Find the best vanilla extract, the freshest spices and crunchiest nuts. Unearth your grandmother's prize cookie cutter and dust off the rolling pin. Now, it's into the kitchen to bake a bundle of holiday cookies.

My own cookie bakeathon combines sentimental favorites such as almond crescents, lavishly decorated butter cookies and chocolate bars, with some classics that every season I rejuvenate in one way or another. There are sugar cookies, bulky drop cookies filled with rolled oats and fruit, tender triangles of shortbread and nut melt-aways enveloped in confectioners' sugar.

With my baking, I relive a few memories: When I was a child, my mother and I would devote an entire weekend or two to baking elaborate rolled cookies that we topped with mountains of shredded coconut; the dough was always a bit tricky, but we prevailed, and the cookie tins were piled high. This is a nostalgic custom I preserve each December, using my late mother's star-shaped cookie cutter and some funky cutters I've collected over the years (like a chili pepper or a cactus).

The sampler of Christmas cookies that follows provides the recipes and techniques for beginning your own sweet traditions. Merry baking!

Sugar Cookies

(About 6 dozen cookies, using a 3-inch cookie cutter)

This big-batch recipe will provide you with plenty of tender, buttery rolled cookies for cutting into fanciful shapes to bake and decorate.

6 cups bleached all-purpose flour, plus additional for rolling the dough

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 1/4 teaspoons salt

1 1/2 teaspoons freshly grated nutmeg

1 pound (4 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

3 cups sugar, plus additional for the surface

2 large eggs

4 large egg yolks

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1/4 cup light (table) cream

Nonstick spray oil

4 large egg whites, lightly beaten, for brushing on the unbaked cookies, or substitute about 1/3 cup light (table) cream,

In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt and nutmeg. Set aside.

In a large bowl with an electric mixer on medium speed, cream the butter for 3 minutes. Add the sugar in 3 additions, beating for 1 minute after each addition. Add the 2 eggs and beat until combined, about 1 minute. Beat in the egg yolks and vanilla. Blend in the cream. Reduce the speed to low and add the flour mixture in 4 additions, mixing until the flour is completely incorporated after each addition. The dough will be soft.

Divide the dough evenly into 5 portions. Place each portion between 2 sheets of wax paper and roll to a thickness of 1/4 inch. Stack the sheets of dough on a large baking sheet, making sure that the sheets don't wrinkle. Refrigerate the dough on the sheet overnight.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line several baking sheets with parchment paper.

Carefully remove the top sheet of wax paper from 1 sheet of rolled-out dough on a lightly floured surface. Carefully flip it over so that the exposed dough is on the floured surface. Remove the top sheet of wax paper. Using cookie cutters lightly coated with nonstick cooking spray, cut out as many cookies as possible. Lightly press together the scraps, reroll and chill again. Repeat with the remaining portions of dough. (If the dough softens at any time, freeze the dough on a baking sheet for 20 to 30 minutes, or until the dough firms up.) Place the cookies 3 inches apart on the prepared baking sheets. Lightly brush the tops of the cookies with the egg white or cream. If you are not planning on decorating the cookies, sprinkle with sugar.

Bake the cookies in the preheated oven for 11 to 12 minutes, or until set and golden. Cool the cookies on the sheets for 1 minute. Transfer to wire rack to cool completely. Store the cookies in airtight tins.

Per cookie: 122 calories, 2 gm protein, 16 gm carbohydrates, 6 gm fat, 32 mg cholesterol, 3 gm saturated fat, 52 mg sodium, trace dietary fiber

Butter Pecan Shortbread

(9 1/2-inch round shortbread, making 10 wedges)

Lightly flavored with vanilla and punctuated with pecans, this is a delicious yet simple cookie. You may substitute any kind of nut for the chopped pecans, such as whole pine nuts or chopped walnuts or cashews.

1 1/2 cups bleached all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar

1/8 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

6 ounces (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

8 tablespoons plus 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar

3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup chopped pecans, lightly toasted and cooled

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Have a fluted 9 1/2-inch tart pan with a removable bottom ready.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, cream of tartar, salt and nutmeg. Set aside.

In a large bowl with an electric mixer on low speed, cream the butter until light and creamy, about 3 minutes. Add 6 tablespoons of the sugar and the vanilla and beat for 2 minutes. Blend in the flour mixture in 2 additions, mixing just until the flour is incorporated. The dough will be soft. Stir in the pecans.

Lightly press the dough into the tart pan. Do not pack the dough or the shortbread will bake unevenly. Bake the shortbread in the preheated oven for 40 minutes, or until set and golden.

Transfer the pan to a wire rack to cool for 5 minutes. Sprinkle the shortbread with the remaining 2 1/2 tablespoons of the sugar. Cool for 10 minutes. Unmold the shortbread, leaving it on its round metal base. Cut the shortbread into wedges and cool completely. Store the shortbread in an airtight tin.

Per serving: 274 calories, 3 gm protein, 26 gm carbohydrates, 18 gm fat, 39 mg cholesterol, 9 gm saturated fat, 15 mg sodium, 1 gm dietary fiber

Double Ginger Crinkles

(About 3 dozen cookies)

A dough that's energized with a double dose of ginger in the form of the ground spice and chopped crystallized ginger creates spicy, bursting-with-flavor cookies.

2 cups plus 2 tablespoons bleached all-purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons ground ginger

3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

3/4 cup vegetable shortening

3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar

1 large egg

1/3 cup unsulphured molasses

1 1/4 teaspoons vanilla extract

2/3 cup packed chopped crystallized ginger

1 1/4 cups sugar blended with 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger and 1/8 teaspoon ground allspice

In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, ground ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice. Set aside.

In a large bowl with an electric mixer on medium speed, cream the shortening for 2 minutes. Add the sugar in 2 additions, beating for 1 minute after each addition. Beat in the egg. Blend in the molasses and vanilla. Reduce the speed to low and add the flour mixture in 3 additions, beating just until the flour is incorporated after each addition. Stir in the crystallized ginger. The dough will be very soft. Cover tightly and refrigerate until firm enough to handle, 3 to 4 hours. (If necessary, transfer the dough to the freezer until firm, about 1 hour.)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line several baking sheets with parchment paper.

Form the dough into balls of about 1 tablespoon. Roll each ball in the ginger-sugar mixture and then place them 3 inches apart on the prepared baking sheets.

Bake the cookies for 12 to 13 minutes or until set. During baking the cookies will puff, then deflate and form crinkled surfaces. Cool on the baking sheets for 2 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight tin.

Per cookie: 113 calories, 1 gm protein, 18 gm carbohydrates, 4 gm fat, 6 mg cholesterol, 1 gm saturated fat, 79 mg sodium, trace dietary fiber

Raspberry-Pecan Buttons

(About 5 dozen cookies)

These tempting cookies are as delicious as they are lovely, with the contrasting flavors of nuts and fruit.

2 1/2 cups bleached all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

3/4 cup sugar

2 large egg yolks

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

3/4 cup very finely chopped pecans

For forming the cookies:

About 1 1/4 cups very finely chopped pecans

2 large egg whites, lightly beaten

About 3/4 cup raspberry preserves

Confectioners' sugar (optional)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line several baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, cream of tartar, salt, nutmeg and cinnamon. Set aside.

In a large bowl with an electric mixer on medium speed, cream the butter for 2 minutes. Add the sugar in 2 additions, beating for 45 seconds after each addition. Beat in the egg yolks. Blend in the vanilla and 3/4 cup pecans. Add the flour mixture in 3 additions, beating just until the flour is incorporated. Stir until the dough forms large lumps. Knead the dough in the bowl until it holds together.

To form the cookies: Place 1 1/4 cups pecans in a small bowl.

Form 2 teaspoons of dough into a ball, roll the ball first in the egg whites, then firmly in the chopped pecans. Place the dough balls 2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheets. Using your fingertip, make an indentation in the center of each dough ball, and fill the center of each cookie with raspberry preserves.

Bake the cookies in the preheated oven for 12 to 14 minutes, or until firm and golden. Cool the cookies on the sheets for 1 minute, then transfer to a wire rack to cool. Store the cookies in an airtight tin. If desired, just before serving, sprinkle the edges with confectioners' sugar.

Per cookie: 88 calories, 1 gm protein, 10 gm carbohydrates, 5 gm fat, 16 mg cholesterol, 2 gm saturated fat, 27 mg sodium, trace dietary fiber

Almond Crescents

(About 3 dozen cookies)

With their ethereal texture and soft almond flavor, these dainty, shortbreadlike crescent cookies are a delight.

2 1/4 cups bleached all-purpose flour, plus additional for the work surface

1/4 cup very finely chopped almonds

3/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/8 teaspoon salt

8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

1/3 cup plus 3 tablespoons confectioners' sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons almond extract

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

For topping the cookies:

About 3/4 cup finely chopped blanched almonds

About 2 1/2 to 3 cups confectioners' sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line several baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, 1/4 cup finely chopped almonds, baking powder and salt until thoroughly combined. Set aside.

In a large bowl, blend together the butter, confectioners' sugar and almond and vanilla extracts. Using a wooden spoon, stir in the flour mixture in 3 additions, mixing just until incorporated after each addition, to form a dough. Knead the dough in the bowl for 20 seconds.

On a lightly floured surface, roll 1 tablespoon-size pieces of dough into 2- to 2 1/2-inch logs and place them 2 inches apart on the parchment paper-lined cookie sheets. Bend and form the logs into crescent shapes, tapering the ends slightly. Press some additional chopped almonds on the tops of the crescents, making sure they adhere. Plump the cookies slightly.

Bake the cookies for 13 to 15 minutes, or until light golden and set. Cool the cookies on the sheets for 1 minute. Transfer to wire racks to cool for 5 to 8 minutes. Spread the confectioners' sugar on a plate. Carefully (the crescents will be very tender) dredge the cookies lightly in the confectioners' sugar. Cool the cookies for 30 minutes. Dredge them a second time in the confectioners' sugar. Store the cookies, in no more than 2 layers, in an airtight tin.

Per cookie: 122 calories, 2 gm protein, 13 gm carbohydrates, 7 gm fat, 15 mg cholesterol, 4 gm saturated fat, 36 mg sodium, 1 gm dietary fiber

Chewy Toffee Bars

(Makes 24 bars)

The combination of toffee candy and coconut makes these bars incredibly irresistible.

Butter and flour for the baking pan

For the chocolate cookie layer:

4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

1 1/2 cups chocolate cookie wafer crumbs

2 tablespoons miniature semisweet chocolate chips

For the candy and walnut layer:

1 cup (lightly packed) sweetened flaked coconut

14-ounce bag snack-size Original Heath English Toffee bar (milk chocolate-covered English toffee), very coarsely chopped

3/4 cup coarsely chopped walnuts

14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly butter and flour a 9-by-9-by 2-inch baking pan.

For the chocolate cookie layer: Pour the melted butter into the prepared baking pan. Sprinkle the chocolate cookie crumbs evenly over the butter and then sprinkle with chocolate chips. Using a spatula, press down the crumbs and chips until they absorb the melted butter. Set aside for 2 minutes.

For the candy and walnut layer: sprinkle the coconut over the cookie layer. Sprinkle the chopped toffee over the coconut and press down lightly. Sprinkle the walnuts over the toffee and press down lightly. Pour the sweetened condensed milk evenly over the top.

Bake the bars for 30 minutes, or until set and light golden on top. Transfer the pan to a wire rack to cool for 20 minutes. Using a small, sharp knife, cut the bars while still warm (After the toffee cools, cutting is difficult.) Set aside to cool for 1 to 2 hours. Remove from the pan and store in an airtight tin.

Per bar: 292 calories, 4 gm protein, 32 gm carbohydrates, 17 gm fat, 25 mg cholesterol, 9 gm saturated fat, 160 mg sodium, 1 gm dietary fiber

Chunky Coconut and Macadamia Nut Cookies

(About 3 1/2 dozen cookies)

This sumptuous drop-cookie dough is thick with chocolate-covered coconut candy, macadamia nuts and flaked coconut, making for the chubbiest holiday cookies imaginable.

3 cups bleached all-purpose flour

1/8 teaspoon baking powder

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon nutmeg

8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1/4 cup vegetable shortening

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar

1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar

1/2 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar

2 large eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

14-ounce bag snack-size Peter Paul Mounds candy bars, each cut into small pieces

1 1/2 cups unsalted macadamia nuts, chopped

1 1/4 cups sweetened flaked coconut

In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt and nutmeg. Set aside.

In a large bowl with an electric mixer on medium-low speed, cream the butter and shortening for 3 to 4 minutes.

Increase the speed to medium and add the granulated sugar in 2 additions, beating for 1 minute after each addition. Add the light brown sugar and beat for 1 minute; add the dark brown sugar and beat for 45 seconds. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, beating for 30 to 45 seconds after each addition. Blend in the vanilla.

Reduce the speed to low and add the flour mixture in 2 additions, mixing just until the flour is incorporated after each addition. Using a spatula, mix in the candy bars, nuts and coconut. Cover tightly and refrigerate for 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line several baking sheets with parchment paper.

Drop heaping 3-tablespoon mounds of dough 3 inches apart on the prepared baking sheets. For the best shape and baked appearance, make sure the mounds of dough are high and rounded, not flat.

Bake the cookies for 16 to 18 minutes, or until just set and light golden. Cool the cookies on the sheets for 3 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Store the cookies in an airtight tin.

Per cookie: 213 calories, 2 gm protein, 23 gm carbohydrates, 13 gm fat, 23 mg cholesterol, 7 gm saturated fat, 68 mg sodium, 1 gm dietary fiber

Lisa Yockelson is at work on a book about developing flavors in baked goods, to be published by John Wiley & Sons Inc.