All photos/art by Michael Piazza
18 Recipes from the 1930s to 2010s
Here at Yankee, we’ve been making Christmas cookies for more than 75 years. We’ve picked our favorite bar, cutout, ball, sandwich, and drop cookies from each decade to bring you an edible history of American holiday baking.
The original recipe for “Potato Drop Cookies—Molasses” reflects the economy that home cooks practiced during the Great Depression, and we found the actual results to be a little too cakey and dry. With a few changes, however, these gingerbread puffs now have a soft, moist texture, with the added pleasure of making good use of leftover mashed potatoes.
Get the recipe for Gingerbread Puffs.
Old-Fashioned Sugar Cookies
These old-fashioned sugar cookies are based on a 1939 recipe that ran in December. “No old-time Christmas was complete without a fat stone crock packed tight with filled cookies,” it read. “This is an old New Hampshire recipe.”
Get the recipe for Old-Fashioned Sugar Cookies.
Cranberry-Honey Walnut Drops
We updated this recipe with a combination of honey and maple syrup (for flavor) and added lots of chopped cranberries and walnuts for both flavor and texture.
Get the recipe for Cranberry-Walnut Drops.
Chocolate-Date Brownie Bars
These delicious chocolate-date brownie bars won $3—a second-place finish—in Yankee’s June 1949 reader recipe contest. At the time, dates were still a novel and exotic ingredient, having first been grown commercially in the 1920s.
Get the recipe for Chocolate-Date Brownie Bars.
Greek Nut Crescents (Kourabiedes)
This recipe for Greek Nut Crescents (kourabiedes) appeared in February 1958 in an article by Duncan MacDonald, then Yankee’s food editor and lifestyle maven. Essentially shortbread with nuts, they’re similar to Russian tea cakes and Mexican wedding cookies. You can make them with any nuts you like: hazelnuts, pecans, almonds, or walnuts. These cookies will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for 10 days, and they also freeze well.
Get the recipe for Greek Nut Crescents.
Split-Second Jam Cookies
These jam cookies take less than 20 minutes to put together and another 20 minutes to bake. They’re tender and buttery, with great contrast from the tart jam. The recipe first appeared in Yankee about 10 years ago, a submission from reader Johanna Hurwitz, but they date back several decades before that.
Get the recipe for Split-Second Jam Cookies.
Lemon-Glazed Caraway Cookies
This recipe takes us back beyond the 1960s to the very beginning of American cooking. In fact, its roots are in the first cookbook ever published here, a 1796 work called American Cookery, printed in Hartford, Connecticut, by Hudson & Goodwin. The cookies were delicious but a little plain, so we made some adjustments, including a lemon glaze. Now they’re perfect: fragrant, buttery, and just sweet enough.
Get the recipe for Lemon-Glazed Caraway Cookies.
In 1960, reader Jane Goyer of West Boylston, Massachusetts, sent us this recipe for her grandmother’s soft sugar cookies, filled with minced apples, nuts, spices, and raisins (we substituted dried cranberries). They’re like tiny apple pies. Don’t be intimidated by the long list of ingredients; these honeymoon cookies are very simple to make.
Get the recipe for Honeymoon Cookies.
Intrigued by their period authenticity (the ’70s are, after all, when the term “junk food” was coined), we gave these potato-chip cookies a try and found that they were not only delicious but fun to serve with a “guess what’s in them?” quiz. They’re worth making at least once, both for their flavor and for the surprise factor.
Get the recipe for Potato-Chip Cookies.
Here’s a fruitcake variation that people actually love: tender frosted bars studded with dried fruit, nuts, and chocolate (that’s the “treasure”). Treasure-chest bars were popular in the ’60s and ’70s, and we published this version of the recipe in November 1978.
Get the recipe for Treasure-Chest Bars.
N0-Bake Chocolate Rum Balls
Since 1971, the 40 or so women of the now-famous Wellesley Cookie Exchange have gathered each December to swap dozens of Christmas cookies and recipes. In 1986, we published The Wellesley Cookie Exchange Cookbook, compiled and edited by Susan Peery, and the book has become a classic. One bite of these delicious no-bake chocolate rum balls will make you understand why.
Get the recipe for N0-Bake Chocolate Rum Balls.
If you like soft chocolate-chip cookies, you probably like blondies and Congo bars even better, since the ratio of chewy center to crisp edge is more in your favor. This Congo bars recipe, adapted from the 1986 Wellesley Cookie Exchange Cookbook from former Yankee editor Susan Peery, yields delicious chocolate-chip squares jazzed up with pecans and coconut.
Get the recipe for Congo Bars.
Gluten-Free Pine-Nut Macaroons
This gluten-free pine-nut macaroons recipe was first published in a special Yankee holiday baking supplement from the 1990s, and we love how richly they taste of almonds and buttery pine nuts. You just need a little bit of patience to let the cookies sit for 30 minutes before baking—that gives them the coveted crisp exterior and chewy interior.
Get the recipe for Gluten-Free Pine-Nut Macaroons
Semi-Retro Chocolate-Chip Cookies
Remember the 1990s obsession with white chocolate? You’ll find both white and bittersweet chocolate in these classic cookies, and the combination is lovely. This recipe was created by former Yankee food editor Leslie Land, who passed away this past summer and is remembered fondly by many. Of this recipe, she wrote in her signature wry style, “These are old-fashioned in containing chopped chocolate instead of chips, modern in their inclusion of white chocolate. The texture is moist and slightly chewy—if you want crisp, might as well go for the recipe on the bag.”
Get the recipe for Semi-Retro Chocolate-Chip Cookies.
A hazelnut shortbread forms the base of these tartlets, which are filled with raspberries and chocolate ganache.
Get the recipe for Chocolate-Hazelnut Tartlets.
Pistachio–Cherry Icebox Cookies
Pastry chef/teacher Cindy Salvato developed these pistachio-cherry icebox cookies for Yankee in 2004, and they remain a favorite, both for their exceptional flavor and for their festive red-and-green color scheme.
Get the recipe for Pistachio–Cherry Icebox Cookies.
Chocolate-Peppermint Sandwich Cookies
These delicious Chocolate-Peppermint Sandwich Cookies are a nod to the current craze for “gourmetified” junk-food classics. In fine bakeries around New England, we now see tongue-in-cheek artisanal interpretations of Oreos, whoopie pies, and Pop-Tarts. Here, we took the Oreo meme a step further, adding crushed candy canes for a little holiday pizzazz.
Get the recipe for Chocolate-Peppermint Sandwich Cookies.
Gluten-Free Cornmeal Thumbprint Cookies
A startling number of people these days are reporting gluten sensitivities, and gluten-free baking has become an important subspecialty for recipe developers. We love the flavor and texture of these tender gluten-free cornmeal-based cookies, and the way the raspberry flavor complements the corn.
Get the recipe for Gluten-Free Cornmeal Thumbprint Cookies.
May all your Christmasses be sweet!