With cold, wet weather and the season’s first measurable snowfall expected today, here’s a fun indoor activity you can do alone or with your kids.  Forget about the fire, why not just heat up by the oven as you try your hand at some of my favorite holiday cookie recipes?  These are great for a cookie exchange, as gifts for neighbors or just for enjoying at home with your family.  And they’re the highlight today for Day 8 of our 12 Days of Recipes series here at 365Barrington.com.

12 Days of Recipes - Day 8

For us, we have a little different criteria for the best cookie exchange recipes.  The cookies have to look festive.  They have to be easy enough to crank out six dozen in about 2 hours. The recipe has to be basic enough to triple with ease.  And, of course, we want to skip all fussy ingredients.

Post - Best Holiday Cookie Recipes

Candy-Dipped Chocolate Cutout Cookies

We think any basic cookie, such as oatmeal, sugar or chocolate cutout cookie dipped in melted white chocolate and then crushed candy cane pieces is a holiday best.  White chocolate and candy cane pieces are a perfect mouthful of holiday flavor, and with any good cookie base, they are a true crowd pleaser. Below is a recipe that does this with chocolate cutout cookies.  You can do something similar with crushed pistachios, m&m pieces or sprinkles in place of the candy canes…


2 sticks butter, softened

1 cup powdered sugar

1 egg

2 teaspoons vanilla

2-1/2 cups flour

1/2 cup cocoa powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup white chocolate chips

½ cup crushed candy canes

Cream the butter with the powdered sugar. Add the egg and vanilla and mix to combine.  Add the flour, cocoa powder and salt, and mix together to create dough.  Wrap dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least one hour.  Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.  Roll out the cookie dough and cut out the cookies with a Christmas tree shaped cookie cutter, or basic shapes such as squares or circles Bake for 8 minutes.  Cool cookies completely.

Melt white chocolate chips in microwave-safe bowl for 50 seconds.  Stir until chocolate is smooth. Microwave additional 15-second intervals if needed.

Peppermint No-Bake Cake Balls

Yes, cake balls are all the rage. They are both adorable and delicious. But the ordinary ones would never make it onto this “best” list as no one but the Cake Boss could make 6 dozen in less than 2 hours – or without a grand mess in the kitchen. However, the no-bake version, while slightly less elegant tasting (they are heavier and sweeter than a traditional cake ball) fit the quick and easy bill.  And they look just as adorable!

Post 300 - Peppermint Cake BallsIngredients:

1 package white or chocolate cake mix

2 canisters white or chocolate frosting

1 cup flour

White chocolate or almond bark

8 candy canes, smashed

Combine cake mix, frosting, flour and half candy cane pieces.  Roll into balls, place on wax paper, and place in freezer for at least one half hour.  Melt chocolate or almond bark. Roll balls in melted chocolate.

Place on waxed paper, and then sprinkle with remaining candy can pieces.

Chocolate Pretzel Bites

Chocolate Pretzel Bites are a must have for my family during the holidays.  Lucky for me they are super easy to make, and I can make mini batches in between other kitchen tasks.  The hardest part is finding circle-shaped pretzels.  I have the best luck finding them at Jewel, but you can also use large pretzel rods, or the square waffle shaped pretzels as a substitute.


2 bags pretzels

2 bags white chocolate chips

1 large bag M&M’s

Spread pretzels on wax paper. Melt white chocolate chips in microwave-safe bowl for 50 seconds.  Stir and microwave an additional 50 seconds. Stir again until chocolate is smooth.  Microwave additional 15-second intervals if needed.

Drip chocolate from a spoon into center of pretzels.  Press an M&M into the center.

Holiday Sprinkle Sandwich Cookies

Sandwich cookies rank high on everyone’s favorite list because of the rich sweetness in the filling.  Cake batter cookies are extremely easy to make and reliable as well, making these an easy additional to our “best holiday cookies” list.


2 packages Devil’s Food cake mix

4 eggs

2/3 cup oil

1 canister vanilla frosting

green and red sprinkles

Combine cake mix eggs and oil to make cookie dough. Roll dough into quarter-sized balls.  Press onto cookie sheets and bake at 375 for 8-10 minutes.  Cool cookies. Place a spoonful of frosting in between two
cookies, press together slightly, and roll sides in sprinkles.

Pistachio Pomegranate Pudding Cookies

These delightful and delicious cookies are perfect for your holiday cookie exchange, using festive red dehydrated pomegranate seeds (or cranberries) and green pistachio pudding in a basic sugar cookie recipe. They are simple but elegant and rich-tasting. And they can be made ahead and frozen.

Post 300 - Pistachio Pudding CookiesIngredients:
Makes 2 dozen cookies

1 cup butter, softened

1 cup sugar

2 eggs

1 (3.5 ounce) package instant Pistachio pudding

2 cups flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 cup dried pomegranate seeds (or dried cranberries)

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Cream butter and sugar.  Blend in eggs and pudding. Sift dry ingredients together and stir to combine all ingredients, including your choice of add-ins (optional).  Place by rounded spoonfuls on baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes.



About the Author

Kelly Donlea is a Barrington mom, chef, cookbook author the owner of Organizing Dinner, a company that brings sensible cooking solutions to busy people. She has published several cookbooks and one of her specialties is helping parents plan family meals with fewer trips to the grocery store. Kelly also offers cooking classes and demonstrations in your home or public facility. To learn more about Kelly, her recipes and her services, you’ll find her Facebook page by clicking HERE and her website at OrganizingDinner.com. Kelly is going to be sharing recipes, cooking tips and special features about chefs and popular menu items at area restaurants right here at 365Barrington.com.

To explore more of Kelly’s recipes in your own kitchen, her cookbooks are your best companion and they also make great holiday gifts! CLICK HERE to read more about her books, titled 70 Meals One Trip to the Store and 30 Spectacular Salads.

Please join us as we discover local culinary treasures and new kitchen classics in our weekly food feature here at 365Barrington.com called “Barrington Eats” with Kelly Donlea!

If you’d like to us to feature you favorite chef, restaurant or food store or if you have a food related question that you’d like Kelly to answer, make a quick stop at the 365 Barrington Suggestion Box and leave us a note in the form which you’ll find by clicking HERE or simply leave your comment in the box below.

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