Bar cookie recipes for a stress-free holiday

Overhead view of cookies on a blue cloth.
(Hannah Mills / For The Times)

Each year as the month transitions from November to December, the thought of holiday-time baking reenergizes me for the rest of the year. Esoteric German cakes and breads that take an inordinate amount of time to make? Love ’em. Intricately layered pastries or stretched-and-rolled strudels? Sign me up. I love a challenging baking project, and the holidays are the perfect time for them.

But, I know most people aren’t like that. The thought of rolling out dough on your counter and fighting with the cutter to let go of the floppy cookie dough without tearing it can break what little resolve you have left. So, in an effort to make holiday baking the most relaxed it can be, I went against type this year and developed half a dozen festive holiday cookies that require no rolling, cookie-cutter-ing or scooping: bar cookies. Think blondies, brownies, biscotti and any number of cookies that you get by simply baking a giant slab of dough and then portioning them out with a few quick cuts of a long knife. What they lack in complexity, though, they more than make up in flavor and holiday appeal.

My Salted Peppermint and Macadamia Biscotti are Christmas manifest in a cookie. Crisp biscotti — inspired by tozzetti, the Roman version, which are made from a batter that’s pourable and bakes up in a pan instead of a log — are teeming with salted macadamia nuts, rum and mint extract. They’re then dipped in melted white chocolate and sprinkled with crushed candy canes and a pinch of flaky sea salt. All that salt balances the cloying nature of peppermint and white chocolate beautifully.

If you’re a crunchy-cookie lover, my Almond Mocha Shortbread will be your new favorite. Inspired by Almond Roca candies — the ultimate nostalgic Christmas candy for me — I bake up a pan of shortbread made with browned butter and perfumed with instant espresso powder, cacao nibs and sliced almonds. To add even more crunch and some richness, I melt Heath toffee bits on top of the dough, so after it bakes, the toffee bits re-solidify and become a shatteringly crisp toffee topping, just like in the Almond Roca candies.

For a softer approach that still has a satisfying crunch, try my Sticky Toffee Date Bars, which are a mix between a thick and chewy ginger molasses cookie and sticky toffee date cake, a classic British holiday-time treat. Molasses balances the sweetness of the dates and gives the dough an intense chewiness balanced by a showering of turbinado sugar on top, which add loads of sweet, golden crunchiness to balance the cookie.


If a tiny bite of holiday spice is your jam, you’ll love my Candied Ginger Lebkuchen, which take the traditional cakey German cookie and pump up the ginger flavor to bring it to the forefront. All the usual spices are present, but there’s a lot more ground ginger for extra heat and some candied ginger dotting the dough to add pops of bright sweetness. A simple white glaze helps tame the spices and allows a perfect canvas for festive red and green sprinkles.

I return to the U.K. to inspire my layered Rubied Orange Trifle Blondies, a bar cookie version of the classic British dessert trifle. The dessert is typically made with sponge cake topped with custard and cream and then sealed with jelly — here, I swap the cake for brown-sugar-chewy blondies, then top them with a cheesecake-like layer studded with fresh raspberries and top the whole thing with a layer of gelatin-set orange juice. The berries and juice add color and pleasant acidity to the sweet cookie.

And finally, for everyone who loves chocolate and/or brownies, my Eggnog Caramel Brownies are for you. Freshly grated nutmeg, a pinch of ground cloves, gold rum and egg yolks add the distinctive flavor of eggnog to a simple caramel sauce that’s then swirled over a bittersweet brownie base mottled with white chocolate chips. The eggnog spices complement the chocolate wonderfully, and the white chocolate chips add a necessary “creamy” element that also feels like your eating tiny pockets of eggnog in your brownie. Whether you love or hate eggnog, you gotta try these, and I promise you’ll be a convert.

Whether you opt for crunchy and salty or soft and chewy this year, take a break from the usual cookie-cutter hassle and make these simple bar cookies, which will make your holiday that much more chill, festive and delicious.

Salted Peppermint and Macadamia Biscotti

This cookie has all the aroma of peppermint you expect for the holidays but balanced with warm and rich macadamia nuts. An added sprinkling of flaky sea salt helps ground the white chocolate and mint flavors and keep them from being too cloying.
Get the recipe.
Cook time: 2 hours.

Slices of biscotti in a tray sprinkled with pieces of candy cane.
(Hannah Mills / For The Times)

Almond Mocha Shortbread

Inspired by Brown & Haley Almond Roca candies, these shortbread bars are warm and nutty with browned butter, sliced almonds and cacao nibs, and perked up with instant coffee powder for a chocolate mocha edge. Toffee bits — easily accessible in the grocery where you find chocolate chips — are baked on top of the shortbread dough, so they melt and then reharden into a shatteringly crisp topping.
Get the recipe.
Cook time: 45 minutes, plus 1 hour unattended.

Rectangular cookies seen from overhead on a metal baking tray.
(Hannah Mills / For The Times)

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Sticky Toffee Date Bars

This recipe takes the flavor of sticky toffee pudding — a classic British dessert, especially around the holidays — and packages it in an irresistibly chewy rectangle of a cookie. Chopped dates and molasses contribute a sticky richness, while a topping of turbinado sugar offers plenty of crunch to contrast the soft cookie.
Get the recipe.
Cook time: 1 hour.

Golden rectangular cookies spaced out on a metal baking sheet.
(Hannah Mills / For The Times)

Candied Ginger Lebkuchen

The inspiration for these cookies are the iconic German lebkuchen, a highly spiced cookie that’s often baked and cut into large squares or portioned into large rounds and topped with whole almonds. Here, most of the traditional spices take a back seat to allow the piquancy of ginger to shine in the foreground.
Get the recipe.
Cook time: 1 1/2 hours.

Cookies cut into squares and topped with white dollops of icing and red and green sprinkles.
(Hannah Mills / For The Times)

Rubied Orange Trifle Blondies

These blondies take the traditional British trifle — typically a light-colored cake topped with whipped cream or custard and then fruit jelly — and transform it into stunning bar cookies. Serve these cookies cold — like you would a truffle — for the best texture, but they are also good sitting out at room temperature for up to two hours.
Get the recipe.
Cook time: 3 1/2 hours, mostly unattended.

Square cookies in a checkerboard pattern on a metal tray.
(Hannah Mills / For The Times)

Eggnog Caramel Brownies

Lots of nutmeg, a pinch of cloves and a shot of rum flavor the caramel sauce in these festive brownies. The caramel is enriched with egg yolks, which add the requisite eggy flavor but also help keep the sauce on top of the brownie batter, so you can smell its warm aroma with each bite.
Get the recipe.
Cook time: 1 1/2 hours, plus 1 hour unattended.

Brownies are seen from above on a red decorative tray.
(Hannah Mills / For The Times)

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