Chefs' Best Recipes for a Cookie Swap

Food Network asked pastry chefs and bakers to weigh in on the cookie swap tradition. Get their best recipes for good-to-the-last-crumb creations.

©©Rachel Brown

©Rachel Brown

Chefs’ Picks tracks down what the pros are eating and cooking from coast to coast.

Cookies can be enjoyed year-round, but let’s face it: The holidays provide the perfect excuse to indulge in this classic treat. And there’s no better tradition for doing so than the cookie swap, that sweet soiree where each invitee brings a batch to share. We’ve asked some of the country’s finest cookie aficionados — pastry chefs and bakers — to weigh in with their good-to-the-last-crumb creations. Read on to get their recipes that are sure to reign supreme at any party.

Maple-Drenched Marvel

Sandra Holl, owner of Chicago’s French-inspired bakery Floriole, draws the inspiration for her cookie-exchange pick from another holiday favorite: pie. She takes the flavors of pecan pie and translates them into cookie form. The result? A maple pecan cookie capable of mesmerizing the masses.

Floriole’s Maple Pecan Cookies

Yield: 1 batch (about 100 cookies)

Ingredients:

1 pound butter

1 cup powdered sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup maple syrup (Grade B)

Zest of 1 orange

15 ounces all-purpose flour

3 cups toasted ground pecans

Directions:

Cream butter and powdered sugar. Add vanilla, salt, maple syrup and orange zest. Add flour and pecans. Mix until homogenous. Chill dough in the refrigerator.

Once the dough is chilled, scoop 1-tablespoon portions onto parchment-lined baking sheets. Flatten into disc shapes and push a whole pecan into each one.

Bake at 350 degrees F for about 20 minutes or until golden.

Stepped-Up Classic

Cara Conaboy spends most of her days on the savory side of the kitchen, now that she has been tapped to be sous chef at the The Spaniard, which is slated to open soon in the West Village neighborhood of New York. However, her sweet expertise runs deep, as she has held pastry positions at Ai Fiori and Ristorante Morini in New York and Alma de Cuba in Philadelphia.

For a cookie exchange, Conaboy likes to amp up a standard chocolate chip recipe with the addition of smoked salt and pistachios. “I’ve always loved the classic chocolate chip cookie … and this recipe is my go-to when I want to make something familiar but with a little twist,” she says. “Pistachios have a really unique flavor, and smoked salt deepens the cookies’ caramel-y sweetness.”

Chocolate Chip Cookies with Smoked Salt and Pistachios

Total Time: 1 hour 15 min

Prep Time: 30 min; Inactive Time: 30 min; Cook Time: 15 min

Yield: About 36 cookies

Level: Easy

Ingredients:

1 cup shelled pistachios

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

2 teaspoons smoked salt

2 sticks (16 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup granulated sugar

2 eggs

1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

2 cups semisweet chocolate chips or good-quality (70 percent) bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

Directions:

Evenly position 2 racks in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F.

Lay the pistachios on a cookie sheet in a single layer. Bake for 5 to 10 minutes or until the nuts are lightly toasted. Remove from the oven. Roughly chop once cool.

Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

Whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt in a large bowl.

Beat the butter, brown sugar and granulated sugar in a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment on medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes.

Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the vanilla extract and beat to combine. Add the flour mixture and beat until just incorporated. Stir in the chocolate chips and nuts by hand. Press plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the dough and refrigerate 30 minutes.

Scoop heaping tablespoons of the dough onto the prepared pans. Space the cookies about 2 inches apart on the pans. Bake, until golden, but still soft in the center, 12 to 15 minutes. Transfer hot cookies with a spatula to a rack to cool. Serve. Store cookies in a tightly sealed container for up to 5 days.

Tangy, Boozy Bite

Pastry Chef Josh Johnson of Destination Kohler in Kohler, Wisconsin, bakes a twist on the traditional gingersnap guaranteed to amp up any classic cookie platter. Johnson keeps the familiar flavors of anise and ginger in his recipe, but he pulls in both citrus and bourbon to punch up the glaze. The result is a chewy cookie with a tangy finish that’s bursting with extra bite from the crystalized ginger.

Lemon Bourbon Gingersnap Cookies

For the dough

Ingredients:

1 1/2 sticks butter

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup and 1 teaspoon molasses

2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

3/8 teaspoon salt

3/8 teaspoon ground ginger

1/4 teaspoon ground anise

Crystallized ginger dices for topping

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Cream butter and sugar together with a paddle. Add molasses, then mix until combined, but don’t whip.

Sift all dry ingredients together. Add the combined dry ingredients to the creamed butter and molasses, mixing just to combine.

Scoop the dough to desired size and sprinkle with crystallized ginger dices. Bake on a parchment-lined sheet pan for approximately 6 to 8 minutes at 350 degrees F.

For the glaze

Ingredients:

1/2 cup powdered sugar

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1 1/2 teaspoons bourbon

Directions:

To make the glaze, combine all ingredients and mix until smooth.

Remove the cookies from the oven and let rest 5 minutes, then drizzle with the lemon-bourbon glaze.

Nostalgic Nibble

With a name like Cookie Good, it’s to be expected that cookies take center stage at this Santa Monica spot. Husband and wife Ross and Melanie Canter continue to stretch the bounds of their combined imaginations when it comes to the cookies churned out at their bakery. It seems no ingredient is too off-the-wall to consider, as even a Cheetos cookie has made it into the repertoire.

One nostalgia-inducing treat that they’ve dreamed up for the holidays is a hot chocolate cookie. This rich cocoa delight comes topped with mini marshmallows and makes a perfect treat for kids at heart (and the kids too).

Hot Cocoa Cookies

Ingredients:

8 ounces butter

7 ounces sugar

7 ounces (dark) brown sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 cup Hershey’s cocoa powder

12 ounces flour

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

3/4 teaspoon baking powder

14 ounces milk chocolate chips

Mini marshmallows for topping

Directions:

Cream butter and sugars. Add in salt. Mix in eggs and vanilla. Beat the mixture until it is light and fluffy. Add in cocoa powder and mix slowly, so that the cocoa doesn’t “explode.”

Whisk the flour, baking soda and baking powder in a separate bowl until well-combined. Slowly add the combined dry ingredients to the creamed butter-egg-cocoa mixture (again, be careful not to let the cocoa explode). Once the ingredients are incorporated, beat the mixture well (scraping sides and bottom to make sure everything is well-mixed). Add in milk chocolate chips.

Form the dough into balls of desired size. Wrap the dough balls well with plastic wrap and freeze them until chilled.

Once chilled, unwrap the balls and bake them on a parchment-lined sheet pan at 350 degrees F for about 12 minutes. You’ll know they are done when the cookies spread, the tops are crackly and you can just barely pull up the edge with your fingertips (with chocolate cookies, a little underbaked is always better).

Remove from the oven and top with mini marshmallows, approximately 4 per cookie. Let cool (if you can), then eat up!

Sugar-Kissed Snowflake

When it comes to cookie swaps, Pastry Chef Ann Kirk of Little Dom’s in Los Angeles is a fierce contender in the flair department, thanks to her festive recipe. She spices up a classic sugar cookie dough with a hint of cardamom, then bakes it into snowflake-shaped treats that give a nod to the glistening, glittering snowfalls of the winter season.

Cardamom Sugar Cookie

For the dough

Ingredients:

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon ground cardamom (or more to taste)

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

2 1/2 sticks butter, cubed

1 cup sugar

1 large egg

1 large yolk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Sprinkles for topping

Directions:

Combine flour, cardamom, salt and baking powder in a bowl and set aside.

In a mixer bowl, combine butter and sugar, then paddle until creamy. In a separate bowl, whisk together egg, yolk and vanilla extract; paddle into butter mixture and scrape down sides.

Add dry ingredients to the butter and egg mixture, then paddle on low speed until fully combined. Wrap the resulting dough in plastic wrap, flatten and chill in the refrigerator until cold throughout. Divide dough into quarters. Lightly dust a work surface with flour and roll each section of dough evenly to 1/4 inch thick. Cut with a snowflake-shaped cookie cutter or freehand. If dough starts to get too soft, chill it again in the refrigerator.

Place cookies 1 inch apart on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees F until lightly golden around the edges, about 20 minutes depending on thickness.

For the icing

Ingredients:

1 pound powdered sugar

3 pasteurized egg whites (or 3 ounces of Eggology or preferred brand)

Fresh lemon juice, optional

Directions:

Combine all ingredients in bowl of a stand mixer. Using the paddle attachment, paddle on high for about 10 minutes (10 minutes might seem long, but it will make your icing more stable and easier to work with). Divide icing in half. Leave one half plain white and color the other half with blue food dye. Add dye in slowly until you reach desired color.

Remove cookies from the oven and cool. Frost the cookies with the plain white icing. Let dry completely.

Use a parchment cornet or a piping bag fitted with a small plain piping tip to decorate the outline of the cookies with the blue icing.

Icing can be thinned with a tiny bit of egg white or thickened with powdered sugar. Piping an outline with thicker icing and flooding with thinner icing is standard. Add sprinkles and enjoy!

Related Links:

Six Ways to Decorate with Candles

12 Cupcake Toppers in Under 10 Minutes

Holiday Centerpiece Ideas and Table Settings

How to Host a Holiday Cookie Swap Party

Photos courtesy of Cara Conaboy, Sandra Holl, Josh Johnson, Ross Canter and Ann Kirk

Keep Reading