Entertaining Photo Credit: photography by Kevin Clark; styling by Jennifer Stamper

5 Cookie Doughs, 24 Variations

We know it’s not a contest, but… you’re going to win this year’s holiday bake exchange.

Though there are thousands of cookie varieties in this world (and for that, we’re eternally grateful), when it comes time to craft your holiday cookie platter or prep for your annual bake exchange, sticking to the basics is a sanity-saver. But basic doesn’t have to be boring: as these five doughs and 24 variations below prove, these classic cookie archetypes are a jumping off point for plenty of creativity.

shortbread cookie dough recipe

The Base Recipe: Classic Shortbread

No winter holiday is complete without shortbread. Use this recipe as a blank canvas; straight-up butter shortbread is delicious, but can also be flavoured with citrus zest, warm spices or even tea. Get our basic shortbread recipe here. 

The Variations

Turtle Stuffed Shortbread Take a small piece of dough and wrap it around a chocolate Turtle, enclosing it completely. Bake for 20 minutes, or until pale golden around the edges.

London Fog Shortbread Put 1 tbsp loose Earl Grey tea leaves into a small dish and pour just enough boiling water over them to cover (about a tablespoon or two); set aside for a few minutes, then pour off the water. In the bowl of a food processor, pulse the butter, sugar and softened tea leaves until well blended and creamy. Add the flour, salt and constarch and pulse until dough comes together. Bake as directed.

Whipped Shortbread Use ¾ cup icing sugar and beat it with the butter for 2 to 3 minutes, or until pale and light. Replace ¾ cup of the flour with cornstarch (omit the extra 2 tbsp). Roll into balls and press with a cookie stamp, or use a cookie press to shape the dough before baking.

Scottish Oat Shortbread Wedges Reduce flour to 1½ cups and add 1 cup quick or old-fashioned oats. Divide the dough in half and press each into the bottom of an 8-inch round cake pan. Press down around the edge with the tines of a fork and prick it a few times on top. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes, or until pale golden around the edges. Cut into wedges while still warm, then cool on a wire rack.

ginger cookie recipe

The Base Recipe: Chewy Ginger Molasses Crinkles

Molasses ginger cookies are a holiday classic, and are better than any potpourri for making your house smell wonderful. Get our basic chewy ginger molasses crinkle cookie recipe here.

The Variations

Chocolate Molasses CrinklesReplace ½ cup of the flour with cocoa. Shape, roll and bake as directed.

Double Ginger Molasses CrinklesAdd ⅓ cup chopped crystallized ginger to the dough. Shape, roll and bake as directed.

Ginger Cream Cheese SandwichesSpread the bottoms of half the baked cookies thickly with some cream cheese frosting; sandwich with a second cookie.

sugar cookie dough variations

The Base Recipe: Sugar Cookies

Sugar cookies are holiday classics—rolled, shaped, filled or sandwiched, this basic recipe can be called into service to create dozens of different cookies. It will keep its shape once baked, so use your imagination. Get our simple sugar cookie dough recipe here. 

The Variations

Thumbprint CookiesDon’t bother refrigerating the dough—instead, shape it into walnut-sized balls, place on a parchment-lined baking sheet and press down on each with your thumb to make a dent. Fill with a small spoonful of jam, mincemeat or other preserves and bake for 12 to 14 minutes, or until pale golden. If you like, dust with icing sugar.

Gingerbread CookiesSubstitute molasses for the oil, and then add 2 tsp cinnamon, 1 tsp ground ginger and ½ tsp nutmeg to the dry ingredients. Add a little extra flour if the dough is too soft. Chill, roll, cut and bake as directed.

Icebox CookiesStir 1 cup chopped nuts, dried fruit, chocolate chunks or any other additions you like into the dough. Shape into two logs, wrap in plastic or parchment and refrigerate for several hours or up to a week, or freeze for up to 4 months. Slice ¼-inch thick and bake as directed.

Linzer CookiesRoll and cut simple shapes, like circles, and cut a small window out of half of the cookies before baking. Once baked, spread whole cookies with raspberry or apricot jam, then sprinkle the windowed cookies with icing sugar before placing on top.

Lemon Meltaways Add the grated zest of a lemon to the butter-sugar mixture as you beat it. Bake as directed, and drizzle cooled cookies with an icing made with ½ cup icing sugar and 2 tsp lemon juice.

Cinnamon Bun Crunch Icebox CookiesOn a floured surface, roll the dough out into a rectangle about ¼-inch thick. Sprinkle with dark brown sugar and cinnamon, then roll up, starting from a long edge. Cut the roll in half, wrap in plastic or parchment and refrigerate for at least an hour. Slice ¼-inch thick and bake as directed.

chocolate chip cookie variations

The Base Recipe: Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough

The soft, buttery brown-sugar dough that made chocolate chip cookies so popular makes a perfect vehicle for any number of flavours and ingredients. They’re easy to mix and bake when you need a batch fast. Get our quick and easy recipe for chocolate chip cookie dough here. 

The Variations

Chewy Orange White Chocolate Chunk Cookies with Cranberries and Pecans Add 1 tsp grated orange zest to the butter-sugar mixture and swap the dark chocolate for 1 cup chopped white chocolate, ½ cup chopped pecans and ½ cup dried cranberries (or 1 cup chopped fresh cranberries, for a burst of tartness). Bake as directed.

Inside-Out Chocolate Chunk Cookies Swap in ½ cup cocoa for ½ cup of the flour and use white chocolate instead of dark. Bake as directed.

Brown Sugar Fruitcake Cookies If you have some, swap rum extract for the vanilla. And instead of the chocolate chunks or chips, stir 2 cups of chopped dried fruit—raisins, cherries, apricots, cranberries, figs, dates and the like—into the dough along with 1 cup chopped pecans, almonds or hazelnuts. Bake as directed.

chocolate crinkle cookies

The Base Recipe: Chocolate Crackle Cookies

These dense, chewy, intensely chocolate cookies need no decoration; they’re rolled in powdered sugar before baking, creating a crackled effect. Get our recipe for chocolate crackle cookies here.

The Variations

Chocolate Peppermint Crackle Cookies Substitute peppermint extract for the vanilla. Shape, roll and bake as directed.

Chocolate Orange Crackle Cookies Add the finely grated zest of an orange along with the butter. Shape, roll and bake as directed.

Double Chocolate Espresso Brownie Cookies Add 1 tsp espresso powder, dissolved in 1 tbsp water, in place of the vanilla. Stir 1 cup chopped dark chocolate into the dough, then roll into balls and bake without rolling in icing sugar.

What’s on your cookie platter! Share your best holiday baking with us on Instagram—just tag @westernliving 

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