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It's cookie season

Is this the year you've decided to downsize your Christmas holiday routine? If so, you'll probably want to bake some cookies for family and friends rather than shop, wrap and give gifts that nobody really needs or wants.

If you've never baked before — or want to keep your baking simple and streamlined — we've got you covered. With help from local baking experts, we've gathered a group of foolproof recipes for Christmas cookies that are easy and accessible, yet elegant enough to give as gifts.

From classics like Chocolate Crinkles and Star Twinkles to trailblazers like Lemon Rosemary Shortbread and Gingerbread Biscotti, there's a cookie here for everyone on your list. So clear off those counters and check your cabinets for all the ingredients and equipment. And don't forget to crank up the Christmas tunes and invite over a close friend or two, to help roll and slice.

Readers' Holiday Cookies

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We asked baker Shelly Kaldunski of Santa Rosa to give a few pointers for those who want to avoid burning the cookies or pushing the panic button. Kaldunski's latest cookbook, "The Art of the Cookie," was just released by Weldon Owen Publishing and is available exclusively at Williams-Sonoma stores.

Here are 10 top tips from our local cookie expert:

1. Use a stand-up mixer, if possible.

"The cookie doughs are hard with the hand mixers," she said. "You can do it by hand, but it takes a little more muscle power to cream the butter and sugar."

2. Invest in some heavy-duty cookie sheets.

Most home chefs use thin baking sheets that warp really easily in the oven, making it hard to get cookies that are evenly browned.

Kaldunski suggests purchasing some heavy baking sheets from a restaurant supply store. "They're not very expensive," she noted.


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