Sprucing up a traditional holiday cookie

Too cozy to leave the house? Adapt a cookie recipe with ingredients on hand

Spruce Tip Spritz Cookies. Photo by Amy O’Neill Houck/for The Cordova Times

A couple of weeks ago, a few folks were invited to make cookies with Alyssa Kleissler. She texted us a photo of her mother’s spritz cookie recipe card, written in her mom’s hand, so we could each make a batch of dough.

I love seeing old recipes, and it reminded me that I have a treasure of my grandmother’s recipe box that I haven’t spent enough time with yet. Alyssa makes her spritz cookies exactly the same way each year using the cookie press that belonged to her mother.

Here’s Alyssa’s mom’s recipe:

Cream Cheese Spritz Christmas Trees

  • 1 cup butter (room temperature)
  • 3 oz cream cheese
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg yoke
  • 1 t. vanilla extract
  • 1 t. orange zest
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • 1/4 t. cinnamon
  • 10 drops green food coloring
  • 2 1/2 cups sifted flour

Cream the butter and cheese well. Add sugar gradually and continue creaming. Beat in egg yolk, vanilla, salt, zest, cinnamon and food coloring. Stir in flour. Dough should be firm but not hard. Chill briefly if necessary, to get the right consistency for the cookie press.

Fill cookie press. Form cookies on ungreased cookie sheets. Decorate with colored sugar, cinnamon sugar, chopped almonds, etc. Bake 10-12 minutes at 375F.

Spoiler alert: for someone who writes recipes, I’m not always great at following them. Since it was right after Thanksgiving on Saturday morning, I didn’t intend to get out of my pajamas to go to the store before I made dough. I followed Alyssa’s advice and took butter out of the fridge the night before to warm up, but I didn’t read the recipe until morning, and I ended up adapting it both based on my less than sweet tooth, and the ingredients I had around.


I joke that I live in a house with a Cookie Monster. He loves something a little bit sweet and crunchy to eat with coffee, and coffee happens twice a day. There are endless cookie recipes to choose from, but the Cookie Monster has certain requirements for the elusive coffee cookie: crunchy, simple, not too sweet.

Enter shortbread. Shortbread is maybe the world’s most basic cookie. It has no leavening: no baking soda or baking powder. It requires no eggs. It’s an utterly simple 1:2:3 ratio, i.e. one part sugar, two parts butter, three parts flour. Shortbread is centuries old, and maybe it was even the first “cookie.” It developed from a medieval treat made from leftover bread dough that was twice baked — in fact, the word “biscuit,” which is British for “cookie,” means twice baked — and dredged in sugar. Somewhere along the way, someone had the brilliant idea of adding some butter, and eventually they decided to forgo the yeast entirely and shortbread was born, probably during the era of Mary Queen of Scots.

The shortbread ratio is an amazing starting point for experimentation. You can use different kinds of sweetener. I’ve made honey shortbread. Different kinds of flour — a new favorite is almond-oat shortbread. And different kinds of fat. I recently made an olive oil rosemary shortbread that was delicious.

Alyssa’s spritz recipe has no baking soda or baking powder and has very nearly a shortbread fat-to-flour ratio, so I figured I was in familiar territory and could adapt a little. There’s no cream cheese in our fridge, but there’s a stockpile of goat cheese. It has a similar consistency, and a more complex flavor. I used whole wheat pastry flour instead of all-purpose and adjusted the sugar and spices a wee bit. I also topped my cookies with some spruce sugar I had made in the spring by grinding sugar and spruce tips together and drying the mixture in a food dehydrator.

At the cookie party, we got to work. At first, the dough wasn’t shooting out of the cookie press easily. We adjusted the temperature of the dough, chilling it for a few minutes, and everything started to work fine. With three presses and lots of hands to decorate, it didn’t take long before all the dough was transformed into cookies. Alyssa’s green Christmas trees were delicious. The cream cheese is a perfect complement to the orange zest. My goat cheese spritz cookies were a little tangier and had a different but satisfying crunch. The spruce sugar gave a fun Christmas-y flavor. I sent most of them back to college with my son Theo, so I’m sure I’ll be making both recipes again. Here’s my adaptation.

Spruce Tip Spritz Cookies

  • 1 cup salted butter, room temp
  • 3 oz goat cheese
  • 2/3 cup sugar (scant)
  • 1 egg yoke
  • 1 t. vanilla extract
  • Zest of one orange
  • 1/2 t. cinnamon
  • 2 1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour, sifted.
  • 1/2 cup spruce tip sugar or other cookie toppings

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Cream butter & goat cheese. Add sugar. Beat in egg yolk, vanilla, orange zest, & cinnamon. Add flour gradually. Dough should not be stiff, but should not be sticky. Chill until firm, not hard. Fill a cookie press and extrude shapes. Or roll into balls and press down to make simple circles. Decorate.

Bake about 8 minutes or until edges are golden.

Amy O’Neill Houck is a writer, cook, teacher, and fiber artist. She’s published three books of knitting and crochet designs and writes regularly on foraging and food for Edible Alaska among other publications. You can find her on Instagram @alaskatarian, and her knit and crochet designs are available on Ravelry. She blogs at alaskatarian.com.