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Easy holiday cookies to kick off the baking season

Several kinds of holiday cookies and cookie bars on a counter.
The 2020 L.A. Times holiday cookies.
(Silvia Razgova / For The Times; prop styling by Leah Choi)

In a year like this one, holidays have become even more special because they give us markers of where we are in a year that feels endless and unhinged. During the month of December — at least for me — I feel like I know where I’m at in the year and what I should be making. For a baker like myself, that’s dozens of cookies. In years past, I’d host a cookie party and feed them all to my friends, but this year, I’m adapting by stuffing the edible disks into tins and dropping them off at my friends’ doorsteps.

If you are the same and need some inspiration, you’re in luck because we just published nine stellar holiday cookies from chefs around L.A. for our annual cookie package. There are one-bowl tea cakes, jam-rippled blondies, ginger-spiced molasses cookies the size of a dessert plate and vegan biscotti dipped in gooey caramel and drizzled in chocolate, plus five others. No matter your taste and skill level, I guarantee there will be a cookie in the collection that puts you in the holiday mood.

When my house is filled with that much sugar, I like to balance it all with hearty, savory stews that fit the “winter” season here. On the weekends, a rich, Goan pork curry is just the type of thing that’s easy to stir in between taking batches of cookies out of the oven. Once the oven is free, this beef stew with black olives goes in to hang out while you nibble on cookie edges to “test” each batch.

During the week, I’ll make an easy beef and bean chili; keep it in the fridge and warm up bowls as you need them and top with all the classic fixings. A vegetarian pozole — teeming with corn and beans — is substantial and another staple of my “freezer stews.” Then, because I can’t resist gamier meat at this time of year, I always cook duck, and this Thai red curry with duck and pumpkin is just the thing to serve up after a long week of planning all the cookies I’ll bake every weekend until the (technical) end of this expansive year.

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Badmaash Goan Pork Curry

Time About 4 hours plus marinating time
Yields Serves 10 to 12

Beef Stew With Black Olives

Time 2 hours
Yields Serves 6

Easy Beef and Bean Chili

Time 30 minutes
Yields Serves 4

Big Sky Cafe vegetarian pozole

Time 3 hours 30 minutes
Yields Serves 10 to 12

Thai red curry duck with pumpkin

Time 2 hours
Yields Serves 4

Ask the cooks

When making cookies, can I just whisk or stir by hand or do I need an electric mixer? And if so, what brands do you recommend?

— Mallory Farrugia

The short answer is: Sometimes you can, sometimes you can’t. And when I say you can’t, I mean you’re not going to want to because your arm would fall off by the time you mix it thoroughly by hand. Some doughs are simple stir-and-bake affairs — drop cookie dough and muffin batters are both often easily mixed by hand — whereas others may not require the strength of an electric mixer but they definitely benefit greatly from it. An electric mixer — hand mixers are great for beginners, stand mixers for when you get really serious and need more strength — allows you to whip more air into egg-based batters and meringues, more efficiently creams butter and sugar together, and simply makes the entire cake-making process faster and easier.

Quality hand mixers are relatively cheap — $30 to $80 — while stand mixers are much more expensive, even for someone like me who sees it as an important piece of equipment to own for any serious baker, so go with what you feel comfortable paying for.

Then again, you can also simply stick to doing everything by hand. I once whipped a vat of pound cake batter by hand one night after my stand mixer died during prep for a catered dinner — it’s a great workout if you’ve been avoiding the gym since March.

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