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Video: Check out TODAY’s top holiday cookies!

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    >>> all right. we're back now at 8:39 with today's top holiday cookie. a few weeks ago we revealed our favorite seasonal treats and put out the call for your recipes. we have now narrowed down the field to our five favorites and we're ready to give them a try.

    >> wow.

    >> dramatic.

    >> really suspenseful.

    >> everybody go down the line and introduce yourself.

    >> all right.

    >> hoda kotb.

    >> i love ginger spice cookies. this is a recipe of yours.

    >> it is. it goes back to my great grandmother.

    >> this is a combination of spices, ginger, cloves and cinnamon.

    >> what's that here?

    >> that's the dough. that's already mixed. we're going to incorporate the spices. it will look wet. that's because of the combination of butter and molasses that keeps them extra moist.

    >> you make big cookies.

    >> i do. i like my cookies big.

    >> then i don't have to eat three.

    >> make them how long?

    >> 10 minutes . they stay nice, soft and chewy.

    >> cheers.

    >> cheers to you. i'll take it from here. we all love shortbread. i was the lucky one who got to pick it and you added something extra to it. tell us about this.

    >> yes. i have. i made the shortbread and then the caramel and chocolate which is easy. it's flour, sugar, salt and butter and caramel is condensed milk and butter and corn syrup .

    >> okay.

    >> and the chocolate glaze has a bittersweet and semisweet chocolate with corn syrup and butter and when that solidifies in the fringe you spingel the salt.

    >> do you cook the shortbread and then add the layers or do it at the same time?

    >> no, shortbread for 20 minutes in the oven and let it cool.

    >> i'm ready to try it. we'll pass it down to natalie.

    >> okay. this is my favorite. i understand this is your favorite as well but you actually went to jeremy wigermany with your friends.

    >> we got a little addicted so i figured i needed to make them at home because it was cheaper than flying to germany.

    >> it's like a sugar cookie on the outside.

    >> there's ground almonds. the traditional recipe is ground hass hazelnuts but they're a pain.

    >> this is rasberry jelly.

    >> you have the cut out side there. you leave that side.

    >> we'll assemble this with the r raspberry.

    >> and then you put the sugar on top.

    >> gavin, they call you the cookie man.

    >> absolutely.

    >> this goes back in your family too.

    >> right. my grandmother and mother. my sister makes them. yeah, family recipe.

    >> what makes it special? you put cream of tartar in there, why?

    >> it creates a break apart in your mouth tasty cookie.

    >> they're pretty simple.

    >> really simple. straightforward and in honor of my mom because she was known in the neighborhood for making giant cookies we're going to make two giant cookies here. you're going to do green and i'm going to do red sprinkles for the holidays. just a nice little roll here.

    >> i just love to eat the cookie dough .

    >> yeah.

    >> all the way around.

    >> flatten it out a little.

    >> flatten it out.

    >> there you go.

    >> cheers.

    >> is it her turn from brooklyn.

    >> yes. she is waiting very patiently. our favorite cookie, the snowball.

    >> yeah.

    >> what makes yours better than anybody else's.

    >> it has almond and chocolate chunks and it's rolled in an expresso powdered sugar . it's like a little extra special snowball.

    >> how long do you bake those guys for?

    >> you bake these for about ten minutes. so you just mix together the expresso powder.

    >> is it an old family recipe.

    >> it's actually developed on my own. i'm into creating special treats.

    >> she spells her name alnd.

    >> i think that's it.

TODAY recipes
updated 12/17/2013 4:47:22 PM ET 2013-12-17T21:47:22

Recipe: Ginger molasses spice cookies

Mercedes's recipe has been in her family for multiple generations. It was passed down from her grandmother and it was circulated through her bridge club. The bridge club had a cookbook made up of all their favorite recipes and this is one of the recipes from that book that Mercedes makes every Christmas. Mercedes is a dentist.

Ingredients
  • 12 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup full flavor molasses
  • 1 egg
  • 1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 3 baking sheets with aluminum foil. Lightly spray foil-lined baking sheets with nonstick cooking spray.

In a large bowl, mix together melted butter, sugar and molasses. Add egg and mix until well blended.

In another medium bowl, combine dry ingredients (flour, cloves, ginger, cinnamon, salt and baking soda).

Add dry ingredients to butter mixture and mix until combined. Dough will be wet.

Use a small cookie scoop or spoon to place 2 tbsp-sized drops of dough onto prepared sheets.  Leave at least 2 inches between drops of dough as it will spread as the cookies bake.

Bake in preheated oven for 8 to 10 minutes or until edges are slightly darkened.

Recipe: Salted caramel chocolate shortbread bars

Mahrukh has a Masters degree in International Studies. She and her husband own a postal services business in Texas. Mahrukh likes to experiment in the kitchen, taking a recipe that she sees and putting a twist on it. For the shortbread cookie, she took the classic recipe and added the caramel, chocolate and salt layers.

Ingredients
  • For the shortbread layer
  • 2 cups all -purpose flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • For the caramel layer
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 4 tbsp. light corn syrup
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 (14 ounces) cans sweetened condense milk
  • For the chocolate glaze layer
  • 8 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate bars (cut into pieces)
  • 1 tsp. light corn syrup
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • Seal salt for sprinkling
Preparation

To make the shortbread layer, preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line a 9 x 13-inch baking pan with parchment paper. In a small bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Stir with a fork to blend, and set aside. In another bowl, add butter and sugar, beat with an electric mixer on medium speed until well blended for couple of minutes. Then add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, until incorporated. Transfer the dough to the prepared baking pan and press in an even layer over the bottom of the pan. Bake 15 to 20 minutes or until golden brown (press with your fingers, gently, while it is cooling). Transfer the pat to a wire rack and let cool completely.

To make the caramel layer, combine the butter, sugar, corn syrup and condensed milk in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Stir occasionally, until the butter is melted. Increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to maintain a simmer, stirring constantly. Continue simmering and stirring until the mixture turns an amber color and thickens slightly. Pour the mixture over the shortbread layer, smooth the top. Chill completely in the fridge, so it can set (this ensures that the caramel layer would not melt when the warm chocolate is added on top).

To make the chocolate glaze layer, combine the chocolate, corn syrup, and butter in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Heat, stirring occasionally, until the chocolate is completely melted and the mixture is smooth. Pour evenly over the caramel layer and use a spatula or knife to smooth the top. Allow to cool for few minutes, and then sprinkle with sea salt. Cover the bars, and then chill them in the fridge until you are ready to slice and serve!

Recipe: Linzer tart

Chrissy learned how to bake from her mom. While not a standard Christmas cookie, these treats are special in her circle because they remind her of travelling with her friends to Germany. Chrissy's first trip was in 2005 to Munich. Upon arriving at the train station in the midst of their 6-country/2 week backpacking tour, she and her friends stopped by a bakery/food court kiosk and tried the cookie and fell in love with it. But because Chrissy and her friends don't travel to Germany all the time she decided she had to learn to make the cookies on her own. So she tested out recipes and her taste-testers were the friends she travelled with. This recipe got their thumbs up.

Ingredients
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup shortening
  • The zest of 1 lemon
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 cup almond meal (you can use hazelnut as well)**
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup raspberry jam, as needed
  • Powdered sugar, for dusting
Preparation

Beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs and vanilla.

In a separate bowl, combine the almonds, flour, cinnamon, salt and lemon zest. Add this to the egg mixture.

Divide the dough in half, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, an hour or up to two days.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Remove one ball of dough from the fridge at a time to roll, otherwise it will get too soft. On a lightly floured surface, roll dough to about ¼" thick. Using a 3" cookie cutter, cut out the cookies, cutting a smaller hole in half of them. If the dough gets too soft, put them in the fridge for about 10 minutes. This will prevent the dough from spreading too much in the oven. 

Place about 1" apart on a cookie sheet and bake 10-12 minutes until they are lightly browned. Cool on a cookie sheet. Repeat with remaining dough.

Once the cookies have cooled, spread one whole cookie with jam and top with a holed cookie. Dust with powdered sugar.

Tips

If you can't find almond meal, toast 1 cup almonds for about 8-10 minutes until lightly browned. Once cool, place nuts in a food processor with ¼ cup of the sugar and pulse until finely ground.

Serving Size

18 sandwich cookies

Recipe: Norwegian sugar cookies

Baking is Gavin's so-called "funny little passion." He even refers to himself as the "Cookie Man." This particular recipe was passed down from his grandmother — who is now 85 years old — and the secret ingredient that makes it special is the cream of tartar, adding a truly unique flavor to the cookie.

Ingredients
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup butter or margarine
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 tablespoons milk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoon cream of tarter
Preparation

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cream the sugar and butter. Beat in eggs. Add milk and vanilla.

Mix dry ingredients together and stir into creamed mixture (may need to add 1/4 cup of flour to make stiff dough).

Roll thin, cut into circles and sprinkle with sugar (or roll into balls, place on cookie pan and flatten with a glass dipped in sugar).

Bake for 8 to 10 minutes.

Recipe: Espresso-dusted almond and chocolate chunk snowballs

Lillie is an event planner who felt burned-out after 5 years, so now just freelances and started a food blog where she develops recipes. This recipe is one of the ones she actually came up with and what makes it different is the added espresso powder and the chocolate chunks in the snowball.

Ingredients
  • For the cookies
  • 3/4 cup (95 grams) flour
  • 3/4 cup (65 grams) almond flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup (56 grams or 1/2 stick) butter, softened
  • 1/3 cup (75 grams) sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1/3 cup (60 grams) finely chopped semi-sweet chocolate
  • For dusting
  • 1 cup (100 grams) powdered sugar
  • 2 tablespoons (6 grams) espresso powder
Preparation

Preheat the oven to 350 and line a baking sheet with parchment. Whisk together flour, almond flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

Beat butter and sugar together in a medium bowl until light and fluffy. Add egg and extracts, scraping down the bowl as necessary, and beat until combined. Blend in the flour mixture until fully incorporated. Portion out the dough into small balls and roll between your palms until smooth. Place on the prepared sheet and bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until light golden brown.

While the cookies are baking, whisk together powdered sugar and espresso powder in a small bowl. Remove the cookies from the oven and let cool for several minutes so they set up and you can handle them without being burned! Roll each ball completely in the espresso powdered sugar while the cookies are still warm. Dust with any extra espresso sugar just before serving.

Serving Size

Makes about two dozen snowballs

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