Cookies – An International Holiday Tradition

December 1st, 2010 by Gretchen Homan

Favorite holiday memories invariably include cookies in countless shapes, sizes and flavors, often decked out in colorful decorations. Our country is such a melting pot, that so many of the traditional holiday cookies find their origins in the treats that have been baked for centuries in countries far away. Winter holidays around the globe have provided sweet inspiration for all manner of adored cookie recipes.

Hazelnut Biscotti

My parents were German, so at Christmas we looked forward to Linzertorte (a nut dense bar cookie version of Linzer cookies), Butterbäk (almond Spritz cookies made using disks attached to my grandmother’s manual meat grinder) and Chocolate Meringue Cookies.

A Christmas Eve visit with our Italian neighbors meant anise shortbreads, biscotti flecked with candied cherries in holiday hues. (Check out our Hazelnut Biscotti and lemon-scented Florentines which I later found out were thinner versions of Norwegian Krumkake.) Our Oatmeal Lace Cookies remind me a lot of those Florentines. Drizzle them with melted Candy Melts® for an elegant holiday indulgence.

Oatmeal Lace Cookies

As a teen, my after-school boss introduced me to Mandelbrot (very similar to biscotti), left over from her Hannukah celebrations. Guess the traditional Loukomades (Fried Honey Puffs) and fried Latkes (potato pancakes) wouldn’t have tasted as good the next day! Some Jewish families I knew traditionally made Sesame Rings, oil-based cookies glazed with honey then dipped in sesame seeds, for their celebrations – yum!

It wasn’t until the 1500s that actual “Christmas” cookies began appearing in cookbooks throughout Europe. Today’s spiced cookies find their roots in these European treats. German families baked up pans of Lebkuchen – the inspiration for today’s gingerbread.

Three-in-One Spritz Cookies Germans also introduced us to tender buttery Spritz Cookies. While delicious served plain, for the holidays they were decorated with dried fruits, nuts and melted chocolate, similar to how we now decorate with sugars, sprinkles and melted Candy Melts®.

Many Europeans used cut-out cookies to decorate their holiday trees and homes. The basics of the cookie – butter, flour, sugar and eggs – were the same, but the flavorings and shapes were unique to each country. Swedes preferred spicy ginger/black pepper flavor notes; Norwegians favored adding cardamom to theirs. Many Scandinavian and Italian cookies feature anise and lemon flavors. Nuts were a common addition for this special occasion.

Holiday Roll-Out Cookies

German and Dutch settlers brought the first hand-made cookie cutters and molds to the New World and continued their tradition of decorating for the holidays with these edible treats. Commercially-made cutters were not available until the late 1800s. These cutters illustrated highly stylized images with holiday subjects designed specifically to hang on the Christmas tree. Today, Roll-Out Cookies in the shapes of trees, stockings, candy canes, bells, stars and others are an important part of many holiday celebrations.

In Spain and Latin America, Alfajores, a decadent sandwich cookie with rich dulce de leche filling is a favorite celebration cookie. And while most of us enjoy Mexican Wedding Cookies – round buttery, powdered sugar dipped cookies – almost every nationality has a similar cookie in their holiday repertoire.

These are just a few of the cookie recipes I enjoy. What are some of your favorite International holiday cookies and sweet treats?

Gretchen Homan Gretchen Homan, Test Kitchen Director at Wilton, has been with the company almost 7 years. She is a home economist who has worked in test kitchens and for PR firms representing food clients since graduating from college, but her baking roots run much deeper. Her earliest recollections are regular Schneckenudel (cinnamon bun), cookie and kuchen baking sessions with her Oma (grandmother) who lived with the family while she was growing up. Now that her two youngest sons are off to college, the fruits of her baking sessions need to be mail-able!

12 Replies

  1. rossy says:


  2. Gretchen Homan says:

    Most of the recipes mentioned here are on the website. Follow the links in the blog!

  3. sherrimcdougal01 says:

    Christmas cookies, I sure love them. You have made very pretty treats.

  4. Geri says:

    I’ve made all but 2 of the cookies you mentioned. I also love Springerle. The molds are so intricate– each cookie is a work of art!

  5. Gretchen Homan says:

    Springerle – I love those too! So many cookies I’d love to make this holiday season; it’s going to be hard to decide which I have the time to make.

  6. Hanna Tuma says:

    Lovely Christmas cookies. I would like to make some for holiday season. However, I read in magazin that the ingredients of icing colour include (E 104 and E 133) which may have an advrese effect on activity in children.
    In this case, which colours can we use?

    • Gretchen Homan says:

      Icing colors should have the ingredients listed on the package. Wilton icing colors include only ingredients that are safe to eat, but only you know your child’s food sensitivities.

  7. Joy says:

    Something I had to post and goes along with the Cookie theme 🙂

    Please Join Our 1st Annual Cookie Exchange 🙂
    Please feel free to participate:

  8. amparo says:

    todo lo de wilton me parece hermosisimo pero tengo una gran dificultad yo vivo en colombia y se muy poco el ingles, como hago para poder entender bien sus recetas y conseguir algunos de sus productos en colombia? la pasteleria me apasiona, y quisiera saber si ustedes tienen algun curso en colombia donde yo me pudiera contactar.

  9. dial Hogan says:

    How do you make meringue cookies with your Egg Meringue Mix please?

    • Gretchen says:

      The recipe should be on the insert that comes with the Meringue Powder. If you’ve lost that, here is the recipe:

      Meringue Cookies

      4 teaspoons Wilton Meringue Powder
      4 tablespoons water
      ½ cup granulated sugar
      1/8-¼ teaspoon flavor or extract (optional)
      Wilton icing color (optional)

      Preheat oven to 275º. Line cookie sheet with parchment paper.

      Beat meringue powder with water, sugar and flavor and a small amount of optional icing color on high-speed 4-5 minutes or until stiff peaks form. Fill Dessert Decorator with meringue mixture using tip 21, 4B or 1M pipe cookies onto prepared cookie sheet.
      Bake 55-60 minutes or until lightly browned and dry.

      *For chocolate meringues add 2-3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder with meringue powder, follow above directions.

      Makes approximately 2 dozen.

  10. Martha Estabridis says:

    I need to buy molds to make chocolates not cookies .
    Chocolates with Christmas figures.

    Thank you
    for your attention


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