These alternative ingredient mix-ins will give your holiday cookies an instant upgrade.

By Julia Heffelfinger
Updated May 23, 2017
Smoked Chocolate Chip Cookies
Credit: © Absalom Shantz

When it comes to cookies, I’m a bit of a purist (chocolate chip or bust!). I have my fail-proof, crowd-winning recipe, and I rarely venture beyond that. However, bakeries around the country are putting my traditional baked good thinking to the test by continuing to create ingenious flavor combinations and unexpected cookies—think tahini shortbread and olive oil balsamic vinegar cookies. So in honor of the bravery and creativity of these innovative bake shops, here are five ideas for mix-ins that will easily take your holiday cookies to the next level.

Smoked Chocolate Chips
These semi-sweet chocolate chips from Seattle-based company Hot Cakes are cold-smoked over alder wood for over ten hours. Mix them into your standard cookie dough with crumbled graham crackers and mini-marshmallows for a campfire-inspired s’mores cookie. For a non-cookie recipe, include the chips in a homemade mole to enhance the smokiness of the chiles. $15/7oz.,

Goat Milk Chai Caramels
We love these creamy caramels from the picturesque Big Picture Farm in Townshend, Vermont. This award-winning variety is lovely and made with an aromatic chai supplied by the farm's friend and neighbor Neil Harley, of local company Chai Wallah. The caramels would be fantastic chopped and folded into an oatmeal cookie batter or a dark chocolate. For easy mixing, place the caramels in the freezer for 30 minutes before chopping. $10/3.2 oz. (11 pieces),

Dark Chocolate Toffee Nibs
We’re obsessed with these crunchy, buttery toffee bits coated in dark chocolate and cocoa powder. Fold the whole toffee bits into your cookie dough or coarsely chop and sprinkle them over the top. $5/3.5oz., available at Whole Foods and

Pickled Cherries
These bing cherries from Boat Street Pickles are cured in a complex, tangy syrup of apple cider vinegar, cardamom, lime zest, coriander and more. Drain and coarsely chop a few of them, and fold into a buttery shortbread cookie for an unexpected and adorably pink cookie. Extra tip: consider adding a teaspoon or two of the syrup for extra color and spice. $12/9oz.,

Peanut Butter Cups with Chicharrones and Smoked Salt
Whether you’re so over the bacon trend or can’t get enough of it, you’ll love these peanut butter cups with bits of crunchy pork rinds. Coarsely chop and fold into cookie dough for a little salty-sweet porkiness. $17,