‘Tis the season for sharing home-baked treats! This year we partnered with some of our favorite bakers to create the ultimate holiday cookie swap. See them all here, then follow along and show us your own holiday cookies on Instagram @williamssonoma with the hashtag #wscookieswap.
Meet Yossy Arefi, the food stylist, photographer and baker behind the pies, cakes, breads and snacks that fill her blog, Apt. 2B Baking Co. Here, she tells us all about what she’s baking this season, her best cookie tips, and what’s in her ideal holiday cookie tin. Read on, and try her rich, chewy Brown Butter Blondies with Cherries, Chocolate, Cashews and Pecans!
What are some of your favorite holiday baking traditions?
I love to bake up a couple of batches of my favorite treats and bag them up into individual-sized portions for casual gifts. I carry the little bags around with me so when I meet friends for coffee or a drink around the holidays I can give them a little homemade treat.
What flavors are best for baking this time of year?
Winter is citrus season and I really enjoy utilizing the bright flavors of citrus in my winter treats, but rich dark chocolate is a very, very close second.
Let’s talk cookies. What are your top tips for making the best batch every time?
Accurate measuring and oven temperature make all the difference when you are baking. These days, I use a simple, inexpensive digital scale to measure my ingredients most of the time to ensure consistency. You can pick up an oven thermometer at any kitchen shop, and you may be shocked how off your oven temperature is the first time you use it.
Any creative cookie decorating ideas?
I am a traditionalist when it comes to decorating holiday cookies so I usually reach for simple royal icing and sparkling sanding sugar. India Tree also makes some really beautiful sprinkles and things if you’d like to get a little more fancy.
When it comes to holiday cookies, do you stick to tradition or try to experiment?
I have a few standby recipes that I make every year: buckwheat cookies with cocoa nibs, jam thumbprints, sugar snowflakes and rich chocolate brownies are all favorites. Then, I always leave room to try out a new recipe or two. The good ones get put into the permanent rotation. Oh, and eating cookies for breakfast at least once is also a very important tradition.
Any memorable cookie baking disasters?
I have thankfully avoided full-on cookie disasters, but every once and awhile I forget to put the leavening in cookies which is a real bummer…
What’s in your ideal cookie tin?
I think an ideal cookie tin is all about the right combination of textures and flavors. At the very least, there should be a crisp and buttery cookie, a rich and chewy cookie, a cookie packed full of nuts and/or chocolate and a bright and citrusy cookie. I also like to tuck homemade marshmallows or caramels in my cookie tins to switch things up a bit.
Can you share any fun presentation/gift wrapping ideas for cookies?
I like to use really simple materials to package my holiday cookies. I reach for natural colored parchment paper or clear glassine bags tied with natural twine. Then, I tuck a little sprig of something evergreen into the bow to make things a little more festive.
Tell us about the recipe we’re sharing, Brown Butter Blondies with Cherries, Chocolate, Cashews & Pecans. What was your inspiration? What’s special about the recipe?
I wanted to make a bar cookie that was undeniably rich; the kind of treat where you just need a little square to satisfy. The combination of browned butter, nuts, cherries and chocolate may sound a little overkill, and it kind of is, in the best possible way. They also freeze really well, and taste great frozen if you are into that sort of thing.
Any tips for people making these cookies? Creative twists or other ideas?
Feel free to substitute any other combination of dried fruit and nuts that sounds tasty to you: cranberries or sliced dried apricots with walnuts, hazelnuts and high quality white chocolate chips sounds pretty good to me.
What’s your favorite way to enjoy them?
I think these cookies are best served in small squares with coffee or tea, or maybe even for breakfast. It is the holidays after all.