holiday cookie bonanza

Two weeks ago, I asked readers to help test the selections from this year’s Washington Post cookie feature. You responded with blazing ovens and raring mixers. We tested 10 of the best-looking recipes from the The Post’s list and found some definite winners. Maybe a loser, too. Two of the recipes looked so good that they were tested twice: the Salt Caramel Millionaire’s Shortbread and the Salted Chocolate Chip and Sour Cherry Cookies. The vote was split on the shortbread, but the chocolate-cherry cookies were rock stars. Other hits were the White Chocolate Honey Crisp Bars and the Honey Maple Pecan Bars. The biggest surprise was the deliciousness of the Lemon, Dill, Havarti Wafers. Check out everyone’s summaries below. A big thank you to all of our bakers!

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Boozy Bourbon Chocolate Chippers

boozy bourbon chocolate chippers

tayloe’s boozy bourbon chocolate chippers

Tayloe’s take: The cookies were pretty good, but nothing spectacular. I could barely taste the bourbon-y essence. And I generally prefer a less cakey chocolate chipper. But they were enjoyable. Click here for the recipe.

Cherry Macaroon Rosettes

cherry macaroon rosettes

julie’s cherry macaroon rosettes

Julie’s take: As you can see, mine totally flattened out into boob-like cookies! The recipe warned that this would happen with a log of almond paste instead of a can, but my grocery store didn’t have the can, so I forged ahead. To make up for the increase in sugar in the log, I added less sugar to the dough (probably 7/8 of a cup) and also added in a few tablespoons of almond meal. It didn’t help too much, and these are EXTREMELY fussy (you really need a stand mixer to make it work or I fear your arm would fall off, and they require a two hour long rest before baking!!!), but they taste amazing, despite appearances. (PS: Julie writes one of our favorite blogs, Fresh Basil). Click here for the recipe.

Hallon Cookies

my hallon cookies

my hallon cookies

My take: In a word: disappointing. I’m holding myself back from really ripping into this recipe for the sole reason that I only tried it once and maybe, just maybe, it was operator error. Plus, Ed liked them. He said they tasted like shortbread with jam. I think they tasted like stale biscuits with jam. Potato / Potahto? Maybe. In any event, here’s my short list of why I won’t make these again: the dough was dry and difficult to roll, the cookies (two layers of 1/2-inch thick cut-outs stacked together) are too thick, and I found the flavor of the potato flour overpowering. I love the concept of these cookies, but this recipe just didn’t hit the mark. Click here for the recipe.

Honey Maple Pecan Bars

honey maple pecan bars

amy’s honey maple pecan bars

Amy’s take: These bars were fairly simple to make and tasted rich and delicious (hard not to 4-and-half butter sticks later). The hardest part was breaking out and putting together our food processor, which has sat boxed in our basement since our wedding 2-and-a-half years ago. Dessert and a now operating new kitchen toy: double win. The pecan topping was a cinch to put together but so dangerously tempting in its ooey gooey-ness as it cooked away, I couldn’t resist licking the spoon and slightly singeing my tongue. Worth it. A slight tweak to the recipe; was having trouble getting the honey out of the bear’s hind regions, so only used about 1/4 cup instead of the 1/2 cup called for. I doubled the maple syrup to 1/2 cup to make up for it. Made the bars taste perfectly mapley. Also, only had a 2-cup bag of pecans on hand, just half the amount called for. I considered substituting almonds or pistachios we had in the cupboard but decided that would be a bridge too far. Went with just the smaller bag and while the bars look slightly pecan-stingy they truly taste like pecans aplenty. I also didn’t bother to toast the pecans first. The got a nice toasty flavor while baking anyway. One more thing, the recipe says to wait until it cools completely before cutting into bars, but I found the bars came out more easily while slightly warm. Later the caramel had formed something of a glue in the pan. I am bringing the pretty ones to a friend’s and keeping the wonky ones. All in all, a good recipe that I would recommend and make again. Click here for the recipe.

Lemon, Dill, and Havarti Wafers

Jennifer’s take: SUCCESS!!! Of course, I substituted oregano for dill as dill is gross.  But everyone loved them. The lemon was perfect and added a sweet dimension, so I take back what I said before about the cookie really being an appetizer and not deserving to be in the list.  Will be making them again, a lot, as they were easy, can be pre-baked, and taste too yummy. DO NOT accidentally cook on wax paper.  That could be a mess.  DO cook them on parchment paper. Click here for the recipe.

Pretzel Cowboy Cookies

Jennifer’s take: Success. Liked them, but they were like oatmeal lace cookies with bumps.  I think I am going to try to make the Smitten Kitchen popcorn cookie batter, but add pretzels instead.  I think I will like that cookie better. However, I did like the nuttiness of all that oatmeal… When you roll out the dough, make sure you don’t take the lazy way and scoop them with your awesome OXO scooper that makes the perfect size, skip the making them into an even ball step, and then flatten them.  When I did the middle step, the cookies turned out better – more chewy middle, less crunchy/lacey – and I swear tasted better. Click here for the recipe.

Salt Caramel Millionaire’s Shortbread

salt caramel millionaire shortbread

kelly’s salt caramel millionaire shortbread

Kelly’s take: These are delicious but VERY rich, so I cut in fudge-size 1 inch (ish) pieces. It also takes a couple of days to put together since the various layers need time to set.  I’ll definitely make again though – they look very pretty on the plate and are delicious.  I will probably tweak the dulce de leche layer – it may have been my pan, which is not great, but the butter started to separate from the caramel and I probably poured off at least 4 tablespoons before layering on the shortbread.  The shortbread already has so much butter that so much extra in the dulce de leche layer really seems like overkill.  BUT this is a winner and going in the rotation for weekends where I have a lot of time. Click here for the recipe.

Jennifer’s take: Caramel Mess. Ok at best. But everyone loved them.  I thought they were too sweet (use less sugar with the shortbread!!) and too much of a mess for cookies.  Cookies should be easy. User error: do not forget about them in the fridge and try to cut them when the chocolate is all hard. Click here for the recipe.

Salted Chocolate Chip and Sour Cherry Cookies

salted chocolate chip and cherry 01

kelly’s salted chocolate chip and sour cherry cookies

Kelly’s take: The ground oats and sea salt really add a delicious twist to these.  I didn’t think the cherries added all that much but I’m not a big fan of fruit in my chocolate chip cookies, so that may be a personal preference.  If you follow the directions these cookies turn out huge – I made at least 30, not 24, and they were still giant.  When I make again I will probably make them a little smaller and use a heavier hand with the sea salt – I was worried about oversalting but this dough really stands up to it and I love a good salty-sweet combo.  The dough really spreads out in the oven – my first batch came out as one ginormous cookie, which was entertaining but not the goal. Click here for the recipe.

rachel's salted chocolate chip and sour cherry cookies

rachel’s salted chocolate chip and sour cherry cookies

Rachel’s take: Some of the best cookies I’ve ever made!  Yum!  Definite keeper recipe! I may do without cherries next time… [Rachel also made a few tweaks to the recipe: she didn’t have enough light brown sugar so she used about 1/2 cup of dark brown; only refrigerated the dough for 6 hours; and used dark chocolate chunks]. Click here for the recipe.

Ugly But Good Chunky Hazelnut-Chocolate Meringues

chocolate hazelnut meringues

jessica’s chocolate hazelnut meringues

Jessica’s take: The ugly but good meringues were in fact good! And, being a broad minded baker, I didn’t find them particularly ugly. They have that nice crisp light bite of a classic meringue, plus a big ole nutty crunch from the hazelnuts, and aren’t overly sweet the way meringues often are. They also aren’t the most flavorful cookie I’ve ever made: the hazelnut is definitely the star, which is no real surprise since the recipe calls for only two tablespoons of cocoa and 1/2 tsp cinnamon (when I asked Hal what I should change about them if I make them again he said, “they should have coffee and cinnamon,” so…). But! I did like them and think they’d be a nice lighter addition to a cookie plate (heck, one could even argue that they’re a healthier option, thanks to the hazelnuts). The recipe had only one surprise: since it had just a few steps and only five ingredients, I imagined they’d be a flash to put together. They actual cookies are, but removing the hazelnut skins took a lot longer than I anticipated, and drove me a little crazy. I also ended up with 25 cookies rather than the 40 the recipe suggests, but I was happy with the size. Click here for the recipe.

White Chocolate Honey Crisp Bars

white chocolate honey crisp bars

julie’s white chocolate honey crisp bars

Julie’s take: These guys are more my “baking” speed – throw a bunch of stuff into a pan and drizzle with goop 🙂 They are fantastic and super easy, but I will say that the rice crispy layer could use a bit more “glue” to keep it from getting too crumbly. When I make these again, I’ll add a few marshmallows or even some peanut butter to the chocolate-coconut mixture to make them more sticky. Ooooh, and I added some salted caramel (just from Trader Joe’s, I didn’t whip it up or anything!) to the chocolate drizzle on top – highly recommended. Click here for the recipe.

5 thoughts on “holiday cookie bonanza

  1. This was such a great idea – thanks so much for organizing. I now need some salted chocolate chip and sour cherry cookies and ugly but good chunky hazelnut-chocolate meringues in my life.

    Also, was listening to America’s Test Kitchen over the weekend (after I’d made my selections) and someone called in with a cookie Q. Christopher Kimball said that cookies were literally the hardest things to bake because they are so fussy! I always think cookies should be the easiest – just throw stuff in a bowl! – so it was comforting to hear he thinks they’re tricky.

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