Holiday Baking.

By: Jen Shoop

Aren’t the cookies above, from baker Molly Yeh, stunning?! My skills are nowhere near there, but the colors and designs were inspiring!

Sharing some of my absolute favorite holiday baking recipes here:







Magpie Sugar Cut-Out Cookies.

Cream 1 cup butter and 1 cup sugar. Mix in 2 eggs and ¼ tsp salt.  In a small ramekin, dissolve 1 teaspoon baking soda in 4 tablespoons milk. Add 1 teaspoon vanilla to the dough and add milk mix alternately with 4 cups all-purpose flour.  Roll out dough. Cut with cutters. Bake at 350 for 8-10 mins.

Grandma Carm’s Christmas Horns.

Work 3 tablespoons sugar into 5 cups flour and add 1 pound butter.  Mix in ½ cup sour cream and 2 dry yeast packets. Add 3 beaten egg yolks and two tablespoons vinegar.  Knead. Store in fridge over night. Shape dough and roll in circles. Fill with 1 tablespoon apricot jam and roll like crescents.  Brush with beaten egg white and sprinkle with chopped walnuts. Bake 15-20 minutes at 350 and sprinkle heavily with powdered sugar.

Cracker Toffee.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with parchment and then place saltine crackers in a single layer on top — as many as will fit, edge to edge. In a small pot, combine 1 cup (two sticks) unsalted butter and 1 cup light brown sugar (packed) and bring to a boil. Once bubbling/boiling, continue to boil for three minutes, until deep caramel color. Immediately pour over saltines and spread to cover crackers completely. (Work quickly, the sugar-butter mixture hardens fast!) Bake in oven for 5-6 minutes and sprinkle 2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips over top. Let sit a few minutes to melt and spread over top. If chocolate does not melt, you can return pan to oven for a few minutes and spread then. Sprinkle with chopped pecans. Cool completely, break into pieces, and eat.

Cornflake Christmas Wreaths.

Melt 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter in a large pot. Add 1 10-oz package marshmallows and stir until melted. Mix in green food coloring. Stir in 4.5 cups cornflakes. Form into either one large round wreath on a serving platter or multiple small wreaths on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Dot with red M&Ms or red hot candies and finish with red velvet bows. Let cool completely.

Holiday Baking Supplies and Accoutrements.

+This enormous bin of plastic cookie cutters is the absolute best. For $15, it covers every holiday as well as nearly any theme you could want (letters! sports! animals!) and I find them better than the more expensive/fancier-seeming metal ones — they do not bend or rust like their metal counterparts! I also like that even within a given holiday, the set includes bigger sizes and smaller ones — we have proper enormous gingerbread men (they are like 6 inches tall!), which is so fun for a dramatic presentation. Did I mention the entire kit is $15?! I’ve had mine for over a decade and will never part ways with it.

+I love this $15 wreath plate and this beautiful fir tree from Vietri one from for showcasing your holiday baking.

+I had a recent inquiry about sprinkles! I have really liked the sprinkles from India Tree, which I first discovered at Sur La Table. I especially like their sanding sugar. However, I did recently discover this fun brand, Sprinkle Pop, which does over-the-top themed sprinkle mixes and I think I will order some for decorating with mini.

+My favorite way to gift baked goods is in cellophane bags tied up with an enormous velvet, grosgrain, or satin ribbon and a pretty gift tag. If you’re serving a bigger set of cookies, I love to gift on melamine plates like these or even stoneware plates like these (that my girlfriend Inslee designed for Anthro!!!) that friends can just keep! (In that case, wrap in cellophane and tie off with ribbon.)

+Alternately, Martha Stewart used to make the most charming treat boxes/bags, and you can still find a handful if you look hard online (also here), though I don’t think she’s produced these for a few years. Too bad — I loved her stuff!

+These scallop-edged treat boxes in kraft brown are also darling! Imagine topped off with a pretty tag/sticker.

+Williams-Sonoma Gold Touch baking pans and sheets are my favorite to bake with. They are heavy, non-stick, and do not warp. I feel like I always talk about “not warping” as the ultimate marker of quality in cookware, but I’m haunted by some of the inexpensive stuff I bought in college, where the baking pans never actually laid flat, and were therefore always yielding uneven cooking results and at risk of toppling onto the floor.

+That said, my head has been turned by these Great Jones sheet pans that I’ve been seeing all over. Has anyone tried? The dishwasher safe element intrigues me — you aren’t supposed to put most baking sheets in the dishwasher and as a result they can be difficult to keep pristine.

+Upgrade your baking game this season with Nielsen Massey vanilla and almond extracts — the best. Or splurge on Guittard chocolate chips or Scharffen Berger chocolate. I also always and only bake with Plugra or Kerrygold unsalted butter. It’s expensive, but especially in baking, you can really tell the difference. It yields the richest flavor!

+Also, take it from me: buy your peppermint and almond extracts now. I have in years past had the HARDEST time finding these in the run-up to Christmas, and I anticipate this year will be particularly scarce with more people at home looking to celebrate any way possible.

+Meri Meri always does the cutest cupcake decor kits, like these and these. Mini would have a blast decorating with these.

+I’ve written about this recently, but this cake dome (double as a punch bowl if you invert the stand and place the dome on top of it!) has been a true MVP in our house for a decade. I nearly always keep something in it, whether baked goods, store-bought treats, or — inverted — an enormous bowl of fruit. I also find the pedestal handy on its own for creating dimension in a tablescape, i.e., you could elevate a pie on it around a bunch of other baked goodies. I also have always loved the cake stands from Mosser, which are usually made of milk glass, and this green would be so elegant if you go with a green/blue theme for the holidays. Also a fun way to showcase your baked goods on a pedestal!

+Peppermint crunch sprinkles! Would be fun to mix these into chocolate-peppermint cookies.

+This nordicware mini Bundt tin would be such a special way to serve up your aunt’s classic bundt cake. Would look gorgeous on a small appetizer-size melamine plate, wrapped in cellophane, with a big ribbon to tie it off.

+Don’t forget the apron! This one gets rave reviews (and boasts that it has been worn by chefs with Michelin stars!), this one makes me feel nostalgic/as if I am Zooey Deschanel, and of course WS is always a classic (this tartan one is fun, and BONUS: you can twin with your mini. Alternately, you can get a mommy and me set in a classic stripe for much less here or here). You can even get an apron for your little one’s AG doll!

P.S. More kitchen gear I love here, gourmet gift ideas here, and thoughts on being a pragmatic cook.

P.P.S. If you’ve been eyeing the Nintendo Switch for your children, quick! I found it restocked in this limited edition pastel colorway here, and available with free shipping.

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20 thoughts on “Holiday Baking.

  1. Team Kerrygold always and forever! I get them at Costco too (box of 4!) like your other reader had mentioned. I so agree with you on trying to find the best quality ingredients (as our wallets allow). But, I find that with recipes in which there is a more dominant flavor (say, chocolate), I usually get away with using a cheaper store-brand butter like Trader Joe’s.

    Have you tried Nielsen Massey’s vanilla bean paste? OMG.

    I am also a fan of Williams Sonoma Gold Touch pans — they truly are excellent. Over the last several years I had been upgrading my bakeware to Gold Touch and I have never looked back! How are they still looking good as new despite multiple runs through the dishwasher?!

    Oh, and HRH Ina’s pecan squares — SO good. Although I do use less sugar than the recipe calls for. Her addition of the citrus zests is brilliant — it just adds a little “something” so that the filling is not just a one-note sugary sweet flavor. In case anyone else reading wants to make it: I would definitely follow her recommendation in the video about lining the bottom of the oven with foil — I have had some overflows each time when I make this. One time I underestimated the quantity of butter we had at home, and had no other choice but to use salted butter for the filling instead of unsalted, and I actually liked it better!

    I have a feeling that set of Wilton cookie cutters will make its way to my Amazon cart…

    1. Such good notes — thanks, Mia! I haven’t used the vanilla paste but have seen it and been intrigued — how do you use it?!


    2. Re: vanilla bean paste – I use it for recipes in which I can see and appreciate the flecks of vanilla bean! Like shortbread, cream sauce for bread pudding, ice cream… it makes the treat more special in my eyes.

  2. Thank you for all the ideas! Tomorrow I’m making chocolate chess pie then I plan to dive into this list! 🙂 I’m especially intrigued by the cracker toffee. My mother does a very similar thing with boiling pouring butter and sugar over graham crackers (broken into their smallest rectangles) than topping with chopped walnuts. I call them “graham cracker bites” 🙂 They are delicious! Happy thanksgiving!

  3. Such a sweet post Jen! There is something about baking the same favourite things every year isn’t there? I grew up with my grandma’s Scottish shortbread being the traditional holiday treat. As a kid/teen I would go round to her house and help her. In recent years I’ve taken more of the ‘primary’ role and she helps me and my mom. It’s sad in a way to see her age, but I enjoy keeping up the tradition, even if it looks a little different now. I think the first few rounds of shortbread will be baked this weekend!

    1. So sweet – I love this. Thinking about you and your grandmother’s evolving relationship through the snapshot of holiday baking — what a moving way to think about, well, moving through life with loved ones. xx

  4. Hi Jen- I came to the blog this morning looking for your post on the kitchen gear you love as I’m planning on purchasing the cuisinart mini food processor and wanted to make sure I was getting the right one. I was so happy to see this blog post as I only just requested it a few days ago. I’m very excited to try both the sugar cookies and the horns- I love any jam filled cookie and enjoyed the Anne of Green Gables recipe you posted a few months back. Great tip on purchasing extracts in advance- I don’t have peppermint extract on hand and just added it to my list. I recently saw that Trader Joe’s has vanilla extract that’s sold in a bottle similar to the Nielsen Massey… hard to say if it’s the same extract bottled under the Trader Joe’s label or not, but I picked it up to try and am keeping my fingers crossed that it is! Hope you have a fantastic Thanksgiving holiday! Can’t wait to read about it afterwards if you post details 🙂

    1. Yay!! Thank you for serving as the inspiration for this post! I hope you like the horns and sugar cookies — those horns in particular hold sentimental value to me and it brings me such a great surge of joy to think of other people sharing in that tradition or seeding it in their own families!!

      Please report back on the TJ vanilla! Sometimes they come out with items that are literally identical to higher end items — even produced in the same factory, just with a different label slapped on top.


  5. I will try your sugar cookie recipe. I’ve been search for the perfect one and always happy to test cookie recipes!
    I also ordered one of the Hedley & Bennett aprons (20% off now). I had looked when you linked them before but the fabrics were a bit unisex/masculine for me, but the current holiday collection has a Winter Garden print that looks just perfect.
    Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family.

    1. Yay!! I saw they released some interesting patterns (including a collab with Madewell?) — woohoo!

      Let me know what you think of the recipe! It demands a sugary, buttery frosting for full enjoyment.

      Happy Thanksgiving, friend!

  6. I’ve been resisting getting cookie cutters, because I don’t love rolling out dough, but there are only so many cupcakes my daughter can decorate haha. I’m going to get that cookie cutter set you linked, it’s perfect!

    But in terms of sugar cookies,
    I love the recipe from Smitten Kitchen – it is indeed unfussy, as the title suggests.


    I think this year we’ll make mendiants to give to people. Not a cookie, though. I made them many years ago and they were a hit, and it’s something my daughter can easily help with.

    1. Haha! Yes! Also, those cookie cutters double as a sensory bin/tray accoutrement/tool and sometimes, when ultra-desperate, I have just asked Emory to sort them by color or line them up or whatever while I’m trying to get dinner going. The shapes are fun for her! SO, multiple uses ahead 🙂

      Love your tradition of giving away baked goods. So sweet 🙂


  7. I have made your sugar cookie recipe several times and love it. Rolls out beautifully. Not too sweet and yields a perfect, soft cookie. I actually prefer it to my family’s recipe but shhhh…

    Costco sells Kerrygold! Makes the price difference easier to justify. The vanilla and WS gold touch recommendations are dead on. Excited to try the Martha Stewart gingerbread this year!

    1. Hehe! This makes me happy. I agree, the consistency of the dough is excellent and, like you, I appreciate that it’s a nice (not-over-sweet) foil to sugar-laden frosting.

      Thanks for the tip on Kerrygold!!


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