[Photograph: Carrie Vasios

It's not enough to show up at a holiday cookie swap, you have to own it. Christmas is all about contests, after all.

You must choose your cookie wisely. Decorated cookies are good, but only if you hold considerable artistic skills. If your cookies are going to come out like this, take another route. And be careful with those rustic drop cookies, which people might subconciously associate with the coal which their parents put in their stockings as a "joke." Gingerbread is great, but will hardly set you apart. And pecan balls? People don't want a poof of powdered sugar flying over their carefully sourced cute-ugly sweaters.

So how about some linzer cookies? They're beautiful, and shaped cookie cutters take the guess work out of making them that way. When people ask you about the recipe, casually mention they're inspired by the original 1653 recipe from Codex 35/31 in the archive of Admont Abbey. What's that subtly nutty taste in the dough? Oh, almond flour. You use it in baking all the time. The spice? Cinnamon, which I hear you smuggled home from a special spice bazar in Morocco wrapped in a bespoke silk shirt.

Once people bite through the slightly crumbly, buttery shortbread, they'll reach the real key to this cookie. Instead of the typical raspberry jam filling, you gave it a twist with cranberry jam. The sweet tart filling brings out the sweetness of the cookie, and makes them a refreshing alternative to the other overly sugary offerings on the table. These days my palate just reaches for a little tart to offset the sweet, you'll say. It's really all about balance.

So go on, be a cookie champion.

Get the Recipe

Cranberry Linzer Cookies »

About the author: Carrie Vasios is the editor of Serious Eats: Sweets. She likes to peruse her large collection of cookbooks while eating jam from the jar. You can follow her on Twitter @carrievasios


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