Like just about everything else in this tumultuous year, baking in 2020 has felt like no other.
From ingredient shortages and reduced grocery runs to the crushing, simultaneous weight of a global pandemic and contentious election, so much has left so many of us unmoored, in the kitchen and otherwise. But we have also found ways to center ourselves amid the storm, standing at the counter with a bowl and a spatula, stirring, stirring, stirring.
Baking as an escape is a time-tested coping strategy, though if this year has taught us anything (and it has taught us many things), it is that baking can also be about more than what is happening within our own walls. Movements such as Bakers Against Racism, a worldwide bake sale devoted to raising money for social justice causes, show that pastry and politics are not mutually exclusive. We see that baking is both activity and action, an outlet and a way out. Bake for yourself, or bake for others. Baking is what you make — and what you make of it.
And this year, I have made a lot. I’ve baked hundreds of creative, delicious cookies, some of the best to have ever come out of my kitchen, thanks to having the responsibility and honor of curating The Washington Post Food section’s 16th annual cookie section. I’m not exaggerating when I say I had been looking forward to the project all year, and we’ve heard from readers who felt the same way. Despite the pressure of putting together a package that felt like so much was riding on it, this didn’t seem like the time to try to construct an overarching theme for all the recipes.
The prevailing sentiment that came out of our brainstorming meetings: We just wanted a bunch of really good cookies.
To help us get there, I called in the reinforcements: a dozen smart, talented bakers who blog, write cookbooks and work day in and day out in professional kitchens, where many in the hospitality industry this year have had their jobs upended or, worse, eliminated. We asked them to give us the best of what they had, whether it was inspired by an ingredient, a memory or this time we’re living in.
They certainly delivered (and so did I, shuttling dozens of samples to colleagues around the area). The 12 cookies you see here are among the most colorful and diverse we’ve ever put in one place. There’s something for everyone, with treats that feature nuts, chocolate and fruit. We have chewy cookies, crunchy cookies, melt-in-your mouth cookies. Cookies to eat warm or cold. Gluten-free and vegan. None are complicated to make either, because this year, everyone, no matter your skill level or taste, deserves to make, eat and receive something truly excellent.
Now let’s meet the lineup.
Amaretti Dipped in Ruby Ganache
Los Angeles pastry chef Rose Wilde gives the classic, chewy and gluten-free Italian almond cookie an elegant dip in a ruby chocolate ganache made with olive oil, providing a tart and fruity counterpoint to the sweetness.
Caramelized Banana Chocolate Chunk Cookies
Think of this treat from food writer and recipe developer Jesse Szewczyk as a cross between banana bread and chocolate chip cookies, with a slightly caky interior absolutely loaded with chocolate chunks.
Corn Linzer Cookies
Los Angeles pastry chef Roxana Jullapat offers this preview of her forthcoming cookbook, “Mother Grains.” Linzer sandwich cookies are traditionally made with ground nuts, but here, corn flour (a more finely ground relative of cornmeal) pinch-hits, creating a melt-in-your mouth, faintly sweet wafer that pairs perfectly with raspberry jam.
Food for the Gods
Heavenly indeed: You’ll be wowed by this Philippine dessert from Los Angeles pastry chef Isa Fabro that blows your standard blondie out of the water. This version, chock full of dates and walnuts, can be made gluten-free or with regular flour.
Gingerbread Crinkle Cookies
Don’t worry about pulling out the cookie cutters, because this interpretation of the holiday season classic from blogger and cookbook author Jocelyn Delk Adams is rolled into sticky, soft perfection and coated in confectioners’ sugar for a finishing touch.
Lemon and Cream Cheese Cookies
If life gives you lemons, definitely make these citrus-laden drops of sunshine that use the zest in the dough and the juice in the glaze. Then again, sunshine is how I’d describe anything from the effusive Brother Andrew Corriente, the Washington friar and most recent winner of “The Great American Baking Show.”
Orange Tutti Frutti Cookies
Tutti frutti is a beloved Indian confection of candied papaya or watermelon rind. In this recipe from blogger and cookbook author Hetal Vasavada, it studs an orange-scented shortbread for an almost terrazzo look.
Peppermint Chocolate Slices
This no-bake treat is what you’d get if you rolled a peppermint patty, mint chocolate chip ice cream and Canadian Nanaimo bars all in one. It’s best enjoyed chilled. Like everything in his new book, “One Tin Bakes,” cookbook author and first winner of “The Great British Bake Off” Edd Kimber makes this in the humble but versatile 9-by-13 pan.
Quadruple Chocolate Cookies
Chocolate lovers rejoice! Maryland pastry chef Jonni Scott has you covered. A delicate, buttery chocolate dough boasts inclusions of chopped milk, dark, caramel and white chocolates, plus the optional addition of crunchy white chocolate pearls.
Raspberry Rye Cookies
Earthy rye flour collides with tart raspberries two ways — freeze-dried and fresh — for an irresistible cookie that also features a chewy interior and crunchy exterior, thanks to a dunk in festive red sanding sugar. It’s just one of many tempting options from blogger and cookbook author Sarah Kieffer’s new book, “100 Cookies.”
Inspired by her Assyrian American heritage, Australia-based food blogger Kathryn Pauline takes the peanut butter and chocolate cookie of our youth on a Middle Eastern detour when tahini stands in. A coating of sesame seeds fills out the slightly savory edge.
Walnut and Five-Spice Thumbprint Cookies
Cookbook author Hetty McKinnon adapted the Chinese walnut cookies of her childhood by topping them with a streusel made with coconut, walnuts, brown sugar and heady five-spice powder. The recipe offers advice for a gluten-free, vegan version.