The 12 Days Of Cookiemas: Holiday Pastries From Around The World

If you’re in danger of running out of cookie recipes to try this holiday season, here’s a list of 12 delicious cookies from other countries.
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The 12 Days Of Cookiemas: Holiday Pastries From Around The World

All right, we’ll admit it, we like cookies. We hope that doesn’t destroy our editorial objectivity in presenting you with this piece, but we thought this was too important to withhold from you. After all, winter is the cookie season, and you need the hottest cookie recipes on the market. You’ve had everything the United States has to offer as far as cookies are concerned, so it’s time to branch out and try new things. We’re here to help you do that. Presenting: The 12 Days of Cookiemas, with recipes for traditional Christmas cookies from around the world..

1. German Pfeffernusse

A container of Pfeffernusse, with one having a bite taken out of it

Pfeffernusse are very popular throughout Germany and the Netherlands during the holiday season. The name literally means “pepper nuts,” which sounds far less appealing than they actually are. They are similar to gingerbread, but thicker, softer and covered with a firm sugar icing. The snowball appearance gives them an extra wintery look. You can buy them in the United States, but nothing beats the homemade kind.

2. Argentinian Alfajores

A collection of Portuguese Alfajores

A personal favorite, alfajores are kind of like Oreos, but also nothing like Oreos. They’re two soft cookies held together by dulce de leche, and the combination is simply magical. The origins of this cookie apparently go back all the way to Spain, over 1,000 years ago. They traveled to the New World along with the colonists, however, and they were really perfected (in my opinion) in South America.

3. Polish Kołaczki

A basket filled with Polish Kołaczki
Photo by Kurman Communications, Inc. via Flickr. License.

Perhaps the greatest feature of kołaczki is that they are very versatile. The exterior remains constant — a cream cheese dough that has a nice flakiness — but the inside can be whatever you’d like. Whether it be almond spread, strawberry or even Nutella, it makes for a delicious cookie. There’s no telling where they came from, as Poland, the Czech Republic and other countries all claim to have invented these.

4. British Stained Glass Cookies

A few British Stained Glass Traditional Christmas Cookies

Don’t worry, there’s no actual glass in stained glass cookies. These traditional Christmas cookies are often used as a decoration, though. It’s basically a sugar cookie with holes cut into it, where you add crushed candy that’s heated and thus turns into a “pane.” It’s a candy window! Often, a hole is put at the top, and you can put a string through it in order to make them into ornaments for your tree. They’re also edible, so maybe you should eat them instead.

5. Eastern European Rugelach

A front view of several Rugelach

The Jewish pastry Rugelach is not explicitly associated with any holiday or time of year. Despite this, it does seem to become more and more popular as December rolls around, and it often makes an appearance at holiday parties, regardless of the religion of the host. They’re kind of like mini croissants, with dough wrapped around jam, cinnamon, chocolate and nuts. The filling is variable, but the enjoyment is not.

6. Austrian Vanillekipferl

A pan with Vanillekipferl, covered in powdered sugar

These cookies are basically almond-flavored pastry crescents, and while we attribute them to Austria, they’re also popular in Hungary, Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland. The shape is always a crescent, and it is believed to be based on the Turkish crescent moon that you can see on the flag. They were shaped like this to celebrate the Hungarian defeat of the Turkish in one of several battles in the Ottoman-Hungarian Wars. This is clearly not the most holiday-friendly story, but hey, they’re cookies. Vanillekipferl are eaten year-round in Austria, but they’re considered a holiday treat in most other countries.

7. German Zimtsterne

German Zimtsterne, traditional holiday cookies surrounded by traditional holiday decorations

Yes, we chose two cookies from Germany, but trust us, they’re worth it. After all, Germany is famous for traditional Christmases, so they would have the ideal traditional Christmas cookies. Often called cinnamon stars, these cookies made from almonds and cinnamon are a simple joy. They were originally a delicacy because cinnamon was a rare spice in Old Germany. Thus, it’s associated with Christmas because it was the only time people splurged. They’re always shaped like six-pointed stars, so let them light up your dark night.

8. Italian Anginetti

A pile of Italian Anginetti

Italy has no shortage of small cookies for the holiday season, but anginetti is my favorite. They’re pretty typical drop cookies with a slight lemony taste, but there’s something irresistible about the glaze with the sprinkles. The sprinkles also give them a very festive look. They’re a lot less heavy than your average cookie, so you can eat more without feeling guilty!

9. Finnish Joulutorttu

Three Finnish Joulutorttu on a pile of powdered sugar

This is a treat of many names. Joulutorttu literally translates to “Christmas tart,” but they are more commonly known in English as prune tarts. Don’t let that scare you away! Prunes are not always bad, and these cookies prove it. They can also be called pinwheels, which is thanks to their whimsical look that is created by folding the dough in a certain way. They are particularly enjoyable when paired with a cup of coffee.

10. Scottish Shortbread

A close-up of Scottish Shortbread

Shortbread seems like the most boring possible cookie to eat, and that’s what makes it all the more shocking when you remember how delicious and buttery it is. They’re great, whether you make them yourself or you buy them in a tartan tin. This explains their staying power, as they’ve been around since medieval times in Scotland. Their popularity is sometimes credited to Mary, Queen of Scots, who apparently enjoyed them during her reign in the 16th century. This story, while fun, is probably false, however, because these traditional Christmas cookies are predate it.

11. Mexican Biscochitos

A pile of Mexican Biscochitos on a plate

Are those wedding bells I hear? Why no, it’s just biscochitos. These are usually called “Mexican wedding cookies” outside Mexico, and they are indeed most heavily associated with matrimony. That doesn’t mean you can’t have them whenever, though, and they are very nice during cold weather. These tend to be very simple to make, with just flour, nuts and a few other ingredients that are baked and then rolled in powdered sugar.

12. French Madeleines

A basket filled with French Madeleines, not typically considered one traditional Christmas cookies

The French consider madeleines to be a small cake, but for our sakes we’ll call them cookies. These spongy pastries are not for the novice cook, as the recipe is a little complex. Buying them may be the better option. They can be made in a few different flavors, like chocolate and lavender, but lemon ones are the most common. Madeleines are some of the prettiest cookies in existence, so they will work very well for your Instagram. They’re best paired with a cup of tea or another warm drink.

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