Holiday baking is in full swing, and who better to turn to for ideas than Austin’s preeminent pastry chefs? Whether looking to spice up holiday cookie tins, place some last-minute orders, or just marvel at the cookie possibilities, here are some pastry chef-approved holiday cookie favorites.
Chelsea Smith, pastry chef, New Waterloo (Il Brutto, Central Standard, and others)
My favorite holiday cookie is a decorated sugar cookie. Every year before Christmas, my Nani would throw down her most festive vinyl tablecloth and invite us over to help her decorate an entire dining room table’s worth of baked sugar cookies. She would have bowls of candy, sprinkles, chopped nuts, and all different colors of royal icing prepared. On Christmas Day, when the entire family would gather at her house, it was so fun to eat our creations as a group. She still keeps this tradition alive for my two nephews every year.
Camila Velez, Owner, Dō
I’m obsessed with introducing people to my favorite holiday cookie: polvorones or mantecaditos. It’s a Puerto Rican almond shortbread cookie, traditionally topped with a piece of guava paste before baking. You can find them on my Instagram page with Christmas sprinkles.
Jules Stoddart, executive pastry chef, Olamaie
Cookies are pretty high on the list as a favorite sweet. To tell you about my favorite cookie, I have to tell you about my mom. She makes literally all the cookies during the holidays. When we were younger, she would make my brothers and I each our own batch of cookies. From what I remember, we all had our favorites. As I got older, I am pretty sure my favorite changed a million times, but it always comes back to this one cookie: this soft in the middle, but crunchy on the outside, and entirely covered in green sugar sprinkles version of a sugar cookie. I’ve made some attempts at making them, and they are always just good to me. Turns out my mom makes them the absolute best, and that’s why I call them Jacque’s Magic Cookies, because when she makes them, I feel extremely special and I can eat 10 of them and never be judged.
Lindsay O’Rourke, pastry chef, Better Half Bar
A favorite holiday cookie of mine happens to be an oatmeal gingersnap creme pie. The buttery goodness of a classic, chewy oatmeal cookie paired with rich molasses and ginger work perfectly together when it comes to cradling the tasty ginger creme filling. The treat itself is a little spicy with flavors of fall and it really gives me the holiday family feels all over.
Ariana Quant, executive pastry chef, Uchi (all locations)
My favorite cookie would be gingersnaps. They are the perfect holiday cookie. I actually prefer them to be soft and chewy over the traditional crunchy snap. I have one recipe that I’ve played with for years from my time spent in San Francisco. I never enjoyed gingersnaps until eating these. This particular recipe included fresh grated ginger, nice molasses, and tossing the cookies in turbinado sugar before getting baked. I bake them every year during this time for family meals now and they are the perfect little cookie to have with some hot apple cider, with a splash of brandy.
Tavel Bristol-Joseph, pastry chef and co-owner, Emmer & Rye, Hestia, and others
Monster cookies are my favorite cookies for the holidays, the new and improved chocolate chip. It’s cold outside, and who doesn’t like a warm fresh-baked cookie that’s crunchy on the outside and gooey in the center. Perfect for the holidays.
Murph Willcott, owner, Texas French Bread
My favorite holiday cookie is alternatively known as either a sand art, pecan sandy, or a Mexican wedding cookie, depending on where you grew up. As near as I can tell, they are the same cookie. It’s very basic: flour, butter and pecans, coated with as much powdered sugar as will stick to them after they cool. Somehow, they have an almost savory quality and eating them is all about the texture.
Runner-up is our cranberry shortbread cookie that we developed this year — it’s a wonderful combination of sweet, delicate shortbread matched with tart, fresh cranberries. This one has also been super popular over here. Both are featured in our holiday cookie tins.
David Norman, head doughpuncher, Easy Tiger
My favorite holiday cookies are Swedish pepparkakor, the very thin, crispy gingersnaps that are ubiquitous this time of year, usually cut into hearts. I discovered them as an exchange student. Because they are rolled out so thin, even a home-sized batch makes a lot of cookies, which makes them great for gift-giving. When I was in college, I made some for friends and have made them as gifts in the many years since.
Joseph Gomez, owner, Galleta
I would have to say dedos (“fingers” in Spanish). My mom would make them during the holidays. They are basically like Mexican wedding cookies, but in a shape that resembles fingers. They made from very few ingredients, simple, buttery, nutty, very crumbly, messy, and delicious and I love them. We are selling them as a special for the holidays at $15 for a dozen.
Kendall Melton, Owner, Vivian’s Boulangerie
Favorite holiday cookie are the sugar cookies in the tins from Costco/Sam’s/any grocery store. Specifically the ones shaped like pretzels and topped with sugar. My grandparents always had those around, and, as a kid, I wasn’t allowed to have any sugary snacks or junk food, and I thought it was absolutely a jackpot paradise that there was an entire tin of cookies and I could have all I wanted. Metabolism, what a beautiful thing.