11 Secret Shortcuts for Your Holiday Cookie Trays

Looking to give someone something sweet for the holiday, but short on time or cash? We have delicious ideas that will save on both fronts.

Happy father and children enjoying preparing Christmas cookies Photo: Shutterstock / Lucky Business

Getting cookies or other sweets for the holidays is pure, yummy joy. Prepping a wide variety (including some of our Taste of Home favorites) and packaging them up? Given the hustle and bustle and the crazy spending of the season, it can be tough. To help out, we put together this list of tips and tricks for getting the job done faster—and at a much lower cost. Cookie-baking and candymaking, after all, should be fun. So enjoy!

1. Organize and shop

First, make a list of the people with whom you want to share the holiday spirit. Then stop by a local thrift or dollar store to pick up containers. You’ll find a variety of options, from basic foil pans to fancy holiday plates, for less than a buck.

2. Start early

Rather than wait until November or December, start your holiday baking in September or October. If you freeze dough or baked cookies ahead, you’ll be thankful for the extra time when the holiday rush rolls in. This sugar cookie is a particularly tasty make-ahead variety.

3. Grab a mix

For a super speedy treat, turn a simple cake mix into a fancy sandwich cookie. For a touch of holiday red and green, roll the edges in colored sugar or sprinkles. Don’t be afraid to swap out vanilla or chocolate cake mixes for other flavors.

4. Put that muffin tin to work

Everyone loves a good brownie. Bake several batches of these bite-sized beauties, and include them on a tray with decorated cookies. You can add a dab of homemade frosting, or speed things along with the canned stuff. Finish the job even faster with a simple dusting of confectioners’ sugar.

5. Make shortcut candy

Holiday candy doesn’t have to be complicated. Grab a bag each of pretzels, Rolos and pecan halves to make these salty-sweet turtle treats.

6. Do 15-minute fudge

Who says you have to sweat over a boiling pot to make great fudge? This never-fail Peanut Butter Fudge takes just three ingredients: white candy coating, peanut butter and walnuts. Substitute any type of chopped nuts for the walnuts, or try chopped toffee, instead. Yum!

7. Give cookie cutters double duty

Whip up some gingerbread men, then turn that cookie cutter upside-down to create these adorable reindeer. Your ingenuity will be the talk of the town.

8. Take a break from cookies

People always crack a smile when they open a package of homemade bark or brittle. You’ll be grinning, too, knowing how easily the gift came together.

9. Make a 3-D display

Dip large pretzel rods in chocolate and then roll them in holiday jimmies, toasted nuts or toffee bits. Arrange them, straight up, in a seasonal coffee mug (thrifted or from the dollar store), and wrap the whole thing up in a pretty bow.

10. Create a stir with add-ons

Pair a chocolate-covered spoon with hot cocoa mix or single-serve Keurig cartridges tucked into a holiday mug. Search for vintage spoons at garage sales, or use colorful, heat-safe plastic. These sweet spoons keep well and are easy to make, so you can prepare them several weeks ahead.

11. Layer up the love

One last secret: You don’t even need to do the baking. Assemble a cookie mix in a jar and add a ribbon for instant wow. Your friends will think fondly of you while they’re baking nice warm cookies well into the New Year.

150 Delicious Ideas to Fill up Your Cookie Tray
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Sue Stetzel
Sue has been working with Taste of Home since 2011. When she isn’t writing, she’s answering your burning cooking questions and working with our team of Community Cooks. She spends her free time cooking, crafting, and volunteering for various organizations in her home town.