Speculoos from Almondine
The speculoos ($8 for 13) from Almondine are low in sugar, relying on spices like cinnamon, nutmeg to provide sweetness. We got some exotic flavors that we couldn't quite place (anise? white pepper? cardamom?), enough to keep us coming back for more. These are best with tea or coffee.
Original and Chocolate Lebkuchen from Leckerlee at the Columbus Circle Holiday Market
When former finance worker Sandy Lee moved to Berlin in 2009, she wasn't sure what her next career move would be. But she soon found fate in the form of a cookie: specifically lebkuchen, a traditional cakey gingerbread cookie fragrant with spices, honey and candied citrus peel. Lee brought her painstakingly-researched lebkuchen recipe back to the States with her, and is selling both an original, almond-topped as well as a dark chocolate-dipped variety ($4.50 per cookie) at this year's holiday market at Columbus Circle. The cookies are incredibly moist, not too sweet, and taste quintessentially of Christmas—and it doesn't hurt that they're darned pretty, too.
Savory Ginger Shortbread from Sullivan Street Bakery
Sullivan Street Bakery might be famous for owner Jim Lahey's creative pizzas and his internet-viral no-knead bread recipe, but it offers some darn fine cookies, too. The festive, sparkly savory ginger shortbread ($1 each) looks ordinary, but doesn't disappoint: a bite reveals a crumbly, butter-rich texture and a not-too-sweet flavor redolent of ginger and cloves.
Cherry Biscotti from Rocco's in the West Village
Pasticceria Rocco has been a West Village fixture since it opened on Bleecker Street in the '70s, and its huge pastry case filled with brightly colored cookies, cannolis and flaky cream-filled pastries is a welcome sight for any sweets lover. Sweets maven Carrie, a native New Yorker, tipped us off to the bakery's very traditional holiday biscotti, studded with dyed red-and-green maraschino cherries ($12.50 per pound). Carrie writes:
"My mom and I are obsessed with these cookies, but to be fair, they're old school. The cookie is not very sweet and a little dry, and the fruit is brightly colored. But that's the way I like them."
What Carrie doesn't mention? These cookies have a wonderful, almondy perfume and a satisfyingly soft, crumbly texture. They might be old school, but, as Carrie says, that's how we like 'em.
Holiday Macarons from Payard Patisserie
Macaron titan Payard is offering three holiday flavors this season: roasted chestnut, mandarin orange, and gingerbread ($2.25 per cookie). On a recent visit, only the first two flavors were available: the sherbet-colored mandarin orange features a soft, shattering cookie and a buttery, citrusy filling, while the lime-green chestnut variety sandwiches fluffy, nutty filling between two moist cookies flavored with pistachios.
Snowflake Cookies from Bouchon Bakery
Bouchon Bakery usually rolls out a simple iced butter cookie for seasonal holidays and these snowflakes ($3.25 for three) don't disappoint. A gently spiced, buttery cookie comes with thin, snappy, not too sweet icing for a taste of what holiday cookies should be all about: simple and satisfying, not overwhelming.
I Heart NY Gingerbead Men from Balthazar Bakery
These pudgy gingerbread men have a more caramelized, burnished flavor than your average cookie, and the snappy fondant t-shirt isn't cloying. At $5 each, the cookies aren't cheap, but they're large enough to share and make as good an edible souvenir as any.