Plus, delicious variations on every recipe!

By Stacey Ballis
March 31, 2020
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If you are not a regular baker, but are finding yourself in need of some comfort projects, things to do with your kids, or just some basic sweets to have around the house, cookies are the one thing you can always count on for ease, speed, and satisfaction.

And while it can be great to try a fancy cookie recipe and pull out all the stops, right about now what most of us need are the simple classics that you can make with what's probably already in your pantry. What's great about the following 5 classic cookies is that they're easy and simple, but can be adapted tons of fun ways. Time to bake!

Shortbread

James Carrier

A classic shortbread might just be one of the oldest and simplest of all the cookies. Usually just three ingredients—flour, fat, and sugar—this version adds cornstarch for a lighter texture. Super-fast to bring together in a food processor, it can be shaped into discs for breaking into triangles, rolled into logs for slicing, or rolled out for shape cutting. It is also an excellent vehicle for mix-ins like chopped nuts, chocolate or flavored chips, dried fruit, and shredded coconut. You can even add dried herbs like lavender, rosemary, or thyme, or flavorings like citrus zests. Experiment to your heart's content!

Get the Recipe: Scottish Shortbread

Rolled Sugar Cookies

Photo: Hector Sanchez; Styling: Heather Chadduck Hillegas    

The kind of cookie you make around the holidays is endlessly adaptable to glazes, frostings, and decorations, but also can be made into sandwich cookies filled with anything including jam, peanut butter, Nutella, dulce de leche, and my personal favorite, Trader Joe’s Speculoos Cookie Butter! This recipe will give you the basics, and you can figure out how you want to fancy it up! A great cookie project if you have kids.

Get the Recipe: Sugar Cookie Cutouts

Snickerdoodles

Photo: Becky Luigart-Stayner

While snickerdoodles like these are traditionally a basic sugar cookie dough rolled in cinnamon and sugar before baking, I love them when I want to make a cookie that is a little bit more of a grown-up treat. By swapping out interesting spices and spice mixes for the cinnamon, you can get a cookie that is surprisingly elegant and sophisticated. The perfect thing with a bowl of vanilla ice cream or an afternoon cup of coffee or tea. Some of my spices to try are Vadouvan seasoning, Golden Milk seasoning, matcha powder, cocoa powder with a pinch of cayenne pepper, apple or pumpkin pie spice, herbes de Provence, ground cardamom, or ground Szechuan peppercorns.

Get the Recipe: Snickerdoodles

Chocolate Chip Cookies… Or are they?

There is nothing at all wrong with a chocolate chip cookie, but I love the basic cookie dough batter as a base for all kinds of other chunky cookies. You can swap in flavored chips like butterscotch or peanut butter, every kind of nut there is, chopped-up candy bars, or chopped dried fruit. This is also a great cookie base for fun combos, especially salty-sweet mixes, so don’t be afraid to try pretzels or crushed potato chips in there! Some of my biggest hits? Dark chocolate disks with dried cherries and chopped hazelnuts, mini marshmallows with milk chocolate chips, white chocolate chunks with pistachios and chopped apricots, peanut butter and semisweet chips, chopped Andes mint candies, honey roasted peanuts and dried cranberries, potato sticks and butterscotch chips, pretzel bits and chopped toffee bars.

Rice Krispies Treats

amberleeknight/Getty Images

The simplest cookie treat might just be this one, and while there is nothing wrong with sticking with the classic, you can fancy it up all sorts of ways. Swap out other cereals or even fried chow mein noodles, change up the flavors, use flavored marshmallows or stir in nut butters or chocolate. You can do mix-ins of any sort, add sprinkles for color, or Pop Rock candy for shock and sparkle. You can dip them in chocolate, frost them, or slice them in half and make ice cream bars. You can also form them into all sorts of shapes, so if you have kids to entertain, try some Rice Krispies Treat modeling for edible fun.

Get the Recipe: Rice Krispies Treats