Perfect Pairings with Vanessa Riley: 7 Days of Merry Cookies and Happy New Books


I love the Christmas Season. It’s a time to reflect, to look forward to spending time with love ones, and to eat sweets. I cannot lie, I love good Christmas pie. I love fruitcake and bonbons and of course the cookies. So, for this year-end edition of perfect pairings, I offer seven days of easy Christmas cookie recipes and the books that inspired them.

Monday: Portia’s Hand in the Cookie Jar Manolo Blahnik Cookies

When I say duke or duchess, I see Harry and Meghan… and high-fashion with tested grace. So, pairing high-society Portia Hobbs with angsty, silver-haired fox Tavish McKenzie was a no-brainer for my Ton loving heart. Alyssa Coles creates magic again in Duke by Default, the second book in the Reluctant Royals Series. This book perfectly pairs with my Manola Blahnik Cookies. It’s a super simple recipe, so you don’t have to spend too much time in the kitchen and can dive into this sumptuous tale of opposites attracting.

The Ingredients:

1 box of your favorite chocolate cake mix (Yes, we are cheating with a store box mix, about 15.25 ounce size of store bought goodness. Want to do another size? Do the math to adjust the recipe.)

2 cups chopped Pepperidge Farm’s Milano Cookies (One bag should do it.)

½ cup grapeseed oil (Can be substituted with canola.)

2 eggs

The Instructions:

Blend together the cake mix, the eggs, and the grapeseed oil. Hand stir the Milano cookie pieces into the batter, so they don’t break up anymore. Put plastic wrap on top of the dough and chill for an hour. Do not miss this step, or the cookies will run and make a giant blob cookie when baked. Form dough balls several inches apart on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake for 7 -10 minutes in preheated 350-degree oven. Cool for 1 minute in the pan, then slide the parchment onto a wire rack and cool to room temperature.

Tuesday: Adeline’s Red Velvet Box Cookies

In Duchess by Design, Maya Rodale crafts a witty, fast-paced Gilded Age romance. Dress designer, pocket rebel, Adeline Black must not succumb to the swarthy charm of the Duke of Kingston. Well, we know how that will go. Delightful. So, I’ve created another inspired pairing in which the white and dark chocolates blend together in a torrent of velvety goodness.

The Ingredients: 

1 box of your favorite red velvet cake mix (Yes, cheat. Use a store box mix about 15.25 ounce size. Save your time for reading.)

2 eggs

½ cup grapeseed oil (Can be substituted for canola)

¾ cup white chocolate chips

½ cup of chopped lightly toasted pecans chips

The Instructions:

Combine the cake mix, eggs, and the oil until well mixed. Stir in the chocolate chips and cooled nuts together, then mix in the dough until well incorporated. Do not over mix. Use a tablespoon and drop dollops onto a pan lined with parchment paper. Bake at 350-degree preheated oven for 8-10 minutes. Cool cookies in the pan for 1 minute, then slide the parchment onto a wire rack and cool cookies to room temperature.

Wednesday: Armstong’s Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookies

I am becoming very adventurous in the kitchen, and what is more adventurous for an Irish Southern butter-loving baker than vegan cuisine. It is a great challenge to make something yummy without using at least one of the main foodie staples: eggs, flour, butter.  Nonetheless, the adventurous pairing of chocolate chip lover, Detective Armstrong Black and fiery Danni Winstead of Deborah Fletcher Mello’s Seduced by the Badge, deserved a cookie which was equally unique and delicious.

The Ingredients:

2 bananas, well mashed

1 ¾ cups quick rolled oats

½ cup chunky peanut butter (You can use plain peanut butter)

½ cup dark chocolate chips (You can use milk chocolate, if you must)

The Instructions:

Whip the bananas until fluffy, then stir in the oats and peanut butter.

Add the chocolate chips, stirring until just incorporated. Do not over mix.

Drop heaping teaspoons onto a baking pan lined with parchment paper. If you want larger cookies like tablespoon sized, chill cookies on the parchment line pan in the refrigerator for half an hour. In either case, bake for 10-15 minutes in a preheated 350-degree oven. 

Thursday: Percy’s Catered Sugar Cookies

Everyone loves a sugar cookie, but I find that there’s something extra wonderful about finding a sugar cookie that has the delicate and unexpected balance of sweet to chewy just right. A Ying for a Yang. A Percy for a Eugenia? In the novella, The Sugarplum Ladies (part of The Victorian Christmas Brides Collection) Carrie Fancett Pagels creates a special Christmas tale involving an American social reformer, Eugenia Mott, and barrister, Percy Gladstone, who has a love of equality and sugar cookies.

The Ingredients:

2 sticks butter, no salt softened

2 cups flour

1 cup raw cane sugar

2-3 teaspoons vanilla

Sprinkles (red and green sprinkles)

The Instructions:

Hand mix the butter and sugar. Ok, you can cheat and use a mixer. The goal is to get the mix fluffy, then add the vanilla. Slowly add the flour, ¼ cup at time, waiting until everything is well mixed before adding the next portion. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for an hour. Then turn the dough out on a floured board or clean countertop. Wait 15 minutes, then roll the dough flat to about ¼ thick. Sprinkle dough with the sprinkles. Lightly roll the top of the dough again to press in the sprinkles. Use cookie cutters or round biscuit cutters to cut out shapes. Place on a pan lined with parchment paper and bake at 350 degrees for 10-15 minutes. Cool on pan for 1 minute then move the parchment onto a cooling rack to cool the cookies to room temperature.

Friday: Lili’s Lip-Licking Chocolate Pretzel Cookies

In Their Perfect Melody, Priscilla Oliveras, offers the wild child romance of salsa loving Lili Fernandez and Chicago PD officer, the magnanimous play-me-a-song-you-hunky-hero, Diego Reyes. Since the officer and Lili have an arresting moment with chocolate, they inspired this cookie pairing.

The Ingredients:

1 bag of pretzels, each pretzel about 2 inches in diameter

1 bag of Ghirardelli Chocolate Squares Chocolates Gift Bag, 5.32 oz.

1 bag of Rolo Candies or a whole bunch of the checkout stand packs

Pecan or Walnut Halves, lightly toasted

The Instructions:

Crush into big bits one half of the bag of pretzels. Place whole pretzels on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Add the crumbled pretzels to the holes in the whole pretzel. Say that fast.

You do this so that each bite gets a lot of pretzel. Unwrap the Ghirardelli and Rolo candies, placing the Ghirardelli down in the center of each pretzel first, then the Rolo on top. Place pretzel laden cookie sheet into a preheated 200 degree oven for five minutes.  Remove cookie sheet from oven and place the pecan or walnut into the center of the molten Rolo. Be careful not to burn yourself. This is very hot. Allow the cookies to cool room temperature so the chocolate and caramel can become firm.

How The Dukes Stole Christmas by Tessa Dare, Sarah MacLean, Sophie Jordan, and Joanna Shupe
Saturday: The Dukes’ Five Ingredient Shortbread Cookies

This perfect cookie pairing combines my Go-To shortbread cookie with some of my Go-To authors. Sarah MacLean, Tessa Dare, Sophie Jordan, and Joanna Shupe craft perfect tales for the Yuletide season in How The Dukes Stole Christmas. Each tales is sensually crafted with the exuberance of love found, love lost, and love returned, and the magic center of a bitter tasting shortbread recipe. Ok, you almost lost me with that. So here is an easy version of great tasting shortbread cookies.

The Ingredients:

2 cups of softened fresh butter, the fresher, the better

2 teaspoons of vanilla extract

1 cup of raw cane sugar

1 cup of almond flour, milled fine and, sifted to aerate

3 cups of all-purpose flour

The Instructions:

Cream the butter and sugar together until the mix is very light and fluffy. Take your time. This step along with the quality of the butter makes the recipe. Next stir in the vanilla. Then add the almond flour stirring in a ½ cup at a time. Next, stir in the all-purpose flour, one cup at a time until all is incorporated. Cover the dough in plastic wrap and put in the refrigerator for thirty minutes. Roll the dough and use cookie cutters or a cookie press to form the cookies placing them on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake in a preheated oven at 350-degrees for 8-12 minutes. Cool on the baking sheet for three minutes then scoop up and finish cooling on a wire rack.

Sunday: Rachel Needs-to-Be Tart Lemon Cookies

On the seventh day, I rested with an old favorite, Kristan Higgin’s tale of two sisters in If You Only Knew. This is an angsty, funny tale in which you’ll cry, yell, but always find yourself rooting for Rachel and Jenny, even if you wish Rachel would be a bit more acerbic sometimes.

The Ingredients:

1 box of your favorite lemon cake mix (Yes, cheat. Kristan, would probably approve of the short cut. Ya… I’m pretty sure. Use a store box mix–15.25 ounce size)

2 eggs

1/3 cup (minus 1 teaspoon) grapeseed oil

1 teaspoon lemon extract

1 teaspoon of fresh lemon juice

½ cup chopped up candied lemon rind or lemon heads (put into a blender or food processor, then toss in powder sugar)

1/3 cup confectioners’ sugar

The Instructions:

Combine the cake mix, eggs, and oil until well mixed. Stir in the lemon extract and the chopped candy until they are incorporated into the dough. Do not over mix. Take a rounded teaspoon of the dough toss it in the powdered sugar. Once dusted on all sides, put the cookie onto a pan lined with parchment paper. Bake at 350-degree preheated oven for 6-10 minutes. Cool for 1 minute in the pan, then slide parchment onto a wire rack to cool the cookies to room temperature.

I hope these recipes inspire you to read and play in the kitchen.  And don’t forget to set out a plate of milk and cookies out for you and Santa.

Merry Christmas. Happy Holidays.

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