Grandma Jensen’s Holiday Cookies!

A common holiday tradition is baking different types of cookies with family and friends. During quarantine, baking has become a popular pastime, so if you’re tired of attempting to make your own bread or the same baked goods again, channel some of your baking energy into some of my grandma’s holiday cookie recipes!

Nearly every December for as long as I can remember, I would go over to my grandparents’ to decorate a plethora of sugar and gingerbread cookies, and help myself to a variety of stranger holiday cookies. Because I can’t visit my grandparents for cookie decorating this year, I decided to share recipes for  some of the different types of cookies my grandmother makes so that anyone who wants to can make them at home.

Gingerbread Men, Women, and Children:


Β½ cups butter

2 Β½ cups flour

Β½ cups packed brown sugar

1 tsp baking soda

β…“ cups dark corn syrup

2 tsp cinnamon

1 egg

1 Β½ tsp ginger

2 ΒΌ tsp salt

1 Β½ tsp ground cloves

Mix butter, sugar, syrup, egg, and salt together.

Sift dry ingredients together and add β…“ at a time to the butter mixture. Mix well. Chill for approximately 2 hours.

Roll out on a floured board to about ΒΌ inch thickness. Cut (and decorate with raisins, if you’d like) and place on an ungreased cookie sheet in a 400 ℉ oven for 8 minutes or till lightly brown.

Remove from the cookie sheet immediately and cool. Decorate with frosting and sprinkles if desired.

Sugar Cookies:


Β½ cups butter

1 cup sugar

1 egg

Β½ tsp salt

2 tsp baking powder

2 cups sifted flour

Cream together butter and sugar, then blend in the egg. Sift together salt, baking powder, and flour, then add to mixture.

Blend into mixture Β½ tsp vanilla or Β½ tsp. almond flavoring.

Roll out, cut into shapes. Bake on greased cookie sheet for 8 to 10 minutes.

Jan Hagals:

β€œI don’t know how to describe the Jan Hagals…except to say that everyone who has tried them claims they’re β€˜My favorite!’” says Grandma Jensen.

Jan Hagals are traditional Dutch cookies that taste like and contain almonds and cinnamon, and I can attest to my grandma’s claim by saying they are also my personal favorite Christmas cookies. This recipe makes about 40 cookies, and uses a 9 by 13 by 2 inch pan.


1 cup butter

1 cup sugar plus additional Tbsp sugar (separated)

1 egg (separated)

Β½ cup sliced almonds

1 tsp almond extract

2 cups sifted flour

Β½ tsp cinnamon

Beat butter and sugar until fluffy. Add egg yolk and almond extract, blending thoroughly. 

Stir in flour. Spread in pan. 

Beat egg white till foamy white. Spread evenly over dough. Sprinkle almonds on top.

Combine 1 Tbsp. sugar with the cinnamon. Sprinkle over the almonds. 

Bake at 350 ℉ for 30 minutes or until browned.

Cool for 10 minutes before cutting. 

Cut into diamond shapes. Cool thoroughly before removing the cookies from the pan.

Lemon Bars:

β€œThe lemon bars came from a cookbook from β€˜Wolf Trap,’ a nearby national park for the performing arts,” says Grandma Jensen.

This recipe is for a 9 by 9 inch pan, but can be used for an 11 by 15 inch pan if the recipe is tripled and baked for an additional 10 minutes.


Β½ cups butter

1 cup flour plus additional 2 Tbsp flour (separated)

ΒΌ cups confectioner’s (powdered) sugar

3 Tbsp lemon juice (approximately 1 large lemon’s worth)

1 cup regular sugar

Β½ tsp baking powder

3 eggs (beaten)

Preheat oven to 350 ℉.

Mix butter, 1 cup flour, and powdered sugar together. Put into pan. Bake for 15 minutes at or until golden.

Combine sugar, 2 Tbsp flour, baking powder, eggs and lemon juice. Mix well. Pour over baked bottom layer. Bake for 25 minutes.

Dust with powdered  sugar while still warm. Cool completely. Cut into squares.

Russian Tea Cakes:

β€œThe Russian Tea Cakes are small snowball-like rounds of melt-in-your-mouth goodness,” says Grandma Jensen.

Russian Tea Cakes are Russian cookies, as it says in the name. They taste like and contain pecans and vanilla. These are my dad’s favorite cookies, and I recommend them to be paired with eggnog, as they can dry your mouth out some if you eat them too quickly. This recipe makes 55-60 1-inch cookies.


1 cup butter

Β½ cups confectioner’s (powdered) sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

2 Β½ cups sifted flour

ΒΌ tsp salt

ΒΎ cups finely chopped pecans

Mix together butter, powdered sugar, and vanilla.

Sift together sifted flour and salt.

Add sifted ingredients to first mixture.

Add pecans.

Chill dough. Roll into 1-inch balls. Place 2 Β½ inches apart on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake 12-13 minutes at 400 ℉ until set, not brown. 

While still warm, roll in confectioner’s sugar. 

Roll in confection’s sugar, again.

Turtle Cookies:

β€œAdd some ground up pecan to the Sugar Cookie recipe. Top the cookie with melted chocolate and spread some Caramel Glaze on the top of the chocolate. Mmmmm,” says Grandma Jensen.

Turtle cookies are quite literally the sugar cookies with pecans in them, with chocolate, caramel, and a large pecan on top. My grandma only began making this recipe for Christmas around two years ago, so the turtles come from her own experiments in the kitchen. Provided is the recipe for the caramel glaze, which covers about 45 2-inch round sugar cookies.


Β½ cups confectioner’s (powdered) sugar

Β½ tsp vanilla extract

2 Tbsp butter

Β½ cups packed brown sugar

3 Tbsp milk (perhaps a little extra)

Melt butter. Mix in mild and brown sugar. Boil vigorously for 1 minute. Remove from heat and beat in powdered sugar. Cool slightly. Beat in vanilla. Add more milk if too thick.


β€œThe Eggnog is my own recipe, one which I’ve developed over the years because I can’t stand the stuff they sell in stores,” says Grandma Jensen.

I will include my grandma’s homemade eggnog recipe as a bonus, as it’s the best out there and I too will not touch all store bought eggnog. Like I mentioned earlier, her eggnog pairs wonderfully with the Russian Tea Cakes, but it’s a great stand alone drink as well. This is a relatively difficult recipe, so her notes will be included in the recipe in italics.

This takes about 30 to 45 minutes to make. You’ll need a large pot, enough to hold one gallon of milk…also a very, very large mixing bowl. 

When you β€œseparate” the eggs (below), make sure that no egg yolks get into the egg whites! (If that happens, the whites won’t beat up properly.)



10 egg yolks

1 β…“ cups sugar

1 tsp salt

1 gallon whole milk


10 egg whites

β…” cups sugar


4 tsp vanilla extract

Nutmeg to taste

  1. Beat sugar into egg yolks. Add salt and milk. Cook over medium heat stirring constantly until mixture coats a spoon. Cool this custard.
  1. Beat the egg whites until foamy. Gradually add sugar, beating until soft peaks are formed. 
  1. Add 4 tsp vanilla to the custard. 

Add soft-peaked egg whites to the custard. 

Chill mixture. Serve in a Punch Bowl (with nutmeg on the side). 

You can also top the custard with whipped cream or whipped topping if desired.

Hopefully you can explore and enjoy some of these recipes! They may not turn out perfectly on your first try, but as long as you are able to share the experience with some of your loved ones I hope you’ll find the time worth it.