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.
The five cookies you see here offer 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.
Corn Linzer Cookies
Makes 12 to 15 cookie sandwiches
Linzer cookies typically describe a nut-based shortbread cookie sandwich filled with berry jam. While European Linzer dough uses almonds or hazelnuts to add texture and flavor, this version calls on corn flour, whose sweetness of corn pairs well with such fruity fillings as strawberry-rhubarb jam, lemon curd, and blood orange marmalade.
In the summer, I opt for homemade raspberry jam, while in the winter, I often fill them with lemon or tangerine curd. But you can make the raspberry jam here with frozen berries — or feel free to swap in any homemade or store-bought variety you’d like.
Don’t be tempted to raise that oven temperature above the specified 300 degrees. It might seem low, but corn flour caramelizes at a lower temperature than wheat.
Recipe notes: The jam can be refrigerated for up to 1 month. The cookies will soften within a few hours of being filled. If you don’t plan to serve them all at once, reserve the baked cookies in an airtight container and fill as needed — the baked cookies will stay crisp for 2 days unfilled.
Corn flour, the superfine relative of cornmeal, is available at specialty markets, health food stores, and online from retailers such as Bob’s Red Mill. Check Indian markets as well.
— Roxana Jullapat
FOR THE JAM
1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar
1/2 cup (120 milliliters) water
1/2 vanilla bean, optional (or 2 teaspoons vanilla extract)
4 cups (480 grams) fresh or frozen raspberries
FOR THE COOKIES
8 tablespoons (1 stick/113 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar, plus more for dusting
1 large egg white
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup plus 1 ½ teaspoons (55 grams) fine yellow corn flour
Generous 3/4 cup (105 grams) all-purpose flour
1/3 cup (110 grams) raspberry jam (may substitute other jam or curd)
Make the jam: Place a small plate in the freezer for testing the jam later.
Add the sugar to a medium pot. Add the water to moisten the sugar, but do not stir. Split the vanilla bean, if using, lengthwise with a paring knife, scrape out the seeds with the back of the knife and add the seeds and pod to the pot. Cook over high heat until the mixture comes to a boil. Decrease the heat to medium and reduce to a thick syrup, about 25 minutes.
Add the raspberries and stir constantly with a wooden spoon for 10 minutes. Stirring is crucial, because it breaks down the berries while preventing over-caramelization, which may cause the jam to stick to the bottom of your pot. To test the jam’s readiness, spoon a bit of jam onto the chilled plate, and run your finger through it. If your finger leaves a trace on the plate, the jam is ready. Transfer to a separate bowl and let cool completely. Remove the vanilla bean and discard, or rinse, dry well, and add to granulated sugar to make vanilla sugar.
Make the cookies: In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or using a large bowl and a hand mixer, beat the butter, granulated sugar, and 2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar on medium speed, until thoroughly combined and somewhat lightened (you don’t need a lot of air to be incorporated), about 2 minutes. Add the egg white, salt, and vanilla extract, and mix for another 2 minutes on medium. Stop the mixer and scrape the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Add the corn flour and all-purpose flour and mix on low until well combined.
Cut 2 sheets of parchment paper, about 12-by-16-inches each. Turn the dough onto one of the sheets and shape into a flattened disk about 6 inches in diameter. Place the other parchment sheet on top and, with a rolling pin, roll as evenly as possible until 1/8-inch thick. Carefully put the flattened dough on a tray, and chill in the freezer for 15 minutes.
Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat to 300 degrees. Line 2 large rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper.
Transfer the cookie dough to your work surface and remove the top layer of parchment. Cut the cookies with a 2-inch round or fluted cutter (if the dough is too stiff to work with, wait 1 to 2 minutes, but it’s best to cut as soon as possible, as the dough softens quickly). Place the cookies on the prepared baking sheets. Leave one sheet of cookies as is; these will be the bottoms. To make the tops, use a 1/2- to 1-inch round cookie cutter (the larger end of a piping tip works well here) to cut the center of each cookie to form doughnut-shaped tops. Gather the leftover scraps and reroll in between sheets of parchment, just like you did before, to get a few extra cookies. If the dough becomes too soft to work with, return to the freezer to chill.
Bake for 15 minutes. Rotate the sheets and switch their positions in the oven, and bake for an additional 10 to 15 minutes, or until the cookies’ edges are golden. Rotating and switching the sheets halfway through the baking process will ensure the cookies bake evenly. Keep a watchful eye — these thin cookies can brown quickly. Remove from the oven and let cool completely. Repeat with the remaining dough, if any remains.
To finish the cookies, dust the tops with sifted confectioners’ sugar. Drop about 1 teaspoon jam in the middle of each bottom cookie, and top with the dusted doughnut-shaped cookie, gently pressing down so the jam almost reaches the edges.
— Adapted from the upcoming “Mother Grains” (W.W. Norton, April 2021), by Los Angeles pastry chef Roxana Jullapat, co-owner of Friends & Family.
Gingerbread Crinkle Cookies
Active time: 50 minutes | Total time: 1 hour 30 minutes, plus 1 hour chilling time
Ginger cookies are a holiday staple in my family, and these crinkle cookies remix the traditional version. They are incredibly soft and chewy, with the perfect balance of spice that we know and love. Cardamom adds a citrusy yet fragrant complement to the classic ginger and molasses flavors, but it’s the hint of lemon that really sets them apart.
Serve these with hot cocoa or a warm mug of apple cider, sit around the fireplace and enjoy the beauty of the holidays.
Recipe notes: The cookies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 4 days; they do not freeze well. The confectioners’ sugar coating may get sticky after a few days.
— Jocelyn Delk Adams
2 ⅔ cups (335 grams) all-purpose flour
1 ½ teaspoons ground ginger
1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon ground cardamom
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¾ cup (6 ounces/170 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature but still firm to touch
⅓ cup (67 grams) granulated sugar
⅓ cup (75 grams) packed dark brown sugar
1 large egg yolk
5 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest (from 2 large lemons)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup (120 milliliters/185 grams) unsulfured molasses (do not use blackstrap)
1 cup (125 grams) unsifted confectioners’ sugar
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, ginger, cinnamon, baking soda, cardamom and salt until combined.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine the butter and granulated and brown sugars and beat on medium-high until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
Decrease the speed to medium and add the egg yolk, lemon zest and vanilla and mix until well incorporated.
With the mixer running, add the molasses and mix thoroughly; you may need to stop the mixer a few times and scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl with a silicone spatula.
Stop the mixer and add the flour mixture in three parts, mixing on low until just combined, and pausing the mixer to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl between additions. The dough will be very soft and pliable. Cover the bowl tightly and refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to 24 hours.
About 15 minutes before you’re ready to bake, position a baking rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 375 degrees. Line 2 large, rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper.
While the oven is heating, place the confectioners’ sugar in a medium bowl.
Using a 2-tablespoon cookie scoop or measuring spoon, scoop out the dough and, with cold hands, roll it into a ball between your palms. Thoroughly roll the ball in the confectioners’ sugar and transfer to the prepared baking sheets. Repeat with the remaining dough, spacing the balls 2 inches apart.
Bake one sheet at a time for 10 to 12 minutes, or until the cookies are puffy and cracked but the centers remain soft.
Cool the cookies on the baking sheet until set, 5 to 10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
Repeat with the remaining cookie dough.
Nutrition | Calories: 155; Total Fat: 5 g; Saturated Fat: 3 g; Cholesterol: 21 mg; Sodium: 73 mg; Carbohydrates: 26 g; Dietary Fiber: 1 g; Sugar: 14 g; Protein: 2 g.
— Adapted from food blogger Jocelyn Delk Adams of Grandbaby Cakes and author of “Grandbaby Cakes” (Agate Surrey, 2015).
Orange Tutti Frutti Cookies
Makes 20 cookies
This recipe is my take on Indian karachi biscuits, beloved shortbread cookies studded with tutti frutti, that are usually served as an accompaniment to chai.
In India, tutti frutti — a confection made of candied papaya or watermelon rind dyed red, green, orange, or yellow — is used for as a filling in paan (betelnut leaf mouth refresher) and as an ice cream topping, cake decoration, and more. It’s also used in desserts in Italy, England, and all over the world.
Since it’s candied, I find tutti frutti to be super sweet, so for these cookies I add orange zest to cut the sweetness slightly. My Orange Tutti Frutti Cookies smell amazing and, with their gem-like bits of tutti frutti, they look even prettier.
Recipe notes: The shaped cookie dough can be stored in the freezer for up to a month until you’re ready to bake.
The cookies can be stored in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.
Tutti frutti, a colored dried fruit blend, can be found online or at Indian markets. You can swap in candied orange peel, or any standard candied fruit mix.
— Hetal Vasavada
1 cup (125 grams) all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons (20 grams) almond meal/flour
4 tablespoons (30 grams) cornstarch
¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
¼ cup (50 grams) granulated sugar
1 tablespoon orange zest, from 1 large orange
8 tablespoons (1 stick/113 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ cup (70 grams) tutti frutti (mixed colors; may substitute candied orange peel)
½ cup (105 grams) demerara sugar or sparkling sugar, for rolling (optional)
In a medium bowl, whisk together the all-purpose flour, almond meal or flour, cornstarch, and salt.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, or large bowl that can accommodate a hand mixer, combine the granulated sugar and orange zest, using your fingers to rub the orange zest into the sugar until the sugar is pale orange. Using the stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or the hand mixer, beat together the butter and granulated sugar together on medium-high until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the flour mixture and mix on low speed until just incorporated. Stir in the tutti frutti, still on low.
Wrap the cookie dough in plastic wrap and roll until the dough is a log 2 inches wide. Flatten the sides of the roll into a rectangle shape by gently pressing the plastic-wrapped dough against the table and turning it; it should be 1 inch tall and 10 inches long. Spread the demerara sugar or sparkling sugar, if using, onto a baking sheet. Unwrap the dough and gently press the sides of the cookie dough in the sugar so that the log is completely coated. Re-wrap the dough in plastic wrap and freeze for 20 to 30 minutes.
Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Line two large, rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper.
Slice the cookie dough into 1/2-inch-thick slices using a sharp knife. Place the sliced cookies on the baking sheets 2 inches apart. Bake one sheet at a time for 10 to 12 minutes, or until the edges just start to brown. Cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes and then transfer the cookies to a rack to cool completely.
— Adapted from food blogger Hetal Vasavada of Milk and Cardamom and author of “Milk & Cardamom” (Page Street Publishing, 2019).
Makes 38 cookies
These cookies are inspired by the peanut butter classics, as well as Syrian barazek, which you can find in many Middle Eastern bakeries, especially ones specializing in western Mediterranean cuisine. Instead of peanut butter, my sesame blossoms get their chew and nuttiness from tahini, and like barazek, they’re coated in a crackly layer of sesame seeds. Both cookies make a lovely addition to a cookie box or virtual cookie exchange. For a maximally nostalgic cookie-exchange experience, make sure you let them sit in an enclosed space with a peppermint-flavored cookie for a few hours. Or just bake up a batch and enjoy them while they’re absolutely perfect.
This recipe’s timing results in a very chewy cookie with crunchy edges. If you want your cookies to be extra golden brown, with more toasted sesame flavor, less chewiness, and more crunch, add 1 to 2 minutes to their bake time before topping with chocolate (11 to 12 minutes without chocolate, then 2 minutes with chocolate).
The rolled and coated cookie dough can be frozen on a sheet pan and then stored in a plastic bag. Bake from frozen, but they will take about an extra 2 minutes to bake and tend to be a little puffier.
The baked cookies keep well in an airtight container at room temperature for several days. You can also freeze them for up to 1 month, though you may lose a few sesame seeds. Wait for the chocolate to set completely before storing.
— Kathryn Pauline
Generous 1 ¼ cups (230 grams) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
7 tablespoons (7/8 stick/100 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
⅔ cup (150 grams) packed light brown sugar
¼ cup (50 grams) granulated sugar
½ teaspoon salt
1 large egg, at room temperature
⅔ cup (165 grams) well-stirred tahini
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup (80 grams) untoasted sesame seeds, for coating
38 unwrapped chocolate kisses (use dark, if desired)
In a small bowl, stir together the flour and baking soda.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or using a large bowl and a hand mixer, beat together the butter, brown sugar, granulated sugar and salt for a few seconds on low speed and then on medium for about 1 minute, just until thoroughly combined (the mixture should not be fluffy).
Add the egg, tahini, and vanilla, and beat on medium speed just until smooth, about 30 seconds. Scrape down the bowl after the first 15 seconds to make sure the ingredients fully incorporate.
Add the flour mixture, and mix on low speed until the dough just comes together. Do not overmix, and stop as soon as there are no dry patches. Using a spatula, scrape down the bowl and give the dough a fold or two by hand to make sure there are no unmixed parts. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, and up to 24 hours.
Once the cookie dough is ready, position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 375 degrees. Line 2 large, rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper.
Scoop the dough into 38 smooth balls. Roll the balls generously in the sesame seeds, roll again between your hands to make sure the seeds stick, and place them a couple inches apart on the lined baking sheets (about 12 per sheet — they will spread, but not dramatically).
Bake one sheet at a time for about 10 minutes, just until the cookies are puffy, light brown and a little crackly. Remove from the oven, set a kiss in the center of each one (embed by slightly stamping it in) and return to the oven for 2 minutes, or until the cookies are golden brown and slightly flatter, and the chocolate has softened but still holds its shape.
Carefully slide the parchment off the pan and let the cookies cool on the countertop. The chocolate should firm up after a couple hours, just about to the consistency of room temperature-set ganache. They should not regain the snap of tempered chocolate — soft is preferable here.
— Adapted from food blogger Kathryn Pauline of Cardamom and Tea and author of the upcoming “A Dish for All Seasons” (Chronicle, 2022).
Walnut and Five-Spice Thumbprint Cookies
Makes 20 cookies
When I was growing up in a Chinese household in Australia, the rituals around food and cultural celebrations provided me with a deep connection to my heritage. Lunar New Year was by far my favorite celebration because it was the time of year when we got to eat Chinese walnut cookies, or Hup Toh Soh — my idea of simple happiness.
Nutty, crunchy, and with a hint of savory, traditional walnut cookies are made with lard for that extra crumbly texture. My version is not traditional: I use butter, which makes them less crispy but adds a richness that melts in your mouth. Rather than the traditional whole walnut to decorate the center of the cookie, I’ve gone with a crave-worthy crumble of walnuts, coconut, and brown sugar, laced with five-spice powder. Many recipes will ask you to grind the walnuts in a food processor, but I prefer the texture and flavor of roughly chopped nuts in my cookies.
Recipe notes: This cookie is easily amended to be gluten-free and vegan. Use gluten-free all-purpose flour, vegan butter, and flax eggs, and brush with oat milk rather than an egg wash. This results in a cookie with more of a crunch. For the flax eggs, combine 2 tablespoons of ground flax seeds with 5 tablespoons of water.
If you want to simplify this recipe, you can simply add a whole walnut to the center, in place of the crumble.
This dough can be made ahead and stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days or in the freezer for 3 months. If freezing, roll into balls first and store in an airtight container.
The baked cookies can be stored in an airtight container for up to 1 week at room temperature or frozen for up to 1 month.
— Hetty McKinnon
FOR THE COOKIES
⅔ cup (75 grams) walnut halves and pieces
16 tablespoons (2 sticks/225 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
⅔ cup (135 grams) granulated sugar
2 large egg yolks, plus 1 large egg, beaten (for egg wash)
2 ⅓ cups (290 grams) all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon kosher salt
FOR THE TOPPING
1/2 cup (50 grams) walnut halves and pieces
1/4 cup 55 grams packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup (20 grams) unsweetened desiccated coconut
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 1/2 teaspoons five-spice powder
Make the cookies: Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees.
Spread all the walnuts (for the cookies and topping) on a baking sheet and toast for 10 to 12 minutes, shaking the pan every now and then, until the walnuts are fragrant and slightly darkened. Remove the walnuts to a plate to prevent overcooking. Once cool enough to handle, finely chop.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or using a large bowl and a hand mixer, beat the butter and granulated sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, scraping the bowl as needed, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the egg yolks and beat on medium speed until the yolks are incorporated, scraping the bowl a few times, about 2 minutes.
Add the 2/3 cup (75 grams) of walnuts, along with the flour and salt, and beat on low speed until the batter clumps together into a few large pieces. Remove the dough from the bowl, shape into a thick disk, and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour, or up to 3 days, until firm.
Return the oven to 350 degrees, if you turned it off after toasting the nuts. Line 2 large, rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper.
Remove the dough from the refrigerator and break off pieces, forming them into balls just smaller than a golf ball. Each piece should weigh about 35 grams — you can make them smaller, if you like. Place the balls onto the lined baking sheets, spacing them a couple of inches apart and refrigerate for 10 minutes. (If you only have room in the refrigerator for one pan, you can chill the second while the first batch is baking.)
Make the topping: In a small bowl, combine the remaining walnuts with the brown sugar, coconut, butter, and five-spice powder.
Take the shaped cookies out of the fridge and brush them with the beaten egg. Bake for 5 minutes, then remove from the oven and create a thumbprint in each cookie. Fill the thumbprint with about 1 teaspoon of walnut streusel topping and return to the oven for 15 to 18 minutes, rotating from front to back halfway through, until lightly golden. Let the cookies cool on the sheet for a few minutes and then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Repeat with the second batch (you may have a little streusel left over depending on the yield and how big your thumbprints are).
— Adapted from Hetty McKinnon, author most recently of “To Asia, With Love” (Prestel, 2021).