Red hot velvet meltaways.
Red hot velvet meltaways. (Matthew Mead)

Looking for a new take on holiday cookies? Try these easy treats, each one a twist on another goodie. Your sugar-loving loved ones will be thrilled.

ROCKY ROAD CLUSTERS

Whether you eat it as ice cream, brownies or fudge, rocky road is a flavor that's hard not to love. Chocolate, nuts and marshmallow combine to create an over-the-top combination that has been well-loved for many generations. So we opted to remake it as a no-bake cluster cookie that is an easy addition to the holiday cookie platter. Crushed chocolate sandwich cookies are mixed with marshmallows and almonds then held together with melted chocolate. Recipe by Alison Ladman, The Associated Press. Makes 3 dozen.

Rocky road clusters
Rocky road clusters (Matthew Mead)

Ingredients

18 cream-filled chocolate sandwich cookies

2 cups regular marshmallows

1/2 cup toasted sliced almonds

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter

3 tablespoons corn syrup

12 ounces semisweet chocolate bits

Directions

Line a baking sheet with waxed or parchment paper.

Place the sandwich cookies in a large zip-close plastic bag. Use a rolling pin or a meat mallet to crush the cookies into small crumbs. Cut up the marshmallows into pieces the size of a pea. In a large bowl, combine the cookie crumbs, marshmallow pieces and almonds.

In a microwave-safe bowl, combine the butter, corn syrup and chocolate bits. Microwave on high for 1 to 2 minutes, stirring every 20 seconds, or until completely smooth and melted.


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Stir the melted chocolate mixture into the cookies and marshmallows until everything is thoroughly coated. Using a spoon or small cookie scoop, drop balls of the mixture onto the prepared baking sheet. Allow to fully set up, then store in an airtight container at room temperature between sheets of waxed or parchment paper.

Per cookie (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 120 calories; 60 calories from fat (52 percent of total calories); 7 g fat (4 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 5 mg cholesterol; 14 g carbohydrate; 1 g protein; 1 g fiber; 35 mg sodium.

Banana split cheesecake bars
Banana split cheesecake bars (Matthew Meade )

BANANA SPLIT CHEESECAKE BARS

Taking inspiration from the traditional banana split, we created a cookie combining all the flavor elements into a rich cheesecake bar. We started with a base of brownie and topped it with a creamy banana cheesecake layer. To finish it off, we layered fresh cut strawberries and a thin layer of pineapple jam. If you'd like, you can add a sprinkle of toasted chopped nuts to garnish. Be sure to use very ripe bananas in the cheesecake layer for the best flavor. Recipe by Alison Ladman. Makes 24 bars.

Ingredients

FOR THE BROWNIE CRUST

12 ounces semisweet chocolate bits

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter

Lemon meringue cookies
Lemon meringue cookies (Matthew Meade)

2/3 cup sugar

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

4 eggs

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

FOR THE CHEESECAKE LAYER

2 packages cream cheese (8 ounces each)

3 ripe bananas

1/2 cup suager

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

Pinch of salt

3 eggs

FOR THE TOPPING

1 quart strawberries, hulled and sliced

1/4 cup pineapple jam

1 tablespoon water

Directions

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Coat a 9-by-13-inch baking pan with cooking spray.

In a microwave-safe bowl, heat the chocolate bits and butter on high for 1 to 2 minutes, stirring every 20 seconds, or until melted. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the sugar, flour and salt. Add the eggs and vanilla and whisk until smooth. Stir in the chocolate-butter mixture. Pour into the prepared pan and bake for 20 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven. If there are any bubbles in the crust, gently push them flat. Leave the oven on.

To make the cheesecake layer, in a food processor, combine the cream cheese, bananas, sugar, flour and salt. Process until completely smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl. Add the eggs, one at a time, processing and scraping the bowl between additions. Pour the batter over the brownie crust and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the center no longer jiggles. Cool, then refrigerate until completely chilled.

Tiramisu drops
Tiramisu drops (Photos by Matthew Mead, The Associated Press)

When the cheesecake is completely chilled, arrange the sliced strawberries over the top. In a small microwave-safe bowl, mix the pineapple jam and the 1 tablespoon of water. Microwave until bubbling. Spoon the jam over the strawberries. Allow to chill for 15 minutes for the jam to set up. Cut into squares. Store, well wrapped, in the refrigerator.

Per cookie (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 270 calories; 160 calories from fat (57 percent of total calories); 18 g fat (11 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 100 mg cholesterol; 26g carbohydrate; 4 g protein; 2 g fiber; 120 mg sodium.

TIRAMISU DROPS

Tiramisu is an Italian dessert made from espresso-soaked ladyfinger cookies, a mascarpone cream, a sprinkling of shaved chocolate and a dusting of cocoa powder. For our cookies we opted to make a crumbly espresso-flavored almond cookie. After baking, we topped the cookies with a mascarpone cream and sprinkled them with chocolate. Makes about 40 cookies.

Ingredients

1 cup slivered blanched almonds, lightly toasted

1/2 cup granulated sugar

3/4 cup (11/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 teaspoons instant espresso or coffee powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 tub mascarpone cheese (8 ounces)

3 tablespoons powdered sugar, divided

1 tablespoon cocoa powder

Shaved chocolate, to decorate

Directions

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a food processor, pulse together the almonds and granulated sugar until finely ground but not reduced to a paste. Add the butter and vanilla, then pulse to incorporate. Add the espresso or coffee powder, salt and flour, and pulse until a crumbly dough comes together. Shape the dough into 1-inch balls, and place on the prepared baking sheets. Using your finger, or the handle of a wooden spoon, press an indent into the top of each cookie.

Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, or until golden and firm. Allow to cool on the baking sheet. When the cookies are cool, in a medium bowl stir together the mascarpone and 2 tablespoons of the powdered sugar. Transfer the mixture to a pastry bag or a zip-close plastic bag with the corner snipped off. Pipe a dollop of the filling into the indent of each cookie. Sift the remaining tablespoon of powdered sugar with the cocoa powder. Sift over the tops of the cookies. Decorate with shaved chocolate, if desired.

Per cookie (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 100 calories; 70 calories from fat (66 percent of total calories); 7 g fat (4 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 15 mg cholesterol; 7 g carbohydrate; 2 g protein; 1 g fiber; 15 mg sodium.

 

FRUITCAKE COOKIES

Fruitcake is a love-it-or-hate-it holiday tradition. But these cookies are everything a fruitcake should be. Studded with all manner of dried and candied fruit (you can substitute your favorites), these cookies are a chewy, spicy delight that'll be sure to make a fruitcake lover out of the skeptics. Makes about 40 cookies.

Ingredients

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

1/2 teaspoon ground allspice

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 egg

Zest of 1 orange

1/4 cup orange juice

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

3/4 cup candied peel

3/4 cup chopped dates

3/4 cup candied cherries

3/4 cup chopped dried apricots

3/4 cup chopped toasted pecans

Colored sugars, if desired

Directions

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the sugar, butter, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, allspice, salt and baking soda. Beat until light and fluffy. Add the egg and orange zest, then beat to combine. Add the orange juice and half of the flour, then mix, scraping down the bowl as needed to ensure even mixing. Add the remaining flour, and mix to thoroughly incorporate. Stir in the candied peel, dates, cherries, apricots and pecans.

Working in batches, drop the dough by the tablespoon onto the prepared baking sheet. Sprinkle with colored sugars, if desired. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes. Allow to cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes, then transfer to a rack to cool completely.

Store in an airtight container at room temperature.

Per serving (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 100 calories; 35 calories from fat (36 percent of total calories); 4 g fat (2 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 10 mg cholesterol; 15 g carbohydrate; 1 g protein; 1 g fiber; 45 mg sodium.

LEMON MERINGUE COOKIES

Lemon meringue pie was an easy dessert to rethink as a cookie. Though we left off the crust, these cookies have all the same elements as that delicious pie. Meringue cookies are baked with dimples in the center until crisp. The dimples then are filled with creamy tangy lemon curd. If you like the idea of a crisp meringue, fill the cookies just before serving. If you prefer the meringue to be soft, fill the meringues up to 24 hours in advance. Makes 3 dozen cookies.

Ingredients

4 egg whites

1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup sugar

8 ounces lemon curd

Directions

Heat the oven to 200 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, combine the egg whites, cream of tartar and vanilla. Use an electric mixer to beat until the whites are foamy. Very slowly, while continuing to beat, add the sugar. Beat until the mixture is thick and glossy.

Use a spoon to dollop the mixture in walnut-sized mounds onto the prepared baking sheets. Using a slightly dampened finger, press an indent into the center of each mound.

Bake for 1 1/2 hours, or until the meringues are dried and crisp.

Store the meringues in an airtight container, at room temperature, between sheets of waxed paper.

For crisp cookies with a soft lemon filling, add a teaspoon of lemon curd to each indent just before serving. For soft, marshmallow-like cookies, fill the cookies at least several hours (and up to 24 hours) before serving.

Per cookie (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 35 calories; 5 calories from fat (8 percent of total calories); 0 g fat (0 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 5 mg cholesterol; 8 g carbohydrate; 0 g protein; 0 g fiber; 10 mg sodium.

RED HOT VELVET MELTAWAYS

Red velvet cake has long been a favorite of Southern cooks. But in recent years it has become a popular treat across the country. Taking our inspiration from both red velvet cake and red hot cinnamon candies, we combined the two in a meltaway-style cookie that crumbles and melts in your mouth. And following red velvet cake tradition, we topped each cookie with a little cream cheese icing which pairs perfectly with the cinnamon bite. Makes 3 dozen cookies.

Ingredients

FOR THE COOKIES

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 cup cornstarch

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 cup (2 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature

1 teaspoon red food coloring

1 teaspoon cinnamon extract

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

FOR THE FROSTING

1/2 cup (4 ounces) cream cheese, room temperature

1/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature

1/4 cup powdered sugar

Red sugar or sprinkles, to decorate

Directions

In a small bowl, sift together the flour, cornstarch and salt. Set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat together the granulated sugar, butter, food coloring, cinnamon extract and ground cinnamon just until creamy and well combined. Stir in the flour mixture, then refrigerate the dough until chilled, about 1 hour.

Heat the oven to 350 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Roll the chilled dough into balls the size of a large marble. Slightly flatten each ball to a disc about 1/4 inch thick. Arrange the cookies on the prepared baking sheet.

Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, or until set. These cookies should not brown or spread, and will be quite fragile. Allow to cool on the baking sheet.

To make the frosting, use an electric mixer to beat together the cream cheese, butter and powdered sugar until smooth and creamy. Using a pastry bag or a zip-close bag with the corner snipped off, drizzle the frosting over the cookies in a zigzag pattern. Sprinkle with red sugar or sprinkles to decorate.

Store in a single layer in the refrigerator.

Per cookie (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 100 calories; 70 calories from fat (64 percent of total calories); 8 g fat (5 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 20 mg cholesterol; 9 g carbohydrate; 1 g protein; 0 g fiber; 25 mg sodium.