‘Tis the season for holiday cookies, cakes and sweet breads, and snuggling on the sofa with a hot drink in hand. For your socially distanced baked goods gifting, desserts to round out your holiday feasts, and general indulging this festive season, look no further than these recipes from top chefs across the United States.
Black Pepper Molasses Cookies
Recipe by Mariah Posadni, executive pastry chef of Common House in Charlottesville and Richmond, Virginia
Mariah, a self-proclaimed cookie connoisseur, has been baking with her family every Christmas for as long as she can remember. Each year, she devotes an entire week in December to making hundreds of cookies and other sweet confections. This recipe for Black Pepper Molasses Cookies is one of her favorites. It’s a sophisticated take on the classic gingerbread cookie. “The black pepper balances out the sweet sugar crust and warm molasses and serves as the perfect cookie for dipping in milk!” Mariah said.
Recipe for Black Pepper Molasses Cookies
Yields 12 cookies
3/4 c unsalted butter, softened
3/4 c sugar
1/4 c molasses
2 c all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp fresh ground black pepper
1 tsp freshly grated cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 c additional sugar (for rolling)
Using a mixer, cream together your butter and sugar. Softened butter is key here. This will allow you to make a light and fluffy mixture that will result in a fluffier cookie.
Add the egg and mix until incorporated. Scrape the bowl, then add in molasses.
In a separate bowl, mix the rest of the ingredients with a whisk to break apart any lumps.
In three additions, add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture, scraping down the sides of the bowl after each addition.
Scoop the cookies, roll in the additional sugar and place onto a baking sheet.
Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 9-11 minutes, until just starting to crisp on the outside.
Gingerbread Bundt Cake with Lemon Glaze
Recipe by Howard Pickrel, executive chef of Early Girl Eatery in Asheville, North Carolina
Howard has many memories of cooking with his grandma and her sisters during the holidays. “These holiday memories are some of the fondest moments I have had in the kitchen and they’re what pushed me into this industry,” he said.
To this day, Howard’s family continues to ask him to make the dishes these women taught him. “I am the only one in the family that can bring back the flavors and smells of their mom, aunt or grandma’s cooking,” he said. “This cake makes me think of the holidays and brings back memories of all these wonderful women who had taught me so much in the kitchen. My best baking tip is enjoy what you are doing, share it with the next generation and it will be reflected in the dish.”
Recipe for Gingerbread Bundt Cake with Lemon Glaze
Yields one 10-inch bundt cake or 6 mini bundt cakes
For the cake:
1 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted (for the pan)
1 c (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 c packed dark brown sugar
2 large eggs
2 c dark molasses
3 1/2 c all-purpose flour
2 Tbsp ground ginger
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 c minced crystallized ginger
1 c boiling water
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Generously brush the inside of a 10-inch bundt pan or 6 mini bundt pans with the melted butter. Sprinkle with a fine coating of flour and shake out the excess. Set aside.
In a large bowl, beat the butter with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until light and fluffy. Add the sugar and beat until smooth. Beat in the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Gradually beat in the molasses in a slow, steady stream until blended.
Meanwhile, sift the flour, ginger, baking soda, baking powder, cloves and salt together. Stir in the crystallized ginger. Gradually beat the dry ingredients into the batter just until blended, no longer. Turn off the mixer.
Add the boiling water to the batter, 1/3 cup at a time, stirring gently but thoroughly by hand with a large rubber spatula after each addition. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan(s).
Bake until the cake pulls away from the sides of the pan, 55-60 minutes for a large 10-inch bundt cake or 15-20 minutes for mini bundt cakes.
Cool the gingerbread cakes in the pan on a wire rack until warm, 20-30 minutes. The top of the cake may fall slightly upon cooling. Run the tip of a knife around the sides of the cake to loosen it from the pan. Invert the cake onto a platter.
For the lemon glaze:
1 c confectioners’ sugar
1-2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp grated lemon zest
In a small bowl, stir together the confectioners’ sugar and lemon juice until smooth. Add the lemon zest.
Drizzle the glaze over the top of the cooled cake. The cake is delicious served slightly warm, but for neat cutting, let the glaze set before serving.
Canelitas Mexican Christmas Cookies
“These cookies are my take on the traditional Canelita Mexican cinnamon cookies,” Ivy said. “Rather than the usual sugar cookie dough, I’ve made them with a shortbread dough. I think they are the perfect Christmas cookie!” At Méxology, Ivy is dedicated to using locally sourced, naturally raised and organic ingredients whenever possible, and offers a fresh Mexican experience with authentic techniques and traditional recipes.
Recipe for Canelitas Mexican Christmas Cookies
Yields 3 dozen cookies
1 c butter
1/2 c coconut sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 1/2 c all-purpose flour
1/4 c granulated sugar
1/4 c confectioners’ sugar
Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.
In a medium bowl or electric mixer, cream together the coconut sugar and butter until pale and fluffy. Stir in the vanilla.
Meanwhile, sift together flour, sea salt and 1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon. Stir into the creamed butter mixture to form a stiff dough. Use a tablespoon measure to scoop dough and roll into 1-inch balls.
Combine the granulated sugar, confectioners’ sugar and 1 teaspoon of cinnamon in a small bowl. Roll balls in the cinnamon mixture and reserve the leftover.
Bake the cookies for 12-15 minutes, or until golden brown.
Transfer cookie sheets to wire racks to cool for 5 minutes, then roll the cookies in the remaining cinnamon sugar and allow to cool completely before serving.
Holiday Pie Crust Cookies
Recipe by Anna Francese Gass, chef and author of Heirloom Kitchen: Heritage Recipes and Family Stories from the Tables of Immigrant Women
These pie crust cookies can be made in less than an hour, and only require some pantry ingredients and premade roll-out pie crust. “These are a crowd-pleaser, super easy to make and taste amazing!” Anna said. “You get the best of both worlds: the tastes and textures of a pie and the handheld, easy-to-eat form of a cookie.”
Recipe for Holiday Pie Crust Cookies
Yields 12-15 cookies
1 prepared pie crust (must be roll-out crust)
3/4 c cherry jam (can be substituted with other jams)
1 c chocolate chips
1 c shredded coconut
1 c raisins
1 c toasted pecans, chopped
1 c maraschino cherries, chopped
1 egg + 1 Tbsp water for egg wash
1 Tbsp sparkling or raw sugar
Confectioners’ sugar, for garnish
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
Roll out pie crust, very thin, onto a parchment lined baking sheet.
Spread jam to the edges of the pie crust.
Sprinkle all the toppings evenly over the jam. Feel free to add or substitute based on what you have in the pantry.
Carefully roll up the pie crust and crimp the edges down onto the roll.
Brush with egg wash and sprinkle the top with sugar.
Bake for 30 minutes until golden. Cool completely.
Starting at the top, cut 2-inch slices all the way down to create bar cookies.
Sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar.
Grandma Gracie’s Snowball Shortbread Cookies
Recipe by Elisa Marshall, founding partner and creative director of Maman in New York City
“Every year for the holidays one of my favorite memories and traditions was making these snowball cookies with my Grandma,” Elisa said. “They melt in your mouth and are super easy to make! She would do most of the baking and my favorite part was rolling them into balls and dipping them in the ‘snow’ after! They are fun to make, kid-friendly and customizable! Substitute the chocolate chips for any of your favorite candy pieces, or add some candy cane pieces for a festive peppermint twist!”
Recipe for Grandma Gracie’s Shortbread Cookies
Yields 24 cookies
3 c (435 g) all-purpose flour
1/2 c (60 g) cornstarch
2 c (4 sticks / 450 g) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 tsp almond extract
1 1/2 cups (195 g) confectioners’ sugar
5 oz (140 g) semisweet chocolate, chopped, or 3/4 c (140 g) semisweet chocolate chips
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit (150 degrees Celsius) and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
In a medium bowl, sift together the flour and cornstarch.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium for about 3 minutes, or until creamy. Add the almond extract.
With the mixer on low, gradually add 1 cup (130 grams) of the confectioners’ sugar and continue beating until fully combined. Increase the speed to high and beat for about 3 minutes more or until light and fluffy.
Add the flour mixture in 3 batches and beat on medium for about 2 minutes, or until fully combined. Fold in the chocolate.
Roll the dough into 1.5 to 2-inch (3.75 to 5-centimeter) balls and arrange on the parchment-lined baking sheets.
Bake for 15 minutes, or until the bottoms are light brown—the tops will remain pale. Transfer the cookies to a wire rack and let cool completely.
Place the remaining 1/2 cup (65 grams) of confectioners’ sugar in a wide, shallow bowl and set a wire rack inside a baking sheet.
Roll the cooled cookies in the confectioners’ sugar, then place on the rack set inside the baking sheet. The shortbread can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week.
Cherry Chocolate Mini Loaves
Recipe by Isa Chandra Moskowitz, executive chef of Modern Love Brooklyn in New York City
Isa Chandra Moskowitz specializes in vegan comfort food and loves to make these Cherry Chocolate Mini Loaves during the holiday season. “They are streamlined and simple because they don’t require any icing, but don’t look underdressed–just the perfect amount of homey and cozy to pair with a big glass of wine and a fireplace,” she said.
Recipe for Cherry Chocolate Mini Loaves
Yields 8 mini loaves
1/2 c applesauce
1/4 c natural almond butter
1/3 c unsweetened cocoa powder
1/3 c almond milk (or your preferred vegan milk), room temperature
1/3 c + 2 Tbsp boiling water, divided
3/4 c dry sweetener (any type of sugar or evaporated cane juice)
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 tsp chocolate extract (optional – you can use another tsp vanilla)
1/8 tsp almond extract
1 1/2 c all-purpose flour (or whole wheat pastry flour)
3/4 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
4 oz chocolate bar, chopped into 1/2-inch chunks
1 c chopped sweet cherries (thawed if using frozen)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and lightly spray a mini loaf pan with cooking spray. Also, boil some water in a tea kettle (no need to measure yet.)
Put applesauce, almond butter, milk and cocoa powder in a mixing bowl. Measure out 1/3 cup boiling water and pour into the bowl with the chocolate mixture, mixing quickly with a fork to make a thick chocolate sauce. Add sugar and extracts and mix well.
Sift about half of the flour, along with the baking soda and salt, into the chocolate mixture, and gently stir just to incorporate, then add 1 tablespoon of boiling water and stir again.
Add the rest of the flour mixture and another tablespoon of boiling water and stir just until smooth. Take care not to overmix. Fold in the chocolate chunks and the cherries.
Spoon the batter into the prepared loaf pans, about three-quarters of the way.
Bake for 26-28 minutes. The tops should be puffy and firm. Stick a steak knife into the center of the loaf to check for doneness. A little bit of wetness is okay since it could be from a chocolate chunk or a cherry, but the knife should come out mostly dry.
Let cool for 10 minutes, then invert pan and place loaves on a cooling rack to cool some of the way. They’re yummy when still a bit warm, with the chocolate chunks oozy and melty. Wrap extra loaves in plastic wrap to keep them from drying out. If not using within a day, refrigerate wrapped loaves.
Chocolate Cocoa Nib Babka
Recipe by Shawn Gawle, executive pastry chef of Goodnight Hospitality in Houston, Texas
“I love laminated doughs, and this is basically a laminated brioche,” Shawn said. “Growing up, my dad owned a Jewish deli and my aunt is Jewish so during the holidays we would have a mix of Jewish delicacies with a more common Christmas smorgasbord.” He noted that babka is also great for making French toast the day after it’s baked.
Recipe for Chocolate Cocoa Nib Babka
Yields 4 loaves
For the babka dough:
550 g all-purpose flour
100 g sugar
2 tsp active dry yeast
125 g milk
150 g butter
4 g salt
zest of 1 lemon
Cube the butter and let sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes so it’s not ice cold and can emulsify into the dough.
Add milk to the bowl of a KitchenAid stand mixer and whisk in the dry yeast.
Add flour, sugar, salt and lemon zest and start mixing slowly with a dough hook.
Stream in the eggs one at a time. Turn the mixer up to speed 4-6 and add one cube of butter at a time until all the butter is incorporated.
Remove the dough and spread out onto a lined sheet pan and refrigerate for 1.5-2 hours.
For the chocolate filling:
50 g confectioners’ sugar
25 g cocoa powder
150 g 70% chocolate
150 g butter
Melt chocolate and butter over a double boiler.
Sift the powdered sugar and the cocoa powder together.
Stir into the melted chocolate by adding it in a couple of stages.
For the syrup:
150 g water
300 g sugar
zest of one lemon
For the filling:
100 g cocoa nibs
10 g sugar
zest of one lemon
Make a syrup with water, sugar and lemon zest. Cool down and reserve for when the babka comes out of the oven.
Once the dough is chilled and firmed up, take out of the fridge and lightly flour your table.
Roll the dough out into a rectangle to about a quarter-inch thick.
Smear the chocolate filling on the dough, leaving about 2 inches on one end without the filling.
Sprinkle cocoa nibs, sugar and lemon zest evenly across the filling. If you’d like you can add toasted chopped pecans instead, but I like to make this nut-free for allergies.
Roll the dough up into a tube or log starting with the side that has the filling all the way to the edge. Once rolled up, refrigerate again for about 30 minutes.
Cut the log lengthwise into four stripes. Take each stripe and then braid them together.
Butter four loaf pans then measure the braided dough to the size of your pans.
Place the braid in the loaf pan and cover with plastic wrap. Let proof for 1 1/2 hours or until the dough is 30-40% larger.
Egg wash your dough, then bake in a 350 degree Fahrenheit oven for 30 minutes, rotating the pans after 15 minutes.
When the babkas come out of the oven, glaze them with the syrup. Wait 5 minutes and remove them from the pans and onto a cooling rack. Glaze them another time with the syrup.