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3 Cherished Cookie Recipes for the Holidays

Delectable treats represent happy memories for three local design professionals.

By John Roark | Photography by David B. Moore

The aroma of freshly baked cookies wafting through the house can conjure happy memories, especially when the air is crisp and the fireplace is roaring. Many family traditions are born through the ritual of gathering, visiting, creating and consuming. Here, a trio of local gourmands share their favorite Yuletide sweets.

The aroma of freshly baked cookies wafting through the house can conjure happy memories, especially when the air is crisp and the fireplace is roaring. Many family traditions are born through the ritual of gathering, visiting, creating and consuming. Here, a trio of local gourmands share their favorite Yuletide sweets.

Susie Hersker’s Chocolate Drops

“It just wouldn’t be Christmas without my grandmother’s chocolate drop cookies,” says interior designer and Phoenix Home & Garden Masters of the Southwest award winner Susie Hersker, whose holidays always include time shared in the kitchen. “They are very simple to make.”

“All of the women in my family get together each year in mid-December to bake cookies,” Hersker adds. “Chocolate drops are always first on the list. My 3-year-old grandniece is now part of the festivities, and my 1-year-old grandson will get in on it this year. He will be a chocolate-covered mess, but that’s part of the fun.”

CHOCOLATE DROPS

2 cups granulated sugar

1 cup butter

2 eggs

1 cup unsweetened ground chocolate

2½ cups flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until smooth. Add remaining ingredients and combine. Mold dough into 1-inch balls, then gently roll each in granulated sugar to coat. Place approximately 2 inches apart on a large cookie sheet. Bake at 300 degrees for 10 to 12 minutes until the surface of the cookies begins to crack.

Yields 60 cookies

Every year, gathering to make holiday cookies is a tradition for Susie Hersker and her family.

Hersker’s grandson, Brayden, is tasked with taste-testing and quality control.

Simple to make, bite-size chocolate drops are a seasonal mainstay.

Nick and Tsontakis’ Melomakarona

“One year when we were kids, our mom prepared melomakarona and hid them on the upper shelf of a closet to make sure she would have them for guests,” recalls Masters of the Southwest award-winning architect Nick Tsontakis, who was born and spent his early childhood in Crete. “When my brothers and I discovered where they were hidden, we polished them off over the course of several days. The guests came over, and the truth came out. Everyone had a big laugh when they found out that we were the culprits.”

The aroma and taste of melomakarona has stayed with Tsontakis from a very young age. “We helped our mother prepare them, and now we make them with our own children,” he says. “It’s a holiday tradition.”

The golden, nutty, spiced orbs are nearly impossible to resist. Because the recipe yields as many as five dozen treats, you’ll have plenty to share with friends and neighbors—if the cookies last that long.

MELOMAKARONA

(Greek Honey Cookies)

5 cups flour

1½ teaspoons baking powder

¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon

¼ teaspoon ground cloves

¾ cups olive oil

½ pound butter

½ cup sugar

½ teaspoon baking soda

½ cup orange juice

1 cup finely chopped walnuts to garnish

In a small bowl, combine 1 cup of flour, baking powder, cloves and cinnamon. In a separate bowl, using an electric mixer, beat butter and olive oil. Add sugar and beat until fluffy. Add the flour mixture and blend until fully integrated.

Place remaining 4 cups of flour into a large bowl. Make a well in the center and pour in the butter/oil mixture. Combine by hand until smooth.

Flanked by treasures that celebrate Nick Tsontakis’ Greek heritage, plates of nutty, spiced melomakarona wait to be devoured.

Dissolve baking soda in orange juice. Pour mixture over the batter and lightly knead until a soft dough is formed.

Roll dough into oval shapes using approximately 1½ teaspoons for each. Place on a cookie sheet 1 inch apart. Using a fork, prick the top of the cookies. Bake for 25 minutes at 350 degrees.

After removing from oven, place cookies on parchment paper and allow to cool completely.

Syrup

1 cup honey

1 cup sugar

1 cup water

1 orange peel

Combine honey, sugar, water and orange peel in a high-sided pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-high and continue simmering for 5 minutes, skimming the froth on top. Reduce heat to low. Using a slotted spoon, immerse cookies in syrup for 30 seconds, turning over once. Remove and place on a clean cookie sheet or parchment paper. Sprinkle with chopped walnuts.

Yields 60 cookies

Barbara Kaplan’s Mom’s Cream Cheese Cookies

“This recipe goes back many generations in my family,” says interior design consultant Barbara Kaplan of the delectable fruit-and-cream-cheese goodies she shares here.

“When we made these cookies together, my mother would tell me stories of how she had baked with her mom and how special those times were for her, and I felt the love that she was passing on to me. She only baked during the holidays, so it was a special treat to smell the aroma coming from the kitchen as the ingredients blended together into cookies that were always made from the heart.”

Kaplan notes that any variety of marmalade or preserves can be used in this recipe, but she prefers apricot. “The dough is chewy and the apricot flavor really enhances the texture for me.”

MOM’S CREAM CHEESE COOKIES

½ pound cream cheese, softened to room temperature

3 tablespoons sugar

½ pound butter, softened to room temperature

1¼ cups flour

¼ cup powdered sugar

12 ounces marmalade or preserves

Powdered sugar

Combine cream cheese, sugar, butter and flour until smooth. Using your hands, form dough into a large ball and refrigerate until firm, 15 to 20 minutes. Lightly sprinkle a flat surface with powdered sugar. With a rolling pin, roll dough to a thickness of approximately ¼ inch. Cut flattened dough into 2-inch squares.

Drop 1 tablespoon marmalade in the center of each square. Fold two opposite corners toward the middle and press to seal. Place on cookie sheet 1 inch apart and bake at 400 degrees for approximately 20 minutes, until tops of cookies are golden brown. Remove and cool completely. When cooled, sprinkle tops of cookies with powdered sugar.

Yields 24 cookies

One of Barbara Kaplan’s favorite childhood holiday memories is of making cream cheese cookies with her mother. Any flavor of marmalade or preserves can be incorporated into the recipe; Kaplan’s personal favorite is apricot.

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