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Whether you prefer frosted sugar cookies with colorful sprinkles or ginger snaps with just the right amount of spice, everyone has a favorite festive cookie come Christmastime (including Santa, of course). But if you’re looking to really impress family and friends with your holiday baking this year — or you're hoping to map out your next sugar-inspired holiday abroad — consider these 14 crowd-pleasing Christmas cookies from around the world. They’re so scrumptious, you won’t be able to eat just one.
Alfajores, South America
Alfajores are dulce de leche sandwich cookies enjoyed throughout South America, particularly as a Christmastime treat. In a traditional alfajor, you’ll find two crumbly, buttery, shortbread-style cookies sandwiched with dulce de leche (slowly heated, sweetened milk) and rolled in coconut flakes. They're a staple in countries such as Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, and Venezuela, but alfajores are also popular in other parts of the world, including the Philippines, southern France, and Spain. It’s believed the cookie actually originated in the Middle East as far back as the eighth century.
“Rugelach” is Yiddish for “little twists.” These crescent-shaped cookies feature a buttery crust rolled with traditional fillings such as cinnamon, chocolate, apricot jam, dried fruits such as cranberries and raisins, or nuts. Rugelach originated in the Jewish communities of Poland, but the dessert is enjoyed during Christmastime and other places year-round, including Israeli cafes and bakeries.
Nanaimo Bars, Canada
If you’re into decadent, chocolatey desserts, nanaimo bars are a welcome bonus of spending Christmas in Canada. The square-shaped dessert originated in the quiet, ferry port city of Nanaimo, British Columbia, on the eastern shore of Vancouver Island. A traditional nanaimo bar consists of three layers: rich chocolate ganache, yellow custard, and crumbly coconut-graham crust. You’ll need only one bar to satisfy your sweet tooth for a few days, as this is one heavy dessert that Canadians crave year-round — but especially at Christmas.
You might think it takes careful hands to expertly pipe icing swirls and sugar-glue gumdrops on a gingerbread house, but that’s nothing compared to the finesse of Hungarian bakers who have mastered the art of the mézeskalác, or Hungarian gingerbread. Traditionally made with Hungarian honey instead of ginger, mézeskalác is brushed with food coloring and egg yolk (to give it a gingerbread-like appearance) and then decorated ornately in white icing. The mathematical precision of the intricate patterns — birds, hearts, flowers, and other motifs in Hungarian folk art — makes this cookie almost too beautiful to eat.
Chocolate Pepper Cookies, South Africa
Don't knock 'em until you’ve tried them: Chocolate pepper cookies are a popular Christmas treat in Cape Town, South Africa. Ground black pepper adds a bold twist to an otherwise traditional chocolate cookie and surprisingly enhances the rich cocoa flavor. Not only are they easy to make, but they also might just convince your friends you're a mastermind of baking with spices.
Scones are always welcome with afternoon tea in the U.K., but during the holidays, a tin of “shorties” (short for "shortbread") makes for a sweet Christmas gift instead. Scottish shortbread is a traditional biscuit (the British term for cookie) that originated during medieval times from leftover bread dough that was dried out until it hardened. The yeast in that recipe eventually was replaced with butter — creating the buttery, crumbly cookie we love today.
Sweet potato pie lovers may enjoy the warm sweet potato cookies known as mbatata in Malawi. Typically shaped into hearts, mbatata are made from roasted (or boiled) and peeled sweet potatoes, which are then mashed and mixed with a batter of raisins, cinnamon, sugar, egg, melted butter, milk, and flour. Mbatata are best right out of the oven, when they’re still decadently chewy and moist.
Italians have a way with desserts, but out of all the sumptuous options, pizzelle — crispy, wafer-thin waffle cookies — are extra-deserving of your attention (and taste buds). Made from flour, eggs, butter (or vegetable oil), and sugar, pizzelle are also rolled up and used to make cannolis. Arguably the “world’s oldest cookie,” pizzelle typically come in chocolate, peppermint, lemon, vanilla, and anise (black licorice) flavors, and bear family crests passed down for generations. Snowflake-like patterns make this simple cookie a stunning treat around Christmastime.
Linzer Cookies, Austria
Derived from the Austrian linzer torte, a pastry with latticed dough over a tart jam filling, linzer cookies are just as tasty — but fortunately a little easier to bake. Named for the city of Linz, linzer cookies are made from two buttery shortbread cookies sandwiched with jam filling (often red currant or raspberry) and dusted in confectioners’ sugar. You can make them extra-festive by cutting out a tiny shape in the top cookie layer so that the bright red jam peeps through.
Anzac Biscuits, Australia and New Zealand
Oatmeal cookies are popular with raisins or chocolate chips in the U.S., but in the Land Down Under, Aussies and Kiwis prefer baking their biscuits with rolled oats mixed with butter, golden syrup, and finely ground coconut. Anzac biscuits are primarily enjoyed during Anzac Day, the joint public holiday between Australia and New Zealand, held every April to commemorate the Gallipoli landings during World War I. But they are also popular at Christmastime and can be chewy or baked until crunchy.
You might already be familiar with pryaniki as Russian tea cakes or “snowballs,” which have become popular in the U.S. during the holiday season. Traditional in Russia and its neighboring countries of Belarus, Poland, and Ukraine, pryaniki are round, dry, honey spice cookies that often feature vanilla, allspice, nutmeg, anise, and sometimes even coffee. Their typical powdered-sugar coating creates a snowball-like appearance.
Mantecaditos, Puerto Rico
Similar in concept to linzer cookies, mantecaditos also consist of two shortbread cookies and a jam center, but instead of a tart, berry-flavored filling, these Christmas cookies popular in Puerto Rico include guava paste or rainbow sprinkles. Mantecaditos also use lard and almond extract for a thicker, more decadent dough.
Joulutorttu, also known as Finnish Christmas stars, might be the prettiest cookies on our list. Folding the dough to make these scrumptious, pinwheel-shaped tarts is no easy feat, but the effort will no doubt impress your holiday guests. Traditionally made with ricotta and prune jam filling, joulutorttu are a Finnish favorite throughout the holiday season.
Melomakarona cookies might make your entire home smell like Christmas when they come out of the oven. A combination of the Greek words meli, for “honey,” and makarona, for “blessed,” melomakarona are made using orange juice, orange zest, cognac, cinnamon, clove, vanilla, oil, and flour. Then, they’re baked and drenched in a honey syrup mixed from scratch. Garnish with walnuts for a traditional take on this treat — trust us, you won’t be able to eat just one.