Cookies are the best gift for the holiday season

(Photo: Meghan McGarry)
(Photo: Meghan McGarry)

BOSTON (RNN) - Nothing says the holidays quite like cookies flavored with nuts, peppermint and other seasonal flavors, according to Meghan McGarry, praised pastry chef and Buttercream Blondie blogger.

"With a few simple ingredients, you can make something really special that will leave a lasting impression on some far beyond Dec. 25," McGarry said.

On a chill December morning, McGarry took a break from putting together her own holiday gift tins to share her tips with the Raycom News Network for the best Christmas gifts ever: beautifully packaged butter cookies that pack a powerful punch.

Recipe: White Chocolate Peppermint Milanos

Melt-in-your-mouth butter cookies
  • 3 sticks unsalted butter (room temperature)
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tbsp. vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract
  • 2 and 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1. Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy.

2. Add vanilla bean paste or extract.

3. Mix in flour and salt until combined.

4.Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or until well chilled.

5. Roll out the dough while it is still firm. You can be generous with the flour on your work surface and rolling pin. If it gets too soft and sticky, just pop it back in the fridge.

6. Cut out snowflakes and bake at 350 degrees for 10 to 11 minutes, rotating halfway through. 

7. Store in an air-tight container at room temperature until ready to use.

*Note: You can make this dough, roll it, cut it into shapes and freeze it - all in advance.

White Chocolate Peppermint Ganache

  • 10 oz. Callebaut white chocolate
  • 2/3 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tsp. pure peppermint extract
1. Bring heavy cream to a scald.
2. Pour over chopped white chocolate and stir until mixture is smooth.
3. Add peppermint extract.
4. Stir ganache every so often until it comes down to room temperature. Once it is cool, cover it and refrigerate it until it's ready to use.

Click here to access the remainder of the recipe and the recipe for Meghan's walnut kiss cookies, both of which can be found on her Buttercream Blondie blog.

Copyright 2011 Buttercream Blondie. Reprinted with permission from Meghan McGarry.

"Cookies are a nice gift, because if you send them to someone, they can pull them out to share with company," McGarry said. "Or if you want to keep them for yourself, you find a secret place to hide them all."

The best cheap gifts for the holidays

For those still in search of a unique, moderately-priced and sure to be memorable gift, McGarry says there's no alternative to cookies.

"I think cookies are the best gift to give on the holidays," said McGarry, a graduate of New York's celebrated French Culinary Institute.

And even the simplest cookie recipe can be dressed up with creative packaging.

"Cookie tins are definitely cheap, and they are very accessible," McGarry said. "I find pretty ones at Michael's or similar craft stores."

But McGarry is never one to limit herself to traditions. This year, for example, she shopped Christmas tree shops until she found the perfect red and white packages with peppermint candy swirls to compliment her white chocolate peppermint milano cookies.

She is also experimenting with wine gift boxes, which she buys at one of her favorite stores: Massachusetts-based Home Goods.

"They come with tops," McGarry said. "The end result is a fancy and sweet take on a Pringles can."

When it comes to packaging, there's only one rule of thumb: Make sure your containers are labeled "food safe."

"Other that, make sure to have fun and add sparkles where you can," McGarry said. "The sky's the limit."

Two cookies to 'wow' your house guests

Two cookie recipes are featured this year on the Buttercream Blondie blog, and each is made over in typical McGarry style.

The first are walnut kiss cookies, which she considers her favorite cookie to ship on the holidays. The light, nutty cookies are drenched in sugar in order to mirror the effect of freshly fallen snow. Even if your Christmas isn't white, your stomach can be.

"These little tea cakes have many names, but I always call them kiss cakes, because they're light and nutty and full of flavor," McGarry said. "And they linger on your lips."

For the perfect dining experience, she recommends serving the pastries with a hot cup of cocoa. Adults may add a shot of Bailey's Irish Cream.

The second cookie began as a mint chocolate milano, which McGarry created during one of her many stints running successful pastry departments in restaurants throughout Boston and Cambridge, MA.

McGarry eventually gave one of her trademark makeovers to the dessert, transforming it into a white chocolate peppermint milano for the holidays. The new milano is now so popular, it has become her most-requested cookie of the holiday season among friends, family and clients. It was also featured this holiday season by the Boston Globe.

"The ganache unleashes a powerful burst of peppermint flavor, which blends perfectly with the white chocolate," McGarry said. "No element is over powering. It's my favorite sandwich cookie."

Complete with white and pink icing and pearl dust, the dessert literally sparkles, true to McGarry's trademark "flirt with desserts"mantra.

Proven tips to make your Christmas cookies sparkle

Once you have selected a recipe, McGarry says to take extra care to make sure your butter is at room temperature before you start making your cookie doughs. That's because you will need to cream the butter and sugar until it's light and fluffy.

"When you get up in the morning, take your butter out of the fridge," McGarry said. "Then go about your day. When you're ready to bake, your butter will be, too."

Once your dough it ready, be sure to line your cookie sheet or baking pan with a silpat or parchment paper.

"To portion your cookies, I recommend a cookie scoop," she said. "That way all your cookies will come out the same size."

Once you place your dough on your baking pan, stick the pan into the refrigerator for about 15 minutes before baking.

"You want your cookies to keep their shape." McGarry said. "Then you can let them go onto to the happy, rising oven."

Finally, before making an entire batch, try baking a test batch of three to four cookies to double-check the baking time.

The end result will be a thoughtful gift sure to be treasured this holiday season.

"It's so special when you take the time to create something with your own hands to give someone," McGarry said. "People really appreciate that."

For other desserts McGarry has made over for Christmas - including penguin cupcakes and forthcoming 3-D Christmas tree cake - be sure to check out Buttercream Blondie's website, Twitter and Facebook page.

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