Unconventional guide to holiday cookies and drinks

Holiday cookie and drink pairing tips from Small Company ArtworksLet's talk seriously about a topic we've neglected. A topic that slices to the heart of the holiday season. A topic, gentle readers, that has the power to impact all your holiday celebrations in myriad joyful ways.

Let's talk cookies.

More specifically, let's talk cookies and drinks. Cookies are delightful on their own, of course, but what if you elevated the whole cookie-eating experience by pairing it with a fantabulous cocktail, mocktail, or otherwise tasty beverage?

Just think about the possibilities: 

  1. Party theme. Your holiday party could include a cookie buffet, with two or three drink choices that complement the cookies (this works for New Year's, by the way)
  2. Dinner finale. Instead of multiple or fancy desserts, just have one or two types of cookie for dessert, served with their perfect drink pairing. It really doesn't get easier than that
  3. Party theme #2. Host a super-simple cocktail/dessert gathering, serving three or four kinds of drinks. Your guests could each bring a batch of their favorite cookie, and you can invite lively discourse on which beverage pairs best with each type of cookie. You could even go all technical with scorecards, blind tastings, and prizes to the "most versatile cookie," if you feel like that little something extra
  4. Date night. Make a spouse/family date out of your cookie-pairing research. Why just bake cookies together, when you can follow up with drink/cookie experiments and shenanigans?
  5. You-time. Maybe we should add "enjoy one perfect cookie with its companion beverage" to our list of 5-minute self-care ideas
  6. You-time, x2. Or, like, uh, some people, you could hang out alone in the kitchen, testing out your own pairings for hours and hours, claiming to do important research for an article you're writing. No judging.

Best holiday cookie and drink pairings

perfect cookie/drink pairings

Background interlude: When I heard that the ever-inspiring Erin over at the Speckled Palate was inviting the blog world to share her Cookie Week, I was excited. When I realized that I could write about drinks AND cookies, well, let's just say I'm a little embarrassed by how happy that made me.

I've grouped cookies by their dominant flavor, whether chocolate, citrus, or something else. So many cookies are barrier-busters, though, that you'll probably find your favorite straddles a couple of categories. You'll just have to drink twice as much to try with both Perfect Pairings. I believe in you, you can do this.

You'll find suggested Perfect Pairings for each category, and keep reading for the Universal Pairings at the end. Finally, there are links to the great cookie recipes from the bloggers in this challenge, so get your baking hats on!

By the way, we're going to get the ever-perfect "milk" out of the way, first off. If you haven't thought of that already, you're either lactose-intolerant, or you didn't grow up with those ever-present "got milk?" ads imprinting on your childhood psyche. Let's move on to...

drinks for chocolate cookies

what's included: I'd include chocolate chip, fudge, brownies, and chocolate-chocolate chip cookies in this category. Not white chocolate, though - look at the "vanilla cookies" section for those. I'd even put Mint Thins here, but they never last long enough in my house to get more than a glass of milk.

flavor profile:  Chocolate-based cookies tend to the very buttery, with rich, deep flavors. They pair well with other strong flavors, especially something to cut the sweetness. Or, alternatively, try something even sweeter that gives you a major sensory rush.

chai tea

I bet you thought I'd start with an alcohol-based drink, didn't you? I'm just full of surprises. I love chai - not the super-sweet variety from the coffee shop, but the authentic, cardamom-laced, whole-spice concoction they serve at (authentic) Indian restaurants. 

You can get the spice blend at the (amazing, I'll-take-one-of-everything) Savory Spice Shop, if your local shops don't carry anything you like. Their serving recommendations:

Directions for making 8 cups of Chai: Bring 6 cups of water and 4 tablespoons of Chai Spice to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat, cover and steep for 10 minutes. Add 2 cups of milk and return mixture to heat until it simmers. Stir in 2 tablespoons of Darjeeling black tea (about 6 tea bags) and 4 tablespoons brown sugar or honey, remove from heat, cover and steep for 5 min. Strain and serve.

late harvest zinfandel

Ah, alcohol. Welcome back.

This isn't just a bottle of plain old zinfandel (and please don't say "white zinfandel" in this conversation). A red dessert wine, late harvest zinfandel pairs gorgeously with anything chocolate. The rich plumminess of the grapes deepens into a silky, dark indigo flavor (work with me) that stands up to chocolate's intensity without giving your taste buds sugar shock.

Try tasting your cookie both before and after taking a sip of wine. Your mouth will get this little sensory-explosion that you have to experience to believe.

My favorite late harvest zin (actually, the first one I ever tried) is by Castoro Cellars. Ask your local wine person for their recommendations, or you can check out the options and reviews at Snooth for research, too.

Bonus! Buy two or three different varieties of late harvest zin and have a wine tasting along with your cookies!

drinks for spice cookies

what's included:  I suspect the fragrance of spice cookies is what most of us think of as "Christmas." Gingerbread, snickerdoodles, even pumpkin cookies and oatmeal raisin cookies fit here. Or try the pumpkin drop cookies from Speckled Palate (pictured). Yum!

flavor profile: Pretty much anything whose main flavor is nutmeg, ginger, or a bright spice needs an equally robust pairing.

perfect ginger manhattan (of course)

A perfect Manhattan is basically two parts whisky to one part each sweet and dry vermouth, plus a couple dashes bitters. For this application, consider leaving out the dry vermouth and adding ginger liqueur, instead. That makes it an imperfect Manhattan (actually, just a basic ginger Manhattan), but it also makes the pairing even better.

mexican hot chocolate

Okay, I haven't gotten to try this pairing yet, but  my mouth is watering just thinking about it. If you've seen/tried the Mexican chocolate at Trader Joe's, you may be ahead of me on this. If not, treat yourself.

The Mexican chocolate I've tried has a darker, earthier, more intense flavor than other styles, and lends itself to a spicy/intense chocolate drink. There's some great advice and step-by-step instructions in this article, but basically melt the chocolate into hot milk or water, add any liquid fanciness (rum, espresso, vanilla), and maybe a dash of cayenne. Pour into a pitcher and whisk to a froth. Serve.

drinks for fruit cookies

what's included:  I'm tempted to call this the "newton" category, but don't want to get in trouble with the "it's not a cookie, it's a..." people over at Nabisco. But let's throw fig, date, and mixed fruit cookies in this category, along with anything with cherries, fruit jams, and the amusingly-named "better than fruitcake" cookies. (Isn't that like saying, "You can't fall off the floor"?)

flavor profile:  I associate fruit cookies with intense sweetness, sometimes cut by butteriness, but not always. Texture plays a big part in this type of cookie, so they often have nuts, oatmeal, or interesting grains to keep the palate lively.

spiced hot cider

Fruit-with-fruit seems appropriate here. And this one gives you some leeway on the alcohol-no alcohol spectrum, since you have both spiked and mocktail options for cider. Hard ciders will have more zing, which I prefer to balance the intense sweetness of fruit cookies. 

Good spices can do that for you, too, though, so check the expiration dates on your cinnamon sticks and cloves to make sure you're getting lots of flavor. (Handy tip: if you bought your spices more than six months ago, store them on the counter, or keep them near a heat source, they're probably expired. Time for a spice outing!)

Two recipes to try, from Martha and Emeril. Or try this yummy-looking version from Food52 (pictured) that includes red wine.

sauterne

I actually hesitated on this one, since not every Sauterne is dessert-y. If you go searching for a bottle for this application, look for something with high residual sugars and/or higher alcohol content to give you the sweetness this kind of cookie calls out for.

I opted for Sauterne over, say, Riesling because I like the more complex flavors of Sauterne (at least the ones I've had. I'm open to suggestions.). But I won't tell anyone if you go for Riesling instead. The operative search here is "sweeter, light, white dessert wine."

drinks for citrus cookies

what's included:  I'll tell you right now, this is a hard category for me.  Lemon bars, key lime cookies, citrus butter cookies, frosted orange cookies... These all set my teeth on edge.

So I apologize, I cheated for this category. I figured if I hated the cookie, I'd just be gasping for anything at hand to get that awful taste out of my mouth. Instead, I'm going to give some suggestions based on what I've found pairs well with citrus, in general.

flavor profile: Citrus cookies are bright and sweet, with that unmistakable citrus zing

rosemary pomegranate sangria

This gorgeous concoction (pictured) from Bakeaholicmama is just plain intriguing, and I'm betting you'll either love it or hate it. But the combination of citrus with rosemary and pomegranate makes it too pretty - and seasonally appropriate - not to give it a try.

lemon drop martini

If you want a like-with-like pairing, vodka-based citrus martinis would be a good way to go. The ubiquitous lemon drop would be a fine choice, but a good Cosmo would also set the bar high (bonus points for whoever got that pun).

ginger orange mocktail

The spicy bite of ginger is delightful with citrus, so how about a drink with orange juice, ginger, and sparkling wine? Okay, or sub the ginger ale for non-alcoholic sparkling wine, but I think that extra sweetness might put this one over the top.

drinks for vanilla cookies

what's included:  Mmmmm... the buttery richness of a good sugar cookie, shortbread, almond biscuits, or pecan sandy. These don't necessarily have vanilla as the main flavor (or at all, in the case of biscotti), but they have simple, clean flavors that don't need a lot of adornment. All of these are things I associate with vanilla. So... vanilla cookies.

flavor profile: Clean, buttery flavors dominate this category, with a nice balance of sweetness, often in the form of caramelization. These cookies often tend toward nuttiness.

Try the lovely recipe from Food52 (pictured) if you just want a perfect sugar cookie. These cookies can be overpowered by intense drinks. So skip the late harvest zin and cider. Instead, try...

classic manhattan

Try a classic Manhattan with a fantastically smooth bourbon. The caramel richness of good bourbon (as opposed to, say, rye whiskey) gives you a lovely partner for the butter and vanilla in the cookies.

You don't want something with a bite here, like Willett or Elmer T. Lee. Maybe try Basil Hayden for this one. Just don't buy something off the bottom shelf, since rough bourbon will ruin your cookie delights faster than you can say rot-gut.

vin santo

Again with dessert wine. There's a wide spectrum of vin santos (santi?) to explore. The few lovely days I once spent in Italy introduced me to vin santo with biscotti, which have a lot in common with the delicate flavor of sugar cookies (I think, anyway. Purists might disagree.).

This would be a lovely option for a wine tasting, so you can enjoy the range of dry vs. sweet. As for favorites, I remember the flavor of the Badia a Cuoltibuono very fondly, although I haven't found it locally to try again.

the universal drink pairings

If all that seems like too much to shop for, you can always provide a couple of universally-delicious options. Or just have them on-hand because, well, they're universally-delicious.

  • champagne. I have yet to meet a food I didn't like with champagne, although I haven't yet tried it with poutine (nor do I plan to). Or up the ante with Feast+West's brilliant champagne cocktail bar idea, complete with flavored sugar cubes
  • irish coffee. Okay, it doesn't have to be Irish. But excellent coffee with or without a little jigger of sum'n special deserves mention
  • black tea. Just as strong or weak, sweet or plain as you like it, black tea can be matched with pretty much anything on our list 
  • yes, okay, milk

the exception cookie

Under no circumstances would I have any of the above recommendations with peanut butter cookies. In that case, I can only suggest hot cocoa, or maybe milk.

There's one in every crowd.

the cookies

Head over to Speckled Palate for the full details of cookie week, to make sure you get all the cookie love you need this season. A host of bloggers will be sharing their favorite cookie recipes all week, so bookmark and plan to do lots of cookie-daydreaming!


Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published