Photos by Leigh Beisch

Whether chewy or crunchy, eaten straight or dunked in milk, cookies are the perfect accompaniment to holiday parties and chilly nights spent around the fireplace. This year, indulge your family with a batch (or several) of these tasty treats, updated by using unrefined flours, natural sugars, and nutrient-boosting ingredients, including dried fruit, heart-healthy nuts, vitamin-rich pumpkin, and antioxidant-laden dark chocolate. To cut unhealthy fats, these recipes also substitute unsweetened applesauce and egg whites for some of the butter, transforming them from a guilty indulgence to a healthier treat—true comfort food for a joyous season.

Gingerbread People
Makes 3 1/2 dozen / Preparation tip: Currants make good eyes, noses, and buttons; place on cookies before baking. Or decorate with all-natural colored sprinkles, then bake.

1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup whole-wheat pastry flour
3 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup brown sugar
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup molasses
1 egg

Icing (optional)
2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
1/4 teaspoon lemon or vanilla extract
3-4 tablespoons water

1. In a medium bowl, combine flours, spices, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

2. In a separate bowl, combine sugar and butter; beat on medium speed for 2–3 minutes until thoroughly combined and fluffy. Add molasses and egg and blend. Add flour mixture to molasses mixture; beat on low until blended. Divide dough in half and wrap each half in plastic. Chill for 1–2 hours.

3. Preheat oven to 350°. On a floured board, roll dough into a 1/4-inch-thick circle. Cut out cookies with a cutter. Place 1 inch apart on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray. Decorate with candies and currants, if desired. Bake for 7–8 minutes until firm. Let cool on baking sheet for 2 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

4. To make icing, combine powdered sugar and lemon or vanilla extract. Add 3 tablespoons water and stir. If necessary, add an additional tablespoon of water until a spreadable paste forms. Use a piping cloth (or zip-top plastic bag with one corner snipped) to decorate cooled cookies.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving (1 cookie):
Calories: 57 calories
% fat calories: 26
Fat: 2g
Saturated Fat: 1g
Cholesterol: 9mg
Protein: 1g
Carbohydrate: 10g
Fiber: 0g
Sodium: 30mg

Frozen Chocolate and Peppermint Sandwiches
Makes 12 / If you're not keen on cold treats, the chocolate cookies are delicious on their own. Preparation tip: Substitute mint chocolate chip or mocha frozen yogurt or ice cream, if you prefer. You'll have lots left over to enjoy with another dessert.

1 cup whole-wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup natural cane sugar
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons unsweetened applesauce
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg
1 pint fat-free vanilla frozen yogurt
1/2 cup crushed all-natural peppermint candies, divided

1. In a medium bowl, combine flour, cocoa, baking soda, and cinnamon. Set aside. In a large bowl, blend sugars and butter until fluffy. Add applesauce, vanilla extract, and egg. Once thoroughly combined, blend in flour mixture. Transfer dough to one end of a large sheet of waxed paper. Fold paper over dough; wrap completely, rolling dough into a 12-inch log. Freeze for 1–2 hours.

2. Preheat oven to 350°. Coat a baking sheet with cooking spray. Unwrap dough and slice crosswise into 24 cookies. Bake 12 at a time for 10–12 minutes until firm to the touch. Transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool.

3. While cookies are cooling, remove frozen yogurt from freezer to soften. Stir in 1/4 cup crushed peppermint candies. Place remaining 1/4 cup crushed candies in a shallow dish. Place 1–2 tablespoons frozen yogurt on the flat side of one cookie. Place another cookie (flat side down) on top and gently push together. Roll edges lightly in crushed candies. Repeat with remaining cookies. Wrap sandwiches individually in plastic wrap and freeze until firm, 2–4 hours.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving (1 sandwich):
Calories: 195 calories
% fat calories: 23
Fat: 5g
Saturated Fat: 3g
Cholesterol: 28mg
Protein: 3g
Carbohydrate: 36g
Fiber: 3g
Sodium: 57mg

Pumpkin-Walnut Bars
Makes 24 / Reminiscent of pumpkin pie, with a delicious ginger crust. Serve at room temperature with fresh whipped cream or vanilla frozen yogurt. Test kitchen tip: If these get too soft after storing, just pop them in the oven on a baking sheet for a few minutes.

1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs (about 10 whole crackers)
1 cup gingersnap cookie crumbs (about 12 cookies)
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
1/3 cup pure maple syrup
1 15-ounce can pumpkin purée
1 12-ounce can evaporated skim milk
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 egg

Streusel Topping
1/3 cup chopped walnuts
1/3 cup graham cracker crumbs
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons cold butter, finely chopped

1. Preheat oven to 350°. In a medium bowl, combine 11/2 cups graham cracker crumbs, gingersnap crumbs, melted butter, and maple syrup. Coat a 9x11-inch baking pan with cooking spray. Place mixture into the bottom of the pan and press to form a crust. Bake for 10 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside.

2. In a medium bowl, combine pumpkin purée, evaporated milk, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, brown sugar, and egg. Whisk until thoroughly combined. Pour pumpkin mixture over crust and spread evenly. Bake for 40 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, make the streusel topping by combining walnuts, 1/3 cup graham cracker crumbs, 1/4 cup brown sugar, cinnamon, and butter. Blend with a fork or pastry cutter until the mixture resembles coarse meal.

4. After pumpkin bars have baked, sprinkle with streusel and bake for an additional 15–20 minutes until golden.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving (1 bar):
Calories: 168 calories
% fat calories: 32
Fat: 6g
Saturated Fat: 2g
Cholesterol: 17mg
Protein: 3g
Carbohydrate: 26g
Fiber: 1g
Sodium: 168mg

Cranberry-Ginger Biscotti
Makes 24 / Crispy biscotti, Italian for "twice-baked," pair perfectly with English Breakfast or Earl Grey tea. Test kitchen tip: Don't worry if they're a little soft when they come out of the oven—they harden as they cool. Store in an airtight container.

1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 whole eggs
1 egg white
2 tablespoons honey
2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour
3/4 cup natural cane sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chopped crystallized ginger
1/2 cup dried cranberries

1. Preheat oven to 350°. Combine vanilla extract, whole eggs, egg white, and honey in a medium bowl.

2. In a separate bowl, combine flour, sugar, cinnamon, baking powder, and salt. Add flour mixture to egg mixture and blend thoroughly. Add ginger and cranberries; stir until well blended and cranberries and ginger are distributed.

3. Divide dough in half. Shape each half into a 12-inch-long flattened log approximately 1/2-inch thick. Place logs on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350° for 25 minutes. Remove from oven and cool for 10 minutes.

4. Reduce oven temperature to 325°. On a cutting board, slice each log diagonally into 12 slices, each 1/2-inch thick. Place pieces cut-side up on baking sheet and bake for an additional 8 minutes; flip and cook on the other side for another 8 minutes. Cool completely on a wire rack.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving (2 cookies):
Calories: 86 calories
% fat calories: 9
Fat: 1g
Saturated Fat: 0g
Cholesterol: 18mg
Protein: 2g
Carbohydrate: 18g
Fiber: 1g
Sodium: 74mg

Natural baking aids
Dagoba Organic Chocolate Chocodrops
73 percent pure cocoa. Extra-large size, ideal for topping cookies.

Green & Black's Organic Cocoa Powder
Deep, dark taste from fair trade beans.

India Tree Decorating Sugar
Bright, happy colors from vegetable dyes.

Asher Peppermint Candy Canes
No red dye or anything artificial; fresh and minty.

–Elisa Bosley

Peanut Butter Kisses
Makes 4 1/2 dozen / An update on the classic peanut butter cookie, with more whole grains and a delicious bite of dark chocolate in the center. These soft treats are excellent with milk.

1 cup whole-wheat flour
1 cup whole-wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup oat bran
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
2/3 cup natural peanut butter, smooth or chunky
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 1/2 dozen large dark chocolate drops (such as Dagoba)

1. Preheat oven to 350°. Lightly coat baking sheets with cooking spray.

2. In a medium bowl, combine flours, oat bran, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In a large bowl, combine maple syrup, peanut butter, butter, and brown sugar. Mix on medium-high speed until light and fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla extract and beat until well blended. Stir flour mixture into peanut butter mixture. Set aside for a few minutes to firm slightly.

3. Roll 1-inch balls between your palms. Place balls onto prepared baking sheets, about 2 inches apart. Bake 4 minutes. Remove baking sheets from oven and place 1 chocolate drop in the center of each cookie. Bake for an additional 5 minutes or until golden brown. Remove cookies from sheets and transfer to wire racks to cool.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving (2 cookies):
Calories: 185 calories
% fat calories: 41
Fat: 9g
Saturated Fat: 4g
Cholesterol: 22mg
Protein: 4g
Carbohydrate: 25g
Fiber: 2g
Sodium: 102mg

Bizcochitos
Makes about 40 / New Mexico's official state cookie, the delicate bizcochito is found at nearly every holiday occasion in the Land of Enchantment. This lightened recipe substitutes unsalted butter for lard and uses whole-wheat pastry flour for a bit of added fiber.

1 1/2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour
2 teaspoons anise seed
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, divided
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated fructose or sugar, plus 1 tablespoon
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. In a medium bowl, combine flour, anise, baking powder, salt, and 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon. In a second bowl, beat butter and 3/4 cup sugar until light and fluffy. Blend in egg and vanilla. Once mixture is smooth, blend in flour mixture. Divide dough in half and roll each half into a ball. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and freeze for 1 hour until firm.

2. Preheat oven to 350°. On a flour-coated cutting board and using a flour-coated rolling pin, roll dough into a 1/4-inch-thick circle. Cut dough into 2-inch shapes (such as stars).

3. Combine remaining 1 tablespoon sugar and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon in a small bowl. Sprinkle cookies with cinnamon-sugar mixture. Transfer to a baking sheet coated with cooking spray. Bake for 10 minutes until golden.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving (2 cookies):
Calories: 47 calories
% fat calories: 33
Fat: 2g
Saturated Fat: 1g
Cholesterol: 9mg
Protein: 1g
Carbohydrate: 7g
Fiber: 1g
Sodium: 26mg

Molasses-Walnut Cookies
Makes 3 dozen / A nice dessert or sweet breakfast treat, these cakelike cookies taste fabulous dunked in a French roast or hickory coffee. Preparation tips: Don't overstir the batter—the cookies will become too dense. For a different glaze taste, substitute coffee or rum for the milk.

1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
3/4 cup natural cane sugar
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup pumpkin purée
4 tablespoons molasses
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup walnuts, chopped
1/3 cup crystallized ginger, chopped
1/3 cup unsweetened shredded coconut

Glaze (optional)
1 cup powdered sugar, sifted
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
1/2 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened
1-2 tablespoons nonfat milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1. Place a paper towel in a colander. Set applesauce on paper towel and top with a second paper towel. Let sit for 5 minutes until liquid has drained. Scoop applesauce off paper towels and set aside.

2. Preheat oven to 350°. In a medium bowl, combine flours, baking soda, salt, and spices. Set aside. In a large bowl, combine sugars and butter. Blend together for 5 minutes. Add drained applesauce, pumpkin, molasses, egg, and vanilla extract. Beat on low until thoroughly combined. Add flour mixture; mix until combined. Stir in walnuts, candied ginger, and coconut.

3. Coat a baking sheet with nonstick spray. Measure dough 1 tablespoon at a time; with floured hands, roll it between your palms and set on baking sheet (12 cookies per batch). Reflour hands and flatten each cookie with your palm. If you're not adding the glaze, sprinkle cookies with natural cane sugar. Bake for 16 minutes until golden. Remove from sheet and cool on wire rack.

4. To make glaze: Blend powdered sugar, maple syrup, butter, and milk until smooth. Add vanilla and cinnamon. Spread a small dollop on top of cooled cookies.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving (1 cookie):
Calories: 96 calories
% fat calories: 32
Fat: 4g
Saturated Fat: 1g
Cholesterol: 11mg
Protein: 1g
Carbohydrate: 15g
Fiber: 1g
Sodium: 73mg



According to her mother, Melissa Williams has been a cookie monster all her life. She is also the editor of Healing Lifestyles & Spas magazine.