What a New York Chef Thinks You Should Bake Instead of Cookies This Holiday

It’s no surprise that chef and author of More than Cake Natasha Pickowicz’s most cherished holiday traditions revolve around food. On Lunar New Year, Christmas Eve, and New Year’s Eve, that tradition involves a butane stove. “We love to bust it out for a long night of Chinese hot pot,” says Pickowicz, of the meal where everyone DIY cooks bite-sized morsels of vegetables, meat, and seafood over a bubbling broth. “It’s perfect for a big family, lots of kids, out-of-town friends, picky eaters, you name it, because it’s such a communal style of eating: you drink cold beer, bump elbows, and eat for hours. It’s messy, chaotic, glorious fun.” Her family’s special Christmas morning breakfast, when her dad takes over in the kitchen, is always another highlight for Pickowicz. “We’ve always been a peanut-butter-toast-and-tea-for-breakfast kind of house, but Christmas morning my dad will crisp up bacon, scramble some eggs (and add lump crab), and make home fries from scratch,” she shares. “As a kid, eating breakfast before opening presents was a delicious way to prolong the anticipation—always the best part.” For Pickowicz, baking has long been about, as the title of her cookbook suggests, more than just baking; it’s a way of connecting with others and bringing people together. It’s also, she adds, about slowing down, something essential amidst the chaos of the holiday season. “Baking is a way to be more mindful, and in the moment—you’re focused on the task at hand—and get out of your own head,” says Pickowicz, adding that it can be an antidote for holiday stress. It can also make for a very thoughtful gift. “It’s the best and most intimate way to say thank you to others,” she says. “Baking is inherently homemade—when you eat something that someone you care about created, you feel the love in that treat.” And, though cookies are synonymous with the holiday season, Pickowicz has another sweet suggestion to consider.

Nubby Granola Shortbread

This treat appears in the first chapter of More Than Cake, “Never-Ending Cookies.” These sweet-and-salty, crumbly-and-crunchy, powdered sugar-dusted tiles are the perfect addition to your holiday baking repertoire; they’re naturally gluten-free, packed with nutty, rich flavor, and will happily use up any leftover granola you may have languishing in your pantry.

Makes twenty-four 1½-inch (4 cm) bars
15 minutes active time
2 hours inactive time
  • 2 cups (200 g) your favorite granola
  • ¾ cup (85 g) walnut pieces
  • 2 cups (300 g) white rice flour
  • ¾ cup (150 g) granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 8 ounces (225 g) unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch (1.25 cm) cubes, well chilled
  • Flaky sea salt
  • Powdered sugar, for dusting

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Tuck a sheet of parchment paper into a quarter-sheet pan (9 by 13 inches/13 by 33 cm). Lightly mist the parchment with cooking spray.

2. In a food processor, combine the granola, walnut pieces, white rice flour, granulated sugar, and kosher salt and pulse until the mixture is pebbly and fine.

3. Add the butter and pulse another 8 to 10 times, until the mixture feels like damp, coarse bread crumbs.

4. Scatter the dough evenly in the prepared sheet pan. Use your knuckles to lightly press the crumb into an even layer. Do not apply too much pressure, as this would make the shortbread dense and gummy.

5. Bake until the edges of the shortbread are lightly browned and the center feels soft but cooked through, 35 to 40 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and sprinkle the surface with flaky sea salt. While the shortbread is still hot, use a small knife to score it into 24 squares.

6. Let cool completely, then cut the cookies, still in the pan, along the scored lines and dust with powdered sugar. The shortbread can be stored, tightly wrapped at room temperature, for up to 1 week.