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The sweet fragrance of homemade cookies baking in the oven is one of the most pleasurable experiences of home life. The ingredients alone — vanilla, butter, chocolate, dried fruits and spices — are enough to make bakers swoon with pleasure. And when the cookies are made with the help of someone dear and shared as gifts, you have the making of a day to remember long after the cookies are eaten.

Christmas cookies make delightful gifts because of their diversity in shape, size, flavor, texture, and origin. From the vast array of recipes available, you can create a selection that speaks of your personal favorites or to those of the recipient.

Theme collections are especially fun for gift-giving. Consider packing cans or boxes with a selection of cookies that relate to one another in some way or speak to the recipient’s interests. For example, for a theme with wide appeal, choose three or four types of cookies in the same flavor or color, such as all chocolate cookies or all red-and-white cookies.

To honor your receiver’s love of coffee or tea, bake biscotti or shortbreads, cookies that are tasty companions to these drinks. For a sports-lover, decorate cookies shaped to honor a favorite game or team. Cut dough into football, basketball, baseball, pennant or mascot shapes and decorate in team colors.

The traveler on your gift list may be intrigued by a mix that includes cookie recipes from other countries. Bake French Madelines, Chinese Almond Cookies, or Cuban Empanadas. Don’t forget the obvious themes of the season, such as snowflakes and snowballs, Santas, stars, trees and religious-themed cookies that honor Hanukkah or the birth of Jesus.

The choices and combinations are endless. To get you started, we’ve included three of our favorite cookie recipes: Grandma's Sugar Cookies, Cherry Winks and Chocolate Drop Cookies.

Once you determine the recipes, gather what you’ll need from the Hy-Vee baking and dairy aisles. Then head to the non-food sections for plastic wraps and creative gift containers, scrapbooking papers, gift-wraps, ribbon, bows and labels.

Pretty and safe packaging for the cookies makes them extra special and sure to arrive in good condition. For the outside of the container, consider using gift bags, colorful sacks, specialty holiday containers, or new unused paint cans (sold at some home improvement centers or online) covered with decorative scrapbook and sheet gift-wrap papers from Hy-Vee.

Inside the containers, spread a cushion of white tissue paper, then carefully layer the cooled cookies, using more tissue to keep them in place and protected. For moist cookies that may stick together, use waxed paper or plastic wrap.

Source: Hy-Vee Seasons Holiday 2006.

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