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Santa Cookies On a Budget: 4 Shortcuts That Will Save You Time and Money

photo: dktrpepr

‘Tis the season for baking cookies — and if you’re not participating in a swap, making enough different varieties for a Santa-worthy plate can certainly take what seems like an entire season in the kitchen.

Frugal Foodie made half a dozen different varieties this past weekend. Total kitchen time: less than an hour and a half. Total bill: just under $20. Her big secret is a base cookie recipe that, divided, easily makes at least a dozen each of three different varieties. Two batches and she had enough for a huge holiday party platter plus plates for her office and a handful of friends.

Here’s her recipe, plus three other basics with twists from chefs and home cooks. (If you’re looking for treats that have gourmet appeal and reduced calories, check out Self magazine’s “1 Cookie 5 Ways” feature.) These will help you turn kitchen time into more free time for caroling, present-wrapping and other cheap holiday fun:

Soft Chocolate Chip

From: Frugal Foodie

Cream together two softened sticks of unsalted butter with one and a half cups packed dark brown sugar. Mix in two 3.4-ounce packets of instant vanilla pudding, Add two teaspoons vanilla extract and then four eggs, one at a time. In a separate bowl, mix together four cups of flour and two teaspoons baking soda. Gradually add flour mixture to the bowl of other ingredients. Work in one bag of semisweet chocolate chips. Bake cookies at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes. Variations:

  • Brown sugar cookies. Omit the chocolate chips and add flour until dough is less sticky (about one quarter to a half of a cup). Chill dough and then roll out into thin sheet. Cut with cookie cutters.
  • Snickerdoodles. Omit the chocolate chips and add a tablespoon cinnamon to the dough. In a separate bowl, mix cinnamon and sugar to taste. Roll out small balls of dough and press one side of each ball into the cinnamon sugar mix. Place sugar side up on cookie sheets.
  • Chocolate mint chip. Swap chocolate instant pudding for the vanilla pudding, and add two teaspoons unsweetened chocolate powder and two teaspoons mint extract.
  • Chocolate peanut butter. Swap chocolate instant pudding for the vanilla pudding, and add two teaspoons unsweetened chocolate powder. Swap peanut butter chips for the chocolate ones.
  • Salted chocolate. Swap chocolate instant pudding for the vanilla pudding, and add two teaspoons unsweetened chocolate powder. Use chopped dark chocolate kisses instead of chips. Sprinkle a little sea salt on top of cookies before baking.

High Tea Cookies

From: Little Wheels Catering in Sydney, Australia

“One of our most request and talked about items are our cookies,” says owner Sarah Morrison, who uses a base sugar cookie recipe: Place one stick of softened butter and a quarter cup castor sugar in a bowl and beat until light and creamy. Add a teaspoon vanilla extract and one lightly beaten egg and stir to combine. In a separate bowl, sift together a cup and a half of flour, a half-teaspoon baking powder and a pinch of salt. Work into wet mixture until just combined. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes. To vary, add a cup and a half of mix-ins. Pretty much any fruit and nuts will work, Morrison says. Her variations:

  • Chocolate chip. Add a cup and a half of chocolate chips.
  • Chocolate cherry. Add a cup of chocolate bits and a half cup dried cherries.
  • White chocolate and macadamia. Add a cup white chocolate bits and a half cup macadamia nuts.
  • Oat cookies. Instead of using a cup and a half of flour in the recipe, use a cup of flour and a half cup of oats.
  • Oat cherry. Instead of using a cup and a half of flour in the recipe, use a cup of flour and a half cup of oats. Add a cup and a half of dried cherries.

Shortbread

From: Sarah Anderson of Millersville, Md.

Start with one of the basic recipes available online: Cream together two cups butter and one cup packed brown sugar. Add roughly three and a half cups flour. Knead together; roll out on a floured board to a half-inch thickness. Cut into strips and bake at 325 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes. Anderson suggests going light on the flour so that the dough is more pliable, and then adding whatever mix-ins your imagination can come up with, from cocoa powder to cinnamon candies to nuts. “So far this year we’ve done chocolate with almond, and chocolate with candy canes,” she says. (If you do use candies in the dough, line the pans with parchment paper.)
A few of her favorite versions:

  • Christmas croutons. Knead in red and green sprinkles. Cut into cubes before baking.
  • Chocolate dipped. Dip half of each baked cookie into melted chocolate. “One nice design is to make bells, dip the bottom edge in white chocolate, and sprinkle it with chopped pistachios before it sets,” Anderson says.
  • Homemade Twix. “We got ice trays that make long, thin ‘cubes’ to drop into water bottles and painted the bottom and sides of each section with melted chocolate,” she says. “Once it set, we added caramel and long strips of shortbread, and added more chocolate to seal them.”

Oatmeal Raisin

From: Michelle Gillette, a Brightwaters, N.Y.-based chef and kids-culinary instructor

Sift together three-quarters of a cup flour and a half-teaspoon baking soda. Stir in one cup uncooked oats and a half-teaspoon salt. In a separate bowl, cream together a half-cup of softened butter, six tablespoons white sugar and a half-cup of packed brown sugar. Add one egg and a half-teaspoon vanilla extract and beat until smooth. Add dry mixture along with a tablespoon of water and mix. Add a half-cup of seedless raisins. Bake cookies at 325 degrees for 10 t0 12 minutes. Variations:

  • Chocolate raisin. Instead of a half-cup of raisins, add a quarter cup each of raisins and chocolate chips.
  • Oat nut. Sub in walnuts for the raisins.
  • Peanut butter chocolate. Sub in a half-cup of chocolate and peanut butter chips for the raisins.

Frugal Foodie is a journalist based in New York City who spends her days writing about personal finance and obsessing about what she’ll have for dinner. Chat with her on Twitter through @MintFoodie.