Sweet Dreams

Sugar and spice and everything nice can be found in these favorite cookie recipes from around the county.

By Nancy D. Lackey Shaffer

Photo by T Christian Gapen


hocolate, vanilla and nuts. A hot oven warming up the house. The scent of baked goods wafting from the kitchen. Sweet treats to set out on a plate or nestle into a box for gift giving. Is it any surprise that holiday cookies are such an enduring tradition? No doubt we all have our favorites, from cherished family recipes to that one special concoction perfected after much trial and error. If you feel like adding something new to your Christmas cookie platter, consider these easy and delicious options from Ventura County’s top chefs. Baking up some good cheer has never been sweeter!

Photo by T Christian Gapen

Chocolate Chip Fleur de Sel Cookies
“Chocolate is just something I think about for the holidays,” says Angelique Williams, pastry chef of Café Ficelle. She loves the mix of sweet (from the chocolate) and savory (from the sea salt) offered by these chocolate-chip-with-a-gourmet-twist cookies. The secret, she says, is in the coarse sea salt and the top-quality ingredients: Williams uses Valrhona chocolate exclusively, and suggests that home bakers do the same. Crunchy on the outside, chewy on the inside, these cookies are one of the bakery’s top sellers. “They fly off the shelves!” Williams says with a laugh. 

1 ¼ cups butter
2/3 cup sugar
1 ¼ cups brown sugar
1 ¼ teaspoons vanilla
2 1/8 cups cake flour
2/3 cup cocoa powder 
½ tablespoon baking soda
2 ½ teaspoons coarse sea salt
1 cup dark chocolate chips 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Sift together dry ingredients.
In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugars on low speed. Add vanilla and scrape down the sides of the bowl, and mix for a few seconds longer. Turn off the mixer and add the dry ingredients and the chocolate chips; mix on low speed until dry ingredients are fully incorporated. 
Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl, making sure no butter is at the bottom. Fold the dough with a rubber spatula to incorporate anything the mixer may have missed. 
Line a baking tray with parchment or baking paper. Using a 2-ounce ice cream scoop, scoop out balls of dough and drop onto the tray, the balls about 2 inches apart. With the palm of your hand, flatten just the tops of balls so they are not rounded. (They do not need to be completely flattened.) 
Bake for 12-14 minutes, or until cookies have flattened out and cracked a bit. For a softer cookie, decrease the baking time. 
For an extra holiday twist, add peppermint extract, crushed peppermint candy and/or white chocolate chips to the basic recipe.
Makes 10-12 cookies, each approximately 4 inches in diameter.

Courtesy of Café Ficelle, 390 S. Mills Road, Ventura, 941-3444 or

Photo by Amber Jean Photography

Loretta’s Cookies
Ali Davis, co-owner of the Sugar Lab Bake Shop in Ventura, got this coconut cookie recipe from her great-grandmother, Loretta. “It was given to me a couple years ago at a family reunion and I knew we had to add it to our menu at the bakery,” she says. Crunchy almonds, earthy oats and shredded coconut add texture as well as flavor. “To me, Christmas is about spending time with family and sharing joy and love through baking,” Davis adds, “so this is my way of spreading the holiday cheer with family, friends and customers alike.” 

1 cup (7.2 ounces) vegetable shortening
1 cup packed (7.4 ounces) golden brown sugar
1 cup (7.1 ounces) granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 cup shredded coconut
1 cup almond slivers
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ cups rolled oats
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. 
In a mixing bowl, cream shortening, brown sugar and granulated sugar together until fluffy. Add in eggs, one at a time, and beat until mixed.
In a separate bowl, combine shredded coconut, almond slivers, flour, baking powder and baking soda. Whisk together. 
Slowly add ingredients to mixer until just combined. Fold in rolled oats. 
Using a cookie or ice cream scoop, scoop the dough onto the parchment, leaving about 2 inches between each cookie. Depending on the size of the scoop, you should be able to get at least six per tray. Bake for 12 minutes. Allow to cool and transfer to a wire rack to continue cooling.
Makes about 20 cookies.

Courtesy of Sugar Lab Bake Shop, 5936 Telegraph Road, Ventura, 765-4292 or

Double Chocolate Peppermint Cookies
Rich powdered chocolate and creamy white chocolate peppermint candies make this cookie a customer favorite during the winter months at the Sugar Lab. “This is a great cookie for Christmas since it combines the classic flavor of peppermint with a nice, dark chocolate cookie,” says Ali Davis. She uses a light hand with the peppermint extract, to keep it from overwhelming the chocolate, but feel free to play around with the quantity if you want a mintier punch.

1 stick (4 ounces) butter, room temperature
½ cup (3.5 ounces) granulated sugar
½ cup packed (3.7 ounces) dark brown sugar
1 egg, room temperature
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon peppermint extract
1 cup (4.5 ounces) all-purpose flour
2/3 cup (2.1 ounces) cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons milk
1 ½ cups Hershey’s white chocolate peppermint kisses, chopped
Prepare the Dough

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt. 
In a separate bowl, cream together butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Add egg and vanilla. Scrape bowl as needed. 
Slowly add dry ingredients to the wet ingredients. Stir in milk and fold in chopped kisses. The dough will be very sticky. Refrigerate for 2 hours. 
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. 
Using a cookie or ice cream scoop, scoop the dough onto the parchment, leaving about 2 inches between each cookie. Depending on the size of the scoop, you should be able to get at least six per tray. Bake for 12 minutes. Allow to cool and transfer to a wire rack to continue cooling. 
Makes about 10 cookies
Cookies last for one week in an airtight container at room temperature, or frozen for three months. Cookie dough can be kept in refrigerator for up to three days until ready to use. 

Courtesy of Sugar Lab Bake Shop, 5936 Telegraph Road, Ventura, 765-4292 or

Gasolina’s Lemon Saffron Almond Cookie
Half-Dutch, half-Spanish chef Sandra Cordero cut her teeth in the culinary world of Los Angeles, preparing local organic ingredients with a cosmopolitan flair at the popular Gasolina Cafe in Woodland Hills. She pays homage to both sides of her heritage in two local eateries that recently debuted at The Annex in The Collection at RiverPark: Pancake, specializing in (what else?) Dutch pancakes; and Gasolina, offering a taste of Spain. Cordero developed this recipe to celebrate the flavors she experienced on her family’s farm in Galicia. “From the saffron to the almonds to the hint of lemon, this cookie always tempts me to book the next flight to Spain,” she says.

½ cup butter, softened
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 ½ cups sugar
Zest of 2 lemons
1/3 cup honey
3 cups flour
1 ¼ teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
3 eggs
3 tablespoons orange juice
3 pinches saffron, bloomed in 1 tablespoon hot water
6 ounces almonds, toasted, salted and chopped
Sugar for sprinkling on top
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Combine flour, salt and baking powder in a bowl.
In a standing mixer fitted with a paddle, cream sugar and honey with butter and olive oil until pale and fluffy. Add lemon zest and saffron.
Combine eggs and orange juice and mix into sugar mixture until incorporated. Next add dry ingredients and mix until incorporated. Fold half of the almonds into the cookie dough.
Using a 2-ounce scoop, drop balls of dough onto a parchment-lined sheet tray, the balls about 2 inches apart. Top with remaining almonds and sprinkle with sugar. Freeze until firm and bake for 10-12 minutes. Cool on a wire rack before serving.
Makes about two dozen cookies

Courtesy of Gasolina at The Annex, 550 Collection Blvd., Oxnard,

Spiced Mexican Wedding Cookies
“Growing up and still to this day, Mexican wedding cookies (which growing up I knew as Snowballs) were always my favorite cookie during the holiday season,” says Chef Tim Kilcoyne of Scratch Food Truck. The recipe, courtesy of Kilcoyne’s mother, is simple to prepare, and the cardamom, cinnamon and clove will give off a delicious scent when baking. “If you are feeling really adventurous, I like combining a little bit of cayenne pepper, black pepper and cocoa powder to make it similar to Mexican hot chocolate,” Kilcoyne adds. 

1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 ¼ cup powdered sugar, plus more for dusting
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 large egg, beaten
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cardamom
½ teaspoon ground cloves 
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper (optional)
1 tablespoon cocoa powder (optional)
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
½ cup pecans, finely chopped
Prepare the Dough
Using a mixer, cream the butter and 1 cup of powdered sugar until smooth. Add the vanilla and egg. Gradually stir in the flour, ground cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, cayenne, pepper, cocoa powder and salt. Stir in the chopped nuts. Form the dough into a disk, wrap with plastic wrap and chill until firm. 
Heat oven to 350 degrees and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
Remove the dough from the refrigerator and quickly roll into 1-inch balls, making sure not to overwork the dough.
Place balls about 2 inches apart on the baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and put cookies on cooling rack. Using a small sieve, heavily dust the tops with the remaining powdered sugar.
Makes about 2 ½ dozen cookies.

Courtesy of Scratch Sandwich Counter at The Annex, 550 Collection Blvd., Oxnard, 278-7478 or

Photo by Nicole Goodwin

Grandma’s Sugar Cookies (gluten-free)
“When I was a little girl, at Christmastime, our grandma always baked a plateful of sugar cookies with green and red frosting,” says Amanda Pritchett, head baker at Ragamuffin Coffee Roasters in Newbury Park. With a nod to both family tradition and the modern diet, Pritchett devised this gluten-free version of the holiday classic. “A simple pastry can make someone feel all kinds of things, and with this cookie, I hope to bring about the simple nostalgia of childhood, simpler times, as well as the ringing-in of the holiday season,” she says. Its simplicity allows it to become a delicious canvas for the imagination, so make it your own by adding any number of flavorings, shapes and decoration.
Note: Pritchett finds that gluten-free baking is best done using weight measurements, and she has included both weights and standard measurements in her recipe here.

5 ½ ounces (2/3 cup) butter, cold.
200 grams (1 cup) sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg
4 teaspoons milk
280 grams (2 cups) gluten-free flour blend (Cup4Cup recommended)
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
Prepare the Dough 
In a medium mixer bowl, using a flat beater, cream together sugar, butter and vanilla. Add the egg, and mix on low until the egg is just incorporated.  Do not overmix! 
In a separate bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients. Add the dry ingredients to the sugar and butter mixture, mixing on low until the ingredients are just incorporated. The dough may look sticky, but it will firm up in the refrigerator.
Divide the dough in half, wrap both halves with plastic wrap, and place in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours, or overnight.
Assembly and Baking
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 
Using a blend of gluten-free flour blend and powdered sugar, generously flour a counter or other rolling surface, and a rolling pin. Remove the dough from the fridge and roll to ¼ inch thickness. For thinner cookies, roll to 1/8 inch thickness. Note: The colder the dough, the less the cookies will spread in the oven. Work with half of the batch at a time. 
Use your favorite cookie cutter to cut out the cookies. (With a nod to her grandmother, Pritchett prefers to use a juice glass or jam jar.) Place cookies on a baking sheet lined with a silicone mat or parchment paper and chill for 10-20 minutes in the refrigerator or freezer to re-chill the butter and prevent the cookies from spreading too thin or getting crumbly.
Take sheet of cookies from fridge/freezer and place directly into a preheated oven. Bake for 6 minutes. The cookies are done when the edges are lightly browned. Remove from the oven and leave cookies on the tray for about 5 minutes. Carefully transfer them to a cooling rack to finish cooling. Frost generously with buttercream frosting (recipe below) and any desired decorations.
Buttercream Frosting
16 ounces powdered sugar
4 ounces butter, softened
2 ounces milk
1 to 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla
Whisk together ingredients until light and fluffy. Add food coloring, if desired. Spread generously onto the sugar cookies. Makes 20-24 cookies, depending on the size of the cookie cutters.
Store cookies in an airtight container for maximum freshness.

Courtesy of Ragamuffin Coffee Roasters, 111 N. Reino Road, Newbury Park, 375-9000 or


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