Photos by Marge Ely (Express) and Phillip Ray (For Express)

In these waning days of the holiday shopping season, you’ll scramble to buy presents for family, friends and that weird co-worker you drew as a Secret Santa. (Maybe he needs socks?) But the sentiment and charm of a homemade gift better invokes tidings of joy than another iPad cover. So forget the mall and crank up the oven. (After stocking up on butter and sugar, of course.) This year, create frown-proof offerings to appeal to all senses and sensibilities, putting some finger-licking fun into giving. Here are recipes for the cookies above — some classic, some quirky — to prepare for and with loved ones.


For all lovers of chocolate and/or peanut butter, look no further than this recipe that delivers the best buckeye we’ve ever tasted. Plus, it’s fun to get your (clean!) hands dirty mixing them.

2 cups Skippy peanut butter
1 1⁄2 pounds powdered sugar
1 cup butter, softened
1⁄2 cup graham cracker crumbs
12 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
1⁄3 bar paraffin wax

Mix the peanut butter, powdered sugar, butter and graham cracker crumbs by hand. Make walnut-sized balls and place on a waxed-paper-lined baking sheet. Stick one toothpick in each ball and refrigerate overnight. Melt chocolate chips and wax in a double boiler and keep warm. (What’s a double boiler? See tip at the end of these recipes.) Take each refrigerated ball and dip into melted chocolate, covering about 3/4 of it. Return each ball chocolate-side down to waxed-paper-lined baking sheet. Refrigerate until chocolate has completely hardened, and keep balls refrigerated until just before serving.

Cranberry-Orange Cookies

These sweet, chewy cookies introduce an unexpected citrus bite — a zesty departure from the typical chocolate offerings.

3⁄4 cup dried cranberries
3⁄4 cup granulated sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1⁄2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1⁄2 teaspoons finely grated orange zest
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
1⁄4 teaspoon ground allspice
Pinch of ground cloves
1 stick cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1⁄4 cup cranberry juice cocktail
1⁄2 teaspoon red food coloring
1⁄2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg, lightly beaten
Red sanding sugar, for rolling

Pulse the dried cranberries and granulated sugar in a food processor until the cranberries are finely ground and the sugar turns red. Add flour, baking powder, orange zest, salt, allspice and cloves and pulse to combine. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture looks like coarse meal.

Combine the cranberry juice, food coloring and vanilla in a small bowl and add to the food processor along with the egg; pulse until a dough forms. Transfer the dough to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350 F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Roll heaping teaspoonfuls of dough into balls, then roll the balls in sanding sugar and arrange about 1 ½ inches apart on the prepared baking sheets. Bake until the cookies are just set on top and golden on the bottom, 18 to 24 minutes. Let cool five minutes on the baking sheets, then transfer to racks to cool completely. (Recipe adapted from the Food Network Magazine)


The three parts of the recipe combine to provide a light, sweet cookie with layers of texture.

For cookie:
1 cup butter, softened
1 cup powdered sugar
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 1⁄4 cups sifted flour

For filling:
6 ounces cream cheese, softened
2 cups powdered sugar
4 tablespoons flour
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup coconut

For drizzle frosting:
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons water
1 cup powdered sugar, sifted

For cookies, cream butter. Add powdered sugar, salt and vanilla. Cream together well. Gradually add flour. Shape into balls. Place on ungreased baking sheet. Press thumb into center of each, making a deep well. Bake at 350 F for 12 to 14 minutes, until just golden brown. Allow to cool completely before filling.

For filling, cream all ingredients together well. Place small amount in well of each cookie. Allow to set.

For drizzle frosting, melt chocolate chips, butter and water in a double boiler over very low heat, stirring occasionally. Add powdered sugar. Beat until smooth. Line up the cookies on waxed paper, and then dip a fork in the chocolate mixture and drizzle it on the cookies. Pick up the cookies when the drizzle is hardened.


Don’t let this cute addition to your recipe file mislead — make these whimsical treats instead of sugar cookies to deliver a nutty-sweet blend of flavors.

3 1⁄2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup butter
8 ounces cream cheese
2 cups sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1⁄4 teaspoon almond extract
1⁄4 teaspoon coconut flavoring
Mini chocolate chips
Red cinnamon candies
Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups
Tubes of pre-made green frosting
Powdered sugar

In a medium bowl, stir together flour and baking powder. In a large bowl, beat butter and cream cheese with mixer on medium speed for 30 seconds. Add sugar; beat until fluffy. Add egg, vanilla, almond extract and coconut flavoring and beat well. Gradually add flour mixture to creamed mixture, beating well after each addition. Divide dough into thirds. Cover. Chill overnight.

Heat oven to 325 F. Form dough into small balls of slightly different sizes to make heads, bodies and bottoms for each snowman. On a baking sheet, arrange three balls vertically and press down gently with the length of your finger to push together. Add 3 or 4 red cinnamon candies as buttons and 2 chocolate chips as eyes.

Bake for 15 to 18 minutes until just golden around the edges. Let cool completely before decorating. Add a line of green frosting between top and middle balls for a scarf. Use frosting across the head to attach half of a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup as a hat. Dust with powdered sugar. Let set for an hour.

Have a spritz cookie press?
Let dough thaw 30 minutes, press out cookies and bake as directed.

Cardamom Crescents

Splurge for ginger’s refined relative, which stars in this sophisticated spiced treat.

2 1⁄2 cups all-purpose flour
3⁄4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1⁄2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
1 1⁄2 cups powdered sugar, divided
1 cup pecans
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 F. Whisk first four ingredients in a medium bowl. Combine

½ cup powdered sugar and pecans in a food processor; pulse until coarse meal forms. Beat butter and vanilla in a medium bowl until creamy. Add nut mixture; beat to blend. Add dry ingredients; blend well (dough will be moist but still crumbly). Transfer to a work surface; knead to form a ball, about four turns. Measure one rounded tablespoon of dough; form into a ball, then roll into a 1 ½ inch-long log. Gently bend into a crescent shape, pinching ends to taper (cookies may crack a bit). Repeat with remaining dough, spacing about 1 inch apart on prepped sheets.

Bake until bottoms are golden, 12–15 minutes. Sift remaining 1 cup powdered sugar into a shallow wide bowl. Working in batches of about 8 cookies, roll warm cookies gently in powdered sugar to coat. Transfer to wire rack to cool. Dust cookies with powdered sugar. (Recipe adapted from Bon Appétit)

Cheddar Jalapeno Cookies

These easy, savory bites help round out a range of flavors on a plate or in a cookie box.

1⁄2 cup butter, room temperature
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
1⁄2 teaspoon black pepper
1 1⁄4 cups all-purpose flour
8 ounces of extra-sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
1⁄4 cup pickled jalapenos, patted dry, chopped

In a mixer or food processor, combine butter, salt and pepper until thoroughly blended. In a separate bowl, mix together flour and cheddar. Slowly add the flour and cheese mixture to the butter mixture until the dough clears the sides of the mixer. Don’t over-mix. Then fold in jalapenos.

Next, shape the dough into a disc, wrap in parchment or waxed paper and chill for about 20 to 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 F. On a floured surface, roll out dough until it is about a ½-inch thick. Using about a 2-inch circular cookie cutter, cut out circles and place on parchment-lined baking sheets. Bake in the center of the oven for about 13 minutes or until cookies are golden on top. (Recipe adapted from

Birds Nests

A crumbly tea cookie is the perfect vessel for fresh, sweet fruit preserves. We used cherry and blueberry preserves from Cox Farms (15621 Braddock Rd, Centreville, Va., (703) 830-4121), but any flavor works well.

1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup butter
1 cup sifted flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup finely chopped walnuts
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg
Fruit preserves

Cream brown sugar, butter and egg yolk. Add vanilla, then flour and salt. Roll dough into walnut-sized balls. Roll each ball in egg white, then chopped walnuts.

Cook at 375 F. After 5 minutes, push thumb in center of cookie. Put back in over for 3 minutes.

Allow cookies to completely cool, then fill each cookie with fruit preserves.

Chocolate Almond Cookies

The chocolate in this basic cookie is subtle and lets the almond star. We used a spritz cookie press to make tree cookies.

1/2 cup sugar
3/4 cup butter, softened
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 1/2 cup flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa

Heat oven to 375 F. In a large bowl, combine all ingredients except flour and cocoa. Beat at medium speed until light and fluffy (2-3 minutes). Shape rounded teaspoonfuls as desired or use cookie press. Place 1 inch apart on baking sheets. Bake 7-9 minutes or until just set.

Decorate with melted chocolate chips, melted almond bark, nuts, colored sugar, candied fruit, candies or maraschino cherries.

No-Bake Chocolate Cornflake Pralines

These cookies take some time and patience, but they provide an unexpected combination of textures and chocolate flavors. Be sure to use baker’s chocolate bars in this recipe.

1/2 cup pecans
2 cups cornflakes
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup pure cane syrup (such as Steen’s) or 2 tablespoons each molasses and light corn syrup
2 tablespoons heavy cream
Pinch of salt
1 ounce semisweet chocolate, chopped
1 ounce white chocolate, chopped

Toast the pecans in a medium skillet over medium heat, stirring, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board; let cool, then coarsely chop.

Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Toss the pecans and cornflakes in a large bowl.

Make the caramel: Bring the butter, cane syrup, heavy cream and salt to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium heat and cook, stirring with a wooden spoon, until the mixture pulls away from the sides of the pan and comes together into a loose ball, about 5 minutes.

Remove from the heat. Once the caramel stops bubbling, stir in the semisweet chocolate until melted.

Pour the chocolate caramel over the cornflake mixture and toss to coat. Scoop heaping tablespoonfuls of the mixture onto the prepared baking sheets and pack into compact mounds with your fingers. Refrigerate about 1 hour.

Melt the white chocolate in a double boiler. Drizzle over the cookies and let set, about 1 more hour. (Adapted from the Food Network Magazine.)

Cowboy Cookies

We like this chocolate chip cookie recipe because it’s easy and it makes a lot!

2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup butter, softened
2 eggs
2 cup quick oats
1 teaspoon vanilla
12-ounce package chocolate chips

Sift together flour, salt, baking soda and baking powder in medium bowl and set aside. Cream sugar, brown sugar and butter in large bowl. Add eggs one at a time and cream until light and fluffy. Spoon in flour mixture gradually and mix well. Incorporate oats, vanilla and chocolate chips. Drop in spoonfuls onto light greased baking sheet. Bake at 350 F for 10 minutes.

Gingerbread Cutouts


2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 teaspoon ground ginger
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 cup butter, softened
1/3 cup molasses
1/3 cup superfine sugar
1 cup powdered sugar

Whisk the flour, ginger, cinnamon, baking soda, allspice, salt and pepper in a medium bowl. Beat the butter, molasses and superfine sugar in a large bowl with a mixer on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Reduce the mixer speed to low. Add flour mixture in two batches and beat until just incorporated. Divide the dough in half, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

Preheat oven to 375 F. Working with one piece at a time, roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface until about 1/8 inch thick. Cut out shapes using cookie cutters and arrange on two ungreased baking sheets. Gather scraps and re-refrigerate until firm. Reroll once to cut out more cookies. Refrigerate the cutouts until firm, about 10 minutes.

Bake the cookies, switching the position of the pans halfway through until the edges are just browned and set, about 12-15 minutes. Let cool on baking sheets for 2 minutes, then transfer racks to cool completely.

For the icing, whisk the powered sugar with 1 tablespoon of boiling water in a small bowl. Add more water if the icing is too thick. Transfer to a resealable plastic bag; snip off a small corner and pipe the icing onto the cookies. Let set, about 30 minutes. (Adapted from Food Network Magazine.)

New England Gingersnaps

Everyone likes gingersnaps differently. Watch closely during baking. Bake at 10 minutes for a chewier cookie. Bake up to 12 or 13 minutes for a crispier cookie.

3/4 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1 egg
4 tablespoons molasses
2 cups all-purpose flour, measured before sifting
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground ginger

Cream butter and sugar together thoroughly in a large bowl. Add egg, then molasses, and beat well. Sift dry ingredients together, add to creamed mixture and beat until smooth. Refrigerate for two hours.

Roll in small balls about the size of a quarter; drop into a bowl of sugar and coat well, then place 2 inches apart on greased baking sheet.

Bake at 350 F for 11-12 minutes. Allow to cool 2 minutes before removing from pan.

Peanut Butter Blossoms

Use a mini-muffin pan for making these cookies with Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. Place one rolled and sugared ball of dough in each cup and follow recipe above.

14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
3/4 cup peanut butter
2 cups Bisquick
1 teaspoon vanilla
granulated sugar
1 12-ounce bag Hershey’s Kisses or Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, unwrapped

Preheat oven to 350 F. Mix milk and peanut butter until smooth. Add Bisquick and vanilla and mix well. Shape into 1-inch balls, roll each ball in granulated sugar and place on baking sheet 1 inch apart. Bake 6 to 8 minutes. Press Hershey’s Kiss or Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup into cookie immediately after baking.

Ultimate Sugar Cookies


For Cookies:
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 cup Crisco
2 eggs
1/4 light corn syrup
1 tablespoon vanilla
3 cups plus 4 tablespoons all-purpose flour, divide
3/4 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

For Icing:
1 pound powdered sugar
2 tablespoons meringue powder

Combine sugar and 1 cup butter in a large bowl. Beat at medium speed of electric mixer until well blended. Add eggs, corn syrup and vanilla. Beat until well blended and fluffy.

Combine 3 cups of flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add gradually to creamed mixture at low speed. Mix until well blended. Divide dough into 4 quarters. Wrap each quarter of dough with plastic wrap. Refrigerate 1 hour. Keep dough balls refrigerated until ready to roll.

Heat oven to 375 F. Spread 1 tablespoon of flour on large sheet of waxed paper. Place 1/4 of dough on paper. Flatten slightly with hands. Turn dough over and cover with another large sheet of waxed paper. Roll dough to 1/4-inch thickness. Remove top sheet of waxed paper.

Cut out cookies with floured cutter. Transfer to ungreased baking sheet. Place 2 inches apart. Roll out remaining dough. Sprinkle with granulated sugar, colored crystals or decors or leave plain to frost and decorate later.

Bake one baking sheet at a time for 5 to 9 minutes, depending on the size of the cookies. Bake smaller, thinner cookies closer to 5 minutes, large cookies closer to 9 minutes. Do not overbake. Cool 2 minutes on baking sheet. Transfer cookies to sheets of foil on countertop to cool completely.

For icing, sift powdered sugar and meringue powder into a large bowl. Beat in 6 tablespoons of water with a mixer on medium speed until soft, glossy peaks form. Spread on completely cooled cookies and decorate as desired. (Recipe adapted from The Cookie Bible and Food Network Magazine.)

 Baking Tips

– For recipes calling for sifted flour, measure the flour after sifting. This ensures a lighter, less dense cookie. Also, never pack flour when measuring. Always spoon it into a measuring cup and level it off with a knife.

 – Don’t own a double boiler? Take a medium saucepan and fill it with 1⁄2 inch of water. Place a wide glass bowl of the ingredients on the pan. Be careful not to burn yourself while stirring as steam will escape around the sides of the bowl. The water in the pan evaporates while cooking, so you may need to add more to prevent burning the pan.

Forget Wrapping

For a simple way to package your goodies, The Container Store (4500 Wisconsin Ave. NW; 202-478-4000, Tenleytown Metro) stocks various sizes of white treat boxes to gift one or 10 dozen cookies. Decorate them with seasonal stamps or stickers from a craft store or site, then tie shut with baker’s twine or raffia — a paper, straw-like ribbon. Find the peppermint and snow stamps we used at Paper Source (3019 M St. NW; 202-298-5545).