Every December, I turn into a baking monster. It started small, back in the days when I ran a farm. December marked the end of the season, when I could finally relax. One year, I baked ten kinds of cookies for my family’s Christmas celebration. The next year, I baked 20. The year after that I baked somewhere around 40 kinds. This annual traditional grew over the years into what is now known as Cookie Extravaganza. I clear my schedule in December so that I can spend my days baking. I send boxes overflowing with treats to everyone I love. It’s become my favorite part of the year, a scared tradition for which I plan extensively. I start dreaming of cookies in September, and come December 1, I am ready with my baking calendar, apron on, rolling pin out, cookbooks stacked on the counter.
While I typically bake 3,000–5,000 cookies in December, often picking 70 or 80 different kinds, you, too, can throw yourself a Cookie Extravaganza. It does not have to be as absurdly and outrageously over the top as mine. Cookies make wonderful gifts, and cookie boxes are super fun to put together. You can make two or three kinds of cookies, pack them up into pretty boxes, tie them up with ribbon, and send them off into the world. You can get wildly extravagant if you want, or you can keep it simple.
Over the years, I’ve amassed an extensive cookbook collection for the purpose of Cookie Extravaganza. And I’ve learned a few things about what makes a good cookie box. You want cookies of different textures — some soft and chewy, some buttery and short, some crisp. You want a range of flavors, styles, and shapes: sandwich cookies, bar cookies, filled cookies. Each cookie should bring something unique to the collection. It’s also important to to pick cookies that will last and/or ship well. Over the years, I’ve found that most cookies remain delicious much longer than most recipes say they will. But it’s still a good idea to choose cookies that age well.
I love nothing more than spreading the cookie love. I want everyone who loves baking to experience the joy that is Cookie Extravaganza! But my way is admittedly extreme. Below you’ll find a template for how to create your own mini 12 day Cookie Extravaganza. Twelve days has a nice ring to it (there’s that famous song, after all). It’s definitely a project — you’ll feel extremely proud after baking a different cookie every day for twelve days. But it’s also attainable. The cookies I’ve picked are not incredibly complicated; you can bake up a batch in the evening after work.
I’ve chosen 12 cookie recipes that I adore, two each from six must-have baking cookbooks. It was hard to pick just two recipes from each of these books. In the end, I chose my most beloved recipes from my favorite cookbooks, the ones I return to over and over again. Together, these 12 cookies will make a beautiful box, full of interesting shapes and textures, lots of colors, and, of course, many mouthwatering flavors.
I’ve organized the process into days, beginning with the cookies that last the longest. Of course you can switch this up however you want. You could do the whole thing in a weekend, or you could bake two cookies each day for a week. However you choose to bake, I hope you find lots of inspiration in these cookbooks and recipe suggestions, and I wish you the coziest baking season!
Days 1 & 2:
Classic German Baking by Luisa Weiss
If you enjoy holiday baking, and especially if you love traditional European Christmas cookies, I implore you to get yourself this cookbook. I’ve been slowly baking my way through all of Weiss’s incredible cookie recipes for years. I haven’t made them all yet, but I intend to. She’s so warm and generous; reading these recipes feels like sitting with a good friend in a steamy kitchen, chatting about family favorites over cups of tea. I absolutely love her recipe for lebkuchen, a classic German gingerbread cookie that rests for 1–2 months before being baked. I didn’t include it here, but it’s worth buying this book for that recipe alone. The two recipes I did pick are ones I make every year. These cookies are warm and nutty, full of spices and citrus. Every cookie box needs a cozy spiced cookie; these are two of the best.
These traditional German gingerbread cookies are soft and chewy. They’re flourless, made with a combination of ground nuts and almond paste. They’re full of candied citrus peel and Lebkuchengewürz, a wonderfully warm and aromatic German spice mix made of ginger, cinnamon, cloves, anise, mace, and more.
These chewy bars are made with honey, spices, lots of citrus zest, and candied citrus peel. They have a wonderful, soft texture, with a delightful crack on the top from the sugar glaze. They also last for months!
Days 3 & 4
Pastry Love by Joanne Chang
I adore this cookbook for a million reasons. In addition to tons of amazing cookie recipes, it has some of my favorite pastry recipes, a tried-and-true brioche recipe, and so many delicious cakes. But the best parts of this cookbook is the section on sweets and confections. Cookie-adjacent treats like caramels, honeycomb, toffee, and marshmallows add a touch of elegance and whimsy to a cookie box. Caramels are especially fun to make because everyone will be super impressed, but they are actually quite easy to make! You’ll find recipes for all sorts of confections in Pastry Love; for this cookie box, I’ve included two of my favorites: a caramel and a meringue.
Chocolate, Almond and Cocoa Nib Caramels
Once I got over my fear of caramel and realized that it is not as hard as The Great British Baking Show makes it seem, I became obsessed with making caramels. Joanne Chang’s almond and chocolate caramels (the far left in the picture below) are decadent and perfect, with a little zip from the cocoa nibs and a pleasing crunch from the almonds.
Who doesn’t love a meringue? These ones are so pretty and fun! They’re crunchy and sweet, but not too sweet — the peppermint flavor cuts the sweetness a bit. Packed in clear bags with ribbon, they make such a colorful addition to a cookie box.
Days 5 & 6:
Sweet by Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh
I will never admit to having a favorite baking cookbook. But if I had to choose…well, let’s just say this book is a gift. I’ve made these gingerbread tiles every year since I started Cookie Extravaganza; they’re just too good to skip. It pained me not to highlight some of my other favorite cookies from this book, like the incredible chocolate sandwich cookies and the Middle Eastern millionaire’s shortbread. If you enjoy interesting flavor combinations, or you just need some kitchen inspiration to get you excited about baking again, this is your go-to book.
I cannot explain how much I love these cookies. They’re always a favorite among my friends and family, too. The flavor is simple but wonderful, full of molasses and ginger. You need a cookie stamp or a patterned rolling pin to get the pretty design, but it’s worth investing in one. The way the rum-butter glaze accentuates the pattern is dreamy, but these cookies have substance, too; they’re as delicious as they look.
Amaretti with Honey and Orange Blossom
This is another recipe I’ve been making for years and just can’t let go of. It’s a simple, crumbly cookie made with almonds and egg whites, subtly flavored with orange blossom. I like to make sure a cookie box has a few cookies that aren’t super sweet, and this one is delicious and interesting but not overpowering.
Days 7 & 8:
Baking at République by Margarita Manzke
This is a newer cookbook for me, but it’s quickly become a go-to for Cookie Extravaganza. The chapter on cookies isn’t long, but every one of them sounds like a winner, and everything I’ve made from it so far has been perfect. I also highly recommend this cookbook if you’re into fancy breakfasts and pastry projects. Manzke breaks down complicated recipes (like puff pastry and brioche) into easy-to-follow steps.
I love unique flavor combinations and unusual cookies. But I also love a classic. It’s worth including something simple, like these delicious spritz cookies, in your box. These taste like butter and vanilla. That’s it. What’s not to love?
Food for the Gods
I sadly don’t have a picture of these, but don’t let that deter you. Food for the Gods bars are a traditional Philippine dessert, and they are divine. They’re a little bit like blondies, but they’re made with walnuts and dates, which gives them a nutty, caramel flavor. They’re often wrapped individually in colorful paper and tied with twine, which makes for a lovely addition to any cookie box.
Days 9 & 10:
Payard Cookies by François Payard
I love a cookbook devoted to cookies! This is a classic book full of French and Italian standbys. Payard is a pastry chef who grew up working in bakeries, and this book has a certain feel to it. There are lots of recipes for meringues, madeleines, macarons, and lots of variations of sables and buttery cookies. Many of the recipes are quite simple. One of my all time favorites are the sables a thé, a buttery cookie made with Earl Grey tea. I’ve had this one for years, and I have yet to bake my way through the whole thing.
Payard Cookies has a lot of classic recipes, but this is one of the more inventive ones. Florentines are made from a mixture of melted butter and nuts. They spread out in the oven and turn into lacy, crispy, butter bits of joy. These ones are made with sesame seeds and almonds, which makes for a wonderful combination.
This recipe is a bit more representative of the kinds of cookies you’ll find in this book. Jam-filled cookies are a classic for a reason, and I love the way they look (and taste) in a cookie box. These ones are a variation on traditional linzer cookies: a nutty, buttery cookie with a bright jam filling.
Days 11 & 12:
Dorie’s Cookies by Dorie Greenspan
I love every one of these cookbooks, but I saved the one most appropriate for Cookie Extravaganza for last. Even if you don’t bake any of the cookies I’ve mentioned here, or do any baking this December, if you love cookies this is an absolute must-have cookbook. There are just so many recipes! For so many kinds of cookies! Everyday cookies, fancy cookies, unusual cookies, familiar cookies. My copy is butter-splattered and stained with drips of chocolate and jam. It has yet to let me down.
World Peace Cookies
I am woefully without a picture of these cookies, which are probably Dorie Greenspan’s most famous recipe. And they are worth all the fuss. Every cookie box needs one really good chocolate cookies, and these ones are the absolute best.
Multigrain Chocolate Chip Cookies
I promise that Dorie’s Cookies has recipes for non-chocolate cookies! But another hallmark of a great cookie box is a perfect drop cookie, something with slightly crisp golden brown edges and a soft, chewy center. I know everyone has their own opinions about chocolate chip cookies, and my opinion is: these are my favorite. They have a little bit of buckwheat flour, and some kasha (roasted buckwheat groats) and pecans for crunch. I honestly can’t tell you exactly what all those things add to this cookie, except that it is supremely delicious.
And there are your twelve days of holiday cookie (books)! If you’re looking for more baking inspiration, check out some of our Cookbook Showdowns, especially the ones for pumpkin pie and apple pie, perfect for the season. You’ll also find a lot to love on this list of 50 Must-Read Baking Cookbooks.