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“Spritz” Up Your Cookie Jar With The Facts On 12 Rich Holiday Cookies

A cookie a day ...

Of all the simple joys in life, cookies are in a category of their own. They can be a snack, a dessert, or just an anytime pick-me-up. For many people, the holidays wouldn’t be, well, the holidays, without a tin of seasonally appropriate cookies to enjoy. The word as we know it comes from the Dutch koekje, which essentially means a “small cake.” These small cakes come in all sorts of flavors, shapes, and sizes, and many of the most loved styles today have a long history as an affordable luxury given to guests or eaten as a sweet treat.

Whether you like your cookies spiced or sweet, hard or soft, these are the styles that every cookie fan should have on their radar.

spritz

spritz

Holiday designs can make any type of cookie feel festive. Spritz cookies are similar to butter cookies made with butter, sugar, egg yolk, flour, and vanilla. The dough is marked with a pressed design. They originally come from Scandinavia, but the name comes from Germany—spritzen means “to squirt” in German. They’re made by forcing a simple high-fat dough through cookie presses into various holiday shapes like Christmas trees and stars, or if you’re in Norway, into S and O shapes.

biscotti

biscotti

Biscotti are Italian cookies with a long history. They date back to the Tuscan city of Prato in the 1300s. The region’s many almonds were used in the recipe, which is a defining characteristic in many versions today, too.

The cookie gets its name from how it’s made: biscoctus means “twice baked” in Latin, a reference to how the simple dough of flour, water, and salt is baked and then cooled and then baked again for a hard, dry, and easy to store food. The sturdy cookie is the inspiration behind British hardtack and German zweiback. Biscotti can mean a number of different cookies in Italy (some versions have pistachio or sesame, for example, and people in some parts of Tuscany call the cookie cantucci), but biscotti is generally only used for the long, almond-studded cookies in the States. Biscotti were cherished for their ability to stay good for long periods of time in the past, and it’s often dipped in coffee these days.

 

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amaretti

amaretti

Biscotti aren’t the only Italian cookies centered around almonds. Amaretti are Italian almond biscuits that get their name from amaro, the Italian word for “bitter.” They’re made with ground almonds or almond paste, sugar, and egg whites. Chocolate or other flavorings are sometimes added as well.

These cookies have plenty of regional variations. Some are hard while others are chewy, and some have a perfect oval shape while others are irregular. Regardless, all are the perfect accompaniment to a sweet dessert wine or liqueur.

macaron

macaron

You’re likely to be hit with a rainbow of colors when browsing sweets shops or cookie aisles for macarons. The perfectly circular cookies are made with two light cookies made with egg white, sugar, ground almonds, and various flavorings that have a ganache or buttercream filling in the middle. The delicate cookies are hard to make, and the cost reflects that. It’s thought that macarons as we know them today originally came from an Italian monastery cookie called the maccherone that Catherine de Medici brought to France in the 1500s.

The macaron is not to be confused with macaroons, which are a drop cookie made with egg whites, sugar, and coconut. Both words, however, can be traced back to the same origin: that Italian maccarone “cake or biscuit.”

ma’amoul

ma’amoul

Rich and buttery cookies are the perfect way to end a fast of sugar and fat. In the Levant, ma’amoul are often eaten as people break their Ramadan fasts before Eid or Lent fasts on Easter, while the Jewish community often has them for Purim. However, ma’amoul are a delicious treat whether it’s a holiday season or not.

The cookies are made with a wheat flour or semolina dough that’s pressed with a wood-carved mold. In the middle, rose water or orange blossom adds aroma and flavor. It’s believed the cookie comes from Egypt’s kahk, a cookie depicted in ancient temple paintings and carvings.

pizzelle

pizzelle

A pizzelle is a small, flat, and round cookie from Italy’s Abruzzo region. The name might look familiar: pizzelle comes from pizze (round and flat), which is also where we get the word pizza from. Pizelle traditionally got their flat shape from irons used to press them. The irons would leave the family crest or some other design as well. Today, snowflakes are popular holiday designs, and you can find flavors like anise, vanilla, chocolate, and lemon.

 

If you like your holiday pies with lots of cheese, you’ll enjoy learning these terms about pizza.

snickerdoodles

snickerdoodles

When it comes to whimsical cookie names, few match up to the whimsy of snickerdoodles. These simple cookies are sugar cookies that are rolled in cinnamon. Snickerdoodles hail from Germany and were originally in rolls or bars. There are a couple theories on where the name comes from. It could just be a fun name that stuck, or it could come from Schneckennudel, which means “snail pasta” in German. They became popular in the United States in the late 1800s and have remained so ever since, though the shape changed to the traditional cookie shape we know today sometime in the 1930s.

tuile

tuile

The thin cookie known as a tuile (pronounced tweel) gets its name from its shape: tuile is French for “tile,” and the slightly curled shape from a rolling pin is reminiscent of a roof tile. It’s traditionally made with crushed almonds and flavors like lemon, vanilla, and orange.

Lebkuchen

Lebkuchen

Lebkuchen [ leyb-koo-kuhn ] are iconic German holiday cookies. The name is German for “loaf cake,” and the cookies are usually flavored with honey, nuts, citron, and spices like anise, cardamom, ginger, and cloves. They came about in the 1200s when they were made by monks in Franconia, Germany. There’s a wide variety of Lebkuchen these days, some that are chewy, some that are hard, and some that have designs stamped into them. One popular form is heart shaped, and those are called Lebkuchenherzen.

Pfeffernüsse

Pfeffernüsse

Pfeffernüsse translates to “pepper nuts” in German, though the cookies that go by this name don’t always have nuts in them. Instead, the name is due to the fact that Pfeffernüsse are about the same size as nuts. These cookies are typically made with flour, sugar, brown sugar, cloves, and cinnamon, and are popular throughout December. Variations may have anise, honey, nutmeg, cardamom, candied fruit, a dusting of powdered sugar, or other additions.

In the Netherlands, the same cookie is called pepernoten (which also means “pepper nuts”) and is traditionally eaten on the December 5 feast of Sinterklaas.

 

Sinterklaas? As in, Santa Claus? Learn about some of the different names for good ol’ St. Nick across the globe.

icebox cookies

icebox cookies

There are cookies that get their name from the shape, those that are named after a particular ingredient, and then there are the cookies named after how they’re made. Icebox cookies fall into the latter camp. Icebox cookies were part of a wave of make-ahead recipes in the 1930s. They were originally made by mixing a simple dough of butter, sugar, egg, flour, and vanilla into a log, and then putting it in the icebox (the precursor to the refrigerator)—hence the name. Whenever the craving for a cookie came up, all that had to be done was take out the log after it had chilled and rested and then slice it into a more manageable cookie shape.

shortbread

shortbread

Shortbread is a type of butter cookie that’s cut into various shapes, from wheels to Christmas trees. The name dates back to 1795–1805 and comes from the use of short to mean “crumbly.” And shortbread is indeed a buttery, crumbly cookie. It’s thought that the style originally comes from Scotland and has been popular since at least the 1500s, when Mary Queen of Scots popularized a type of triangular shortbread with caraway seeds. Today, you can find shortbread cookies in holiday tins with all sorts of seasonal shapes, flavors, and frostings.

Take our quiz!

Have we got you craving some cookies yet? Before you satisfy your hunger, feed your curiosity with this “short” quiz on holiday cookies because that’s the way the cookie crumbles. Yum!

Pair that crisp cookie with a thirst-quenching drink and you’ll be set for the holidays. Sample these facts about 12 holiday drinks to get started.

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Jan. 30, 2023

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