They can be rich and gooey or light and crumbly, free-form pillows of dough or precisely cut out and decorated.

They can be rich and gooey or light and crumbly, free-form pillows of dough or precisely cut out and decorated.

Regardless of ingredients or effort, cookies are symbolic of more than a sweet treat, says Mary Shaw, culinary educator for Ashland Food Co-op.

"Everybody has a story that goes with cookies," says Shaw. "Different cultures have holiday cookies."

The Co-op's bid to offer customers some special, seasonal recipes led Shaw on a search through the annals of traditional baking around the world. The trip started, perhaps predictably, in Europe with recipes for Italian, Greek, Swiss, Austrian and Jewish cookies. But Morocco and New Mexico provided their own festive morsels.

"They reflect the foods that are native to where they come from," says Shaw, noting that an authentic New Mexican biscochito — the state's official cookie — is made with lard, not butter, and "just melts in your mouth."

Whole-grain spelt flour and unrefined cane sugar are the primary ingredients that Shaw used in her adapted recipes. The flour, available at the Co-op and any store with a bulk-foods section, is a bit more healthy than all-purpose flour with a tender crumb ideal for baking. The unrefined sugar — a bit more coarse and a beige color — also is available in bulk and isn't quite as sweet as its standard, granulated counterpart but measures out the same.

"There's a few minerals still left in it," says Shaw.

While Shaw did adapt a gluten-free gingersnap in lieu of the classic gingerbread man, her recipes aren't designed for alternative sweeteners and fats.

"Each of them contributes," she says of real sugar, eggs and butter for baking. "In my mind, a low-fat cookie is an oxymoron."

Store shoppers can taste for themselves on three Saturdays this month. Free sampling of biscochitos, rugelach and linzer cookies will be at 11 a.m. Dec. 8, 15 and 22, respectively, at the culinary kiosk in the store, 237 N. First St., Ashland. Recipes will be available to take home.

Baking enthusiasts also can get a leg up on the season at a Saturday class in Medford. Professional baker Rebecca Hill, known for multiple GingerBread Jubilee wins, will demonstrate drop, rolled and refrigerator cookies at her store, Sweet Stuff. Although the store has all the supplies for show-stopping cookies, Hill recommends offsetting efforts with a few simpler recipes.

"I've made thousands and thousands of cookies," she says. "It's a little bit more enjoyable when you do a few different kinds."

Participants will go home with extra cookie dough to bake.

Reach Food Editor Sarah Lemon at 541-776-4487 or email