Baking Tips

Ask the Test Cooks: How Do You Win a Cookie Swap?

If you want to win, these are the cookies to bake.
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Published Dec. 1, 2023.

A cookie swap is always an implied competition. Even if theres no real prize, you want to stand out among the sea of sweet confections.

And if you find yourself looking down at your tin of humble holiday cutouts, you may be wondering if you could have baked something a little more . . . unexpected.

Have no fear, weve got you covered. I polled my test kitchen colleagues about their favorite cookie recipes so that you can stand out in a cookie swap.

From sandwiches and bars to interesting ingredients to make those cookies pop, here’s what they suggested.

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Jack Bishop’s Choices: Ultranutty Pecan Bars and Chocolate Sugar Cookies

The way to stand out at a cookie swap? Make a bar cookie. These Ultranutty Pecan Bars, developed by Annie Petito, tone down the sweetness and put the emphasis on the nuts. These are so good! And definitely use the optional flake sea salt.

If you want something more traditional, how about Chocolate Sugar Cookies? They are sparkly sugar cookies, but they are chocolate. So of course they are delicious.

Recipe

Ultranutty Pecan Bars

By banishing the custard filling in favor of a topping that emphasizes the pecan’s nutty richness, we made this bar cookie simpler, too.
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Recipe

Chocolate Sugar Cookies

Turning a chewy sugar cookie into a chewy chocolate sugar cookie takes a little more than simply stirring in chocolate.
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Elle Simone Scott’s Choices: Snickerdoodles and Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

One of my favorite cookie swap adds is Snickerdoodles, which I made for TV some years agoand coincidentally it’s the first cookie I learned to make in home economics class in junior high school.

I also like to make Oatmeal Raisin Cookies. My sneak attack is adding marshmallow fluff in the middle of two oatmeal raisin cookies and basically making an elevated “Little Debbie cream pie.”

Recipe

Snickerdoodles

With their crinkly tops, slightly tangy flavor, and liberal dusting of cinnamon sugar, chewy snickerdoodles are a New England favorite.
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Recipe

Oatmeal–Raisin Cookies

When we set out to develop a low-sugar, naturally sweetened recipe for oatmeal-raisin cookies, we knew we were going to have to break some rules.
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Watch Elle Simone Scott make Snickerdoodles for Julia Collin Davison.

Andrea Geary’s Choices: Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookies and Baci di Dama

My very favorite cookie recipe that I’ve developed is my Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookie. I NEED to give them all away because otherwise I’ll eat far too many. 

But Steve Dunn’s Baci di Dama are lovely, too, and—like the peanut butter cookie—they have a good long shelf life, which I think is important for a cookie swap, because you’re unlikely to be able to eat all your cookies in the first couple of days.

Recipe

Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookies

We wanted a cookie so packed with peanut flavor that it needed no crosshatch to ­identify it.
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Recipe

Baci di Dama (Italian Hazelnut Cookies)

These Lilliputian Italian hazelnut-chocolate sandwich cookies are utterly charming—but only if they're perfect. Our approach makes it easy to get them just right.
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Amanda Luchtel’s Choice: Oatmeal Creme Pies

I would make our Oatmeal Creme Pies! Even if you don’t make the filling, it is one of the best cookies I have ever eaten.

Recipe

Oatmeal Creme Pies

All the nostalgic appeal of the classic, baked from scratch in your own kitchen.
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Jess Rudolph’s Choice: Soft and Chewy Molasses Spice Cookies

This is a complete no-brainer for me. I had a tradition of baking three or four different cookies to send to friends and family across the country. I never got such rave reviews as the first year I made these Soft and Chewy Molasses Spice Cookies.

They hit all the right flavor notes: sweet yet spicy (I love the background warmth black pepper brings) with a strong, almost smoky molasses flavor. They’re the ideal specimen for shipping: sturdy enough to be tossed around, but they stay chewy for days. My holiday baking has gotten a lot simpler—I crank out batches of these molasses cookies and everybody’s happy.

Recipe

Soft and Chewy Molasses Spice Cookies

Dry, tasteless molasses cookies belong on a Christmas tree, not in a cookie jar. We made more than 50 batches to find the best recipe for an uncommonly soft, chewy cookie with warm, tingling spices.
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Kelly Song’s Choice: Chewy Matcha and Black Sesame Sugar Cookies

Andrea Geary’s Chewy Matcha and Black Sesame Sugar Cookies, which are so stunning and intensely flavorful. Especially in a swap, a lot of cookies are rather sweet and buttery; a matcha cookie provides a complex, subtly-savory palate cleanser.

Sometimes to elevate popular recipes, I love experimenting with mochi flour (also known as glutinous or sweet rice flour). It adds a pleasing chew and mild rice flavor that is lovely in classic recipes such as chocolate chip, peanut butter, or Snickerdoodle cookies. Also, the addition of flake sea salt on top is always a must.

Recipe

Chewy Matcha and Black Sesame Sugar Cookies

Our recipe for Chewy Sugar Cookies come together quickly and uses a combination of butter and vegetable oil to produce a chewy texture that lasts for days. We already have a few flavor variations for the cookie, but we couldn't resist adding another.
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Steve Dunn’s Choices: Brownie Cookies and Baci di Dama

I’d have to say Matt Fairman’s Brownie Cookies (for the death by chocolate aspect of them. A chocoholics dream!) and my very own Baci di Dama.

Recipe

Chocolate Brownie Cookies

Chewy, crinkly, and superchocolaty.
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Sam Block’s Choice: Chocolate-Hazelnut Biscotti

The Chocolate-Hazelnut Biscotti I developed for the Everything Chocolate book. When people think of biscotti they often think they’re “bland” or “dry” or “teeth shattering” and these are none of the above. Cocoa and espresso powder make them intensely chocolatey. Plus, I used lightly toasted hazelnuts in two ways: chopped and finely ground. This minimized gluten development, so they’re anything but tough.

One batch makes 30 cookies, so you get more bang for your biscotti buck. Eat one with your morning coffee or nighttime tea and you’ll see why it deserves to go home with the gold.

Recipe

Chocolate-Hazelnut Biscotti

Biscotti, the Italian cookies that are baked twice, should be twice as nice if chocolate-flavored.
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Nicole Konstantinakos’ Choice: Orange-Cardamom Almond Thins

I would (and do!) make these Orange-Cardamom Almond Thins.

Recipe

Orange-Cardamom Almond Thins

A beautiful, snappy, slice-and-bake cookie with staying power.
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Lawman Johnson’s Choices: Chocolate Crinkle Cookies and Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies

The Chocolate Crinkle Cookies are probably my favorite ATK cookies, but I also like to make Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies. I love the combo of chocolate and oats! I absolutely deplore the idea of oatmeal raisin cookiesor raisins put in anything, for that matter. To make the oatmeal chocolate chip cookies even better, I like to add coconut flakes to the mix for a better than trail mix cookie.

Recipe

Chocolate Crinkle Cookies

Most chocolate crinkle cookies are neither chocolaty nor crinkly. We solved the problem.
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Recipe

Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies

Why did it take six months to develop the right recipe for a chewy, thick, buttery oatmeal cookie? Well, it all started and ended with the back of the Quaker Oats box. . . .
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