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It’s the holidays which means back to back cookie exchanges. Instead of the classic sugar or gingerbread, try one of these one-of-a-kind specialty recipes inspired by our chef’s holiday memories. These cookies will be the hit of the party! We even have a gluten and dairy free cookie recipe for taste testing.

1. Candy Cane Cookies

Our first recipe is a special one straight from Director of Food & Beverage Daven Wardynski’s Grandmother’s kitchen.

Daven Wardynski’s Story

“As a child growing up, the most influential person in my life other than my parents was my grandma Wardynski. Every Friday after my dad would finish his shift at General Motors, we would visit my grandparents in Bay City, Michigan. Us kids would immediately run to the basement and create what we thought to be groundbreaking items with rusty nails, scrap pieces of wood and years of old defunct newspapers. Our surroundings would be hundreds of canned or preserved foods that she had processed with the season’s bounty. Unknowingly, this would set the foundation for the passion I have for food today. Rustic, seasonal, refined with no boundaries were what happened in that kitchen upstairs and defined grandma. Her food was full of “soul” and in my opinion; food tastes better when it has soul.

She passed when I was in 6th grade. It was tough, but before she did so she said to the family “keep my kitchen alive”. This is something I would unknowingly take on to be my life’s work.

One of the items that will forever be instilled in me from those Friday evenings at Grandma’s are these candy cane cookies. Each season we as a family would all work together, around the kitchen table with the red and blonde doughs, rolling, knotting and forming the candy candy canes. Young and old… was fun for all of us and something I am not only happy, but proud to share with you.

I keep this recipe, written in her handwriting, from when she was alive with that magic I remember from her kitchen. This is one that I will carry with me until I say those same words to my family when it’s my time. I hope she is proud of where I have taken “her” kitchen. You can’t put a price on food that carries soul.”

Grandma Wardynski’s Candy Cane Cookies


  • 1 cup Shortening (Half Butter)
  • 1 cup Powdered Sugar
  • 1 Egg
  • 1 tsp. Vanilla
  • 2 1/2 cups Flour
  • 1 tsp. Salt
  • 1/2 tsp. Red Food Coloring


  1. Heat oven to 375.
  2. Mix shortening, sugar, egg and flavoring. Mix flour, salt and stir in. Divide dough in half.
  3. Blend food coloring into one half.
  4. Roll 1 tsp. of each color dough into strips 4 inches long on a lightly floured board.
  5. Place strips side by side and twist. Put on an ungreased baking sheet. Curve tops.
  6. Bake 9 minutes.

2. Amaretti Cookies

Our favorite part of the holidays is the nostalgia they incite. This next recipe draws inspiration from memorable moments in the kitchen with family.

Pastry Chef Kristina Kent’s Story

“The holidays always remind me of baking with my Italian Nana. We would make pies, rolls, and cookies. The first thing she ever let me do in the kitchen was whip the cream for the pies, and every year when I am making my holiday desserts and whipping that cream, I think of being a little girl baking with my Nana. We would make many different Italian cookies for the holidays, but the amaretti cookies were always my favorite! I loved how I got to smash the cookies with my HANDS! I love these cookies so much in fact, that I use my Nana’s recipe here at the hotel, and they are a huge hit! They are just 4 little ingredients, but they pack a super almond punch, crunchy on the outside, chewy on the inside. Every time I taste these, I think of the holidays and my Nana. A plus for today’s varied diets; these cookies are gluten and dairy free! Nana was really ahead of the times! Who knew?”

Nana’s Amaretti Cookies

Gluten and dairy free


  • 12 oz. Almond Paste
  • 2 oz. Egg Whites
  • ¾ cup Powdered Sugar
  • ½ cup Granulated Sugar


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
2. Put the almond paste in the bowl of your mixer and, with the paddle attachment, paddle to break up
3. Add the remaining ingredients and mix to form a sticky dough
4. Scoop the cookies with a cookie scoop (or alternately just scoop with a tablespoon) and roll into a ball. Place the balls onto a parchment lined baking sheet. Slightly wet your fingers in warm water, and press the cookies down using 2 fingers (you want to see the finger marks)
5. Bake for 15-18 minutes or until just starting to show color

3. Dulce de Leche Cookies

Dulce de Leche in cookie form… yes please. This recipe comes from Chef Gabino Acosta’s childhood growing up in a small village in Acapulco, Mexico.

Chef Gabin Acosta’s Story

“This family recipe stems from growing up with my grandmother in a small village off the coast of the Pacific, a few hours from Acapulco. She was a great cook and baker. Everything that she produced was done from scratch including one of the main ingredients that was used for this particular cookie, the “Dulce de Leche” which was made from sugar cane molasses.

This cookie was made for celebratory times and especially prepared for holidays such as Day of the Dead and Christmas. Our guests are able to enjoy this cookie today with our naturally brewed coffee which was prepared in a traditional terracotta pot.

Moving from our small village in Acapulco to the United States, our family brought along a lot of my grandma’s cooking techniques and family recipes. Cooking this sweet treat was a favorite memory of mine, from simmering the goat and cow milk, to cooking the milk paste from the sugar cane rocks.

Grandma had an old style wood burning terracotta oven that made it difficult for our family to keep open a family retail bakery . It did, luckily, make an authentic and local favorite “Dulce de Leche Snap Cookies.”

Dulce de Leche Snap Cookies


  • 8 oz. Sugar
  • 5 oz. Brown Sugar
  • 6 oz. Salt
  • 12 oz. Shortening
  • 4 oz. Butter
  • 4 oz. Whole Milk
  • .5 oz. Baking Soda
  • 22 oz. Molasses
  • 20 oz. Bread Flour
  • 20 oz. Cake Flour


  1. Heat oven to 325 degrees.
  2. Cream together sugars, salt shortening and butter till smooth and soft.
  3. Dissolve baking soda in milk and add to the mix.
  4. Add molasses.
  5. Sift together flours and add it to the mixer, slowly till smooth.
  6. Roll 1.5 ounce balls, then make the dough in the shape of a mini bowl.
  7. Scoop the Dulce de Leche in 0.8 ounce spoonfuls.
  8. Add the Dulce de Leche into the dough, close it and shape the cookie in 2 inches rounds.
  9. Freeze the cookie dough for about 20 minutes, and bake them frozen 8-10 minutes at 325 degrees.

Additional Recipe Tips:

  • Use non-stick spray so the cookies don’t stick to the pan.
  • Freeze the Dulce de Leche for about 15 minutes so is not to runny (make sure you are able to scoop it).
  • Use the non-stick spray in the scoop when scooping the Dulce de Leche to avoid messy hands.

4. Pumpkin Sugar Cookies

Why we love this next recipe: This is the perfect holiday cookie that incorporates the spices and flavors of the season. The cookie is soft and moist, and has the crunch of the turbinado sugar that is the perfect texture combination. They are light and fluffy – something a bit different than the traditional holiday cookies such as molasses or gingerbread.

Pumpkin Sugar Cookies


  • 2-¾ cups All-Purpose Flour
  • 1 tsp. Baking Powder
  • 1 tsp. Baking Soda
  • 1-¼ tsp. Kosher Salt
  • 1-½ tsp. Cinnamon
  • 1-¼ tsp. Ginger
  • ¾ tsp. Nutmeg
  • 6 oz. (1-½ sticks) Butter
  • 1 lb. Brown Sugar
  • 2 Eggs
  • 2 cups Canned Pumpkin
  • 6 oz. Evaporated Milk
  • 1 tsp. Vanilla Extract
  • 1 cup Sugar in the Raw


1. Put butter in pan and cook over low heat, stirring constantly until small brown bits form on the bottom. Set aside to cool.
2. Sift flour, baking powder, baking soda and spices.
3. In mixer, paddle cooled browned butter and sugar. Add egg and vanilla, then pumpkin.
4. Add flour mixture alternating with the milk and mix just until combined.
6. Scoop and sprinkle with Sugar in the Raw.
7. Bake at 350 degrees for approx 14-16 min.

Special Tip:

The key to this recipe is browning the butter. Browning the butter adds a certain nutty richness to the flavor that can’t be duplicated with room temperature butter, and really makes this cookie stand out from the rest!

5. Maple Cookies

The inspiration behind this next recipe comes from Executive Chef Andre Natera’s trip to Canada where he discovered how lovely the flavor of maple was. He loves the idea of using maple not just to enhance the sweetness of the cookie but also adding an earthy flavor for balance.


  • 8 oz. Butter, room temperature
  • 7 oz. Brown Sugar
  • 1 Egg
  • 8 oz. Maple Syrup
  • 1 Tsp. Vanilla Extract
  • 17 oz. (1 lb. plus 1 oz.) All-purpose Flour
  • 1 Tbsp. Baking Soda
  • ¼ Tsp. Salt


1. In a mixer, cream the brown sugar and butter using the paddle attachment
2. Stop mixing when the appearance is light and creamy
3. Add the egg and stop mixing once the egg has been fully incorporated
4. Add the dry ingredients, maple and vanilla and mix just until incorporated
5. Scoop your cookies into the size your prefer and place in the refrigerator to set
6. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
7. Bake the cookies for approximately 15 minutes or until golden brown

Need more holiday recipe ideas?