The holidays are fast approaching and that only means one thing in my house: baking. Lots of baking. I absolutely love to bake, and for me, making batches of goodies for family and friends is one of the best parts of the holiday season.

Cookies are probably my favorite, but sometimes making several different cookie recipes can be a bit of a hassle. A few years ago, I figured out that by using one basic sugar cookie recipe, I could create several different types of cookies. This makes it easy to customize cookies to give as gifts, as well as catering to your own household’s sweet tooth. And if you’re really pressed for time, all of these recipes also work using store-bought sugar cookie dough!

 Basic Sugar Cookie Recipe

3 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

1 cup butter, softened

1 cup granulated sugar

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 tablespoon milk

Combine flour, baking powder and sugar in a bowl, whisking to combine. Set aside. In a large mixing bowl, beat butter and sugar on high until fluffy, then add egg, vanilla, and milk, blending well after each addition. Shape the dough into a disk (can shape into two for easier handling) and cover in plastic wrap. Chill in the refrigerator. Makes about 3-dozen cookies.

Cranberry Pecan Cookies

Prior to refrigeration, add one cup dried cranberries and one cup roasted, unsalted pecan pieces to the cookie dough. Shape into a log, approximately two inches in diameter, and wrap in plastic wrap, then refrigerate for at least one hour. When the dough is firm, slice into 1-inch thick disks and place on a parchment-lined cookie sheet. Cook at 375 degrees for 8-10 minutes or until slightly browned around the edges. Once the cookies cool, melt two tablespoons white chocolate chips in a small saucepan over low heat, stirring often. Using a spoon or pastry bag, drizzle white chocolate over the cookies and allow to set.

Mocha Kiss Cookies

Add ¼ cup cocoa powder and 1 tablespoon instant espresso coffee powder to the cookie dough, using an additional teaspoon of milk if necessary and mixing thoroughly. Refrigerate as directed in the basic sugar cookie recipe. Shape the dough into 1-inch balls and form each one around an unwrapped chocolate kiss candy. Place on a parchment-lined cookie sheet and bake at 375 degrees for 8-10 minutes. Allow to cool for about 10 minutes, then lightly roll each cookie in powdered sugar.

Lemon Poppy Seed Cookies

Zest and then juice one large lemon. Add 2 tablespoons zest and 1 tablespoon juice to the cookie dough, as well as 1 tablespoon poppy seeds. Mix until well combined, then form the dough into a log, wrapping in plastic wrap or waxed paper and refrigerate for one hour. Slice the log into 1-inch disks and bake on a parchment lined cookie sheet at 375 degrees for 10-12 minutes. While the cookies are cooling, make a lemon glaze with ½ cup confectioners’ sugar, 1 tablespoon milk and 1 teaspoon lemon juice. Whisk all three ingredients together until well blended, then drizzle the glaze over cooled cookies and allow to set.

Candy Canes

Separate the cookie dough into two bowls. Add ½ teaspoon of peppermint extract plus a few drops of red food coloring to one bowl, mixing until well-combined. Shape each into a disk and cover in plastic wrap, refrigerating for one hour. Remove and roll/shape dough into ropes about ½ inch thick, keeping them as even as possible. Place the ropes next to each other and carefully overlap, twisting to create candy canes. Cut twisted ropes into 2 to 3 inch lengths, placing on a parchment lined cookie sheet and curling top to make the cane. Bake at 375 for 8-10 minutes or until bottoms are lightly browned.   

Spice Bars

Add 1 ½ teaspoons cinnamon and ½ teaspoon of nutmeg to cookie dough, mixing well. Spray an 8-inch square baking pan with cooking spray or line with parchment and press the dough evenly into the pan. Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes or until edges are lightly browned. Allow to cool, then spread with your favorite cream cheese frosting. Makes 16 bars.

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About Jody Ellis

Jody Ellis is a freelance writer who specializes in beauty, health, travel, fashion and social justice. She is currently part of a fellowship with Community Change, a non-profit focused on writing about social policies that impact low-income families. Her work has appeared in publications such as LennyLetter, Huffington Post, BBC Future Planet, Civil Eats and Eater.

View all posts by Jody Ellis

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