I’m not exactly the type of person to miss winter. But can I tell you something?
When these vanilla spice cookies are baking in the oven, even if it’s the middle of May, they remind me of the cold-weather months.
Filling the kitchen with a fragrance that’s sweet and permeated with nostalgia, I’d swear I was walking around a Christmas market, where they sell fresh-roasted cinnamon-flavored nuts wrapped in paper cones.
The kind you take in your gloved hands, the air visible in front of you as you breathe in and out, feeling their warmth, your face flushed pink.
After we walked up and down a street packed with bundled-up carolers and holiday decorations, our skin cracking and our noses running, what we found instead were frozen toes and fingers, which remained that way even after returning to the car.
There are also a few photos of us to commemorate the occasion, taken in the dark, standing near twinkling lights. And I had my first taste of a chestnut which, in all honestly, smells a hundred times better than it tastes. In my opinion, they were just hot and bland.
I don’t often feel nostalgic for nights like this one, so it would take something pretty special to make me remember all the good parts with vivid clarity months or years later:
The smell of fresh popcorn from the white tent in front of one of the shops.
The gleaming red and gold globes hanging from a tree.
The group of musicians who played their instruments with hands exposed to the elements, as if they couldn’t even feel the freeze.
Let me tell you: these cookies are that something.
Becky and I didn’t find our homemade candy canes, but as soon as I got home, I made a batch of these cookies.
And let me tell you, it was so amazing to be able to warm up in the cozy kitchen with the oven cranked up, a welcome respite from the cold.
The recipe came to me quickly, in part because I had the ingredients on hand and because, since they’re slice and bake icebox cookies, I figured they’d hold up well in shipping. I was planning a package for my friend Jarrelle.
You’d like Jarrelle. We met in college, I can’t remember when exactly. She’s the kind of person that is easy to like, in a way that not many people are.
If she lived a little closer to Chicago instead of in New Hampshire, I’d be going over to her place to visit and give her a big hug, which is exactly what she needs right now.
The original recipe for these cookies that I adapted to make my own calls for chopped nuts, which I omitted. Even so, they’ll always remind me of those classic Christmas market treats. And weirdly enough, an almost nutty flavor still came through.
You can add half a cup of pecans if you want, but I think they’re just as magical and delicious without them.
It’s like these cookies included all the best parts of candied pecans – the sweetness, the slight caramelization – without the actual nuts. Fresh out of the oven, they are nothing short of irresistible.
Dipping the cookies in chocolate icing or melted chips is a nice suggestion, so by all means, try that. I, however, like them just as they are.
This recipe makes a big batch, so feel free to freeze the logs to bake later, whenever the mood strikes. The dough may be frozen for several months.Print
Fill your home with the scent of the Christmas market with homemade vanilla spice cookies. They’re perfect to set out for Santa.
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened (1 stick)
- 1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
- 1 large egg
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup chopped pecans (optional)
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
- Pinch ground nutmeg
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat butter on medium speed. Gradually add the brown sugar, beating well until the mixture is light and fluffy. Add egg and vanilla, and beat well.
- In a separate bowl, stir together the flour, baking soda, salt, chopped pecans, and spices. Add this dry mixture to the butter mixture and stir to combine on low speed.
- Shape the dough into two logs approximately 12 inches in length. Wrap each in waxed paper and chill for at least 2 hours.
- When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350°F. Cut dough into 1/4-inch slices.
- Place on ungreased baking sheets (or line with silicone mats for easy cleanup), spacing them about 1/2 to 1 inch apart. Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until set and golden brown on the bottom.
- Cool slightly on the baking sheets, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.
- Prep Time: 15 minutes
- Cook Time: 12 minutes
- Category: Cookies
- Method: Baking
- Cuisine: Dessert
Keywords: vanilla, warming spices, cookie, Christmas, slice and bake
Cooking By the Numbers…
Step 1 – Soften Butter, Chop Pecans, And Measure All Remaining Ingredients
Soften refrigerated butter at room temperature for about 30-60 minutes, longer if frozen, until softened or just spreadable. If you don’t have time to let it soften the traditional way, place in the microwave for 15 seconds on 30% power.
Chop pecans until you have 1/2 cup total.
Measure out all remaining ingredients, making sure to set them out as they are listed in the ingredients list.
Step 2 – Beat Wet Ingredients
Add butter to the bowl of a stand mixer. Beat on medium speed and slowly add the sugar, beating until the mixture is light in color and fluffy.
Beat in the egg and vanilla until combined.
Step 3 – Mix Dry Ingredients
In a medium bowl, add the flour, baking soda, salt, pecans, and spices. Stir together well until they are combined and evenly distributed.
Step 4 – Finish Batter
Add all of the dry mixture to the wet ingredients, and beat on low speed until thoroughly mixed, and the dough comes together.
Step 5 – Chill Dough
Divide into two equal parts. Roll each half into a 12-inch log. These will be about 1 inch in diameter.
Wrap each log tightly in waxed paper. Chill for at least 2 hours in the refrigerator, or overnight.
Wrapped dough can also be frozen until you’re ready to use it, just be sure to place it in an area of the freezer where it won’t become misshapen. Defrost before slicing and baking.
Step 6 – Slice and Bake
When you’re ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350˚F. Line two large baking sheets with silicone mats, or leave them ungreased.
Unwrap the dough and cut it into slices that are about 1/4 inch thick. Space the cookies about 1/2 inch apart. The cookies won’t spread much, so it’s okay to arrange them close together.
Bake for 10-12 minutes, until they’re set and golden brown on the bottom.
Cool for about 5 minutes on the baking sheets, then remove to wire racks to cool completely.
To Dunk or Not To Dunk? That Is the Question…
Once you try these lightly spiced, vanilla-scented cookies, the question that immediately comes to mind is: Do you dunk them?
For me, the answer to this question is always yes. While the traditionalists out there will pair these cookies with milk, English tea or even coffee makes a nice pairing.
The flavor of the spices in the cookies gets a boost of soothing comfort from either warm beverage, and the spice of the cookie seeps into your drink with every dunk.
Perfect at any time of year, from holiday cookie exchanges to summertime bake sales, bake up a batch of these any time you’re in the mood for a nostalgic treat, or bring them to a friend who could use a little pick-me-up.
Craving even more scrumptious homemade desserts that feature flavorful vanilla? Try our recipes for:
- Vegan Vanilla Raspberry Cake with Oreos
- Very Vanilla Butter Cake
- Vanilla Crescent Cookies
- German Vanilla Pudding
When will you bake your cookies, and what are some of your favorite holiday baking memories? Tell us in the comments below, and be sure to come back to rate the recipe as soon as you’ve tried it!
Photos by Meghan Yager, © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Originally published May 22, 2009. Last updated: January 1, 2020 at 2:56 am. With additional writing and editing by Meghan Yager and Allison Sidhu.
Nutritional information derived from a database of known generic and branded foods and ingredients and was not compiled by a registered dietitian or submitted for lab testing. It should be viewed as an approximation.
About Shanna Mallon
Shanna Mallon is a freelance writer who holds an MA in writing from DePaul University. Her work has been featured in a variety of media outlets, including The Kitchn, Better Homes & Gardens, Taste of Home, Houzz.com, Foodista, Entrepreneur, and Ragan PR. In 2014, she co-authored The Einkorn Cookbook with her husband, Tim. Today, you can find her digging into food topics and celebrating the everyday grace of eating on her blog, Go Eat Your Bread with Joy. Shanna lives in Nashville, Tennessee, with Tim and their two small kids.