With Christmas right around the corner, there's no time like the present to bake.
We’ve got you covered, recipe-wise, with the five winners from the 15th-annual Star Tribune Holiday Cookie Contest: Cranberry Cornmeal Shortbread Cookies (pictured, above, in an image by Star Tribune photographer Tom Wallace), German Sour Cream Twists, Limoncello Kisses, Mocha Cappuccino Cookies and Chocolate Toffee Cookies.
But just in case you want to dig deeper into our archive of 75-plus winning cookies, here are five gotta-bake suggestions:
1: Almond Palmiers
Why? Because their elegant appearance masks a ridiculously easy-to-prepare formula.
Our tip: Splurge and invest in Dufour Pastry Kitchens brand puff pastry, an all-butter product that’s available in the frozen foods section at most Whole Foods Markets and many natural foods coops. It’s roughly three times the cost of shortening-based Pepperidge Farm puff pastry, and the expenditure is worth every penny.
Makes 2 to 3 dozen cookies.
Note: This recipe must be prepared in advance. Palmiers (pronounced pahlm-YAYs) go by many other names, including elephant ears, palm leaves and French hearts. This recipe is from 2011 finalist Kay Lieberherr of St. Paul.
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup powdered sugar, plus extra for garnish, optional
1 (7-ounce) tube almond paste, cut into small pieces
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1/4 cup granulated sugar, divided
1 (17.3-ounce) package puff pastry sheets (containing 2 sheets), refrigerated
In a bowl of an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat butter until creamy, about 1 minute. Add powdered sugar and almond paste. Beat until creamy, about 1 minute. Add egg and almond extract, and beat until thoroughly combined.
Sprinkle work surface with 1 tablespoon granulated sugar. Carefully unfold 1 puff pastry sheet over sugar and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon granulated sugar. Using a rolling pin, roll puff pastry sheet into a 12-inch square. Divide almond paste mixture in half. Carefully spread half of almond paste mixture evenly over top of puff pastry sheet. Starting on both sides, roll opposite sides of puff pastry sheet, from the outer edge to the middle, with rolls meeting in the center. Firmly press together, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 2 hours and up to 2 days. Repeat with second puff pastry sheet.
When ready to bake, preheat oven to 400 degrees and line baking sheets with parchment paper.
Unwrap puff pastry logs and, using a sharp knife, trim off uneven ends. Cut dough into 1/4-inch slices and place (flat side down) 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets. Bake until golden brown, 12 to 14 minutes.
Remove from oven and cool 2 minutes before transferring cookies to a wire rack to cool completely. Dust with powdered sugar, if desired, and serve.
2: Cranberry Pecan Swirls
Why? Because this festive cookie tastes even better than it looks.
Our tip: Use a rolling pin to slightly press the filling into the dough to keep the cranberries and pecans from falling out of the cookie. Before freezing the dough, gently imprint it with exact quarter-inch marks, so cookies will be the same size when sliced.
Makes about 3 dozen cookies.
Note: This dough must be prepared in advance. This recipe was from 2012 finalist Annette Poole of Prior Lake.
1 1/2 cups flour, plus extra for rolling dough
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup finely chopped fresh cranberries
1/2 cup ground pecans
1 tablespoon freshly grated orange zest
In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt, and reserve.
In a bowl of an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add egg and vanilla extract, and beat until thoroughly combined. Reduce speed to low, add flour mixture and mix until just incorporated. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 1 hour.
In a small bowl, combine cranberries, pecans and orange zest.
On a lightly floured work surface, using a lightly floured rolling pin, roll dough to a 10-inch square. Sprinkle cranberry mixture over dough, leaving a ½-inch border on two opposite sides. Roll dough, jelly-roll fashion, beginning at one of the borders and rolling towards the other border. Wrap in plastic wrap and freeze at least 8 hours.
When ready to bake, preheat oven to 375 degrees and line baking sheets with parchment paper. Unwrap dough logs and, using a sharp knife, trim off uneven ends. Cut dough into 1/4-inch thick slices and place cookies (flat side down) 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets. Bake until lightly browned, 14 to 15 minutes. Remove from oven and cool 2 minutes and transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.
3: Chocolate Peppermint Cookies
Why? Because kids of all ages will reach for them.
Our tip: Place the peppermint candies in a tightly sealed plastic bag before crushing them.
Makes about 2 dozen cookies.
Note: This recipe is from 2014 finalist Karen Evans of Minneapolis.
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
2 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon peppermint extract
1 to 3 tablespoons milk (or heavy cream)
1/3 cup crushed hard peppermint candies (such as candy canes)
To prepare cookies: Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line baking sheets with parchment paper.
In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa, salt, baking powder and baking soda, and reserve.
In a bowl of an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat 1/2 cup butter until creamy, about 1 minute. Add granulated sugar and beat until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add egg and vanilla extract, and beat until thoroughly combined. Reduce speed to low, add flour mixture and mix until just incorporated.Roll dough into 1-inch balls. Place dough 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets, flattening dough slightly. Bake until cookies are set and dry-looking, about 10 minutes. Remove from oven and cool 2 minutes before transferring cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.
To prepare topping: In a bowl of an electric mixer on medium speed, combine 3 tablespoons butter and powdered sugar, and beat until creamy. Add peppermint extract and enough milk (or cream), 1 tablespoon at a time, and mix until smooth. Spread icing across the top of each cookie, then press iced cookies into crushed peppermint candies.
4: Orange-Chocolate Cookies
Why? Because orange and chocolate are an irresistible combination.
Our tip: Bake until the cookies just start to brown. “I’m a big fan of always just a bit too brown,” said winner Eileen Troxel. “Then you cover them in chocolate, and that really brings out their flavor.”
Note: This 2007 recipe is from winner Eileen Troxel of St. Paul, who adapted the recipe from Traditional Home magazine.
Makes about 3 dozen cookies.
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, at room temperature, plus extra for chocolate dipping sauce
1 cup sugar
1 egg yolk
2 teaspoons freshly grated orange zest
2 cups flour, plus extra for rolling dough
1/4 cup orange marmalade, divided
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate
Preheat oven to 375 degrees and line baking sheets with parchment paper.
In a bowl of an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat butter until creamy, about 1 minute. Add sugar and beat until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes, scraping sides of bowl occasionally. Add egg yolk and orange zest, and beat until thoroughly combined. Reduce speed to low, add flour and mix until just incorporated.
On a lightly floured work surface, using a lightly floured rolling pin, roll dough to 1/4-inch thickness. Using a 1 1/2 -inch round cookie cutter, cut dough into rounds, and place cookies 1 inch apart on prepared baking sheets. Repeat with remaining dough, gathering up scraps, re-rolling and cutting until all dough is used.
Using your thumb, make a slight indentation in center of cookie and fill with ¼ teaspoon orange marmalade. Bake until edges are lightly browned, about 12 minutes. Remove from oven and cool 2 minutes before transferring cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.
In a double boiler over gently simmering water, melt chocolate, whisking in enough butter (1 tablespoon at a time, up to about 4 tablespoons) to make a good dipping consistency. Dip half of each cookie in chocolate and place on wax paper until chocolate sets.
5: Kit Kat Christmas Bars
Why? Because they’re delicious, and ridiculously easy to prepare; no baking required.
Our tip: Enlist kids to help, they’ll love it.
Makes about 3 dozen bar cookies.
Note: We decorated with dry-roasted, unsalted peanuts, to alert eaters with food allergies that the bar cookies contained peanuts. Natural peanut butter (no sugar added) really works well for these cookies. This recipe is from 2015 finalist Julie Olson of East Bethel.
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1/2 cup milk
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 cup brown sugar, packed
2 cups crushed graham crackers
1 (13.7 oz.) box Keebler Club Crackers
1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup butterscotch chips
1/3 cup peanut butter
Chopped dry-roasted, unsalted nuts or decorative sugars, optional
In a saucepan over medium heat, combine butter, milk, granulated sugar, brown sugar and graham crackers. Bring to a boil and stir continuously for 5 minutes; do not allow mixture to burn. Remove from heat.
Layer the bottom of a 9- by 13-inch pan with Club Crackers. Pour half of hot mixture over Club Crackers. Add a second layer of Club Crackers over mixture. Pour remaining half of hot mixture over the second layer of Club Crackers. Add a third layer of Club Crackers. Refrigerate until set.
When bars are set, combine chocolate chips, butterscotch chips and peanut butter in a microwave-safe bowl. Cook mixture, stirring occasionally, until fully melted and stir until smooth. Pour melted topping over top layer of Club Crackers and spread evenly across bars.