7 local chefs share their holiday cookie recipes

These sweet treats are straight from the kitchens of Boston area chefs.

Caramel-pecan thumbprints with pecan caramel filling by Deanne Steffen Chinn.
Caramel-pecan thumbprints with pecan caramel filling, courtesy of Deanne Steffen Chinn, pastry chef at Sweet Cheeks Q and Tiger Mama. –Sweet Cheeks Q

December is a time for Christmas lights, songs, traditions, and family gatherings. It’s also a time to eat holiday cookies. Whether you’re partial to chocolate, peanut butter, or ginger, these cookie recipes from Boston-area chefs will sweeten your season.

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Snowball cookies
courtesy of Joshua Livesy, pastry chef at Harvest

Snowball cookies from Joshua Livesy at Harvest. —Harvest

While these cookies from Livesy, a current contestant on season four of Food Network’s Holiday Baking Championship, do indeed look like snowballs, they’re much tastier.

Ingredients:

12 ounces (3 sticks) of unsalted butter, cubed
3/4 cup of granulated sugar
1 tablespoon of vanilla
1 tablespoon of water
3 cups of all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups of pecans
1/2 tablespoon of kosher salt
Powdered sugar

To assemble:

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Lightly toast the pecans until they are aromatic, then allow them to cool. Place the nuts and flour in a food processor until they are finely ground. Cream the butter and sugar in a mixer fitted with a paddle until they are “creamy and dreamy.” Then add the vanilla and water and continue to mix until it is all combined. Add the flour, salt, and nuts until the dough comes together. Portion and roll the dough into small balls (about half the size of a ping-pong ball). Bake them at 325 degrees until they are slightly golden on the top (which takes roughly 8 minutes). Remove them from the oven and toss them in powdered sugar. Allow them to cool completely before tossing them in powdered sugar for a second time.

This recipe makes about 2 dozen cookies.

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Chocolate crinkle cookies
courtesy of Robert Gonzalez, pastry chef at Cultivar

Chocolate crinkle cookies courtesy of Robert Gonzalez at Cultivar. —Cultivar

If you’ve got a hankering for chocolate, whip up these chocolate crinkle cookies, made with dark chocolate and cocoa powder.

Ingredients:

1 3/4 cups of butter, soft
4 cups of light brown sugar
1 tablespoon of vanilla extract
1 tablespoon of baking powder
1 tablespoon of cardamom, ground
1 1/2 teaspoons of salt
4 cups of 55 to 65 percent dark chocolate
6 eggs
4 3/4 cups of all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cups of cocoa powder
Confectioners’ sugar, as needed

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To assemble:

Place the chocolate in a bowl and melt it in the microwave before setting it aside. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter, brown sugar, cardamom, vanilla extract, baking powder, and salt together until it’s all light and fluffy. Slowly add the eggs in one at a time. Slowly pour in the melted chocolate until it’s fully incorporated. Scrape the sides of the bowl to evenly mix. Gradually add the flour and cocoa powder. Scoop the cookie dough with an ice cream scoop and place it on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. Place the sheet pan into the fridge for at least 2 hours to allow the dough to get firm. Once firm, place the confectioners’ sugar in a bowl and gently roll the cookie dough rounds in the sugar. Place them back onto the baking sheet. Bake the cookies at 350 degrees for 12 minutes.

This recipe makes 24 cookies.

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Coffee-pecan thumbprint with pecan caramel filling
courtesy of Deanne Steffen Chinn, pastry chef at Tiger Mama and Sweet Cheeks Q

Caramel-pecan thumbprints with pecan caramel filling by Deanne Steffen Chinn. —Sweet Cheeks Q

These almost too-pretty-to-eat cookies will make nut lovers smile: Their middles are filled with a gooey mixture of pecan and caramel.

Cookie ingredients:

1 pound, 4 ounces of all-purpose flour
9 ounces of finely chopped pecans
1 teaspoon of salt
13 1/2 ounces of sugar
1/2 ounce of ground coffee
1 pound of unsalted butter, room temperature
1 ounce of rum
1/2 ounce of vanilla extract

Caramel ingredients:

1 cup of sugar
1/2 cup of heavy cream
6 tablespoons of butter
1/2 tablespoon of salt
1 tablespoon of instant coffee
2 cups of pecans, finely chopped

Dusting ingredients:
1/2 cup of confectioners’ sugar
1 tablespoon of ground coffee
 To make the cookies:
Chop the pecans until they are finely ground. (This step can be done in a food processor as long as half the flour is processed with it.) Once the pecans are processed, combine them with the rest of the flour and the salt. Set these ingredients aside. Cream together the butter, sugar, and coffee until it’s all smooth. Add the rum and vanilla extract. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl. Mix in the dry ingredients just until combined. Press the dough into a sheet pan and wrap it with plastic wrap. Let this dough refrigerate and rest for at least an hour before working with it. This is a good time to make the caramel for the centers of your cookies.
To make the caramel:

Add the sugar to a large pan over medium heat, stirring occasionally until the sugar begins to brown and melt. Once the sugar starts to melt, stir it constantly. At this point, there will be chunks of sugar (they will melt down). Once the sugar syrup is at a light amber color, take it off the heat. Add the instant coffee. Stir in 1 tablespoon of butter at a time. Mix in between each addition. After all of the butter is incorporated, add the heavy cream. The caramel might steam up a bit while you are adding the heavy cream — keep your face away from the pot and use caution while looking into it. Strain the caramel into a heat safe container. Stir in your pecans and salt. Let cool.

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To assemble the cookies:

Portion 1-ounce balls of the dough. Do not press the balls of dough down. On a parchment paper-lined sheet pan, place the balls of dough 2 inches apart. Bake the dough balls at 325 degrees for 5 minutes. Rotate the sheet pan and bake for another 5 minutes. At this point, they may need another few minutes. The edges should be golden brown. When the cookies come out of the oven, take a teaspoon and press the center of each cookie down to make an indent or “thumbprint.” Once the cookies cool, dust each cookie with a mixture of confectioners’ sugar and coffee. Add a teaspoon of pecan caramel to the center of each.

This recipe makes 3 dozen 1-ounce cookies.

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Dulce de leche and cinnamon cookies
courtesy of Steve Zimei, executive chef at Chopps American Bar and Grill

Dulce de leche cinnamon cookies, courtesy of Steve Zimei at Chopps American Bar and Grill. —Chopps American Bar and Grill

Brighten your dessert table — and the cold and dark winter months — with these sweet sandwich cookies.

Ingredients:

2 cups of all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1/2 teaspoon ground anise
16 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar, plus 1/2 cup for rolling
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

For the filling:

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground anise
1 1/2 cups dulce de leche

To assemble:

Heat your oven to 350 degrees. Combine the flour, baking soda, salt, and anise in a small bowl. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a mixer, beat the butter and 1 cup of sugar on medium high until it’s light and fluffy (about 3 minutes). Add the egg and vanilla and beat until it’s combined well. Reduce the speed to low and add the flour mixture in three amounts, scraping down the sides as needed. Combine the cinnamon and the remaining 1/2 of cup sugar in a shallow dish and set aside. Roll the dough into 16 balls and space them 2 inches apart on the baking pan. Bake for 10-12 minutes until firm, rotating the pan halfway through. Let the cookies cool on the sheet. Then place them in the cinnamon sugar and coat them evenly. Transfer them to a cooling rack and let them cool completely.

For the filling:

Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the cinnamon and anise and cook for 1 minute. Off the heat, stir in the dulce de leche until it’s well combined. Spread 1 1/2 teaspoons filling on the bottoms of 24 cookies. Top with remaining tops to form sandwiches. Cookies can be made up to 3 days in advance and stored at room temperature.

This recipe makes 24 cookies.

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Peanut butter miso cookies
courtesy of Ben Steigers, executive chef at Pabu Boston

Peanut butter miso cookies, courtesy of Ben Steigers at Pabu Boston. —Pabu Boston

Put a Japanese spin on classic peanut butter cookies this holiday season.

Ingredients:

3 cups of peanut butter
1/8 of a cup of red miso
2 cups of sugar
3 eggs
4 teaspoons of baking soda
1/2 cup of white sesame seeds

To assemble:

​Add the peanut butter, miso, and sugar to a mixer and mix the ingredients on medium speed until they are smooth. Wipe down the sides often to get any ingredients that are stuck to the walls. Continue mixing on medium speed, adding in the baking soda. Then add the eggs one at a time. Continue to wipe down sides as necessary. Once all of the ingredients are mixed thoroughly, roll the dough into golf ball-sized balls and place them on a greased baking sheet. Place the sesame seeds into a bowl.
Roll each ball in the seeds until each ball is covered. Using your hand, flatten each ball down onto the baking sheet, spaced 2 inches apart from each other. Bake in an oven at 320 degrees for 10 minutes. The cookies should be light brown in color when they are done. Pull the cookies out of the oven and allow them to cool for 10 minutes. They will have a hard outer edge but should be soft and moist in the center. Store them in an airtight jar until they are eaten.

This recipe makes approximately 20 cookies.

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Chocolate sea salt shortbread sandwich cookies
courtesy of Chef Matt Jennings at Townsman

Chocolate sea salt shortbread sandwich cookies, courtesy of Matt Jennings at Townsman. —Townsman

What sandwiches together like peanut butter and jelly? Chocolate and sea salt.

Ingredients:

1 cup (2 sticks) of unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 of a cup of packed light brown sugar
1/4 of a teaspoon of sea salt, plus a pinch
1 egg yolk
1 1/2 teaspoons of pure vanilla extract
2 cups of all-purpose flour
4 1/2 ounces of bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup of heavy cream
Flaky salt, such as Maldon (for sprinkling)

To assemble:

In the bowl of a stand-up mixer fitted with a paddle attachment (or in a large bowl using a handheld mixer), combine the butter, brown sugar, and salt. Beat the ingredients on high speed until they are light and creamy (for about 4 minutes). Reduce the speed to low and add the egg yolk and vanilla. Gradually add the flour and mix it until it’s all combined. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate it for at least 2 hours or overnight. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line two rimmed baking sheets with silicone baking mats or parchment paper. Roll the dough into 1/2-inch balls and set them on the prepared baking sheets, spacing them about 1 inch apart. Gently flatten each ball and sprinkle with flaky salt. Bake for 10 minutes, until lightly golden on the edges. Remove from the oven and use a spatula to transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.

Put the chocolate in a medium bowl. In a small saucepan, warm the cream over medium heat until bubbles begin to form around the edges of the pan. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and let it stand for 5 minutes. Then whisk it until smooth. Whisk in a pinch of salt. Let the mixture cool completely. This creates the ganache (chocolate and cream) filling. Transfer the chocolate ganache to a piping bag fitted with a plain tip. Pipe a nickel-size amount of ganache on the underside of one cookie, then top with a second cookie to form a sandwich (alternatively, you can use a small spoon to spoon some of the ganache onto the cookies). The cookies will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days.

This recipe makes 36 sandwich cookies. 

Excerpted from Homegrown by Matt Jennings (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2017. Photographs by Huge Galdones.

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Ginger molasses cookies
courtesy of Chef Brendan Joy at Steel & Rye and Prairie Fire

Ginger molasses cookies, courtesy of Brendan Joy of Steel & Rye and Prarie Fire. —Steel & Rye

Move aside, gingerbread man. These ginger cookies full of cinnamon and molasses are another great way to get your ginger fix this season.

Ingredients:

3/4 of a pound of butter
2 cups of sugar
1/2 a cup of molasses
2 eggs
4 cups of all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon and 1 teaspoon of baking soda
2 teaspoons of cinnamon
1 teaspoon of cloves
1 teaspoon of ginger
1/2 a teaspoon of salt
Raw sugar (for optional dipping)

To assemble:

Cream the butter and sugar with a paddle attachment to stand mixer. You want the butter to be light and airy and pale in color. Add one egg while the mixer is on its lowest setting. Mix thoroughly before adding the next egg while rotating between a low speed and a medium speed. Add in the molasses and mix until incorporated. Add all of the dry ingredients slowly in stages, making sure to mix each part well. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Using a small ice cream scoop or spoon, scoop the dough to your desired size. Roll each scoop into a ball. Dip the balls into the raw sugar (optional). Bake for 10-15 minutes, depending on the size of the cookies.

This recipe makes 3 dozen cookies.