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Special cookies for the holidays

When I think of holiday food, cookies are the first thing that comes to mind.

That’s probably because everybody loves cookies, myself included.

Every December, my mom filled up our kitchen with comforting wafts of clarified butter, caramel, toasted nuts and an assortment of exotic spices. I was convinced the mingling of those aromas was the actual smell of love.

My mom’s holiday cookie repertoire was fairly extensive — pralines, snicker doodles, lemon or orange snowballs, pumpkin drop cookies, fruit-and-nut bars, divinity, thumbprint cookies filled with jam or pieces of chocolate, butterscotch noodle clusters and iced cookies sprinkled with colored sugar. And that doesn’t include candies and different sorts of fudge.

I learned from her that having a trusted holiday cookie recipe, along with the ingredients on hand, helps manage stress when you’re suddenly expected to participate in an office carry-in, make treats for a school party or bring a dish to an open house.

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If you don’t have a holiday standby, consider the following recipe. You can make and decorate several dozen cookies in a little more than an hour. The cardamom and crystallized ginger play off each other very nicely, and the walnuts add richness and texture. Plus, the vanilla morsel icing is so simple to prepare and makes the cookies pretty.

In case you already have some favorite holiday cookie recipes, remember there’s always room for one more.

WALNUT-TOPPED GINGER DROP COOKIES

Makes 42 cookies

½ cup packed brown sugar

½ cup butter, softened

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 large egg

2 cups all-purpose flour

¼ cup half-and-half

3 tablespoons finely chopped crystallized ginger

½ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon table salt

½ teaspoon ground cardamom

42 walnut halves

3 tablespoons white vanilla morsels

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Beat the brown sugar and butter at medium speed with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Beat in the vanilla and egg. Beat in the remaining ingredients except the walnuts and white vanilla morsels at low speed until well blended.

2. Drop the dough by rounded tablespoonfuls 2 inches apart onto ungreased baking sheets. Press 1 walnut half onto each cookie.

3. Bake at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 6 to 9 minutes or until the edges are set and light golden brown. Immediately transfer to wire racks, and cool completely (about 20 minutes).

4. Place the white vanilla morsels in a small zip-top plastic freezer bag; seal the bag. Microwave at high 30 to 45 seconds or until softened. Squeeze the bag until morsels are smooth. Snip off 1 corner of the bag to make a small hole; squeeze the bag to drizzle melted morsels over the cookies.

Our assessment: The half-and-half gives this cookie a luxurious flavor and texture. For icing the cookies, try to snip the smallest possible bit out of the corner of the baggie. If you want a thicker piping, you can always snip it again. If you’re concerned about nut allergies, just leave off the walnut half.

From the book: “Christmas Cookie Swap!: More Than 100 Treats to Share This Holiday Season” edited by Nicole Fisher; 256 pages, $19.95. Published by Oxmoor, 2016.

What you get: Chapters cover Christmas cookie basics, cookies for Santa, decorated cookies, Christmas classics, brownies and bars, and confections.

In her own words: “Nothing compares to a homemade gift, especially when it comes from a warm oven.” — Nicole Fisher

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