For many people, the Yuletide season is all about the cookie ­exchange! The challenge is to find something new and exciting to bake each year. Here’s a twist on cookies from around the world—with German, Tuscan and Czech influences that will add international flavor to your holiday baking. 

Czech Orange-Gingerbread Cookies 

These spicy cookies are flavored with honey, cinnamon, ginger, allspice and cloves. Typically baked with lemon zest, we brightened up the recipe for the holidays with a little orange zest and juice instead. 

For the cookies…

1½ cups all-purpose flour 
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon ground allspice
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon baking soda
1 Tablespoon honey
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 teaspoons fresh orange zest
2 Tablespoons orange juice
2 Tablespoons melted butter

For the sugar glaze icing…

1 cup confectioners’ sugar
2 Tablespoons water or milk

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Combine the flour, sugar, cinnamon, ginger, allspice, cloves and baking soda in a bowl. Stir to mix well. Add the honey, egg, orange zest, orange juice and butter. Mix until a dough is formed. Pat together to form a ball. Place on a floured surface, and roll the dough to about one-quarter-inch thick. Cut out round shapes about two inches in diameter, and place them on the lined baking sheet two inches apart. Bake 15 minutes or until the cookies are firm to the touch. Watch to see that they do not burn. Remove the cookies from the oven, and cool them on the baking tray before moving them to a wire rack. Make the glaze when you are ready to decorate.

To make the glaze: Combine both ingredients in a bowl until smooth. Add more sugar or water to achieve a consistency that can be shaped. Then decorate the cookies with wavy lines. (Note: If you prefer, you can buy a tube of white decorating icing in the supermarket.) 

The cookies will keep one to two days in an airtight container or freeze. Makes 24 cookies.

Spritz Cookies with Sprinkles

These simple but delicious butter cookies are traditional ­Scandinavian Christmas cookies—taken to the next level with the addition of ground walnuts. The name comes from the German “spritzen,” meaning “to squirt,” because the fancy shapes are created by squeezing the dough through a cookie press. Cookie presses are available starting at about $20 and come with templates and discs in the shape of stars, crescents, wreaths, etc. Electric cookie presses are easier to use but typically cost $80 and up. 

1 cup butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 egg
4 ounces preground walnuts or ­hazelnuts (or you can grind the nuts yourself in a food processor) 
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 small container each, red and green decorating sprinkles

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Cream the butter and sugar together until smooth. Beat in the egg. Add the nuts and vanilla extract, then beat until creamy. Slowly add in the flour just until it is combined.

Chill the dough for about 30 to 40 minutes. Press the dough through a cookie press onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Traditional spritz cookies are made using a round or star-shaped cookie disc, but you can use any festive-shaped disc you have. 

Bake for seven to eight minutes, or until the cookies are set and golden. Carefully remove the cookies to a wire rack, and gently press a small indentation in the center using your finger while the cookies still are warm and soft. Sprinkle them with the red and green sprinkles, allowing most of the sprinkles to pool in the indentation. You can store the cookies in an airtight container for three to four days or freeze. Makes about 24 cookies. 

Double-Chocolate Candy Cane Cookies

The first red-and-white candy canes ­debuted in the US at the turn of the 19th century and remain a tasty symbol of the Christmas season. Why not add their pepperminty goodness to your cookies, too? These rich chocolate cookies are soft and creamy on the inside and topped with crunchy candy cane bits. 

½ cup butter, at room temperature
¾ cup sugar
1 egg
½ teaspoon peppermint extract
1¼ cups all-purpose flour
⅓ cup cocoa powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon baking powder
2 candy canes, crushed (to make ¼ cup) (Note: To crush candy canes, place in a self-seal plastic bag and press down with a meat bat or the bottom of a heavy skillet.)
½ cup semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about two to three minutes. Add the egg and peppermint extract. Continue to beat until both are incorporated into the mixture. Sift the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and baking powder together in a large bowl. With the mixer at a low speed, slowly add the flour mixture until fully combined. Add half the crushed candy canes and half the chocolate chips. Mix well. Cover the bowl, and refrigerate for 10 minutes. 

Remove the dough from the refrigerator, and form into small balls about one inch in diameter. You can use a melon baller if you wish. Place the balls on a parchment-lined baking sheet, about two inches apart. Gently press the remaining chocolate chips into the top of the balls. They flatten on their own while baking. Bake 12 minutes. Remove from the oven, and gently press the remaining crushed candy canes on top. Remove to a wire rack to cool. The cookies can be kept in an airtight container three to four days or freeze. Makes 24 cookies. 

Candied Fruit Florentines

These crisp, thin, delicate almond cookies are a Christmas classic in Italy, but you can make them even more special with glacé (candied) cherries and a chocolate layer on the bottom. 

¼ pound butter, at room temperature
½ cup sugar
⅓ cup glacé cherries, quartered
½ cup sliced almonds
1¼ cups slivered almonds
Zest of one orange (about ¼ cup) 
1 Tablespoon heavy cream
⅓ cup all-purpose flour
8 ounces semisweet chocolate

Preheat the oven to 350°F. In a large bowl, melt the butter gently just to barely melt it. With a large spoon, stir in the sugar, then the cherries, the sliced and the slivered almonds, orange zest, heavy cream and flour. Mix gently and cool. Drop tablespoonfuls of dough onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake 10 minutes. Remove from the oven, and with a round cookie cutter or knife, quickly reshape to form a round cookie. Return the cookies to the oven, and continue to bake until they are golden in color, about two minutes. Watch carefully to make sure they do not burn. 

Remove the cookies from the oven, and reshape. Place on a wire rack to cool and harden. Melt the chocolate either in a saucepan or for two minutes in a ­microwave. Turn the Florentines over, and brush chocolate onto the flat side. (This also can be done by spreading the chocolate with the back of a teaspoon.) Place the cookies upside down on the wire rack to allow the chocolate to harden. Store one week in an airtight container or freeze. Makes 40 Florentines. 

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