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Let the holiday baking begin

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In homes across the country, you can smell the flavors of the holidays. Cookies and cakes made with love are great holiday gifts for everyone on your list.

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You may have a favorite Christmas cookie or cake you always make. In addition to your tried and true holiday favorites, Pillsbury offers the Pillsbury Doughboy's top four holiday cookies for 2013.

Winner in the Best Cookie to Make with the Kids category is the Frosted Reindeer Cookie. These cookies are easy to make and totally fun for the kids to find creative ways to decorate.

Frosted Reindeer Cookies

1 roll Pillsbury® refrigerated sugar cookies
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup vanilla creamy ready-to-spread frosting (from 1-lb container)
64 small pretzel twists
64 semisweet chocolate chips (about 1/4 cup)
16 gumdrops, cut in half

In large bowl, break up cookie dough. Stir or knead in flour until well blended. Reshape into triangle-shaped log. If too soft to cut into slices, refrigerate up to 30 minutes.

Heat oven to 350°F. With thin sharp knife, cut dough into 32 (1/4-inch) triangular slices. On ungreased cookie sheets, place slices 2 inches apart.

Bake 7 to 11 minutes or until set. Cool 1 minute; remove from cookie sheets to cooling rack. Cool completely, about 15 minutes.

Frost cookies with frosting. Place 2 pretzel twists on each triangle near corners for antlers. Lightly press 2 chocolate chips into each cookie for eyes and 1 halved gumdrop for nose. Store between sheets of waxed paper in tightly covered container.

Winner in the Best Crowd Pleaser category is the Quick Peanut Blossom. This holiday classic has been a favorite for years. You can't go wrong when you combine chocolate and peanut butter.

Quick Peanut Blossom

1 roll (16.5 oz) Pillsbury® refrigerated peanut butter cookies
3 tablespoons sugar
36 Hershey's® Kisses® Brand milk chocolates, unwrapped

Heat oven to 350°F. Shape dough into 1-inch balls; roll in sugar. On ungreased cookie sheets, place balls 2 inches apart.

Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until golden brown. Immediately top each cookie with 1 milk chocolate candy, pressing down firmly so cookie cracks around edge. Remove from cookie sheets to cooling racks. Cool completely before storing.

Winner in the Best Cookie Exchange Cookie is the Holiday Star Cookie. This cookie recipe is simple with only three ingredients, but it will be a favorite at cookie exchange parties.

Holiday Star Cookies

1 roll (16.5 oz) Pillsbury® refrigerated sugar cookies
1/4 to 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
Ready-to-spread frosting (any white variety)
Coarse white sparkling sugar or other decorator sugar, if desired

Heat oven to 350°F. In large bowl, break up cookie dough. Stir or knead in 1/4 cup of the flour until well blended. Sprinkle about 1 tablespoon flour onto work surface; coat all sides of dough with flour. With rolling pin, roll out dough 1/4 inch thick, adding additional flour as needed to prevent sticking.

With floured 2-inch star-shaped cookie cutter, cut out stars. Gently brush excess flour from stars; place 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheets.

Bake 7 to 9 minutes or until light golden brown. Cool 1 minute; remove from cookie sheets to cooling racks. Cool completely, about 15 minutes. Frost cookies with frosting. Sprinkle with sugar.

Winner in the Best Cookie to Gift category is the Chocolate-Hazelnut-Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookie. These cookies look and sound like a gourmet treat, but they are made with love by you.

Chocolate-Hazelnut-Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookies

Cookies
1 roll Pillsbury® refrigerated peanut butter cookie dough

Hazelnut Mascarpone Filling
4 oz mascarpone cheese or cream cheese
2 tablespoons hazelnut spread with chocolate
1/4 cup whipping cream
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Toppers
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips, melted
2 oz toasted hazelnuts, chopped

Heat oven to 350°F. Shape cookie dough into 24 balls. Place 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheets.

Bake 9 to 14 minutes or until golden brown around edges. Cool 5 minutes; remove from cookie sheets to cooling racks. Cool completely, about 10 minutes.

Dip or spread half of the tops of 12 of the cookies in melted chocolate. Place on cooking parchment paper. Top with chopped hazelnuts.

Meanwhile, in medium bowl, beat mascarpone cheese and hazelnut spread until smooth. In second bowl, beat cream with electric mixer on high speed until soft peaks form. Beat in powdered sugar and vanilla until stiff peaks form. Fold whipped cream mixture into mascarpone mixture just until combined.

Spread mascarpone mixture on bottoms of the 12 undipped cookies. Top with chocolate-dipped cookies to make sandwiches. Store in refrigerator until ready to serve.
Omit the chopped hazelnuts and top with mini chocolate chips or chocolate sprinkles instead.

Whether you’re prepping for a cookie exchange, planning a day of baking fun with kids, or looking to wow the crowd, the Pillsbury Doughboy has this season’s ultimate guide to cookies that are easy and delicious for any holiday occasion.

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