The L.A. Times 2022 Holiday Bar Cookies

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I’ve been making holiday cookies for years now, and through all the shapes, spices, sprinkles and sugars, I’ve learned a few cookie truths. Some people really love searching out esoteric cookie cutters and stamps and spending weeks planning out what they want to make for their holiday parties or Christmas vacation. There are also people who love making cookies during the holiday but tend toward the simpler kind, like blossoms — those iconic Hershey’s Kisses-topped peanut butter cookies — or shortbread.

Most people opt for the latter, and as much as I love creating intricately cut, layered or glazed cookies for the holidays, I know that sometimes, people just want something really simple that looks impressive but requires a small fraction of the work. Scooping out dozens of little balls of dough causes your wrist to cramp from squeezing the ice cream scoop. Tediously rolling out sheets of dough — sweating over whether it will stick to the counter and then freaking out when it sticks to the cutters — can bring you to tears.

So, for this year’s collection of Los Angeles Times holiday cookies, I created a half-dozen of the easiest-to-make cookies there are: bar cookies. You simply press some batter into a pan and let it do all the work for you. Once baked, a scattering of sprinkles is all you need to dress up the slab of dough into a treat that’s festive enough for the holidays. There are no cut-outs or spritzes or anything you have to roll out or shape on a kitchen counter too small for a rolling pin. And after the cookie slab is cooled, the sizing is up to you. Cut the cookies into tiny Lego blocks for cocktail parties or cookie swaps, or cut them into palm-sized treats for a bake sale or holiday dessert. Here’s what I have for you:

If you love all the traditional holiday spices like cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice, you’ll love my Candied Ginger Lebkuchen, which include all those but shift the focus predominantly to ginger. Crystallized ginger adds chewy bits to the cake-like cookie and doubles the bite of spice. I glaze each square with powdered sugar icing and then top them with red and green sprinkles, but you can go wild with any shape and color of decorating sugars you like. Or, for a more sophisticated cookie, top each with a single slice of more jewel-like crystallized ginger.

My Sticky Toffee Date Bars also have that warm and cozy holiday feeling, thanks to a batter made with aromatic molasses and lots of sticky dates. Think a chewy ginger molasses cookie, but this one is teeming with dates and baked up in a slab so you can slice off thin bricks of the rich and chewy cookie. A crusting of turbinado sugar on the top adds a delightful crunch to these cookies, contrasting all the sticky, chewy goodness you expect.

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For the crunchy-cookie lovers, there is my Almond Mocha Shortbread, inspired by my favorite holiday candy, Almond Roca — it may not be expressly for the holidays, but the candy’s buttery toffee filling reminds me of rich holiday desserts. For these cookies, I whip browned butter into a shortbread batter mottled with sliced almonds and cacao nibs and perfumed with coffee, thanks to instant espresso powder. Toffee bits are spread on top, where they melt during baking then reharden into a shatteringly crisp topping.

If you love the crunch of biscotti, my Salted Peppermint and Macadamia Biscotti are dipped in white chocolate and coated with crushed peppermints and flaky sea salt. Inspired by Roman tozzetti, these biscotti are cut from a slab that bakes up in a pan, as opposed to shaped logs. This makes the process of making the cookies that much simpler. Salted macadamia nuts add richness to the lean batter and, along with the sea salt, help to tame the sweetness of white chocolate and peppermint into a holiday treat everyone can love.

For something slightly more involved but still easy, try my Rubied Orange Trifle Blondies. A solid blondie base acts as the “cake” part in this cookie inspired by old-school British trifle, typically layered with whipped cream or custard and fruit jelly on top. Here, a no-bake-cheesecake-like layer tops the blondies and acts as an anchor for bright ruby-colored raspberries. A bright, gelatin-set orange jelly allows the raspberries to peek through like jewels and adds an acidic freshness to balance the rich cookie.

And for those who love a rich chocolate moment for the holidays, there are my Eggnog Caramel Brownies. Inspired by trying to turn leftover eggnog into a caramel sauce — after all, eggnog is essentially cream with spices and eggs — I developed a sauce perfumed with nutmeg and cloves and rum then enriched further with egg yolks once cooled. The sauce is swirled into a simple brownie base that’s speckled with white chocolate chips, which help bridge the gap between the eggnog flavor and chocolate and look like tiny pockets of the holiday drink in the brownies.

Slicing a slab of cookies into small pieces and calling it a day sounds like my idea of a stress-free holiday this year — I even give you a handy collection of equipment to help you get the cleanest, most beautiful-looking bars. Because these cookies bake up in a slab, they’re easily transportable, allowing you to slice them up on-site at a school gathering or holiday or office party.

These are all the tools you need to ensure your bar cookies come out as beautiful — and neat — as possible.

Present them in fun stacks and patterns — as I do in these pictures — or just arrange them in neat rows on a tray. It doesn’t matter how you serve them, only that you had fun making them. And thanks to some well-placed sprinkles, the cookies will be just as festive as a snowflake cut-out, but without inducing any unneeded anxiety.

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The Recipes:

Eggnog Caramel Brownies

Time1 hour 30 minutes, plus 1 hour unattended
YieldsMakes 2 dozen

Almond Mocha Shortbread

Time45 minutes, plus 1 hour unattended
YieldsMakes 4 dozen

Rubied Orange Trifle Blondies

Time3 hours 30 minutes, mostly unattended
YieldsMakes 32

Sticky Toffee Date Bars

Time1 hour
YieldsMakes 4 dozen

Candied Ginger Lebkuchen

Time1 hour 30 minutes
YieldsMakes 4 dozen

Salted Peppermint and Macadamia Biscotti

Time2 hours
YieldsMakes about 2 1/2 dozen
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