In my house, making Christmas sugar cookies is just as much about the icing and the decorating as it is about the baking.
What colors to use for the confectioners sugar icing? How many types of Jimmies and sprinkles? Oh! Maybe, red hots and sugar pearls!
Whether or not you consider yourself artistic or creative, one of the great things about making sugar cookies is that you get to choose the cookie cutter shapes and the decorations. The possibilities are endless, and the cookies are sure to be show-stoppers on any holiday dessert tray.
The Best Icing for Christmas Cookies
How do you make icing for sugar cookies?
Some people prefer to use royal icing for their sugar cookies, but in our family we use this no-fail classic powdered sugar recipe – made with just a few simple ingredients – then we add our food colorings of choice to the icing.
The color palette you choose, and how you use it on your holiday sugar cookies, is really up to you. Some people want a specific color theme to match the holiday decorations in their homes. Some people prefer coating the cookies in crystals and skipping the icing altogether.
Others let the kids (and the adults) go wild while decorating the cookies and just have fun. You can also use pre-made icing decorating pens for detailed piping, messages or intricate designs.
Plan Out Your Icing Colors
Think ahead about how much of each icing color you want for your designs. Divide the plain icing into separate bowls and add food coloring in small drops, mixing thoroughly each time, until you reach your desired color. If you need to lighten a color, you can mix some of the plain icing back in, but it’s much easier to darken a color than it is to lighten it, so go slowly!
Christmas Cookie Baking Tips
- Cut out shapes close together: When cutting out cookie shapes, make your cuts as close as possible to each other to get the most cookies from the surface of the rolled out dough. Always be sure to work on a floured and sugared surface when cutting.
- Dip cookie cutters in flour: Dipping the cookie cutter in some flour after each cut will also help the dough release more easily from the cookie cutter.
- Bake longer for crisper cookies: If you want your cookies to be a little more crispy than soft, just bake them a little bit longer, until they are slightly brown around the edges.
- Let cookies sit for a minute or two after baking: After baking, let the cookies sit for a minute or two on the cookie sheet before attempting to remove them. This allows the cookies to firm up slightly and keeps the shapes intact. Cool the baked cookies on wire racks for at least 5-10 minutes after removing them from the baking sheets.
- Cool cookie sheets between batches: Be sure to let the cookie sheets cool completely between batches, so the dough doesn’t thin out and run, which it will do if placed on a warm surface.
You might think that once you’ve invested the time and effort to make the dough, chill it, roll it out, cut and bake the cookies – not to mention icing them and decorating them – that the cookies might just be too pretty to eat. Well, think again.
These holiday sugar cookies are totally addictive. And while they will last for up to a week when stored in an airtight container, trust me. They won’t last that long. Happy holiday baking!
Tip for Rolling Out the Dough
This dough can be a bit sticky, so we've found it's easiest to roll it out between two sheets of parchment and then chill it in the fridge. Not only does the parchment make it easy to the dough evenly, but the thin sheets mean they chill faster in the fridge!
If it’s helpful, slide the sheets of rolled-out cookie dough onto sheet pans to make them easier to take in abs out of the fridge, or to balance them on top of other items in the fridge.
How to Store and Freeze Christmas Cookies
Store the frosted cookies in an airtight container on the counter for up to five days. After that, they start to dry out and become crumbly.
You can also freeze unfrosted cookies for up to three months. We recommend stacking a few cookies, then wrapping them in foil, and then storing them in an airtight freezer bag or container. Frost when ready to eat.
Try These Other Christmas Cookies!
Christmas Sugar Cookies
Adapted from the recipe for Old Fashioned Sugar Cookies, Huntsville Heritage Cookbook, 1967, The Junior League of Huntsville, AL, Lowry Printing, Inc.
- For the cookies:
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup butter, softened to room temp
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 large egg, slightly beaten
- 3 tablespoons whipping cream
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (can substitute almond extract)
- For the icing:
- 1/3 cup Crisco (transfat-free) or a 1/3 cup of softened butter
- 1 pound powdered sugar
- About 1/4 cup milk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Cookie Decorations:
- Sprinkles or jimmies
- Sugar Pearls
- Decorating Pens
Make the cookie dough:
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.
Using a stand mixer or hand mixer, beat together the softened butter and sugar until creamy. Mix in the egg and vanilla, followed by the whipping cream. With the mixer on low speed, mix in the flour mixture just until no more dry streaks of flour remain.
Roll out and chill:
Divide the dough two. Roll each half out between two sheets of parchment paper. (The parchment makes this sticky dough easier to roll out and the dough also chills more quickly.)
Transfer the sheets of cookie dough, still sandwiched between parchment, to the fridge. (Place on baking sheets if neeDed so you can balance the sheets on top of other items in your fridge.)
Chill for at least one hour or up to overnight.
Heat the oven to 400°F
Cut out the cookie shapes:
Peel off the top layer of parchment from one of the sheets of cookie dough. Use cookie cutters to cut out the cookie shapes. If the dough gets too soft, chill it in the refrigerator for 5 to 10 minutes before continuing.
Transfer the cookies to a parchment or silpat-lined cookie sheet. Bake 5-8 minutes at 400°F.
Remove the cookies from the oven as soon as you see them turning color at the base of the cookie.
Let cool completely. Repeat with remaining batches of cookies. You can also gather the scraps, roll them out again, and cut more cookies.
Make the icing:
In a stand mixer or with a hand mixer, beat together Crisco or butter, powdered sugar, milk, and vanilla extract until smooth.
If your icing is too thick to spread evenly, add tiny amounts of milk and thoroughly mix until the icing is the consistency you prefer.
Separate into different bowls, add food coloring to achieve various colors.
Spread the icing onto the cookies with a butter knife or an offset spatula. Use piping bags to add decorative accents, if desired.
If you want the sprinkle decorations to stick directly on the cookie, brush the cookie with clear Karo syrup and then sprinkle.