The holidays are not a contest, but you are going to win them
Credit: Photo by Stacey Ballis

It's holiday baking season, which depending on your temperament, is either the thing you most look forward to as soon as Halloween is over, or the thing you dread even more than navigating family politics at dinner. If you are of the former ilk, you probably don’t need me at all, you likely have a battery of recipes that are tried and true, or new ones you’ve been hoarding all summer for just this moment. And to you, my dear readers, I say go forth and bake and make merry and bright.

But for the latter, the season can be fraught with cookie exchanges and work-related baking requests, and then there is the jolly man in the beard and red suit who seems to require a plate of sweet morsels at every stop to fuel his nocturnal travels.

For those who enjoy a house that smells of butter and vanilla but have minimal baking impulse, I want you to have your cookie and eat it too. And while cookies are among the easiest things to make from scratch (and if you are so inclined, Dorie’s Cookiesby Dorie Greenspan is quite simply the bible in this arena and will never let you down), I’m advocating a different route. Channel Sandra Lee: Let the store provide the base and you bring the creative flourishes.

A basic storebought tube of sugar cookie dough is a blank canvas for your exciting flavor combinations. Let the dough come to room temperature, add in a couple of the mix-ins listed below, return to the fridge while the oven heats up, then form and bake as directed on the package. Sure, they have chocolate chip cookie dough available, and there is no shame in that game; slice and bake and present with pride. But why not add some of your own special touches? Chopped nuts or various flavored morsels are natural add-ins, as are dried fruits or candied peels. Spices are an easy way to amp up flavor. Be forewarned, these are so delicious, people might ask you to bake more often.

Semi-Homemade Cookies

To one room temperature 16-ounce tube of sugar cookie dough, mix in 1 of the following combinations, return dough to the fridge while oven preheats, then form and bake as directed. You can even halve the following combos and get 2 flavors from 1 tube of dough. Generically, one 16-ounce tube of dough can take a total of 1 cup of mix-ins and up to 2 tablespoons of spices. So experiment with what you have. You might just become famous for your Everything Spice Cookies. Here are some of my favorite combos.

Zest of one lemon and 2 tablespoons poppy seeds
½ cup chopped cooked-crisp bacon and ½ cup butterscotch morsels
½ cup chopped dried apples and ½ cup cinnamon chips
½ cup crushed peppermint candies and ½ cup dark chocolate mini chips
½ cup chopped dried cranberries and ½ cup white chocolate chips
½ cup chopped pistachios and ½ cup chopped dried cherries
1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice and ½ cup chopped pecans
½ cup chopped dried apricots and ½ cup chopped walnuts
½ cup chopped candied orange or lemon peel and 1 tablespoon curry powder
½ cup chopped candied ginger and ½ cup slivered almonds
1 cup toasted pine nuts—roll balls of dough to cover the outside with nuts
½ cup chopped honey roasted peanuts and ½ cup raisins
2 tablespoons matcha green tea powder and ½ cup dark chocolate chips
½ cup coconut flakes and ½ cup chopped candied pineapple