Friday Favorites: Holiday Sugar Cookies

Friday Favorites: Holiday Sugar Cookies​

Making sugar cookies is a classic Christmastime activity, but you can do so much more with them than just roll, cut, and blanket them with royal icing! From thumbprints to pinwheels to custom panes of candy stained glass, the versatility of this dough is endless. Make yourself a few batches and get your sugar cookie on this holiday season! Here’s some inspiration from my archives.

Friday Favorites: Holiday Sugar Cookies​

Iced Sugar Cookies {Cream Cheese Sugar Cookies with Quick-Dry Royal Icing}

A Christmas staple! These buttery roll-out sugar cookies come with a time commitment, but they sure are fun to make (and eat!). All my sugar cookie knowledge is in that post, so click over and check it out!

Friday Favorites: Holiday Sugar Cookies​

Hand-Painted Sugar Cookies {Kid-Friendly Cookie Decorating}

Not up for giving bags of sugar-based concrete to the kids in your life? Paint your sugar cookies instead! Using a simple mixture of sweetened condensed milk and food coloring, you can make your sugar cookies as festive as you want with much less fuss. Finishing them with some basic icing is totally optional, but I think it makes them really cute.

Stained Glass Cookies

Want to skip decorating altogether? Make Stained Glass Cookies! Cut out the center of the cookies before they go in the oven, then fill them with crushed hard candy. In just minutes, it’ll melt into a little candy stained glass window.

Friday Favorites: Holiday Sugar Cookies​

Holiday Icing Thumbprints

Here’s where things get interesting. The very same dough that makes for the best sugar cookies gets rolled into balls instead of sheets, then filled with little wells of festive icing! So cute, right?! Good luck eating just one.

Friday Favorites: Holiday Sugar Cookies​

Candy Cane Cookies

Candy Cane Cookies use the same sugar cookie dough base with three adjustments: less baking powder, the addition of peppermint extract, and half the dough is dyed Christmas red! Oh, and they’re rolled and baked into *the* cutest candy canes you ever did see.

Friday Favorites: Holiday Sugar Cookies​

Pinwheel Cookies

I spent years being intimidated by pinwheel cookies, but it turns out they’re kind of a snap to make! You need patience for the stacking and rolling, but after that they’re just an extra-festive slice and bake recipe.

What’s your favorite sugar cookie recipe? Let me know in the comments or on social media!

The Best Vegan, Gluten-Free Gingerbread Cookies

I am delighted to present this recipe as part of the Sweetest Season Cookie Exchange. This my fourth year participating in this event during which food bloggers post holiday cookies, raise awareness and donate money in support of Cookies for Kids’ Cancer, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization. We believe in their mission to raise funds for innovative pediatric cancer treatments and research through bake sales and cookie swaps. Many supporters (“Good Cookies”) do this throughout the year, and I am happy to contribute by participating in the Sweetest Season. If you’d like to learn more and/or make a charitable donation to Cookies for Kids’ Cancer, click here. For cookies, keep scrolling!

The Best Vegan, Gluten-Free Gingerbread Cookies

I’ve spent years making different variations on gingerbread cookies, and though I will go to the mattresses for my Maple Spice Stars, I think these Vegan, Gluten-Free Gingerbread Cookies are my best to date. They’re sweet and snappy, and if I didn’t outright tell you that they are egg, dairy, and flour-free, you’d never know it. They just taste like Christmas.

The Best Vegan, Gluten-Free Gingerbread Cookies

These sweet little cookie people are every bit the soul-warming ginger-spiced cookies we all know and love, just made more accessible. Baking is rarely something I do with only myself in mind and that goes double for the holiday season; it makes perfect sense to have recipes that can feed more of my community in my repertoire. My community happens to include a lot of people who are gluten-free or vegan or both, so these festive treats certainly fit the bill!

Let’s talk process. This dough is simple and straightforward, relying on easy-to-find ingredients like almond flour, vegan butter, and confectioner’s sugar in addition to classic gingerbread fare like molasses, brown sugar, and a bevy of spices. It takes just minutes to mix up and only needs an hourlong chill before it’s ready to roll and cut. You can use any cookie cutter you like, of course, but I am a sucker for classic gingerbread people. So cute!

Baking is business as usual. These little buddies take 12-14 minutes at 325F, with crisper results coming more toward the 14 minute mark. Heads up: keep an eye on them in that last minute so they don’t over-brown. Even if they do get a little overdone though, you can fix them right up with icing. Vegan Royal Icing to be exact!

Where classic royal icing is made with egg whites, the vegan stuff uses my favorite egg replacer ever: aquafaba! Yep, the liquid from a can of chickpeas is the secret to pipeable, reliable egg-free royal icing! Its protein structure allows it to whip up just like egg whites do, making it a perfect 1:1 replacement here.

With the exception of swapping aquafaba for my usual mix of water and meringue powder, this Vegan Royal Icing comes together exactly the same way as my traditional recipe, and is just as delicious! I used the icing as-is for decoration, but feel free to dye it any color you like or to thin it for making flood icing if you’re interested in more intricate designs.

The Best Vegan, Gluten-Free Gingerbread Cookies

Oh, and for those concerned, this icing doesn’t taste like beans at all—it just tastes like icing.

The Best Vegan, Gluten-Free Gingerbread Cookies

And these vegan, gluten-free gingerbread cookies? They just taste like Christmas.

The Best Vegan, Gluten-Free Gingerbread Cookies
The Best Vegan, Gluten-Free Gingerbread Cookies
makes about 2 dozen 4-inch cookies

3 cups blanched almond flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt
3 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 cup vegan butter, softened to room temperature
2/3 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1/3 cup confectioner’s sugar
2 tablespoons molasses
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

For decoration:
Vegan Royal Icing (recipe below)
sprinkles of choice

In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together almond flour, baking powder, salt, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and cloves. Set aside.

In a separate medium-large mixing bowl, use an electric mixer to beat vegan butter until fluffy (about 2 minutes). Add dark brown sugar and confectioner’s sugar and beat until fully combined (about 2 minutes). Beat in molasses and vanilla.

Add dry ingredients in two installments, mixing completely after each addition. Dough may look rubbly, but should hold together extremely well when pinched.

Divide dough in two. Form each half into a disk, then wrap with plastic wrap. Chill for 1 hour or up to 3 days.

Place oven racks in central positions. Preheat oven to 325F. Line two rimmed baking sheets with parchment.

Use confectioner’s sugar to dust a surface and rolling pin. Unwrap one disk of dough and place it on the surface. Use the rolling pin to roll it out to 1/4-inch thickness. A thin offset icing spatula or bench scraper (or similar) will make moving the dough much easier, as will adding more confectioner’s sugar to the surface and rolling pin.

Use a cookie cutter to cut shapes, then use the icing spatula to move them to the prepared pans, keeping them 1.5-2 inches apart. Bake cookies 12-14 minutes, rotating the pans top-to-bottom and front-to-back at the 7 minute mark.

Let cookies cool 10 minutes on their pans. Use a spatula to remove them to a cooling rack to cool completely.

Repeat rolling, cutting, and baking as needed, re-rolling scraps as needed. Let cookie sheets come to room temperature between batches.

Once cookies are all baked and cooled, decorate with Vegan Royal Icing (recipe below) and sprinkles. Let cookies dry at least 8 hours before layering with parchment paper and stacking.

Cookies will keep covered at room temperature for at least a week.
Vegan Royal Icing
makes more than enough for 1 batch of gingerbread cookies

1/3 cup aquafaba (liquid from a can of chickpeas)
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 pound (3 3/4 cups) confectioner's sugar, divided
1 tablespoon corn syrup

Special Equipment:
gel food coloring
piping bags (or plastic sandwich bags)
small round piping tips and couplers
sprinkles

Beat aquafaba and cream of tartar with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until doubled in size, about 1 minute. Mix in vanilla. With the mixer running on low, add half of the confectioner's sugar. Mix in corn syrup. Add the remaining half of confectioner's sugar. Scrape down the bowl before beating on medium-low for an additional 30 seconds.

To ice as pictured here, transfer 1/4 of the icing to a piping bag fitted with a coupler and tip. Ice as desired, sprinkling with any sprinkles immediately after piping (the icing hardens very quickly). Let cookies dry in a single layer uncovered for at least 8 hours, or until fully dry, before stacking.

For storage, press plastic wrap to the surface of your container of Vegan Royal Icing, it may be kept covered at room temperature for up to four days or in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks. Beat with a mixer before using, as it may slowly separate over time. If if needs to be thinned, add 1/2 teaspoon water at a time until icing dribbled into the bowl forms a ribbon that fades within a few seconds.

For information on more intricate decorating like outline/fill icing, using multiple colors, etc., click here.

How to Par-Bake Cinnamon Rolls {Make Ahead Method!}

How to Par-Bake Cinnamon Rolls {Make Ahead Method!}​

Coming from a Christmas morning breakfast casserole family, I’ve never really understood why so many people make cinnamon rolls on that day of all days.

I mean, have you made cinnamon rolls from scratch? They are not a quick recipe, clocking in at a minimum of three hours start-to-finish (slightly less if you do the rise overnight). My family is all adults so we start our Christmas morning at a leisurely 9am, eat around 10, then get to the gifts around noon. If we wanted cinnamon rolls for breakfast, that would require the baker (me!) to be up and functioning at 7am. Big no thank you. And if you have kids or people who get up for gifts at 6am or earlier…3am? Earlier? Forget it!

But what if I told you that you could have warm, fluffy, homemade cinnamon rolls on your table on Christmas morning in under an hour? Yes, it’s possible, thanks to a little technique called par-baking.

You’ve definitely heard the term “par-baking” on here before in association with pie crust. It means to partially bake, which is exactly what we’re going to do to these rolls: partially bake them ahead of time, then finish the baking on Christmas. This method will work with any yeast-raised cinnamon roll recipe you love. I wouldn’t recommend this method for any rolls with fruit in the filling (i.e. not these) as it might degrade during thawing, but I think nuts would be okay.

How to Par-Bake Cinnamon Rolls {Make Ahead Method!}​

Now, this isn’t a magic trick. You do have to plan ahead to do about 2.5 hours of mixing/kneading/rolling/rising at some point to make this work. But (but!) the bulk of the work can be done anytime between now and Christmas (or whenever you want cinnamon rolls).

The process is simple. Make your cinnamon roll recipe up to the baking step, then bake for about half the baking time (15 minutes). At this point, your rolls should be risen, puffed and pale. Where you would normally continue baking them until brown, resist that urge and remove them from the oven.

Let your rolls cool to room temperature and then triple wrap in plastic, cover in foil and freeze until the night before you need them. If you don’t want to have your 9×13” pan out of commission for any length of time, you can bake in a disposable aluminum baking pan, then tuck it into your freezer for up to six weeks.

The night before you want cinnamon rolls, move the par-baked rolls from your freezer to your fridge to thaw out. In the morning, simply uncover and bake your rolls for the remaining 15 minutes, until golden. Finish with cream cheese frosting and voila! Fresh homemade cinnamon rolls on your table in under an hour, and you didn’t have to sacrifice sleep to make it happen.

How to Par-Bake Cinnamon Rolls {Make Ahead Method!}​

Call it Christmas magic. Call it whatever you want. Just call me for breakfast.

Par-baked Cinnamon Rolls
adapted from Dana Velden

cinnamon roll recipe of choice
9x13-inch baking pan (disposable aluminum, if desired)

Follow your yeast-raised cinnamon roll recipe up to the baking step.

Preheat your oven to 375F. Bake cinnamon rolls for 10-15 minutes, until risen, puffed and pale.

Remove cinnamon rolls from the oven and allow to cool completely in their pan on a rack. Triple wrap the pan in plastic wrap, then wrap in foil. Freeze for up to 6 weeks.

The night before you want cinnamon rolls, move the pan of frozen rolls to the refrigerator. Let thaw 8-12 hours.

Preheat oven to 375F. Unwrap rolls; discard foil and plastic wrap.

Bake rolls for 10-15 minutes, until golden brown. Top with cream cheese frosting (or whatever your recipe says) and serve warm.

Brown Butter White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Blondies

Aaaaand we’re back! And by “we” I mean “me”…and these Brown Butter White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Blondies.

Brown Butter White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Blondies​

Are these a traditional Christmas treat? Probably not. But after learning that some people consider white chocolate macadamia nut cookies a Christmas staple, I perfected my recipe last year. I turned up the flavor by browning the butter, toasting the macadamia nuts (and leaving them in big pieces), and using pure white chocolate instead of white chocolate chips. They’re incredible, if I do say so myself. Which I do. Obviously.

Brown Butter White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Blondies​

I didn’t try to top that recipe this year, but I’ve simplified it by making it into blondies, and that’s basically the same thing. There’s no tedious chilling, rolling, and batch-baking—just mix the batter, spread it into a pan, bake, cool, and slice into thick, chewy squares. Easy peasy.

Brown Butter White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Blondies​

Serve them on your best thrifted Christmas Spode plates and definitely eat one too many.

Brown Butter White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Blondies​

The most wonderful time of the year, indeed.

Brown Butter White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Blondies​
Brown Butter White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Blondies
makes one 8- or 9-inch square pan, about 16 blondies

3/4 cup macadamia nuts (I used raw)
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
2/3 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg + 1 large egg yolk, room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt
3 ounces white chocolate, chopped (I used Ghirardelli)
flaky salt, for garnish (optional)

If using roasted salted macadamia nuts, skip the first step. Chop them before beginning the recipe at “Brown the butter.” Also reduce the salt to 1/2 teaspoon.

Preheat oven to 350F. Scatter macadamia nuts on a dry rimmed baking sheet and roast 5-7 minutes, or until fragrant. Do not burn. Let cool completely and give them a rough chop.

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease an 8- or 9-inch square pan and line with parchment, leaving overhang for bar-removal. Set aside while you make the blondie batter.

Brown the butter. Place butter in a light-colored saucepan over medium heat. Let butter melt. Butter will bubble and crackle as the water content evaporates. Swirl the pan frequently for 5-7 minutes, keeping an eye on the color. When the solids are turning brown and the butter is nutty and fragrant, remove the pot from the heat and immediately pour the brown butter into a medium-large mixing bowl.

Whisk light brown sugar and granulated sugar into the brown butter. Mix in egg, egg yolk, and vanilla, followed by flour and salt. Fold in chopped macadamia nuts and white chocolate. Batter will be thick.

Spread the blondie batter in prepared pan. Bake 25-30 minutes, or until the top is golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out mostly clean (no raw batter). Sprinkle blondies with coarse salt, if desired. Let blondies cool completely in the pan on a rack.

Run a small, thin knife around the edge of the pan, then use parchment to lift them onto a cutting board. Slice with a large, sharp chef’s knife, wiping the blade clean between cuts. Serve.

Blondies will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 4 days.

Cranberry Simple Syrup & Sparkling Cranberry Ginger Mocktails

I never know what to post the week of Thanksgiving, but I think going with something easy that you can make anytime between now and the New Year is a good place to start.

This Fresh Cranberry Simple Syrup certainly fits that bill, clocking in with almost no active work, but plenty of vibrant color and sweet-tart flavor. It starts the way all simple syrups do: with sugar and water. While the classic proportion is 1:1, I upped the water here to accommodate the cranberries’ natural thickening agent (pectin)—we’re after syrup here, not jelly!

The berries, water and sugar are simmered together for just ten minutes, until the fruit begins to burst. Once that happens, remove the pot from the heat and use a fork or potato masher to mash all the berries into the liquid. Resist the urge to strain your syrup right away, instead letting the mashed berries hang out in it while it’s cooling. This imbues the syrup with plenty of tart cranberry flavor and vivid color. Once the half hour is up, strain and cool your syrup, then use it however you like. I bet a little over ice cream would be a treat, but I am focusing on mocktails today.

Cranberry Simple Syrup & Sparkling Cranberry Ginger Mocktails​

Let’s talk about these Sparkling Cranberry Ginger Mocktails. With their ruby color and booze-free fizz, these are a perfect beverage for any end-of-year occasion. They’re not terribly sugary, and taste intentional and not like an afterthought or just a virgin version of some classic cocktail. They taste like they have some intention behind them, if you will—they’re complete on their own.

The list of ingredients for Sparkling Cranberry Ginger Mocktails is blessedly short, and besides the homemade Fresh Cranberry Simple Syrup, everything is readily available at the grocery store.

The recipe is simple: 1 part Fresh Cranberry Simple Syrup, 2 parts ginger beer, 2 parts seltzer, 1/2 part fresh lime juice. I’ve written the recipe in “parts” rather than specific volumes so that you can make enough for two or for a crowd without doing too much math. Simply stir the ingredients together and serve over ice with cranberries and lime wedges for garnish. So cute, right? Wait til you try one—so good.

Cranberry Simple Syrup & Sparkling Cranberry Ginger Mocktails​

My absolute favorite thing about these mocktails? They’re not too sweet. There is some sweetness, of course, from the syrup and zippy ginger beer, but it’s balanced by the lime juice and diluted with seltzer in the best possible way. They taste like they were made for grown-ups because they were. How refreshing.

Cranberry Simple Syrup & Sparkling Cranberry Ginger Mocktails​

I’m taking the rest of this week off to spend time with my family. I’ll be back next week with new Christmas recipes. Happy Thanksgiving, dear readers.

Fresh Cranberry Simple Syrup
makes about 2 cups

1 1/2 cups water
1 cup granulated sugar
1 10-ounce bag fresh cranberries, rinsed and picked through

Add all ingredients to a small pot. Bring to a boil, then immediately reduce to a simmer for 10 minutes or until berries have burst. Skim off and discard any foam that accumulates. Remove pot from heat, then mash burst berries with a potato masher or fork. Let berries sit in syrup for 30 minutes.

Place a sieve over a large mixing bowl. Use a silicone spatula or wooden spoon to press the syrup through the sieve. Discard the the leftover fruit solids or use for another purpose.

Transfer syrup to a container with a lid. Let cool completely before storing in the refrigerator.
Sparkling Cranberry Ginger Mocktails

1 part cranberry syrup
2 parts ginger beer
2 parts seltzer
1/2 part lime juice
ice
fresh cranberries, for garnish (optional)
lime wedges, for garnish (optional)

I measured in tablespoons for each glass, but feel free to use a larger units of measure to make a pitcher of mocktails.

In a liquid measuring cup or other vessel, stir together cranberry syrup, ginger beer, seltzer and lime juice.

Add ice to glasses. Pour mocktail mixture over the top and garnish with cranberries and lime, if desired. Serve immediately.