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How to Make Christmas Cookies

Frosted Sugar 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.
By Natalie Boike

Introduction

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.

During the holidays, some like to start from scratch, and others like our family like to start with refrigerated dough and jump straight to the fun stuff. Below, I’ll show you how to do both.

What You’ll Need to Make the Perfect Christmas Cookies

Ingredients

What You’ll Need

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

How to Prepare Christmas Cookie Dough

If you have a busy holiday schedule and want to skip the hassle of making sugar cookie dough from scratch, starting with refrigerated dough can make things way easier. All you need to do is remove dough from the package, place into a small mixing bowl and 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.

Cookie dough and flour in a bowl

If you have more time on your hands, you can also make your cookie dough from scratch with this easy, classic recipe. Shape the dough into disks, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for about one hour—this will make the dough much easier to roll out later!

How to Bake Christmas Cookies

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.

Cookies on a cookie sheet

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.

Cookies on a cooling rack

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 cookies 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 Christmas 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!

How to Make 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.

How to Make 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.

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

How to Drizzle 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.

How to Make Iced Christmas 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.

Cookies outlined with white frosting

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.

Cookies frosted with white frosting

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!

Cookies decorated with frosting and sprinkles

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

How to Store Christmas Cookies

Short-Term Storage
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.

Expert tip: If you’re storing multiple different types of cookies, make sure you use a separate container for each cookie variety to avoid mingling the flavors and changing the texture.

Long-Term Storage: How to Freeze Christmas Cookies
To freeze cookies: Place unfrosted, baked cookies in containers with tight-fitting lids and freeze for up to 12 months. For frosted cookies, first freeze them uncovered on a baking sheet, then package the frozen cookies between layers of waxed paper in a rigid container for up to 2 months.

To thaw frozen cookies: Thaw soft-textured cookies in the container at room temperature or place them briefly in a microwave oven. Crisp-textured cookies should be removed from the container before thawing.

Tips for Making Christmas Cookies

Butter
If you are making cookie dough from scratch, make sure your butter is at room temperature. This will make a difference when creaming the butter and sugar together and the overall quality of your sugar cookie dough. How can you tell if your butter is ready? Room temperature butter should be soft enough for your finger to leave a mark on it went touched.

Making Uniform Cookies
You’ll want all of your cookies to be generally the same thickness so that they will bake in the same amount of time. Take care when rolling out your dough to be certain the thickness is uniform. Once your cookies are cut out, place them about 2 inches apart so they have room to spread.

Avoid Overbaking Cookies
No one wants a burnt cookie! To avoid this, always set your oven timer to the minimum baking time listed on the recipe. When your cookies come out of the oven, don’t leave them on the baking sheet to cool—they will continue to bake on the hot sheet if not removed after a minute or so.

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.


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