WHETHER DUNKED INTO A GLASS of milk while sitting fireside or enjoyed alongside a mug of hot cocoa on a snowy day, big batches of cookies always seem to be part of winter gatherings of friends or family. Few traditions have withstood the test of time quite like family cookie recipes. Passed from generation to generation, each new batch yields memories as rich as the decadent flavors that go into their making. Whether you make your own or let a pro make them for you, cookies really are a universal comfort food, especially around the holiday season. We asked a few Hudson Valley bakers to share their insights into just what it takes to craft the perfect holiday cookie.
Cardoso’s Cookies develops seasonal cookie recipes to match every holiday, but the year-round, tried-and-true favorite is still its Ultimate Chocolate Chip Cookie. The cookie earns its title from the successful collaboration of bittersweet, semisweet, white and milk chocolate chips. This unexpected spin on a classic combines the elements of festivity and tradition that are so unique to the holiday season. CIA graduate Anthony Cardoso makes a wide variety of cookies from scratch and uses local ingredients when possible (right down to the locally sourced jam in his Linzer Cookie and the caramel sauce in the Salted Caramel Chocolate Cookie). “There’s a lot of stress during the holiday season, and people like their guilty pleasures. Cookies are often on the top of that list,“ Cardoso says.
By The Way Bakery
Like the snow that dusts the ground across the Hudson Valley in early winter, powdered sugar tops By The Way Bakery’s Almond Cookies. Owner Helene Godin was inspired to create this deceptively simple and humble-looking cookie during a trip to Isatanbul, Turkey. Since then, the confection has enchanted cookie lovers on this side of the pond with its crunchy exterior and chewy interior. It is, in fact, one of the hardest cookies to keep in stock around the holidays. Godin is dedicated to making gluten-and dairy-free sweets without compromising quality. “If it doesn’t taste as good or better than its conventional counterpart, we won’t sell it,” she says. The almond cookie is proof: With its unmistakably bold flavor and melt-in-your-mouth texture, it would never be suspected of lacking conventional ingredients. Godin believes that cookies are holiday staples because “you can make everyone happy with a single plate. You’re sure to make every person in the room smile when you put out a cookie platter.”
Frida’s Bakery + Café
The bakers at Frida’s Bakery + Café pride themselves on paying homage to the community from which the bakery arose. Like most of their treats, the baking team at Frida’s came together to develop their signature Pignoli Cookie by combining their own personal family recipes. Pignoli (a.k.a pine nuts) are traditional Italian cookies made with almond paste and chopped pine nuts. The cookie is rolled in more pine nuts before being baked to an exquisite golden brown. Frida’s pignoli cookies are among those timeless foods that literally drip with “family heritage” and nostalgia. “The people who live in this tiny hamlet are people we have known our entire lives,” baker Jordan Polumbo remarks. “When they come in, they expect that pignoli cookie in the case to taste like grandma’s pignoli.”
Ella’s Bellas Bakery
The heat from the ginger and cloves in the Ginger Spice Cookie from Ella’s Bellas is enough to warm you up on even the coldest winter day. A molasses-and-butter base gives the cookie its soft and chewy inner texture, while the cinnamon-sugar dusting finishes off the cookie with just a hint of added sweetness. Like all the gluten-free baked goods offered at Ella’s Bellas, owner Carley Hughes developed her recipe based on a “rule of three” philosophy, which maintains that only after three tries can a recipe reach its fullest potential. The holiday season is certainly an appropriate time to put the extra effort in to create a perfect batch of cookies. “A lot of families take that time to get together and make more labor-intensive cookies,” Hughes reasons. “People do things—take the extra step—just to spend more time together as a family.”
Hand-painted with festive holiday colors and imprinted with classic images of wooden soldiers, Christmas trees and snowflakes, Lavender Bakery’s Molded Sugar Cookies are truly the intersection of baking and art. The sugar cookie, with the correct consistency to hold finely detailed impressions, lends itself to ornate decoration like no other. Multi-talented baker Marcia Hamilton has created Nutcracker-inspired designs for the cookies so authentic that they have been dubbed the official cookie of the New York City Ballet for three years. The rich flavors used at Lavender around the holidays—from anise to cinnamon to orange— are characteristically festive. “My baked goods, whether cakes or cookies or pies, have to taste as good as they look or it’s just an empty promise,” Hamilton says. Especially around the holidays, she believes cookies are “an expression of love and gratitude. Baking cookies was so important in our family—great food for your family is truly an expression of love.” Though Hamilton doesn’t yet have a retail site, she can fill custom orders; contact her via phone or email.