The 11 Best Holiday Cookies From Around The World

There are many things that come to mind when you think of the holidays: wreaths, ornaments, a crackling fire, candy canes, gingerbread cookies, Christmas trees, festive food, holiday movies, gifts, snow. However, the holiday season isn't complete without holiday cookies. After all, who doesn't like the smell of freshly baked holiday cookies? The classic freshly baked chocolate chip cookie smell is a nostalgic hit to the senses. What you may not know is that when it comes to holiday cookies, there are more varieties than you may even be aware of. Just the way different countries have their own way of doing Christmas dinner, the same goes for the variety of holiday cookies that span the globe. 

Think beyond the humble macadamia nut and white chocolate chip cookie, the peanut butter cookie, even oatmeal raisin cookies, and let your imagination run wild. From peanut butter blossoms in the United States to Melomakarona in Greece to Khrustyky in Ukraine, the holiday season is celebrated around the world with unique cookies to go along with it. 'Tis the season to feel jolly — with a variety of cookies, of course.

1. Peanut butter blossoms, United States

What's the first type of holiday cookie you think about when preparing for your holiday cookie swap? According to a survey conducted by General Mills from 2019, the most popular holiday cookie in the U.S. overall were the classic peanut butter blossoms (via General Mills). Each individual state had its own favorite style of cookie, but these seven states had peanut butter blossom as the overwhelming favorite: California, Florida, Kentucky, Nevada, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Wyoming.

"People like a nod to something familiar," executive editor behind Pillsbury and Betty Crocker cookbooks Cathy Swanson Wheaton said on the General Mills blog. "It's really fun to see that some of the eastern states selected an Italian cookie as their favorite, and I think that might speak to their Italian heritage. And some of the Southern states tended to choose nut-based recipes. For example, Georgia picked a pecan recipe and they're the number one pecan producer in the United States."

2. Moravian molasses cookies, Czech Republic

Have you ever heard of the Moravian molasses cookie? If not, here's your explainer. These thin cookies have a spicy flavor which comes from cinnamon, ginger, dark molasses, and cloves. "These wafer-thin Molasses cookies are all over Europe. With a hint of ginger warm molasses, they'll make a great addition to your holiday baking!" Cynthia McCloud Woodman, the baker behind the blog What A Girl Eats, explained to InkasTour. "I love them because they remind me of visiting my daughter in Prague during the holidays!" Who can resist a cookie that reminds you of loved ones? No one.

Woodman adds that there's a special part of making this crispy cookie recipe, and her recipe is adapted from Martha Stewart. "Making the dough is a different process than most sugar cookie recipes. The butter and sugars are melted, then the dry ingredients are mixed into the same pot, so no mixer is necessary! This is a plus if you're making a lot of cookies, you can free up your mixer for another cookie dough." Do you make these for the holidays, or have you encountered them in Prague? Let us know!

3. Nankhatai shortbread cookies, India

If you're looking for buttery shortbread cookies this holiday season, Nankhatai Indian shortbread cookies are for you. "Nankhatai is a melt-in-mouth cardamom-scented Indian shortbread cookie," explains baker Anupama on her blog, My Ginger Garlic Kitchen. "These are buttery soft, sweet, and perfectly crisp, and go so well with a steaming cup of milk, tea or coffee. These cookies are one of the simplest cookies I make, but also they're one of my favorites."

Raise your hand if baking cookies brings you back to your youth! These Indian cookies do the trick for baker Anupama. "Sometimes, you just need a cookie which takes you to your childhood memories. So you can clearly see that these cookies are close to my heart and I am super thrilled about these cookies," Anupama explains on My Ginger Garlic Kitchen. "I really have a lot to talk about how great these cookies are. I am deeply in love with these melt-in-mouth cardamom-scented Indian shortbread cookies. I adore this divine combo of ghee (clarified butter), vanilla, yogurt and cardamom." These cookies are very popular in India so feel free bake some for yourself!

4. Melomakarona, Greece

Melomakarona are sweet honey cookies that are served around the Christmas holiday season. Eli explains on their blog My Greek Dish that Melomakarona cookies are their favorite cookies. "Melomakarona are my absolute favourite Greek Christmas cookies. And how couldn't they be? These cookies are incredibly soft, moist, flavorsome, and soaked in a delicious honey syrup. Once baked, the intense aromas of the cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg spread throughout the house and bring back plenty of fond childhood memories!"

According to Greek-Cypriot Ivy Liacopoulou, the mastermind behind the Greek cooking blog Kopiaste, there are a few tips you could know to make your baking attempt better. One of those tips is using a very mild extra virgin olive oil in the recipe. Liacopoulou advises that if the olive oil is a bit strong in flavor, you can cut it with some vegetable oil. You'll also want to remove a "thin layer of orange peel" to incorporate into the syrup to add some extra citrus zest to these cookies. 

5. Polvorones, Spain

Have you ever learned about a cookie that you had no idea existed? That's what we thought about with Polvorones. According to the walking tour website Andaspain, Polvorones are a type of Spanish shortbread cookie that is especially popular with bakers during the Christmas season. The cookies date back all the way to 16th-century Andalusia and were created when bakers had an excess of leftover ingredients. In this case, those ingredients in abundance were lard and cereal. 

Lard and cereal? Who would've thought! Then again, the unique ideas and flavors are what make cookies around the world unique over the holidays. If you're wondering how they became popular, Andaspain has an explanation for that, too. Basically, a woman gave the cookies to her husband who worked as a driver in a small town to the east of Sevilla called Estepa. The woman's husband began selling the cookies in a town square on his travels, and like so many baking stories that would come later, the popularity of the cookies began to spread. These cookies can also be consumed outside of the holiday season, of course. If you're interested in hiking the 500-mile Camino de Santiago, Andaspain recommends eating them on your journey, too!

6. Khrustyky, Ukraine

Sugar cookies? Frying? Bourbon? You had us at all three, and thankfully, Ukraine's Christmas cookie contains those two ingredients and that method of cooking. Ukrainian-Canadian baker Jaime writes on her blog Claudia's Cookbook (named in honor of her mother) that Khrustyky, or Ukrainian fried cookies, "are super light and crispy with a hint of sweetness from the icing sugar." And a bonus, these cookies are also pretty easy and fairly quick to make. Thankfully, Jaime explains that you don't need a lot of arm-power because this dough doesn't need a lot of kneading. While some people opt for bourbon, Jaime went for vanilla extract instead. She says that the recipe on her blog yields a large number of cookies, "so it is best to fry, cool, and freeze them in plastic bags until you want to eat them. You can then thaw them and dust with icing sugar." One fun fact is that when you fry these cookies, Jaime says they may double in size! How's that for a festive bit of holiday cookie baking?

7. Sri Lankan Christmas cake cookies, Sri Lanka

While there is a Sri Lankan Christmas Cake, there are also Sri Lankan Christmas Cake cookies. Now, how does that work? Ex-chef Rachi writes on her blog Food Voyageur what exactly Sri Lankan Christmas Cake is and how it's different from regular Christmas Cake, pointing out that the cake has "no flour just semolina to hold it together." There's also the addition of candied fruits with brandy, rose water, cashew nuts, which are all very Sri Lankan ingredients but similar to the concept of many Christmas cakes.

Now, on to the Sri Lankan Christmas Cookie. Shashi Charles explains on her food blog Sofab food what exactly these cookies are. "I took the traditional boozy Sri Lankan Christmas Cake of my youth and adapted the recipe to come up with these decadently delicious Sri Lankan Christmas Cake Cookies. These cake-like, boozy cookies are gluten-free and butter-free, and taste incredible. This is a unique cookie to add to your Christmas Cookie exchange!"

How about that? Who wouldn't want a boozy Christmas cookie? And, even better, Charles explains to InkasTour why these are her favorite: "These are some of my favs as they remind me of traditional Sri Lankan Christmas Cake that my parents used to passionately work on for weeks as it takes time for fruits, nuts, and booze to develop their flavors before they are introduced to semolina and butter and the other ingredients that make up the cake." Fruits, nuts, and booze. What could be better?

8. Linzer cookies, Austria

If a cookie has jam in it, is it still a cookie? We say an emphatic yes. And cookies with jam are exactly what Linzer cookies in Austria are all about. "I grew up in Austria with Linz as the closest city. Naturally, these cookies have always been around. Almost everybody I know made them for Christmas time," Austrians Ursula and David write on their blog, Lil Vienna. "In bakeries and supermarkets, they are very popular year-round.

If you've seen Linzer cookies in your local supermarket, then you know it's a sandwich cookie of two shortcrust cookies stuck together with jam. Traditionally, it's red currant jam or apricot jam. However, Ursula and David explain, "Of course, you can use any jam you like. Just make sure it's smooth and fine-textured, without any fruit chunks." The cookies themselves will be crunchy at first, but the addition of the jam and storing them in an airtight container will help them to soften up. It shouldn't take more than a couple of days for them to soften up. Have you been inspired to make these cookies? Let us know!

9. Fattigmann, Norway

The Norwegian Fattigmann (also spelled Fattigman) is a fried cookie that will surely appeal to many holiday cookie eaters. Baker Nevada Berg writes on her blog North Wild Kitchen that the Fattigmann is a Norwegian cookie that started to become popular in the culture in the late 1700s and it's known for its twisty "knot" shape. She adds that the name "Fattigmann" is translated to "poor man's cookie" but it's very misleading and even satirical considering it uses sugar, egg yolks, cream, and cognac. Ingredients that weren't exactly household but staples of the poor in those days. Even though the ingredients were hot commodities back in the day, it's not too difficult to make. "The dough is gently deep-fried until lightly brown and sprinkled with a generous dose of cinnamon powdered sugar," Berg explains. "These are guaranteed not to last long. And don't worry about not getting the shape right, they are quite forgiving when fried and I think it adds a more rustic and homemade charm when they vary a bit." 

10. Pfeffernüsse cookies, Germany

The first big challenge with these cookies is learning how to pronounce the name correctly. These are traditional Christmas cookies in Germany. Native New Englander Haley explains on her blog, If You Give a Blonde a Kitchen that these cookies use molasses, anise, pepper, and seasonal spices, the chewy cookies are then coated in confectioner's sugar. Haley adds that, "My Aunt Carol has perfected these cookies and bakes them every year. In an attempt to make mine half as good as hers, I did a little research. What are pfeffernusse cookies? Pfeffernusse are small German spice cookies, although they are also popular in Denmark and The Netherlands. The most distinctive ingredient being black pepper (Pfeffernüsse translates to peppernuts). They also contain either anise seeds or anise extract to give it that licorice flavor."

While licorice doesn't have a giant fanbase, we know its fans are out there! If so, these cookies may be right up your alley because of the licorice flavor from anise seeds or anise extract.

11. Vanillakipferl, Germany

If your cookie baking skills need a bit of work (and to be fair, we understand), these German Christmas cookies will give you the boost of confidence you need this holiday season. And, they taste pretty good, too! "Vanilliekipferl cookies are without question my favorite baked good of the holiday season and remind me of my mother's holiday baking." Chef Marcus Mueller, the baker behind Earth, Food, and Fire, explains to InkasTour. "A traditional German Christmas cookie, Vanillakipferl are very similar to shortbread cookies and are just as easy to make." 

If you're looking for a recipe to bake with your family, look no further! Vanillakipferl fits the bill. "They make a great cookie to bake with kids and teach the basics of making shortbread cookies at home!" Muelle adds. "Light and just the right amount of nuttiness, these Christmas cookies make a wonderful gift or addition to your own cookie collection. There is a reason Vanillakipferl are as popular as they are at Christmas markets and fairs across Germany." Who knows, maybe you'll be lucky enough to stumble upon Vanillakipferl at a Christmas holiday market this year!