Iced Whole-Wheat Sugar Cookies
Whole-wheat flour adds a layer of complexity to these cookies that all-purpose flour can't achieve; the wheat in the whole grain actually enhances the flavors of butter and vanilla. Unlike classic royal icing, which starts with a pound of powdered sugar, we use just 1/2 cup and thicken it with Greek yogurt. Looking for festive colors without the chemicals? Try naturally colored sparkling sugars (such as those from India Tree), which use colorants derived from plants.
Red Velvet Beet Cupcakes
Elegant and rich, this supermoist pillow of chocolate cake gets its color and texture from the vibrant-red, naturally sweet beet. There’s nothing artificial about this dramatically hued holiday treat coated in a dense cloud of creamy white frosting. We purée the tender beet root with buttermilk and vanilla to create a luscious cream that not only adds a light, velvety texture to the cupcake but also allows us to use less sugar, oil, and butter in the batter, saving fat and hundreds of calories. You simply can’t “beet” it.
Mini Raspberry Cheesecakes
We had the greatest success using a pan with 2 1/2-ounce cups, such as Chicago Metallic's 12-Well Mini Cheesecake Pan ($25). This pan has removable bottoms (similar to a tart pan) so that you simply push each cheesecake up to remove it. You can also bake them in a standard muffin tin; line it with foil liners for easier removal.
Think of these tasty little tassies as your own personal pecan pie. They're both salty and sweet, with a hit of oaky bourbon. Whole-grain rye flour adds the perfect touch of sour to the shortbread-like crust, while toasted pecans do double duty in the crust and in the maple-splashed filling. As if that weren't enough to jingle your bell, we drizzle warm bittersweet chocolate over each bite to ensure maximum satisfaction.
The Quickest Holiday Dessert
This season, there's no need to stress or spend hours in the kitchen. Serve this simple sweet treat at your next party or wrap it up beautifully for your friends. The first ingredient in this dark chocolate bark (psst, it’s quinoa) gives this treat loads of crunch. It’s a whole grain, which definitely makes this sweet even sweeter.
Fresh Gingerbread Squares
Teff flour is a soft, almost-fluffy whole-grain flour with an intense nuttiness that makes it excellent for baking. But the beauty of fresh gingerbread is finding the perfect texture—delicate yet dense—so we add a bit of hearty whole-wheat flour to give this treat a heftier, more winter-worthy base. Stout beers adds a pleasantly earthy bitterness that complements the molasses, fresh finger, and cinnamon; any frothy leftovers will pair nicely with a still-warm baked square. If you don't have any stout on hand, simply use 1/4 cup additional buttermilk instead.
Almond Antique Brittle
When cooking sugar to a high temperature, things move very quickly in the last few minutes or even seconds. To avoid burned sugar syrup, be sure to have the almonds toasted and ready to go before starting. A significant amount of vinegar in this brittle adds complex flavor.
Pretty Packaging: The key to perfectly packing brittle is to first make a dry, nonsticky candy—if it's humid, wait a day or two until there's less humidity. Box with a layer of protective tissue paper.
A combination of cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, and black pepper gives these chai cookies a taste reminiscent of Indian spiced tea. The fine texture of powdered sugar helps them retain the characteristic shortbread crunch.
Chocolate Yule Log
We've managed to transform naughty into nice with this rich dark-chocolate sponge cake filled with a delicate, yogurt-lightened whipped cream. We cut the amount of sugar in half, letting the intensity of the chocolate in the sponge cake shine—go ahead and splurge on a higher-quality bar. The thick, creamy texture of Greek yogurt complements the whipped cream quite perfectly, with a fraction of the sat fat and calories. Skip the powdered sugar dusting, and use fresh raspberries, mini pinecones, fresh pine needles, or even fresh mint to decorate. Add 1⁄4 teaspoon peppermint extract to the whipped cream filling for a cool, minty kick.
Cherry and Pistachio Rugelach
You can switch out the cherry preserves and dried cherries for another fruit that comes in both spread and dried form, such as apricot, currant, or blueberry.
Pretty Packaging: These rustic cookies can handle a more rustic approach to wrapping. Carefully place the cookies into a cellophane bag, then drop inside a burlap bag; cinch with a ribbon.
These traditional German Christmas cookies are made with chopped nuts, citrus, and a variety of warm spices, including the pepper that gives the cookies their name. Greenspan provides ingredient weights in grams, an approach we love because it's more precise than using ounces; a scale is key here.
Easy Chocolate-Bourbon Fondue
Put the Sterno and matches aside, and use this flameless method to make fondue. Unlike a thin fondue pot, a slow cooker has a thick ceramic liner (plus, in this recipe, a glass container) that keeps the chocolate from scorching.
Pomegranate-Orange Tart with Pistachio Shortbread Crust
A handful of blueberries boosts the color of the filling and deliver irresistible sweetness.
Raspberry-Swirl Mini Bundt Cakes
It's best to make one batch of cakes at a time (don't double the batter), though you can easily double the raspberry mixture. If you don't have a minibundtlette pan, you can make one large Bundt cake instead. If you have an 8-cup Bundt pan, that's ideal, but a 10-cup pan will work, too (the cake just won't be as tall). Bake at 350° for 25 to 28 minutes or until a wooden pick comes out clean. Spreading the batter evenly in minibundtlette cups can be a little tricky. Try spooning the batter into a large zip-top plastic bag; then snip off one bottom corner of the bag, and pipe batter into cups.
Pretty Packaging: To keep cakes looking their best, make sure the glaze is fully set before packaging. For individual treats, place one cake on a tissue paper square, place into a cellophane bag, and tie with ribbon.
The peppermint candies should be coarsely crushed in a large zip-top plastic bag by lightly tapping them with a rolling pin or heavy skillet (a food processor would just pulverize them). You can substitute regular unsweetened cocoa powder in the cookies.
Stained Glass Window Cookies
We found that Jolly Rancher candies produced the brightest, most vibrant "stained glass." Be sure to use the original sweet candies, not the sour flavors. To crush, place each color in its own heavy-duty zip-top bag; crush with a rolling pin or meat mallet. You'll find sparkling sugar in craft or specialty stores, but you can also use turbinado sugar as a substitute.
Pretty Packaging: These cookies are sturdy and stackable once cool. Shop for a rectangular box to hold them snugly and wrap with metallic paper for a sleek, stylish gift.
Pistachio-Orange Caramel Apples
A double dose of orange from fresh juice and grated rind adds a wonderfully tart element to this salty-sweet treat.
Cranberry-Pistachio Chocolate Bark
The best way to spread Christmas cheer is making bark for all to share. This festive snack lends satisfying texture in every bite. Studded with ruby-red cranberries and flecks of pistachios, it's a gorgeous addition to any cookie tray or gift box, fitting beautifully in a rustic cookie tin.
Get a head start by baking cookies up to four days ahead and storing in an airtight container. Frost one day before serving; after frosting is set, pack cookies in airtight containers between layers of wax paper. This dough also makes fine slice-and-bake cookies. Form the dough in two (8-inch) round logs, and chill; slice the chilled logs into 1/8-inch rounds, and bake at 350° for 8 minutes or just until set and golden.
Peppermint Cheesecake Brownies
These moist bars feature the seasonal pairing of peppermint and chocolate. They're sure to be a hit with everyone—children included—at your holiday party.
Popcorn-Bacon Chocolate Bark
Bacon. Popcorn. Chocolate. That's right! This salty-sweet combination is so delicious it should be illegal. Forget stringing popcorn around your tree—this delectable treat is where it's at.
Peppermint Mocha Latte
This month, put your workday fuel to more relaxing use. A tiny drop of essential oil gives these chocolaty sippers a peppermint punch, while a cool microwave trick foams the milk, no frother needed. Like to spike? A splash of Kahlua or bourbon makes them all the merrier. Look for peppermint oil at Whole Foods or natural foods stores in the essential oils section. While we love very dark chocolates (80% percent or more), bittersweet works best here, making for rounder, smoother flavor.
Fudgy Chocolate-Peppermint Cookies
When a soft, fudgy cookie meets crunchy candy cane shards, it's a match made in heaven. Don't underestimate the beauty of a simple cardboard hat box (find one at your local craft store). Add a pop of color with a bright ribbon, and tag the recipe with a handwritten greeting.
For Christmas cookie fun, it's hard to top these classic Gingerbread People. If you want to dress up the cookies, use red hot candies for buttons and currants for eyes; press those into the dough cut-outs before they're baked. Kids will love decorating up these adorable little gingerbread people, and they're the perfect holiday dessert.
Flourless Peppermint Brownies
Decadent, minty, and fudgy, these brownies will fool even the savviest sweet tooth. Hearty, wholesome black beans, which are high in fiber and protein, completely take the place of any flour in this recipe. The peppermint extract is optional but we like to satisfy our Girl Scout cookie cravings.
Brown Sugar-Pecan Shortbread
Dark brown sugar adds rich caramel notes to these cookies; turbinado sugar provides crunch.
Peppermint Ice Cream Cake
Why go out and buy an ice cream cake when you can make one? The peppermint ice cream makes this cake unique, and the crushed peppermints on top make for a pretty presentation. Surprise a friend on their birthday or bring this festive cake to a Christmas party.
Matcha–White Chocolate Bark
Gorgeous, incredibly easy to make, and with an I-can-put-my-finger-on-that-flavor yumminess—we love everything about this fruity chocolate bark. The earthy taste of the matcha enhances the flavor of the tart cherries, but the real key to deliciousness is that flake salt on top. If you don’t have flake salt (though we’d love for you to go get some), you can sub a crunchy sea salt.
Peppermint-Marshmallow Ice Cream Pie
Brushing melted ice cream into the pie plate "glues" the crust into place. Crushed chocolate wafers create the crust, while whole cookies define the edges of the pie.
Chocolate and Peppermint Cookies
Enjoy the classic combination of chocolate and peppermint all year long in this simple, yet oh-so-good cookie recipe. For just 103 calories, you can taste all the deliciousness of a rich, minty flavor, without all the extra calories and fat. Bake until slightly underdone and allow to cool on the baking sheet for irresistibly soft, gooey cookies.
White Chocolate-Cherry Bark
Mexican Spiced Shortbread Cookies
"The inspiration for these sinfully rich-tasting cookies combines my obsession with shortbread, dulce de leche, and a restaurant cream cheese dessert," said reader and recipe developer Jennifer Brumfield.
Caramel Apple Oatmeal Cookies
With dried apples and caramel candies in every bite, our less-than-100-calorie oatmeal cookies are a delectable treat.
Maple-Gingerbread Pots de Crème
The crackly counterpoint to the silky custards occurs when you sprinkle a thin layer of sugar on top and broil to melt. The caramel hardens as it cools.
Caramel Apple Pie
An iconic dessert served with a quick caramel sauce, this pie won’t be on your table for long. Who can resist the crunchy streusel topping that blankets the even more irresistible sweet and delicious apple filling?
Chewy Molasses Cookies
Perfectly spiced and wonderfully tender, these molasses cookies were a staff fave at tasting.
HOW TO DOUBLE UP: Double the dough and bake these cookies without a hitch. To mail, wrap small stacks together using plastic wrap. Nestle the stacks in a box with plenty of padding, or stack in a wide-mouth canning jar with crumpled parchment or wax paper in the headspace under the lid. Place the jar in a box with padding for mailing overnight.
Lemon Cheesecake Bars with Gingersnap Crust
Fresh ginger in the cookie crust really kicks up the flavor.
HOW TO DOUBLE UP: Mix up a double batch and bake off two pans of these bars at once. Place pans on the same (middle) rack of the oven. Hand-deliver the delicate bars, packed in a single layer in a box that doesn't allow them to slide around. Keep bars chilled by placing the closed box in a slightly larger box with chill packs and padding.
Semolina Almond Orange Cake
You can bake this cake in four mini loaves, and you can also double the recipe to share. Because this batter should not sit around waiting to go in the oven, make sure two Bundt pans will fit on your oven's middle rack before doubling it. To transport or ship overnight, cool and wrap the cake on a cardboard cake circle or plate using plastic wrap; place in a box with little wiggle room.