Free Range on Food: New holiday cookie recipes; tips for baking, shipping and decorating cookies; this week's recipes, and more.

Dec 05, 2018

Every Wednesday at noon, Food section staff members and guests answer your burning culinary questions.
Past Free Range on Food chats

Well, all I can say is . . . woot! Welcome to the hour of Free Range power, where in honor of today's Cookies! content we have experts lined up to help solve your baking dilemmas, among them:

Jenna Huntsberger, founder of Whisked! DC and author of Brownie Sandwich Cookies; Seattle baker Polina Chesnakova, who came up with a vegan dough recipe that can create cookie/bars for just about anyone; Meredith Tomason, head pastry chef for Nestle Toll House; and Charlotte Rutledge, from King Arthur Flour's test kitchen!


There's more to WaPoFood and Voraciously than cookies, of course, so bring on general food q's as well. Print subscribers may have noticed that only Dave McIntyre's recommendations of the week made it into our regular section (he did write about port, too) -- regular columns will return next week, not to worry. 


A lucky chatter or two will win copies of "The Washington Post Cookbook: Readers' Favorite Recipes" as well a new baking cookbook from this season. 

And for you PostPoints members, here's today's code: FR7093. Remember, you'll record and enter it at the PostPoints site under Claim My Points to earn points. The code expires at midnight, so be sure to enter the code by 11:59 p.m. on Wednesday to get credit for participating.


Editor Joe's away; let's get to it! 

I realized as I reached for the Baking Powder that it expired a while ago (like over a year - I clearly don't bake enough!). Does expired Baking Powder and Baking Soda really make a difference in how baked goods turn out?

Yeah, I think it can. Better to play it safe and get fresh rather than come to that conclusion after the fact when your baked goods are flat.

You can also do a quick test by pouring hot water over the baking powder. Because it's heat-activated, it should bubble when it comes into contact with the water. If it doesn't you know you need to get a fresh canister!

I have a confession to make: I'm completely addicted to holiday baking and cookie decorating shows. I've become fascinated with elaborate cookie decorating using royal icing. So, a couple of questions. Can you recommend a good recipe for royal icing? I've seen a ton online and can't tell which would be good to use. Second, is there a good online resource or cookbook you like for learning more about this kind of decorating? Thanks for all you do.

At King Arthur Flour, we have a few blogs dedicated to precisely this subject. We also have a complete guide to cookie decorating, which offers a good place to start! 

I'm a huge fan of Whisked!'s Salty Oatmeal cookies! It has a great contrast of salty and sweet and while I enjoy Oatmeal Raisin, I've always felt the Oatmeal cookie base should have more variants. Any plans to make other types of Oatmeal based cookies?

So glad you're a fan of the Salty Oatmeal! It's one of my very favorites. Have you tried our Pretzel Cowboy Cookies? It uses the same base as the Salty Oatmeal, but includes pretzels, cranberries, and semi sweet chocolate chips. You can even make them yourself. We also do a Salted Dark Chocolate Oat cookie for CAVA that's is seriously delicious - it uses honey for a chewy texture, and has big chunks of 72% chocolate. 

Last year I made the peppermint marshmallows, and they were fantastic. Delicious to eat on their own but also wonderful in hot cocoa (plus it was a fun use of my stand mixer.) It got me thinking of what other flavors I like in cocoa, and I'd love to make hazelnut marshmallows. I haven't been able to find a good recipe, but I looked at the gourmet marshmallow recipe in your database. Do you think I'd be able to substitute hazelnut extract and liqueur for the almond, or would the hazelnut flavor be too subtle?

Yes. I am in love with your idea to make hazelnut marshmallows. Almond extract is a very strong flavor, so I would add an extra quarter portion of the hazelnut extract to make sure the flavor comes through in your cocoa. Personally, I love orange and chocolate paired together, so maybe try orange extract too! 

I found a pierogi recipe I would like to try, but it calls for farmer's cheese. I haven't seen that in the stores where I live. I also haven't eaten it since I was young and don't really remember what the texture was like. What would be a good substitute?

Farmer's cheese, to me, is like a more crumbly (aka more dry) version of ricotta. So either substitute ricotta for farmer's cheese 1:1 (just know that it might spread a bit more) or take the extra step and put the ricotta in a cheesecloth-lined strainer and drain it over a bowl for a few hours to get some of the moisture out. Hope that helps! 

I had quite a bit of leftover evaporated milk from a pumpkin pie I made, how else can I use it? Can I replace regular milk with it? Will it affect the chemistry (obviously the flavor is stronger)?

Great question and you can do so many things with left over evaporated milk. It does have a slight sweet taste to it, due to the way its evaporated, but that lends itself nicely to all things sweet! Two of my favorite desserts to make with evaporated milk are chocolate pecan fudge, and vanilla bean flan. Here's a link to some other great recipe ideas that incorporate evaporated milk.  

Hi everyone-- the cookie lineup this year looks fantastic, and I am so charmed by the cranberry cat kisses. Unfortunately, my husband is allergic to almonds. I'm sure I can figure out a different approach to decorating the top, but can you please recommend a replacement for the almond bits in the batter? (I was thinking I'd use vanilla extract instead of almond extract, but I'm all ears for other ideas.) Thank you!

Can he do other nuts? I think hazelnuts would be really in the batter. Or double up on chocolate with some chopped pieces.

Cranberry Cat Kisses

RECIPE: Cranberry Cat Kisses

Where's Dave's wine column today? Booted from the print edition in favor of ... COOKIE RECIPES? This is just wrong. Wine >>> Cookies. And I like cookies!

Space issues! He wrote a nice column on port, which you can find here; we're all back in print next week. 

It's just one week's column. Chill until next Wed. In the fridge for 24 hours, then slice...

Hi, After Stella Parks was on the chat a few weeks ago, I was inspired to make her toasted sugar (easy, but took waaaay longer than I expected). Given the time I put into it, I'd like to find some recipes where it really shines. Any suggestions? I was thinking of trying it with the snickerdoodle blondie recipe but don't want it to get drowned out by the cinnamon flavor (or vice versa). Thank you!

I think you're right to be worried about the cinnamon possibly overpowering the nuance of the toasted sugar. Maybe go for a plainer blondie, if you like that idea. Stella recommends angel food cake and sugar cookies, and I think those are great places to start. Meringues would be another option.

Heather Chittum's Sugar Cookies

RECIPE: Heather Chittum's Sugar Cookies

I want to make them NOW! Yum. I have a Pyrex 8x8. How long to bake? Thanks

Probably will take a bit longer since the slab will be thicker. Might be closer to 30 minutes or a bit more, although not a bad idea to check at 25 minutes, as written. Just keep an eye on it and bake it to the cues we have given you.

Snickerdoodle Blondies

RECIPE: Snickerdoodle Blondies

It will also depend on how chewy/soft you like your blondies to be....I tested this just once with an 8-inch pan and I think it took 33 mins. 

Help!! HALP!!!! I started doing KETO about 3 weeks ago and have managed to lose 10lbs. It's been difficult sticking to that low of carb but I've done it and now start to feel weird when I eat to many carbs etc. Going into the holiday's I'm not afraid of the meals since I do the cooking but I'm afraid of the sweets and baked goods that I plan to make. I love to bake Christmas cookies - anything made with chocolate etc however do you have recipes that are keto friendly? Several people suggested almond flour or coconut flower but I'm worried it's really going to alter the taste. And also using a different "sugar". Any tips or things I can do? We also have friends coming over for dinners etc so I have to have cookies available and I know a few of them are low carb also.

Congrats on going Keto. I once tried Atkins and lost it within 2 hours because I wanted to eat a bagel. Go figure!


One of my favorite go-to cookies for folks with dietary restrictions is the classic coconut macaroon. It is perfect as its own cookie without any ingredient swaps or hacks. The key for you will be using unsweetened  shredded coconut and a sweetener that is Keto friendly.


My recommendations there would be Stevia or a Monk Fruit sweetener. Check the packaging for proper measurement swaps. Happy baking!

I have a big tube of gingerbread cookie dough. Any other holiday cookie options for it besides creating an army of G-Men and-Women? I love this chat - thanks for everything you folks do to help and inspire!

A gingerbread house! Or you could test out a drop cookie. Try scooping a tablespoonful of dough and baking it as you would a roll-out cookie. If it bakes the way you want it to, you're good to go.

What is the cookie that will stay fresh the longest? Say, if I wanted to make it and leave it (well sealed) on the counter...My freezer is pretty full, so it would be nice to have a cookie that I could bake ahead of time for Christmas day that will still taste good.

Dry cookies (think shortbread, gingersnaps, crunchy sugar cookies) will stay fresher longer than traditional drop cookies like chocolate chip. This is because with a dry cookie, you're trying to keep moisture OUT of the cookie, but with a drop cookie you're trying to keep moisture IN a cookie. Much easier to keep a dry cookie dry than retain the delicate balance of moisture in a drop cookie. If you keep your dry cookies well sealed, they will keep for a couple weeks.

On another note, coconut macaroons would be a good choice for a long shelf life cookie - moisture from the coconut acts as a natural shelf life extender.


Hi, tis the season to bake cookies, so to that end, I am hosting a cookies and punch open house. It's my excuse to make too many types of cookies without the cookie swap so many folks don't have time to do. BUT for ease, I've also opted to serve punch for the kids and adults coming. I figured one mulled wine and one to two non-alcoholic punches, but I haven't gotten any good ideas on what goes with cookies. I don't know if I should up the sweetness because cookies are so sweet that otherwise the punch would taste sour or to go with a less sweet punch to counterbalance those cookies. FWIW the kids mostly range 12-15 rather than littles. I've chosen the snickerdoodle bars, chocolate pb bars, chocolate drop cookies with peppermint chunks, GF almond shortbread, and the chai-spiced snowdrops, so the flavors are all over the map.

I like the idea of something less sweet to go with the cookies. Hopefully Carrie can jump in, but this recipe immediately jumped to mind for a non-alcoholic option.

Cozy Cranberry Sipper

RECIPE: Cozy Cranberry Sipper

The Endlessly Adaptable Cookie Bar recipe uses refined coconut oil. For other cookie or brownie recipes, is that better than melting margarine? (We've used Earth's Best, most of which is non-dairy). Should we adjust the temperature and/or the baking time? We find we need to with margarine. Thanks!

Yes, similarly to margarine, because the fat in coconut oil is plant and not animal-based, it will inevitably change taste, texture, and nutrition of the recipe. That being said, I went with refined coconut oil because it's less processed than margarine and has a neutral flavor that makes it easily adapted into other recipes. There's no need to adjust the temperature, but you may need to with baking time! All recipes will bake up differently, so look for visual cues that your sweet is done, rather depend on a set time. 

Could you make them smaller than the original size?

Of course! You'll need to adjust the bake time, but the recipe will work fine in smaller quantities. So, if you make the cookies half the size (so, each cookie will be just shy of an ounce, or a scant two tablespoons of dough), I'd try baking them for 10 minutes. Remember, they're done when the edges are set, but the centers still look undercooked. 

Is it possible to freeze most types of drop cookies prior to baking? Thanks!

Yes! You can usually just bake straight from the freezer and add a few minutes of bake time. (I think Alex Levin, source for our chocolate chip cookie recipe, suggested pressing the dough portions a bit to encourage them to spread since frozen dough tends to hold its shape more.)

Chocolate Chip Crunch Cookies

RECIPE: Chocolate Chip Crunch Cookies

Yes! Freezing cookie dough is a great time save, especially during the holiday season when you have guests drop by and cookie swaps to plan for. Make sure you shape your dough prior to freezing. I especially recommend this when making a dough that has melted chocolate in the batter. This can make the dough super hard when you take it out of the freezer, so pre-shaping is key with this one! Also, make sure that you wrap your dough well in plastic wrap, or use a freezer bag.  Most doughs can last 2-3 weeks in the freezer, so feel free to make ahead!

I've decided to finally try making tamales. Is Moctec the only fresh masa source in the area still? And I just call and ask about coming to buy some?

You might also check with Manos de Maiz -- Joahna Hernandez sells a variety of masa-based products at a few farmers markets in the area (although I think Mt. Pleasant may be the only one still open this time of year). Not sure if she'd sell her masa, but worth asking. (And at the very least you could try some of her very tasty food.)

To answer the Moctec question, though -- yes, just call! When I did it (a few years ago), the smallest amount you could get is a five pound bag. Also I think you should specify that you're using the masa to make tamales (vs. tortillas or something else). 

Okay, I just submitted a question, but I have an added question for that question...did Moctec move to Manassas from Landover???

Thanks for taking questions every week! I want to make this frittata for a morning work event: I don't have time to prepare it all the morning of. What can I do ahead of time to speed up my morning? Can I go ahead and shred the zucchini, chop the ginger, and beat the eggs the night before and store it all in the fridge? Also, is it possible to scale the recipe up? I'm open to other savory vegetarian breakfast suggestions if there is a better fit for my needs. Thanks!

Advance prep, you bet. As for scaling up, do  you have a very large skillet that can accommodate? The eggs will take longer to set at the center, but it ought to work. 


You might want to try these muffin pan frittatas, which can be baked in advance and reheated,

or this Breakfast Strata Primavera.

What are some cakes or other desserts that I can make in the week/s ahead of Christmas to serve at the holiday? Other than fruitcake.

Classic butter shortbread cookies are a great dessert that is easy to make ahead and also one that lends itself to the holidays. You can use holiday themed cookie cutters and decorate with royal icing, or just simple silver dragees (otherwise known as those silver sugary balls that you see on holiday cookies.)

Another dessert that keeps well is a Gingerbread loaf or cake. This is by far one of my favorite holiday desserts and it keeps well when wrapped or stored in an air tight container.  

During last month's first Thanksgiving chat I asked about cooking a faux turkey in cheesecloth with vegan butter or olive oil. Although Joe admitted he doesn't particularly like the fake meats, suggested using vegan mayonnaise. I used Vegannaise's pesto flavor enhanced with a few sprinkles of Italian seasoning on Tofurky and now I have a new cooking method! I am only now am reporting this because I didn't have a chance to try it until Nov. 30. When I tried to order my Thanksgiving Tofurky from immediately after the chat I was too late; they were sold out. For Christmas I will try this method on a Gardein, which I already have purchased.

We will let him know! 

Our office just drew Secret Santa names, and I got a lovely colleague who doesn't eat eggs (she is Hindu) and is always disappointed that she can't eat the baked goods people bring in to share. I thought of getting her an egg-free baking book, as I know she struggles with adapting baking recipes to use either egg substitutes or leave them out entirely. Do you guys have any recommendations? I don't necessarily want to go full on vegan as dairy is fine with her. Thanks!

I love a good Secret Santa gift exchange, but I am so sad when folks who want to eat delicious cookies feel left out! A baking book would be a great idea, but you could go ahead and make her some cookies with easy egg swaps. One of my favorite egg swaps is pumpkin puree, such as Libby's Canned Pumpkin. Pumpkin puree, along with unsweetened apple sauce, can be used with the following swap ratio: 1 egg= 1/4 cup sauce or puree. I am sure your colleague will love the cookies you bake for her!

When substituting almond milk -- or, I guess, soy or cashew or coconut -- is it best to use the higher-calorie sweetened sort? I drink the unsweetened but fear it might be too thin for cookies.

For my endlessly adaptable cookie bars, I used unsweetened almond milk with great effect.  The viscosity of your milk doesn't depend on sugar content, but rather fat content. So either one could work, but take note whether your recipe specifies sweetened or unsweetened non-dairy milk and adjust your recipe accordingly - especially if it calls for than a a few tablespoons of milk. That being said, full-fat coconut milk from the can versus the content WILL effect texture and composition of your recipe since it has a much higher fat content. So, again, if your recipe calls for coconut milk, make sure you use the kind it specifies for. 

Any suggestions as to what type of cookies and holiday treats would ship well to my daughter-in-law, who is currently deployed in Afghanistan?

Biscotti are the sturdiest cookies I know. Plus, they keep for a long time, so there will be no issues if your package gets held-up anywhere.

What are some cookies or other baked treats that hold up well in the mailing process and over time - that will last through shipping and unwrapping to consumption time? Other than fruitcake.

Did you see my piece this week?

shipping cookies

ARTICLE: 6 cookie recipes made for holiday gifting and shipping

Beyond just strictly baked, I would think about granola, toffee, bark and candied nuts.

Of the cookies in the guide, any recommendations for ones that make a big batch and require less effort? I am already making rolled cutout cookies and am looking for good options that are either of the drop cookie, bar, or slice and bake variety.

The Coronado Cookies can be made using a handheld mixer, so you can make them in a large batch size (you're not limited to the size of your stand mixer bowl). And the Chocolate Chip Crunch Cookies can be frozen, so you can make a couple big batches ahead of time and bake as needed. 

Just curious, what about the Brownie Sandwich Cookie ingredients makes them too variable to let you give a meaningful nutritional analysis? All of the ingredients seem pretty generic, except maybe for the espresso powder, and that's such a small quantity that it wouldn't seem to have much impact on the analysis. Love the special section, as always!

It's that darn filling, some of which you may have left over after making, that causes the variability. (For what it's worth, I did try doing the analysis with ALL of the filling, and let's just say these are perhaps best reserved to be an occasional indulgence.)

Brownie Sandwich Cookies

RECIPE: Brownie Sandwich Cookies

See Jenna's earlier answer...we endorse smaller portions! Or cutting these babies into halves or quarters. 

Well technically second greatest since national cookie day was yesterday I, the Cookie Monster's grammatically functioning child have a conundrum Which cookie cookbook should I look for next? I have Dorie's Cookies, Bravetart, and a variety of other regular baking cookbooks but I need more cookies. Finding cookie cookbooks not geared towards children or Instagram is a struggle and I'd like to keep expanding my repertoire also cookies are significantly better than wine just in case anyone was still unclear

I love the cookie recipes in Cook's Illustrated Baking Book. Granted, there's more than just cookies in that cookbook, but the cookie section is SO GOOD. I actually based a bunch of our Whisked! cookies on recipes from that cookbook. And the recipes are classics, so they're not geared towards Instagram at all. 

Anne Byrn's "American Cookie" book out this season does not feel geared toward children at you might expect, you may learn some U.S. history as you work your way through it! 


Wine vs cookies. . . that's a tough one. 

Help! I can do sugared cranberries. I can do meringue mushrooms. I'd like to do holly leaves. Last night I tried melting white chocolate (Giradelli) - I ended up adding some heavy cream to get a piping consistency. Sort of. They are usable but not beautiful. What is marzipan? Do I have to blend it with other ingredients to get a mixture I could roll out and cut shapes? Covering log in dark chocolate ganache so I really don't want to make a batch of buttercream just to have a bit for piping.

Marzipan is similar to almond paste but is more sugar than almond. It is exceptionally easy to roll out (similar to fondant). You can absolutely use it to make shapes. In Europe, candies made with marzipan are extremely popular!

I am having friends for dinner, serving barbecue ribs. Do you have an idea for a festive holiday cocktail?

My brain turns to whiskey or dark rum here. I think a Dark & Stormy could be really good, especially if you dial up the ginger. I'd also look at a Gold Rush or a Black Manhattan, which has some nice baking-spice notes great for this time of year. If you want to do something more communal and "special," I go back to Gina Chersevani's cranberry-ginger punch over and over again -- it takes some work, but it's worth it.

I've never liked kale but had a really delicious kale salad last weekend at a restaurant. It had kale leaves with pomegranate seeds, toasted quinoa, and fennel. I'd like to reproduce it at home but am stuck on two ingredients. I've read that kale for salad needs to be massaged but I never paid attention because I didn't think I'd want to make a kale salad. I've googled it but have gotten conflicting advice. I wondered, too, if you can tell me how to toast quinoa. It was red and very crunchy. Thanks for your help--it really was the best salad I've ever had.

I find that "massaging" the kale makes it more tender and easier to chew. All you have to do is, before adding any of the other fix-ins, drizzle your dressing over the washed kale, sprinkle it with salt, and rub (aka massage) the dressing into the greens until they have softened and are fully seasoned. Taste and season approprotiately.


As for the toasted quinoa, cook your quinoa (doesn't matter whether it's red or white) as you normally would over the stove top and allow it to cool completely. When ready to toast,  preheat oven to 325. Spread it quinoa on a baking sheet and drizzle it generously with olive oil and add a pinch or two of salt. Toss quinoa so that it's evenly coated and bake it until golden brown and crispy. Check on the quinoa every 10 minutes so and what I do is take it out and use a spatula to mix it around so that it evenly cooks (the edges tend to brown faster). Stored in an airtight container, it'll last for about a week! 

My brother-in-law has learned to bake bread over the past couple of years, and really enjoys it. Do you have any suggestions for gifts for a bread baker -- kitchen tools, or maybe a class? He already has a Kitchenaid stand mixer. Thank you for your ideas!

Sure, a class would be fun. Does he have a baking stone yet? Definitely a must for bread fanatics. You can also make nice breads inside a Dutch oven. If he's really getting into it, you can geek out with stuff like a lame or couche.

It’s time to thank my neighbors for all the support they provide over the year with a casual Christmas cocktail party. There will be 20 guests. Can you suggest a few cookie recipes I can make over the next week that are easy and festive?

Oh man, have you checked out our Holiday Cookie Generator? More than 300 recipes to choose from! 

I strongly encourage you to pick ones that appeal to you, but here are a few.

Cranberry Cat Kisses

RECIPE: Cranberry Cat Kisses

Rum Balls

RECIPE: Rum Balls

Toasted Marshmallow Brownie Krinkles

RECIPE: Toasted Marshmallow Brownie Krinkles

My thoughts turn to cookies, but first, I need to bring a vegetarian AND gluten-free main dish to a party this weekend. Do you think your Roasted Mushroom and Swiss Chard Lasagna would work with purchased GF noodles? If not, any other suggestions? I'd like something fairly hearty.

I've never worked with gluten-free noodles (or made that recipe), but I suspect if they cook up pretty much like regular noodles, you should be fine.

Roasted Mushroom and Swiss Chard Lasagna

RECIPE: Roasted Mushroom and Swiss Chard Lasagna


Here's another option that would be great for this chilly upcoming weekend.

Everybody’s Chili Verde

RECIPE: Everybody’s Chili Verde

Dear Free Rangers: Which type of cardamom do I use to make Joe's cardamom-brown sugar snickerdoodles? I bought the white and the green pods and made the cookies with the green pods, laboriously removing the seeds and grinding them in my spice grinder. However, Becky wrote in the "Nine essential cookie recipes" article in Voraciously to grind your own pods. Which version do I use for cookies, and do I grind the pods as well as the seeds? The cookies were FABULOUS, by the way. (Yes, I rated them.) Thanks for all that you do!

essential cookies

ARTICLE: The 9 essential cookies every home baker should know how to make

Definitely made the right call going with green. I think the general consensus on the white is they are pretty flavorless. If you want ground cardamom, you can definitely just grind the whole pod. Don't worry about doing the whole seed removal thing (been there).

Cardamom-Brown Sugar Snickerdoodles

RECIPE: Cardamom-Brown Sugar Snickerdoodles

Hi - I just took the plunge and bought a food processor (finally!). I made pie crust and filling for Thanksgiving, but don't know what to make next. What are you favorite things to make with a food processor that you can't make with other tools?

One of my favorite things to do with a food processor is to chop up homemade caramelized nuts. You can achieve a fine texture that's impossible to do with a knife alone, and then sprinkle them between cake layers, as a finish on top of cakes, or over ice cream.  

Any short-crust cookie recipe works well in a food processor. I use it for both the crust and filling in rugelach, and I love using it for shortbread when my butter is cold. It makes for an extra tender cookie.

Pestos and purees; homemade aioli YESS!

In the December isue of Better Homes & Gardens, there is a triple layer hazelnut spice cake that looks delish EXCEPT for the fact that it uses one cup of oil. I have never liked the greasy texture that most oil cakes have. Can I do a direct one-to-one substitution? Other liquid ingredients are 1 cup ! rum, 1/4 cup sour cream, 2 tbsp molasses, 3 eggs and 1 cup milk.

This cake sounds delish! But I agree, that does sound like a lot of oil. I would try cutting the oil amount by half, and adding pumpkin puree to make up the volume difference. Having looked at the recipe you are debating baking, I think the addition of the pumpkin would lend itself nicely to the other ingredients, while not competing with flavors. 

So if we freeze the cookies ahead, does it hurt them to be refrozen if there are a ton leftover after a party? Does it matter if it was the dough or the cookies frozen?

After you bake a cookie, taking it in and out of the freezer multiple times will degrade the quality - crunchy cookies will become slightly less crunchy, flavors will be slightly less vibrant, etc. The cookies won't taste bad and will still be edible, but they won't taste as good as a cookie fresh out of the oven.


In your situation, I'd suggest freezing your cookie dough, baking the cookies fresh for your party, and then freezing any leftovers. 

I have a potluck style party that always has too many sweets, but I love baking. Any ideas for a savory bake that travels well in a Tupperware?

Homemade crackers are great, and a fun way to experiment with different kinds of flours. These were one of my favorites that came out of our test kitchen. Almond flour also works.

Wow, didn't know she had a cookie book out! I've dipped into the Cake book for a few recipes but more the interest. I'll look this one up.'s on our list of top cookbooks of the year, which will publish next week. Mum's the word! 

Not a question but thanks to our superlative WAPO Food team for being here and bringing in the awesome guests we have today. Stars all around!


What about homemade candies? I use this season as an excuse to make nut brittles (buttery black walnut, peanut, and a sunfower seed) and the WaPo sesame seed candy would fit the bill. Any fudge would work, too, if kept chilled I expect.

I am all about candies during this season. They are a nice one bite alternative to cookies! Chewy caramels do take time, but are worth the wait. Once made and wrapped, they do not require refrigeration. Caramel popcorn is another fun item to make that keeps well when stored in an airtight container. Simple truffles are another way to go. I love adding cardamom, chili powder, or other spices to the ganache for a little extra punch of flavor. You can roll them in nuts or cocoa powder and be off to the races. Here's a cool recipe for Chocolate Mint Truffles.

Chocolate Mint Truffles


And, don't forget the humble marshmallow! They are both easy and fun to make!


Orange extract! Now I want to try making marshmellows...

Becky is our resident expert marshmallow maker, and I for one am thrilled when her little cello package appears  on my desk @ this time of year! 

First and foremost, thank you for the great job you do every week. We (sadly) moved away from the DMV several years ago, but the food section is one of the reasons we continue a digital subscription. And, I so look forward to the December cookie issue that a former neighbor sends me a hard copy each year (which she has to purloin from another neighbor because she won't give up hers). Although I usually go for fast and easy holiday cookie recipes, this season I will have one weekend day all to myself when the hubs and kids will be away, so I thought it would be fun to try a cookie that takes a little extra effort. Any suggestions?

I have more buttermilk than I can use at the moment. Can I freeze it and later use it for baking without problems?

Yes. It may separate as it thaws, but you can whisk or blend it back together. Won't be a problem for baking.

How much frozen hash browns would be the equivalent of 6 medium potatoes? My latke recipe calls for for 6 medium potatoes 1 small onion, 2 eggs, 3 T. flour, 1/2 t. baking powder, and S&P. Any other changes I should be aware of?

The reference guide of weights and equivalents we use says 1 cup of shredded raw potatoes equals 6 ounces, so if you shred 1 of your medium spuds and measure that, you ought to be able to assess the total yield. If you follow our Hash Brown Latkes recipe, you may need less egg, because the caramelized onion acts as a (flavorful) binder. 

I have a recipe for a cheesecake made with quark that I'd really like to make. It's an Australian cookbook. I'm not sure I'll be able to find quark, but even if I can, I'm still curious about a good substitute. The recipe calls for quark, heavy cream and eggs, on top of a cookie crumble crust. The flavor, by the way is halva! I'm so excited!

If you can't find quark at the store (I've definitely seen it at Whole Foods), I'd try substituting it for something similar in texture like ricotta but add a bit of sour cream or even mascarpone for tang. 

What are the guidelines for freezing cookies and bars? I'd like to give away different kinds of bakes to many families, but I won't be able to make the number I want to while they stay fresh.

I would say that just about any cookie can be frozen after it has been baked. Just be mindful to wrap them well. I usually use an airtight container or a combination of plastic wrap and foil.

Thanks for the vegan all-purpose bars! Recipe looks great, so as typical reader, I want to change it :-). (1) If I wanted to add peanut butter, swap 1:1 for coconut oil / Earth Balance? (I'd use the latter.) (2) You mentioned the molasses makes it less like a shortbread cookie. I like shortbread. Agave instead of molasses to keep it vegan? I know these would be untested subs, so no hard feelings if you recommend something and it doesn't work.

1) For the first go around, maybe try substituting peanut butter for 25 to 50% of the Earth Balance, versus 100%, and see how the bars turn out that way? Just know that they might not hold together as well however (maybe a bit of extra flour would help with that?).

2) Molasses is in the brown sugar I used - I didn't actually put plain molasses in the cookies! So, that being said, if you want a more crisp shortbread cookie with less of a chew, simply swap the brown and white sugar amounts! 

Please elaborate on which non-dairy milks are best when the recipes call for dairy (cow's) milk, either whole or reduced fat. Many thanks! Much obliged!

Here are some suggestions we posted on our blog this past year, Polina: 

Whole milk: Use soy, cashew, or well-shaken canned coconut milk for its higher fat content

Skim, 1%, or 2% milk: Use almond or rice milk, or coconut milk beverage

Buttermilk: Make your own buttermilk by adding 1 tablespoon lemon juice or vinegar to 1 cup non-dairy milk. Let it rest for about 5 minutes before using in your recipe.

^ couldn't have put it better myself!

For the thoughtful poster who wanted to get her colleague an egg-free baking book, lack of dairy won't hurt the final product, as so many WAPO recipes show. Therefore how about considering a vegan book after all? Here's one I have from DC's own two-time Cupcake Wars winner and restaurant owner Doron Petersan as well one from another very highly rated vegan chef. I'm sure either would make a terrific.  

What number speed do you use when creaming butter and sugar?

I think about 4 is good. Here's a post from King Arthur Flour that is all about creaming that you might find informative.

Every December my husband and I have a party for about 40 people. I normally do the food myself and we have pretty substantial amounts and types of food so people will be expecting that. My work schedule is making it impossible for me to prepare all the food myself and so I am going to have a caterer make a bunch of appetizers (e.g., mini-quiches, stuffed mushrooms, etc.) and then make some other things myself. The caterer asked me how many pieces of food to allow per person (she wasn't sure if people nibbled or really ate and I told her the latter). Do you have a rule of thumb you can share?

When helping customers with their catering orders at my old bakery, I would suggest that with finger foods, most people would eat 4-6 pieces. With desserts, some people do not eat any (SHAME!), but most will have 1-2 bites. Hope you have a fabulous party!

At the risk of stating the obvious - mulled cider is fab.

Thinking about the punch and cookies... would there be some sort of warm flavored milk punch to make? Maybe with warm spices, it would keep in a slowcooker?

Heck yes. I just answered another Q about hot drinks and I think several of the suggestions would work in this way -- and actually, this reminds me I've been meaning to do something on drinks you can just keep warm for hours. Maybe later in the winter!

I know I'm opening myself up to lots of criticism, but I don't really like cream cheese and saw that your rugelach recipe uses sour cream, which I'm also not too fond of. Could you use yogurt instead of sour cream?

Yogurt would work. Be sure it's not non-fat or low-fat though. The added fat from the sour cream is what makes the crust extra tender.

This recipe notes I should see below for whole wheat version, but I am not seeing that? 

The whole wheat version is under VARIATIONS and is titled "Spiced Pecan Spelt Bars." Spelt is a type of whole grain! If you can't get your hands on spelt, whole-wheat or white whole-wheat flour will work just the same. Just remember to keep the ratio of all-purpose to whole-wheat flour 50:50. 

Any favorite recipes for warm, spiced cocktails? Already tried the recent one with chamomile-yellow Chartreuse :)

I'm a big fan of apple cider warmed and spiked with apple brandy and allspice dram. Super easy and delicious. Hot chocolate with green Chartreuse is a classic, too -- sounds odd, I know, but it's delicious. I tried this drink called Bear Milk a while back and it was fabulous; another variation I've liked is to used salted caramel and milk and warm it with bourbon. And if you make a nice compound butter (with citrus zest and brown sugar and spices), a hot buttered rum can be pretty glorious.

Love this idea for a nearly instant cookie! For a non-alcoholic, vegan option maybe agave for honey? Ideas to sub the rum?

For a rum substitute, you could try orange juice, and add some orange zest, for a citrusy-take. Coffee would also be a nice substitute. 

I'm told by Indian and Pakistani friends that if you grind the whole pods fine enough no one will be able to tell that you didn't dig the seeds out first. Also that "white cardamom" is usually just bleached green cardamom so don't bother. Another wonderful thing I learned from them is to put a pod or two (or the shells if you've scraped out the seeds) into a container of sugar to make the equivalent of vanilla-bean sugar for your tea or coffee.

Yes to all!

Your recipe says "use ginger beer, not ginger ale" but what is the difference between the two?

You can really use either, in my opinion -- to me the flavor is the most important thing, and I always want a strong ginger taste. But the difference between the two is that ginger beer is actually alcoholic whereas the "ale" is just ginger soda. (So you can also decide on how boozy you want your drink to be by changing this ingredient.) 

I plan to assemble cheese boards as gifts: a nice board with utensils, a few good cheeses and some crackers, but would like suggestions for some additional items to round it out. I'm thinking about the Maple Spiced Glazed Nuts. Other thoughts?

I think the Maple Spiced Glazed Nuts sounds delicious - you can also never go wrong with store-bought marcona almonds! Also don't forget dried fruit - think apricots, dates, tart cherries. 

If I were to substitute butter, how would that change the recipe? I dislike oil cakes for the same reason -- heavy and greasy.

You could try simply substituting melted butter 1-for-1 for the oil. I've had good success with this when making quick breads and muffins.

Looks like the link for the second one didn't take maybe? Also, not clear to someone scanning that the links are there. Just a thought. Thanks for sharing and for this great chat! I meant "terrific gift" at the end, of course. Sigh.

Well, you've let us cool completely on wire racks, so you know what that means....we're done! Thanks to Jenna, Polina, Meredith, Charlotte and to Spirits columnist Carrie Allan, who has a terrific drink recipe headed your way soon. 


Today's chat winners: The person who asked about cookie cookbooks not geared for kids gets a copy of Donna Hay's new "Modern Baking" cookbook; the person who asked about which cookies last the longest gets The Post cookbook. (I can sign the latter one if you wish.)


Send your mailing info to and she will send those sooner than you can say "multicolored sprinkles." Till next week, Happy Hanukkah! And happy  Cookieing! 

In This Chat
Bonnie Benwick
Bonnie S. Benwick is Deputy Food Editor and recipe editor at The Post. Cook with her each week at Dinner in Minutes.
Carrie Allan
M. Carrie Allan is The Post's Spirits columnist.
Polina Chesnakova
Polina Chesnakova is a baker based in Seattle. She blogs at
Meredith Tomason
Meredith Tomason is the head pastry chef for Nestlé Toll House.
Charlotte Rutledge
Charlotte Rutledge joined the King Arthur Flour test kitchen team in 2011 and has been developing, writing, and curating recipes ever since.
Jenna Huntsberger
Jenna Huntsberger is one of the two partners behind Whisked!, a baking business in Washington.
Kara Elder
Kara Elder is the Food section editorial aide.
Becky Krystal
Becky Krystal is the lead writer for Voraciously.
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