I know most of you have cookies on their mind around this time, especially if you are the baking type. It wouldn’t be Christmas without the sweet, irresistible scent of cookies, baking in the oven, the elaborate decorations of cinnamon-glazed stars, gingerbread Christmas trees, or vanilla-frosted snowflakes.
Some of my fondest Christmas memories are of my kids plating their best cookies, with a glass of milk, and a sweet little note of thanks for Santa, and then thoughtfully adding a bunch of carrots for his reindeer too 😍 But also the times when I would wake up in horror, and jump out of bed in the middle of the night, remembering that I’d forgotten to bite off some of the cookies and carrots! Aaah, sweet memories!
Sadly, we no longer bake cookies for Santa…instead, we now bake a few batches of different cookies to give away to friends and loved ones. I look for inspiration anywhere, but this year I decided to do a world tour! Finding out about other cultures and culinary traditions is always fascinating for me, cookies being no exception, so I assembled a collection of 31 Christmas cookie recipes from all over the world – from Australia to Argentina, I hope everyone will find something for their taste and fancy.
The tour begins with Europe, which has the largest variety of cookie recipes. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, since Europeans have perfected the art of cookie baking for over a millenium. Although the first cookies date back to 7th century Persia, which was one of the first countries to use sugar in making sophisticated sweets and desserts, the techniques quickly spread throughout Europe, and over the course of the centuries evolved into exquisite flavors, and shapes – buttery, nutty, spicy, chocolaty, filled with jam, dusted with sugar!
The birth of the cookie was actually a happy accident, as small batches of cake dough were dropped into the oven to test the temperature. In fact the word cookie comes from the Dutch Koeptje [koekje], and means ‘small cake’.
Germany & Austria: Lebkuchen, Zimtsterne, Hasselnusmakronen, Linzer, Vanillekipferl
Lebkuchen – probably the most popular Christmas cookie in Germany, this is the German gingerbread cookie, typically made with honey and lots of spices. Fun fact: it was in Germany where the tradition of gingerbread house making started!
Hasselnusmakronen – soft and chewy hazelnut cookies
Zimtsterne – cinnamon star cookies – another traditional Germany cookie.
Vanillekipferl – the most popular Austrian Christmas cookie comes in the shape of vanilla-scented, buttery crescents
Linzerkekse – the famous Austrian linzer cookie, made of nutty almond dough, sandwiched together with raspberry preserve
Ginger linzer cookies with butter caramel – another variation of the linzer cookies
Italy: Biscotti, Amaretti, Panforte, Strufolli
Chocolate-dipped almond biscotti – it doesn’t get any more traditional than the beloved biscotti
Chocolate Panforte – Italian nut and dry fruit bread
Chewy Amaretti Cookies – Italian almond cookies
Ricciarelli – anorther almond cookie from Siena
Struffoli – a traditional Christmas dessert from Naples, these deep fried small balls of dough are perfumed with lemon and orange zest, and slathered in honey
Spain: Turron, Polvorones
Polvorones – super crumbly and soft traditional Christmas cookies from Spain, dusted in powdered sugar, hence the name polvorones (‘polvo’ means dust in Spanish)
Turrón de Navidad – this almond nougat candy seems to be the most popular Spanish sweet consumed at Christmas. It’s the Spanish version of halva, and can be hard or soft
Switzerland: Basler Brunsli
Basler Brunsli – Swiss chocolate spice cookies
France: Madelenes, Sables
Sables Bretons – classic French butter cookies from Brittany, which get their particular taste from salted butter.
Madeleines – delicate, soft little tea cakes, known for their distinctive shape, slightly perfumed with lemon and vanilla.
Stroopwafels – the best known Dutch sweet comes in the form of Crispy waffle sandwich cookies with caramel filling.
Speculaas – thin, crunchy, spicy cookies, popular in Belgium and Netherlands, characterized by elaborate stamp patterns.
Old fashioned pepperkaker – these Norwegian gingerbread cookies are loaded with spices and a dash of cognac.
Orehovki – intense toasted walnut and cinnamon flavors, chewy on the inside, crispy on the outside, these are everyone’s favorite cookie in Bulgaria
Melomakaron – traditional Greek Christmas cookies – incredibly soft, moist and flavorful, made with honey, spices and nuts, and soaked in honey cinnamon syrup.
Šape – Croatian ‘bear paw’ cookies, with a hint of rosemary.
Kolachy – the jewels of Slovenian Christmas cooking – flaky, cream cheese crust, filled with fruit preserves
Chrusciki – Polish ‘angel wings’ cookies made of fried dough ribbons, and dusted with powdered sugar.
Pryaniki – soft, glazed Russian honey spice cookies, flavored with coffee.
South & North America
Mexican chocolate shortbread cookies – dark chocolate, spiced with cinnamon and cayenne pepper
Mexican Wedding Cakes – these are known by many names – snowballs cookies, Russian tea cakes, or polvorones – made with lots of butter, flour, powdered sugar and finely chopped nuts, rolled into balls, and profusely dusted with sugar, they do resemble snow balls indeed.
Brigadeiros – popular Brazilian truffles, come in many flavors, mostly chocolate and coconut, made by reducing sweet condensed milk and butter into a fudge-like consistency.
Alfajores – popular all over Latin America, these sandwich cookies have a satiny texture and buttery dulce de leche filling.
U.S.A: Chocolate chip cookies
Christmas chocolate chip cookies – a festive version made with red and green M&Ms for a cheerful Christmas-y look.
Australia & New Zealand
Anzac biscuits – chewy coconut and oat cookies, that became popular during WWII, when women prepared them for the soldiers to carry on their long journey to Europe. The name of these cookies is an acronym for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps.
I hope you enjoyed the tour, and found your cookie baking inspiration!
I wish you happy baking, and a sweet and cozy Christmas!🎄🎁🎅