Choosy Beggars Rate: Christmas Cookies, Part 1

As we close in on the home stretch of the Christmas season, there are a few things that you can absolutely rely upon:

  • Last-minute bulletins from the HR department about how the 24th is a full working day after all,
  • The sudden horrible realization that you will not, in fact, be able to do all your Christmas shopping over Wednesday’s lunch break,
  • Your stove will choose the hours between December 20th and 31st to cast aside the shackles of “temperature” and adopt a more expressive form of baking your cookies.

And most of all, that the middle of December is a non-stop parade of baking:  baking for charity sales, baking for get-togethers, baking for potlucks, baking for friends and neighbors and contemporaries and well-wishers, baking until you’ve forgotten how to do anything else.

Which is great, of course — putting together massive arrays of sweet treats for those you love, work with, care about and pass on the street sometimes is all part of the season.  It’s a bit stressful, but at the same time all part of the enjoyable kitchen therapy that makes up Christmas… sweet, waist-line expanding Christmas.

To help guide you in this year’s baking efforts, we at Choosy Beggars have taken a look at some of the classic Christmas cookies.  So sit back and join us as…

The Beggars Rate Common Christmas Cookies

Nanaimo bars

Nanaimo bars are a dessert that’s branching out into non-Holiday time periods, but everyone knows that they taste better at Christmas.  Though they’re pretty common at any gathering, they’re also always all gone by the end of the party, no matter how soft they’ve gotten.

Indeed, it’s what makes them so sensitive to temperature — the chocolate, the sugar, and the butter (so much butter) — that makes them so consistently popular.  Best of all, they appear to be catching on only recently in other parts of the world, so depending on where you live, these might actually make you a trendsetter.

Nanaimo bars also display many of the properties of bacon, insofar as their powers to tempt the otherwise pure and aloof.  Those who would normally pass up dessert will still find themselves suddenly staring at a nanimo bar on their plate; those who generally despise coconut will hear someone saying that it’s okay you can’t really taste it, before realizing that voice is their own.  If for no other reason than this near-Satanic power to corrupt, this is a dessert to be admired.

Plus, when you’ve decided to commit suicide with sugar, they are extremely good at the bottom of a bowl of ice cream.  We want you to think about that.

Grade:  A+


Gingerbread men are about as synonymous with Christmas as sleighbells or caroling, aren’t they?  So it’s amazing how few people actually bother to make gingerbread any more.

Is it that it’s too ordinary, too brown, too easy to dry out into little slabs of toasted skin?  It’s hard to say, but the upside is impossible to resist:  when they’re done well, the lovely molasses-y bittersweetness, bright ginger and a smooth cookie texture can put even the most elaborate creamed cheese cupcake to shame.

On the other hand, it seems that decades of tradition have made it impossible to present gingerbread in a non-adorable form.  This burdens any baker with the loathsome obligation of keeping all the limbs on their gingerbread men/cats/horses/racecars/Batmans from falling off before anyone gets to see them, which greatly depresses the creative spirit.

Rating: B

Pillsbury pre-decorated cookie tubes

You know the ones.  Wow, there is nothing that says, “Oh shit, was that thing happening tomorrow?” quite like showing up with a plate full of these, is there?

Look, we appreciate the need for shortcuts every now and again, and there isn’t anything particularly awful about Pillsbury cookie tubes either.  They deliver exactly what they promise, which is a festively-themed sugar cookie with some vaguely-realized Christmas-esque image painted in the center.

But at the same time, signing up for cookies at the office potluck and then bringing a plate full of these is like offering to bring cutlery, and then just pulling all the discarded take-out forks from the bottom of your filing cabinet.  Sometimes minimal effort conveys a worse message than no effort at all.

Plus, half the time the faces come out all incomplete or distorted, and a howling snowman with no nose is not very fa-la-la-la-la.

Rating: D-

“Holiday” Chocolate Chip Cookies

Some cookies are always going to be good, it doesn’t matter when you make them or what the occasion.  They come from a well-established recipe, you’re well-practiced at making them, and the result is consistently great.  It’s a no-risk, can’t-lose, crowd-pleasing favorite, so why mess with it?

Such is the case with chocolate chip cookies at Christmas time, but for some weird reason they’re just never as popular.  Is it because there are other more exotic desserts vying for attention?  Or is it because chocolate chip cookies are like the person who decided they didn’t need to dress up for the Hallowe’en party — there’s nothing wrong with them, but they’re definitely out of place… and frankly they’re making everyone a little uncomfortable.

“Holiday” adaptations of the chocolate chipper go some way to addressing this, by adding Christmas M&Ms or Skor bits, for instance.  This ends up making them the (to stretch the Hallowe’en metaphor) girl-who-dons-bunny-ears or the dude-who-wears-a-hockey-jersey of cookies — ones who will make a token gesture toward playing along, but only so you’ll shut up about it and leave them alone.

Rating: C+

Butter tart squares

Butter tarts are another one of those Canadian things that we’ve claimed as a national dessert (indeed, Googling for them will turn up as many Canada Day recipes as Christmas ones).   A truly great butter tart is caramelly, burnt-sugary and messy, with a crumbly shortbread cup only barely supporting its contents.  It should be accompanied by one of those capes you get to wear at the barber, such are its hazards (well worth it as they are) to your cleanliness.

So, naturally, the logical thing to do with such a treat is weaponize it down to tiny squares, right?

The answer, sadly, is ONLY SORT OF.  Great butter tart squares will preserve the gooey-butter part while spreading it out on a more solid base; bad butter tart squares will spread the goo part too thin and turn it into sugar paste.  Plus, shortbread gives people trouble.  You know it does.

Uncertainly is not alien to any cookie table, but there are multiple points of crisis for butter tart squares in particular — most terrifying of all, you don’t know whether you got a good or bad one until it’s in your mouth, with the baker making full eye contact with you, their eyes full of hope and enthusiasm.

And nobody needs to deal with that when they’re rushing the dessert table while everyone else is still eating lunch.  That just ruins the fun.

Rating: B-

Holiday baking is a noble pursuit, but it doesn’t always feel that way at 12:30 in the morning when you’re only halfway through your batches.  Just remember that you’re doing it out of the goodness of your heart, you’re spreading the joy of the season and — most important of all — people will be judging you constantly.


  • Martin

    This is a bit off topic, but the Pillsbury cookie tubes reminded me of one of the creepiest foods ever. I look into the face of evil once a week while waiting at the counter for our mortadella (the deli meat of death) …. Our local store sells Happy Clown Lunch Meat. Every slice has a face.

    • Nicole

      Welp, I googled it. And yeah that’s… pretty horrifying.


      • Mike

        God damn it, who is that supposed to be fun for? Little kids? I would have screaming nightmares if I opened up my sandwich and saw a clown face — with a bite taken out of it — staring back at me.


      • Lauren

        That’s like the worst thing ever invented. Seriously

        • Hellcat13

          I just physically recoiled when I opened that link. OH MY GOD.

      • April G.

        What?! NO! Dear God. That is horrifying.

  • Mike B.

    Do you have a recipe for butter tart squares? Particularly, the butter tart squares in that photo? Because I’m pretty sure I can make those deliciously, if only I had the steps.

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  • Rebecca

    I got some dark chocolate and mint chocolate chips and made mint chocolate chip cookies — basically regular chocolate chip cookies with cocoa powder in the dough. Somehow the mint flavor seemed to make it extra festive! Normally I wouldn’t make chocolate chip cookies, but chocolate and mint always seems to mean Christmas!

  • Niki

    I’ve never heard of the nanaimo bars. They look divine. This also reminds me I have to start shopping for my baking next week. So far I have planned pumpkin chocolate chip cookies, caramel pumpkin pie cookies, homemade marshmallows, lemon cookies, spritz cookies since I’ve unearthed the cookie press), feather gingerbread (more Guinness!) and Guinness applesauce cake.

  • Elise

    I haven’t heard of nanaimo bars either – are they a Canadian thing? I’m down here in the States. They look awesome though, I’m going to have to find a recipe! So far I’ve made salted butter chocolate chip cookies with toasted pecans, sugar cookies with royal icing and colored sugar, and strawberry cupcakes. Definitely not enough holiday baking yet!

  • JennyM

    I’ve never heard of a Nanaimo Bar, but for the love of all that is holy, I must have one. That looks like gooey, chocolate-y perfection, and when crunch time at work really hits next week, I can see myself sitting under my desk, rocking back and forth, smeared with those.

  • Mike

    Oh, you poor souls. It would appear a nanaimo bar recipe is in the offing!

  • Niki

    Yes, please. I can always use more chocolate crack recipes.