffers, Internet and wire services

Baking equipment tips

  • Use parchment paper to line cookie sheets. It facilitates even baking, prevents sticking and makes cleanup a snap.
  • Use heavy-gauge aluminum cookie sheets with a reflective surface. They should be rimless. Dark sheets will make your cookies darker on the bottom and they could burn more easily. Rimmed baking sheets deflect heat and facilitate uneven cooking.
  • Ice cream scoops come in several sizes and are perfect for measuring drop cookies uniformly.
  • Cool cookies on wire racks rather than on the baking sheets or plates. Cookies cooled on solid surfaces get mushy on the bottom, and those left to cool on hot baking sheets lose moisture and might overcook.
  • Invest in an offset spatula, which makes it easier to remove cookies from sheet. Also, heat-resistant spatulas are good for scraping mixing bowls and stirring chocolate or butter as it melts.
  • If cookies frequently burn in your oven, it may be that the oven thermostat is off. An oven thermometer can verify the temperature.
  • Bake bars and squares in greased pans that are at least 1 1/2 inches deep.
  • Have two sets of measuring cups and spoons so that you don’t have to keep washing and drying. Better yet, get one set of measuring cups for wet ingredients (a glass or plastic pitcherlike vessel that measures at least 2 cups) and one set for dry ingredients (graduated nesting cups with handles).
  • For bar cookies, it is best to use a pan that is within an inch of what’s called for in the recipe, except in the case of the 9-inch and 8-inch squares. The 9-inch square pan holds 2 cups more than the smaller pan. If you are pressing a cookie base into an 8-inch square that’s meant for the larger pan, you’ll need to bake it longer because the base will be deeper. If you are doing the opposite, you’ll need to bake it less.

Gift wrap those cookies

When you've gone to all the trouble of making Christmas cookies, do you really want to give them away on a limp paper plate draped with loose plastic wrap?

We think not.

The packaging doesn't need to cost a lot of money. It doesn't make sense to put $2 worth of cookies in a $10 box. Though pretty packages are nice to look at, they won't mean much if the cookies inside aren't wrapped for freshness. The gift of stale cookies isn't much of a present. Before you put the kid-friendly snickerdoodles and peanut butter cookies into a vintage metal lunch box, place them in a zipper-type plastic bag. Press out as much of the air as you can.

Place the heaviest cookies at the bottom of the container if you are giving away an assortment.

Also, consider the cookies before selecting a container. Frosted cookies may be perfect for a platter at an open house, but the icing will get smashed if they are stacked in a box. Decorated bars and squares pose the same problem.

  • Old coffee cans with plastic tops tied bows. (Look for cans at antique stores if you don't have any; don't empty the nails from the ones in the garage.)
  • Put pecan sandies in a child's sand pail adorned with ribbons and decorative tissue paper.
  • Have a stash of those inexpensive glass vases that come with delivered flowers? If not, you can score a bunch at garage sales for less than $1 each. Cookies that can be stacked look nice in these tall containers. Place cookies in plastic wrap or a zipper-lock bag and line the vase with brightly colored tissue. (We found lots of variety at Target, Big Lots and Hallmark stores.) A bow around the neck of the vase completes the package.
  • Decorative tins are available at craft stores and discount outlets for less than $5. Search antique stores for anything interesting on the cheap. White or natural-colored cardboard boxes, embossed with designs or plain, can be spray-painted or painted by children.
  • Look at craft stores or order online Chinese takeout boxes with handles online. You can order 50 1-pint boxes online from www.magicwandweddings.com for about $25. They come in a variety of colors, including white, red, green and even red and white gingham. They can also be customized with Chinese symbols for "joy" or "Merry Christmas."
  • A Christmas stocking full of cookies would be so much better than one heavy with coal.
  • Cookie jars are gift within a gift. There are many kinds of cookie jars, even ones that talk, in price and design. Make sure, though, that the recipient wants a cookie jar. Otherwise, you might see it at the next garage sale.
  • Choose from inexpensive clay flower pots to fancier glazed ceramic. Use green tissue to resemble grass and stuff to the rim with wrapped cookies.
  • Stackable cookies can be placed in zipper bags, then stuffed gently into white postal tubes. Wrap with red ribbon to look like a candy cane.
  • And there’s more: Consider baskets, oversize coffee mugs, kids' wooden toys, watering cans, dog dishes, small disposable baking pans for bread, and anything that can hold a dozen or more cookies.