Christmas Cookie Party: Homemade Cookies with Global Flair

A portrait from Brooklyn and India

This time of year might just be the most jam-packed when it comes to traditions, rituals, food and special music, so you can bet Cultures Capsules has something special going on.

This is the story our our own family’s favorite tradition, told through lots of recipes, a great playlist, and a fun art project.  Merry, Merry!!



This time of year, conversations naturally turn to traditions.  No matter what you celebrate, the fact is that in most locations around the globe, school lets out, some offices shut down, and families and friends come together in some way, shape or form.

For us, it’s time for a tradition our family looks forward to year round: our annual Cookie, Cocktails and Ornament-making Party!  It’s an open house to get the Christmas spirit flowing, with friends and family coming and going all day, sampling our holiday treats to sample, making ornaments, and spending time together.

If you know Cultures Capsules, you won’t be surprised that this event fun takes old traditions and spices them up with even more resonance and meaning for our own family. We are nearing two decades of this ever-evolving tradition and it just keeps getting to be more and more fun.

It started many years ago when I didn’t want to decorate my Christmas tree alone, and I also didn’t have a lot of ornaments (and didn’t want to just buy some meaningless ones). So called up some friends to help me make ornaments, decorate my tree, and fill my apartment with merry vibes.

I made them Christmas cookies from my childhood, which included the early versions of the famous Garam Masala Oatmeal Raisin cookies, played Christmas music, and my home did in fact overflow with Christmas cheer, so we continued to do it each year.

Over time we’ve had to adjust to accommodate children and lack of space in our small Brooklyn apartment, and even a last minute postponement to January due to flu, but we’ve never skipped it.


Cookie Party Playlist

Our Christmas Cookie & Cocktail Party Playlist (with some missing, like Wynton Marsalis’ incredible version of Rudolph)

Fav Holiday tunes of course! Mostly all upbeat for a party, but gotta throw some slower classics on there, too.  It’s nice and long already so just put it on shuffle repeat… and we’ll of course keep adding to it (particularly when I figure out how to add non-Spotify stuff!  of rind an alternative to Spotify?!).  Also check out the Christmas Tree playlist and the related portrait as well!


The Menu

 The 2018 menu was mostly classics, save for the Mochi as a nod to our family trip to Japan.

  • Garam Masala Oatmeal Raisin Cookies – Always.
  • Candy Cane Kulfi – For several years already.
  • Cardamom-scented Chocolate Pistachio Cookie – added maybe in 2012, but only started adding cardamom 2014
  • Gingerbread Cookies, with saunf, used interchangeably with raisins
  • Mochi – representing our visit to Japan this year
  • The Cookie Formerly Known as Christmas Twist (Almond-y Sugar Cookies with Saunf) – meant to have a naming contest. Next time
  • Pralines – Easiest, most delicious (if finger burning) recipe.


Cardamom-scented Chocolate Pistachio Cookie


The Cookie Formerly Known as ‘Christmas Twist’


Gingerbread Cookies

apprentice helping to make gingerbread mini cookies in the shape of bears and angels, with red hot candies for hearts



big plate of pralines ready for festing in place

I almost never have the exact amount of one of the ingredients so I’ve been fudging it each time, but it’s generally aligned with this recipe.  Haven’t’ found a foolproof so I wont share a definitive, but I will share lessons learned (Update 2021: here’s our recipe).

  • Be ready to burn your fingertips.  The exact moment that the temperature of the mixture is good to drop onto the wax paper in neat, pretty little piles is when it’s thickened up but also still very hot.  If it cools too much, it will get a bit chunkier.  It will still taste good though!  Yes, I’ve tried with spoons but I find a spoon and a finger easiest.
  • You know your microwave best:  I end up nuking it longer than recipes say because our microwave is so crappy.
  • While it’s cooling, don’t walk away cuz you’ll forget and it will harden too much and you’ll be really annoyed.
  • Trial & error – The first time I made it I rushed things and the mixture was too runny.  The good news is that you only need to try one little pile to know if the mixture is at the right temp / has been nuked enough.  If it’s spreading a ton, or it still looks shiny when spooned out, nuke it another minute.  If it’s hardened too much, add a tad of cream and nuke it, but it’s better not to get to that point.


Matcha Mochi

Each year we also love to challenge ourselves to add something each year that tips our hat to recent family travels. For 2017, that meant that we tried our hand at Matcha Mochi to remember our trip to Japan. Matcha Mochi with Anko was a way to recall the formal Matcha tea service we participated in a Tokyo tea house, but in a fun, party-friendly way.

I used a combo of this recipe for the sticky rice coating, and a different recipe for the Anko (red bean paste) filling the bean paste, but I can’t find that in my notes. At any rate, it was tasty, but our version needs more tweaking before I share it confidently.

mochi making


Candy Cane Kulfi

Last, but definitely not least is our annual favorite: candy cane kulfi! While I can’t exactly claim to have invented it, I did think it up all on my own circa 2003/4. And a couple years after that when I googled “candy cane kulfi” to see if others were doing it, my recipe was the only thing that came up. Hey, now! Hands up.

candy cane kulfi on a clear plate with spoon and candy canes
candy cane kulfi in their molds
candy cane kulfi


Simple Ornaments

christmas tree ornaments as unique as their creators, all hanging on a line
mitten ornaments as unique as their creatorsall in a row

At first glance this might appear to be quite boring or simple, but there are three reasons this type of ornament making is what I return to:

  1. They suit people of all artistic levels,
  2. All faiths can get behind peace doves, candy canes and mittens,
  3. I LOVE the idea that all of us can take one small thing and all create something SO UNIQUE out of them.

We’ve done a few different shapes over the years but my favorites are the mitten, bulb, candy cane, tree, and new this year: the dove. Download this and cut out the shapes. Then use the cutouts to trace shapes into whatever color paper you want. Of course, cardstock or at least thicker paper will last longer (both in terms of the template and the ornaments), but use what you have and it will be great.

When provided template is printed as possible on an 8.5 x 11 inch paper, then each individual shape will fit at least twice 2 on Paper Source’s A7 cardstock paper (some need some playing with tilting but they fit!  Less waste!).  For this project, we usually use their Chartreuse, Red, shimmery white Star dream?), sometimes Royal Blue, and next year, Shimmery Gold.

Poke a hole and use a traditional ornament hook, or use ribbon or string. We also like to hang all of ours up using tiny clothespins, which is a holdover from the mittens year.

cutouts chrismas ornaments