Holiday Sugar Cookies


Tried-and-true, fabulous sugar cookie recipe! Old fashioned, easy to make buttery cookies, perfect to decorate for the holidays!

Photography Credit: Steve-Anna Stephens

In my house, making holiday 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, 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.

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 confectioners sugar recipe – made with just a few simple ingredients – then we add our food colorings of choice to the icing.

Sugar Cookie 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 premade icing decorating pens for detailed piping, messages or intricate designs.

Using sprinkles

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!

Sugar Cookie Baking and Decorating Tips:

  1. 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. Dipping the cookie cutter in some flour after each cut will also help the dough release more easily from the cookie cutter.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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!

Holiday Sugar Cookies Recipe

  • Yield: Makes 5 dozen cookies, makes fewer if using oversized cookie cutters



  • 3 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup butter, softened to room temp
  • 1 egg, slightly beaten
  • 3 tbsp whipping cream
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract (can substitute almond extract)


  • 1/3 cup Crisco (transfat-free) or a 1/3 cup of softened butter
  • 1 pound of confectioners sugar
  • About 1/4 cup of milk
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla

Cookie Decorations:


1 Make the cookie dough: In a large bowl, vigorously whisk together the dry ingredients—flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.

Use a mixer to mix in the softened butter, egg, whipping cream, and vanilla extract. Beat until well mixed.

Chill the dough for several hours.

2 Roll out the dough: Break off a piece of dough the size of an orange and pat it flat in your hand. Sprinkle lightly with a flour/sugar mixture (use a 2/1 ratio of flour to sugar: 4 Tbsp flour mixed with 2 Tbsp sugar).

Using a rolling pin, roll dough on a floured board or between wax paper. Flour both sides of the dough while rolling so the dough will lift easily from the board when cut. Roll out to about a 1/4-inch thickness.

3 Cut out the cookie shapes: Use cookie cutters to cut out the cookie shapes.If the rolled out dough gets too soft, chill it in the refrigerator for 5 to 10 minutes before continuing.

4 Bake: Place the cookie shapes on silpat-lined or an un-greased 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.

5 Make the icing: Use a mixer to beat the icing ingredients—Crisco or butter, confectioners sugar, milk, vanilla extract—until smooth.

If your icing is too thick to spread evenly, add tiny amounts of milk and thoroughly remix until the icing is the consistency you prefer.

Separate into different bowls, add food coloring to achieve various colors.

6 Decorate: Spread the icing onto the cookies with a butter knife or a pastry brush, use cake decorating piping equipment to add decorative accents.

If you want the sprinkle type decorating candies to stick, brush the cookie with clear Karo syrup and then sprinkle.


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Steve-Anna Stephens

Management consulting might be her day job, but Steve-Anna Stephens moonlights as an authentic Southern hostess and cook. Having spent the majority of her life in Alabama, Steve-Anna's wanderlust has carried her to Boston, Tucson, Southern California, and back to Tucson again.

More from Steve-Anna

Adapted from the recipe for Old Fashioned Sugar Cookies, Huntsville Heritage Cookbook, 1967, The Junior League of Huntsville, AL, Lowry Printing, Inc.

Showing 4 of 47 Comments / Reviews

  • Jeanie

    I was worried about this recipe given the mixed reviews, but it really is the best! Here are my suggestions: Mix the dough like any regular cookie dough. By that I mean, cream the butter and sugar together. Add the egg and mix well, then add the cream and extract (I used almond). While those things are mixing, whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt. Combine the two and mix well. Let the dough chill for several hours before rolling out.

    I love the suggestion to mix flour and sugar for rolling, and was able to roll the dough thin. We must have over 100 cookies, all sizes, all beautiful. Looking forward to decorating them. Thanks for a great recipe!

  • Leo

    I tried the sugar cookie tonight and it was ok. My little girl enjoyed it. We are trying out cookies for her school cookie exchange for Friday. Thank you for the recipe.

  • Melody

    Sounds like shortbread cookies.

  • nicole

    I made the recipe today for the kids to decorate for valentine’s day and it was delicious! soft and wonderful. I added more cream to get the dough to come together and it didn’t make as many as I expected but we did have a fairly large cookie cutter. thanks for this recipe–I highly recommend it.

  • Rachel

    Finally! A good sugar cookie cut-out recipe! I try a new recipe every year and can’t find one that’s just right. Either the dough is a pain to work with, or the taste is just so-so. I decided to try this one since it was so different from anything else I’ve tried. I live in a very humid climate, and so I often have to add more flour to cookie recipes. But I thought since the liquid is added last, I could add less cream if need be. But, IT WAS PERFECT just like it is! The dough is easy to work with and the cookies are so tender and yummy. I will search no further. THANK YOU!

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