When creating the perfect holiday cookie box, don’t mix savory and sweet

Written by Danielle Chiriguayo and Amy Ta, produced by Michell Eloy

The holidays are a time for giving cookies and other baked goods to friends, family, coworkers and others in your life. Spicy gingerbread, frosted sugar cookies, crispy shortbread and jammy rugelach are all classics this time of year. New York Times food columnist Melissa Clark offers a guide on assembling the perfect cookie box, even in these COVID times. 

Fun is key, she says. “It’s really all about you and your family having a good time putting these together. The second you are laid out on the floor surrounded by all-purpose flour, wanting to cry into that edible glitter, you’ve gone too far.” 

Clark says gingerbread is the number one cookie she always includes in her gift box. “That's what says holiday cookies more than any other kind of cookie. Because as much as I love a chocolate chip cookie, which I do, it doesn't say holiday. Chocolate chip cookies are all year long. Gingerbread are the holidays.”

She notes that due to their crisp bake, gingerbread cookies can often stay fresh until January. 

She also often makes brownies and tops them with crushed candy canes or coarse sea salt. Brownies can last for longer than other cookies because of their high moisture content, she says. 

Spritz cookies are also recommended. Clark says it’s easy to make dozens of them in about 30 minutes. Clark warns that they are delicate, so they might not hold up for shipping. 

She notes it’s important to select your box carefully — sample boxes work well — and fill them all the way to the top. 

“Fill your box snugly. … The boxes aren't huge, but it doesn't matter because you're giving someone something that you've made yourself. So even if they're just little boxes, they still will pack a wallop of delight.”

Avoid holiday cookie flops

Clark warns against placing strong flavored cookies or crackers in a box with delicate baked goods. 

She recalls one year she made cheddar and cayenne cheese pennies — biscuits that are similar in consistency to shortbread. Despite how great they tasted, she placed them in a box with gingerbread and butter cookies. 

“Don’t mix savory and sweet. If you do, mark it off, so everyone is super clear on what is what. I know that there were some children who cried when they ate those cookies,” Clark says. 

She also recommends packing cookie gifts snuggly if you’re planning to ship them or travel around delivering them. 

“If you're going to put them in your car and drive them somewhere, don't put them in the trunk. Really make sure that they are in a safe place so that they arrive in nice conditions, and you don't give people crumbs.”

She notes if you want to mail baked goods, send them priority overnight to ensure they’re fresh and arrive on time.