Our three winning cookie recipes for the 36th annual Holiday Cookie Contest offer an ideal variety of cookies for spreading cheer this season.
Below, find the recipes for Decorated Snickerdoodle Sugar Cookies, the third-place recipe from Christine Mayer of Evanston; Marbled Pistachio Almond Cookies from DeKalb County’s Andrew Yohanan; and our first-place winner, Chicagoan Caroline Crispino’s Chocolate Salted-Caramel Surprise Cookies. Learn more about how they crafted their award-winning recipes here.
Happy baking, Chicago.
Christine Mayer, Evanston: These cookies are a buttery, cinnamon-y treat. Every year, I bake decorated sugar cookies for my family for the holidays, and these were a favorite — not only for the great taste, but also because the snow-dusted trees evoke a cozy feeling of holiday cheer.
Prep time: 2¾ hours, plus at least one hour of chilling. Icing can be made the night before.
Bake time: 10-12 minutes
Decorating time: 2½ hours
Yield: 96 cookies
2 cups unsalted butter
2 cups granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
5 cups flour
6 tablespoons meringue powder
2 pounds powdered sugar (about 8 cups)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
⅔ cup warm water
Gel food coloring
1. Sift together flour, cinnamon and salt and set aside.
2. Cream together sugar and butter on low to medium speed. Mix until thoroughly incorporated.
3. Add eggs one at a time and mix slowly. Add vanilla extract and stir briefly.
5. Add the flour mixture to the bowl one cup at a time until dough clumps together. Dough will be sticky; add additional flour as needed if too sticky to handle.
6. Divide dough in half and, working one half at a time, roll out to ⅜-inch between 2 pieces of parchment paper. Place in fridge for 1 hour.
7. Cut out cookie shapes and place on baking sheet. Reroll scraps, placing in fridge as needed to firm up before cutting out shapes.
8. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. While oven heats, put cutout cookies trays back in fridge for 10 minutes to chill to help hold shape if needed.
9. Bake cookies for 10-12 minutes or until edges become golden brown.
10. Cool cookies completely before decorating with royal icing (recipe below).
Royal icing recipe
1. Combine all ingredients except food coloring in large mixing bowl.
2. Beat ingredients together using electric or stand mixer. Start slowly and increase speed to high until stiff peaks form.
3. Separate into batches for however many colors you are using for your design and add food coloring.
4. Use additional water to thin icing to desired consistency. Flood icing should dissolve back into itself within 10 seconds when a spoonful is dropped into the bowl; stiffer icing for details should be like cream cheese — soft enough to pipe but stiff enough to hold its shape.
Andrew Yohanan, DeKalb: Ring in the holiday season with these delightfully buttery and oh-so-nutty cookies. Their sumptuous pistachio and almond flavor is so irresistible, there won’t be any left by the time Santa comes down the chimney. Pair these crisp yet tender treats with a spiced tea or your morning coffee. Yes, that’s right — cookies are an acceptable breakfast once December rolls around. Perhaps the best part of this sliced cookie is just how easy it is to make, since the decoration is baked in.
Prep time: 45 minutes, plus at least two hours of chilling (or overnight)
Bake time: 13-15 minutes
Yield: 24 cookies
13 tablespoons (¾ cup plus one tablespoon) unsalted butter
¾ cup powdered sugar
2 egg yolks
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 ⅓ cups almond flour, toasted (see note)
¾ cup ground, lightly salted or unsalted pistachios
3 drops green food coloring
3 tablespoons red sanding sugar (more if needed)
1. Cream together room-temperature butter with powdered sugar. Once combined, beat in the egg yolks and both extracts. Continue beating the ingredients until mixture is light and fluffy.
2. Add in the salt and flour and mix until just combined.
3. Remove ⅓ of the dough and set in a medium bowl. Add in the pistachios and food coloring to the smaller portion of dough and stir until it is a uniform color.
4. With the remaining ⅔ of the dough, work in the almond flour until you have a uniform texture.
5. Spread out the almond dough on a lightly floured surface and spread out until it is about ¼-inch thick. Add dollops of the pistachio mixture over half of the almond dough. Fold over the almond dough without the pistachio dough on top of the other half. Flatten out the dough and fold it once more. Turn the dough 90 degrees, flatten it out and fold it over once more. Be careful to not over-roll, or the marbling will become too homogenous.
6. Form a log with the dough and press it into an 8-inch-by-4-inch rectangular loaf pan that has been lined with plastic wrap. Let dough chill for at least two hours, but preferably overnight.
7. Remove dough from the refrigerator, take off the plastic wrap, and sprinkle all sides of the sanding sugar. Slice crosswise ¼ inch thick slices from brick of dough.
8. Place the sliced dough on a pan prepared with parchment paper and stick it in the freezer for 15 minutes.
9. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Bake for 13-15 minutes until ever so lightly golden on the edges. Allow cookies to cool, then serve.
Note: Don’t use almond meal in place of almond flour, as it will muddy the coloring. To toast almond flour, spread evenly on a parchment-lined baking sheet at 350 degrees for 8-10 minutes, or until fragrant and just starting to lightly brown. Toss at the 5-minute mark with a spatula for more even toasting. If marbling pattern isn’t working, try flattening pistachio dough into a flat disc and laying on top of almond dough, then rolling both into a tight log for a swirled pattern.
Caroline Crispino, Chicago: My Chocolate Salted-Caramel Surprise Cookies are always a fan favorite at Christmas parties — and even at events year round. The secret to the cookie is a favorite childhood candy that’s hidden inside. What makes them special? They are easy and seem much more complicated than they are. The only trick is to keep Rolos on hand for when you want to make them. Serve warm or even with a bit of ice cream for a special dessert and watch them disappear. Enjoy!
Prep time: 20 minutes, plus 30 minutes to chill
Bake time: 9 minutes
Yield: 44-50 cookies
1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup unsalted butter, softened (2 sticks)
2 ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
¾ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
50 Rolos, wrapping removed
½ cup granulated sugar
Kosher salt or flaky Maldron salt to finish at the end
1. Heat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a baking sheet with pan liner or parchment paper.
2. Combine sugars, butter, vanilla and eggs in a bowl. Mix until blended well.
3. Add all dry ingredients separately. Mix well. Then add to wet ingredients. Mix well.
4. Cover bowl or remove dough and wrap with plastic wrap and chill for 25-40 minutes.
5. Remove dough and form golf-ball-sized spheres, approximately 1 tablespoon each.
6. Press unwrapped Rolo into the center of one ball and be sure to cover the Rolo by the dough.
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7. Repeat for the rest of the dough balls. (Just barely cover the Rolo with dough, without excessive dough around the candy.)
8. Roll dough balls (with embedded Rolo) through sugar spread out on a plate to coat. Place on baking sheet and press each ball with the bottom of a mug, measuring cup or mason jar to flatten slightly at the center.
9. Sprinkle with kosher or Maldron salt in the center on the flattened part of the cookie.
10. Bake for 9-10 minutes. (If you prefer soft and gooey, check after 8 minutes to see how they look.)
11. Cool on cooling rack for a few minutes then watch the caramel ooze out of the center and enjoy. For extra holiday oomph, roll edges in sugar once more for a snow-like dusting.
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