7 Make-Ahead Cookies to Swap, Send and Savor

Choose from our selection of cookies that will keep well and are sure to delight all the lucky recipients at your holiday cookie-swap party.

Pretzel-Shortbread Bars

Broken pretzels are worked into the dough: Finely ground crumbs go into the flour mixture, and bigger pieces stud the inside and top layer of the bars.

Vegetable oil cooking spray
3 1/4 cups salted miniature twist pretzels
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1 large egg yolk

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Coat a 4 14-by-13 1/2-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom with cooking spray. Line bottom with parchment.

2. Pulse 1 3/4 cups pretzels in a food processor until powdery. Transfer 1/2 cup to a bowl; discard any remaining pretzel powder. Stir in flour and baking powder. Transfer remaining 1 1/2 cups pretzels to food processor, and pulse a few times until coarsely chopped.

3. Beat butter and sugar with a mixer on medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Reduce speed to low, and beat in egg yolk, then pretzel-flour mixture, until combined. Mix in 1/2 cup chopped pretzels.

4. Press dough evenly into pan. Top dough with 1/4 cup chopped pretzels, pressing slightly; discard any remaining pretzels.

5. Bake shortbread until pale brown and firm in the center, 25 to 30 minutes. Transfer pan to a wire rack, and let shortbread cool for 1 hour. Remove shortbread from pan, and cut into 1/2-inch-wide rectangles using a serrated knife.

Related: Savor the Moments: Holiday Brunch Recipes to Enjoy With Your Family & Friends

Gingerbread Trees with Lemon Icing

Drizzles of lemony icing and sprinklings of sanding sugar give these simple gingerbread triangles their Christmas tree appearance and holiday flair.

For the Cookies
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled), plus more for rolling
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1/4 cup unsulfured molasses

For the Icing
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 1/3 cups confectioners' sugar
Sanding or coarse sugar (optional)

1. Make cookies: In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, ginger, cloves, cinnamon, and salt. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat butter and granulated sugar on medium-high until creamy, 3 minutes. Add egg and beat to combine. Add molasses and beat to combine, scraping down bowl as needed. With mixer on low, gradually add flour mixture and beat until combined. Wrap dough in plastic and refrigerate until firm, 1 hour (or up to 3 days).

2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees, with racks in upper and lower thirds. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out dough to a 1/4-inch thickness. With a sharp knife or cookie cutter, cut dough into small 2-inch-wide triangles. Arrange triangles, 1 inch apart, on two parchment-lined baking sheets. Bake until cookies are firm and golden at edges, 10 to 12 minutes. Let cool completely on sheets on wire racks.

3. Make icing: In a small bowl, combine lemon juice and confectioners' sugar and whisk until smooth. Drizzle icing over cooled cookies and sprinkle with sanding sugar, if desired.

Related: 17 Holiday Punch Recipes That Will Bowl Over Your Guests

Stenciled Gingerbread Cookies

After all these years and thousands of holiday cookies, we still find stenciling to be one of the prettiest -- and easiest -- ways to decorate.

6 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for surface
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon teaspoon baking powder
2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup packed dark-brown sugar
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cloves
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 large eggs
1 cup unsulfured molasses
Royal Icing
Confectioners' sugar or luster dust (nycake.com)

1. Sift flour, baking soda, and baking powder into a large bowl.

2. Beat butter and brown sugar with a mixer on medium speed until fluffy. Mix in spices, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper, then eggs and molasses. Reduce speed to low. Add flour mixture, and beat until combined. Divide dough into thirds, and wrap each in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment or nonstick baking mats. Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface to a 1/8-inch thickness. Cut out cookies in desired shapes using cookie cutters, and transfer to baking sheets.

4. Bake until crisp, but not dark, about 20 minutes. Transfer cookies to wire racks, and let cool completely.

5. Punch desired shape out of stiff paper (we used a thick envelope) using a craft punch. Hold stencil over 1 cookie, and brush a thin layer of icing over exposed surface using a small food-safe paintbrush. Holding stencil in place, gently sift confectioners' sugar over cookie through a fine sieve to evenly coat exposed surface. Lift stencil, and return cookie to wire rack. Repeat with remaining cookies. Let dry.

Salted Chocolate Tartlets

We love the sweet-savory combination of chocolate and salt, but you could also finish these with a sprinkle of crushed candy canes, confectioners' sugar, or cocoa.

All-purpose flour, for work surface
1 recipe Basic Pastry Dough
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips (6 ounces)
Coarse salt
1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out dough to an 1/8-inch thickness. With a 3 1/2-inch cookie cutter, cut dough into 24 rounds (reroll scraps if necessary), then press into 24 standard muffin cups (dough should come 3/4 inch up sides). Freeze until firm, 10 minutes (or up to 1 day).

2. Bake until shells are golden, 18 minutes. Let cool completely in pan.

3. In a medium heatproof bowl, combine chocolate and 1/2 teaspoon salt. In a small saucepan, bring cream to a bare simmer over medium-high. Immediately pour over chocolate, add vanilla, and let sit 1 minute. Stir gently until mixture is completely smooth. Pour chocolate into cooled shells and refrigerate until set, 20 minutes. To serve, sprinkle with coarse salt.

Lemon Icebox Cookies

Tart icebox cookies make an easy and satisfying dessert or snack.

2 cups all-purpose flour, (spooned and leveled)
1 cup confectioners' sugar
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
2 large egg yolks
1/4 cup granulated sugar, for rolling

1. In a food processor, pulse flour, confectioners' sugar, salt, and lemon zest until combined. Add butter and process until sandy. Add egg yolks and lemon juice; pulse until dough comes together. Divide dough in half and form each into a 1 1/2-inch-wide log. Wrap in plastic and freeze until firm, about 2 hours (or up to 1 month).

2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees, with racks in upper and lower thirds. Spread granulated sugar on a piece of parchment; roll logs over sugar to coat. Slice logs into 1/4-inch-thick slices and arrange, 1 inch apart, on two parchment-lined baking sheets. Bake until cookies are golden brown around edges, about 15 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through. Transfer cookies to wire racks to cool.

Chocolate-Peppermint Cookies

Reminiscent of a certain beloved Girl Scout cookie, these chocolate-dipped peppermint wafers get a festive holiday twist.

1 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for surface
1/2 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 ounces (5 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
3/4 teaspoon pure peppermint extract
8 large candy canes or 30 peppermint candies, crushed
2 pounds white chocolate, coarsely chopped

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Sift flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into a bowl. Beat butter and sugar with a mixer on medium-high speed for 1 minute. Reduce speed to medium-low, and add egg, then yolk, beating well after each addition. Beat in peppermint extract. Slowly add flour mixture, and beat until just incorporated. Shape dough into 2 disks, wrap each in plastic, and refrigerate until firm, at least 1 hour (or up to 2 days).

2. Roll out 1 disk of dough on a lightly floured surface to 1/8-inch thickness. Freeze until firm, about 15 minutes. Using a 2-inch round cutter, cut out circles, and place 1 inch apart on parchment-lined baking sheets. Roll and cut scraps once. Freeze cookies until firm, about 15 minutes. Repeat with remaining disk.

3. Bake until cookies are dry to the touch, about 12 minutes. Transfer parchment, with cookies, to wire racks, and let cool. (Undecorated cookies will keep, covered, for up to 3 days.)

4. Sift crushed candy, and separate larger pieces from dust, reserving both. Melt chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a pot of gently simmering water. Remove from heat. Dunk cookies into melted chocolate. Using a fork, turn to coat, let excess drip off, and gently scrape bottom against edge of bowl. Place on parchment-lined baking sheets, and sprinkle 1/4 teaspoon of either candy pieces or dust on top. Repeat, sprinkling half the cookies with pieces and the rest with dust. Refrigerate until set, up to 3 hours. Decorated cookies are best served the same day.

Thumbprints and Ball Cookies

These bite-size thumbprint cookies are highly customizable. Get creative with fillings and toppings-the mix-and-match possibilities are endless.

1 batch Vanilla Dough or Chocolate Dough (or 1/2 batch each for marbleized cookies)

For Thumbprints
3/4 cup chopped pistachios, crushed peppermints, or sanding sugar
1/2 cup apricot jam, raspberry jam, or 1 batch Ganache
1 cup chopped dried fruit mixed with 1 tablespoon fruit jam or 1 cup chopped candied orange peel

For Ball Cookies
1/2 cup sanding sugar or 1 cup crushed peppermints
1 1/2 cups melted chocolate (12 ounces) plus 1/3 cup crushed peppermints

1. Roll dough into 1-inch balls. (For marbleized cookies, roll out a 1/2-inch-thick rope each of vanilla and chocolate dough. Pinch 3/4-inch piece from each rope and roll together into a ball.) Roll in finely chopped nuts, crushed candies, or sanding sugar, if using. Arrange on parchment-lined baking sheets, spacing each 1 inch apart.

2. For thumbprints: Press a well into the center of each using your finger. Refrigerate until firm, about 30 minutes. Bake at 350 degrees for 7 minutes. Remove from oven, and press well again with handle end of a wooden spoon. Bake until firm, 7 to 9 minutes more.

For ball cookies: Refrigerate until firm, about 30 minutes. Bake at 350 degrees until firm, 14 to 16 minutes.

3. Let cool completely. Spoon jam, Ganache, dried fruit, or candied orange filling into thumbprints. For Chocolate-Dipped Ball Cookies, dip cooled cookies in melted chocolate; sprinkle with candies, and let set in refrigerator.

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This shortbread is sliced and baked from frozen, so you'll always have a batch at the ready.