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How to Make Christmas Cookies

You know the ones: Soft, buttery cookies cut into your favorite shapes, frosted and decorated to the nines. These tips make it easier than ever to look like a cookie pro. The time is now.

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Natalie Boike
It’s a pretty universal fact that when the Christmas season comes around, cookies will be made. No one says, “Do you think they’ll have cookies?” And, I’ve never seen a cookie plate without cutout sugar cookies on it. And don’t forget to set out a few as a thank you to Santa for his hard work delivering presents!

I grew up making cutout sugar cookies with my mom and grandma all year ‘round. I would bring the kitchen chair up to the counter and even had a special apron that was just my size. And you’d better believe my little ones are in the kitchen “helping” make cookies too. Some traditions can never be broken. Needless to say, we pull out all the stops around Christmas and the cookies not only have to taste great, but they also have to look great too.

That’s why I have no shame in starting with a roll of refrigerated sugar cookie dough. By all means you can start from scratch. But during the holidays, I like to jump straight to the fun stuff. And this way I don’t have to worry about forgetting an ingredient because the kids are around helping, either!

Cookie Supplies


Here’s what you’ll need.

  • Sugar Cookie Dough 
  • Flour 
  • Cookie Cutters 
  • Spatula (a small metal one works best) 
  • Cookie Sheets 
  • Parchment Paper, if desired 
  • Oven Mitts 
  • Cooling Racks 
  • Powdered Sugar 
  • Vanilla 
  • Food Coloring, if desired 
  • Plastic Squeeze Bottles (Trust me on this; you’ll see why later.) 
  • SPRINKLES!

Prepare the Cookie Dough


So, even when you start with refrigerated dough, you do need to do a little mixing. The cookies hold their shape better when you mix in a little bit of flour. I essentially follow this “recipe” for Basic Iced Sugar Cookies

Remove dough from package into a small mixing bowl. I’ll either snip the ends with scissors and squeeze the dough out, or I’ll take a sharp knife and make a long cut along the tube and scrape out the dough. Mix in 3 tablespoons flour per cookie dough package. I find my fingers work best, but you can use a rubber spatula or wooden spoon if you prefer.

Roll Out Cookie Dough

Gather some flour in between your fingers and lightly sprinkle onto your clean countertop. Divide your mixed dough in half—placing half onto your flour-dusted surface and leaving half in your mixing bowl. Pop the extra dough into the fridge to keep it from getting warm and sticky while you work.

Work dough into a smooth ball, adding more flour as needed if your dough starts getting sticky. Dust your surface again, and then slightly flatten your dough ball with the palm of your hand. Rub a little flour on your rolling pin. Start in the center and roll up, then back to the center and roll down. Flip your rolling pin vertical and roll from the center to the left and then… Well, you get the general gist. The point being when you start in the center and work out, you get a more uniform layer of dough. You’re looking for about 1/4 of an inch thickness, or about the height of a pencil. Keep adding flour when needed to keep the dough from sticking to the countertop and your rolling pin.

Cut and Bake Cookies

Grab the kids! They can help pick out cookie cutters. The ideal size is between 2 and 3 inches in diameter, but it’s Christmas and the options are limitless. Snowmen, trees and jingle bells, oh my! If you don’t have Christmas-specific cutters, that’s okay too. Stars are very festive and you can even make a round cookie look like an ornament or Christmas bulb when it gets time to decorate.

Metal cutters, whether stainless steel or copper, tend to hold their shape a little better than their plastic counterparts. Ones with plastic grips or other features are really more about durability than anything else. Whatever cookie cutters you select, just try to bake similar-size shapes on one cookie sheet so they are evenly cooked. If the dough is still sticky, dip your cookie cutter into some more flour before you make your cutout, and wiggle a bit before lifting to release the dough.

Now, when kids are helping this can be hard, but try to cut as close to the edges and to other cookies as possible. This reduces the amount of work you’ll have to do gathering scraps and re-rolling, and the amount of flour you add into the dough. The less flour you need to mix in, the softer your final cookie will be.

Use your fingers to pull up the extra dough and reveal your fun shapes. Then, use a small spatula to place the cookies about 1 inch apart onto your baking sheet. You want to leave enough space so if your cookies expand they don’t merge into one another. Again, dipping your spatula in a little flour can prevent sticking and preserve your fun cookie shapes.
Depending on your dough, you can prepare the sheet with nonstick cooking spray or line with parchment to prevent sticking. With this recipe, I’ve found the best result straight on an ungreased cookie sheet. Win-win!
Now, gather up your scraps and repeat the rolling and cutting process as needed. Don’t forget to put any extra cookie dough in the fridge.
Now, you could do a little pre-decorating and sprinkle your cookies with colored sugar. If you’re all about ease, this is the way to go. Once your sprinkle-topped cookies are baked, you’re done. But especially at Christmas, I’m all about the frosting – so straight into the oven my cookies go. Bake cookies for 9 to 12 minutes in an oven preheated to 350°F. Keep an eye on your first batch; you’re looking for a slightly golden color. If your cookies are spreading out too much and not holding their shape, place the entire cookie sheet of cut cookies into the fridge or freezer for a bit, maybe 5 minutes, before baking.
Cool on the pan for 1 minute before removing onto a cooling rack. Letting the cookies cool allows them to firm up a bit. Trying to remove warm cookies can lead to sticking and cookie tearing. Some people use a cut-up paper bag instead of a cooling rack. I find this is better for drop cookies and ones that have a higher quantity of butter; the paper absorbs the excess.

A Note on Baking Sheets. Backing up a bit, there’s a lot of people who swear by one type of cookie sheet over another. Here’s a quick run down on the details as it relates to Christmas cookies.

  • I’ve found darker nonstick cookie sheets are a breeze to clean up. They do bake cookies a little more quickly than other cookie sheets so keep an eye on your first batch. 
  • I think basic aluminum cookie sheets make the best cookies—slightly buttery and browned on the bottom. 
  • You can also buy double-thick aluminum and heavy-gauge aluminum pans. But I find those varieties are more about durability than better baking results. 
  • Insulated cookie sheets (known by the Air-Bake brand name) are good for thin and delicate cookies. But, they prevent crispy edges and brown bottoms, which I prefer in cutout sugar cookies. You might have to bake your cookies a bit longer. 
  • Regardless of your cookie sheet choice, be sure to let the pan fully cool before putting your next batch of cookies on it. These cookies are so thin they can start to cook slightly before they’ve even made it to the oven, and you’ll end up with puffier cookise that don’t have those nice crisp cutout edges. If you’re in a rush between batches, run your warm pan under cool water and then dry.

5 Ways to Decorate Cookies


This is when it really starts to feel like Christmas. There are a lot of ways to go here. You can frost with a creamy buttercream frosting, you can go with traditional icing that hardens when dry, dip in almond bark or white chocolate, stack in a sandwich... I mean, there’s not much you can’t do when it comes to decorating sugar cookies!

Frosted Sugar Cookies You can make your own, or buy ready-to-spread frosting. Mix in a few drops of food coloring if you’re feeling super festive. Finish with your favorite colored sugar or sprinkles.

Dipped Sugar Cookies Melt up some chocolate and dip the top of each cookie, or simply dip the whole cookie halfway (like you’re dunking in milk). Let chocolate harden on waxed paper. Then add sprinkles. Always sprinkles.

Sugar Cookie Sandwiches Spread your favorite frosting between two cookies. This version has round cookies, but why not stars or Christmas trees?

Drizzled Sugar Cookies Use frosting, chocolate or almond bark in different colors to quickly drizzle cookies. It’s so easy and so cute, even the kids can’t mess it up. Tip: Put your topping of choice in a sealed plastic baggie, then cut off one corner, for the easiest drizzling.

Iced Sugar Cookies The most traditional of all cutout cookie decorating! This one is a bit more complicated, but you can do it. Here’s how.

Mix up an easy 5-ingredient homemade icing. Simply stir the ingredients until smooth. I left out the food coloring to make things really easy—plus this way the sprinkles really pop on the cookies.
  • 2 cups powdered sugar 
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla 
  • 1/8 teaspoon almond extract 
  • 4 tablespoons milk 
  • Food color, if desired

The consistency should be fairly thin. When you use a spoon to stir and then drizzle, icing should kind of melt into itself. If you still see lines where you drizzled, add a little milk a few teaspoons at time. Set aside half of this mixture for what’s called “flooding.” I like to put it straight into my plastic squeeze bottle. You can get these at most grocery or craft stores and they really make decorating a breeze.

Now, mix in powdered sugar a tablespoon at a time to reach a thicker consistency. This time, you want a distinguishable line in your icing after you’ve drizzled. You’ll be using this icing to create a border or outline of your cookie. This mixture you can also put into a plastic squeeze bottle, but I prefer a piping bag or food storage bag with the smallest corner cut.

Now, use your thicker icing to create a border around the tops of each shaped cookie. Move slowly and pause on any corners or points to create an even outline. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but it should be a solid line. If your frosting is running, put it back into your bowl and add some more powdered sugar to thicken it up, then start again.

Switch to your thin icing for flooding, which is just a fancy word for filling in the outline you created. Think of it as coloring inside the lines of your cookie. You can leave a few gaps—as the thinner icing settles, it will spread out a bit to fill in the outline.
I find the process seems to go quicker if I do all of my outlines at once, and all of my flooding at once. If your kids are older, you can divvy up the tasks based on skill level.

Now, it’s important to add your sprinkles while your frosting is wet! If you want to get fancy you can swirl together different colors of flooding icing, but plain white icing with colored sprinkles looks pretty darn adorable to me!

While sprinkles are where it’s at in my house, you can use all sorts of things to make really cute Christmas cookies.

Storing Christmas Cookies

Now that your work is done, let’s keep those cookies fresh!

Cookies that are dipped in chocolate or almond bark can be stacked inside resealable plastic bags, since they won’t stick to one another. Frosted and iced cookies need a firm-sided container. Once icing has set, stack in airtight containers with pieces of waxed paper between layers. They’ll stay fresh this way for about a week. A trick I learned from my grandma: If you have room, toss in the heel from a loaf of bread. The bread soaks up moisture and the cookies stay soft. If you don’t have something that seals well, or are planning on gifting your cookies, you can use plates tightly wrapped in plastic cling wrap.

If you want your cookies to keep for more than a week, store them in the freezer. Be sure to use a container, not plastic wrap. Simply remove cookies about an hour before you’d like to eat them, although some cookies are quite delightful slightly chilled.

Crazy for Christmas Cookies!


That covers all the cookie classics. Now that you’re a pro, consider some of our next-level Christmas cookies, candies and cookie bars that might just become a new tradition in your house. My new personal favorite is the Hot Chocolate Crinkle Cookies with Marshmallow Frosting.

Still haven’t found your favorite treat? Browse ALL of our Christmas cookies here
Natalie Boike

About Natalie Boike, Senior Editor

Dessert is Natalie’s favorite breakfast, but she’ll gladly eat it again after dinner. As a former cake decorator, she knows good sweets. But lately she’s been focusing on quick and easy dinners for her growing family.

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