Christmas Sugar Cookies with Easy Icing

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Cut-out Christmas sugar cookies with crisp edges and soft centers. My icing recipe is so simple, making cookie decorating hassle-free! 

Holiday Cut-Out Sugar Cookies with Easy Royal Icing Recipe by sallysbakingaddiction.com

Here we go, year number 2 of Sally’s Cookie Palooza! That’s 10 new cookie recipes for your Christmas season. I’ve been a cookie MAD WOMAN for the past month in preparation for this festive, cavity inducing celebration. Make sure your cookie jar is currently empty. Make sure a glass of milk is handy. And make sure you have all the butter in the world because you’ll definitely be needing it. From sprinkles, to mint chocolate, to icing, to gingerbread, to red velvet, to peanut butter– I think you’ll all find a cookie to love. Ready for this?

We’re kicking it off with a Christmas cookie classic. Nothing beats a Christmas sugar cookie made from scratch, unless it’s a soft and buttery iced sugar cookie made from scratch. This particular sugar cookie beats any and all of the sugar cookie recipes I have ever tried. And I grew up making these cookies.

Holiday Cut-Out Sugar Cookies with Easy Royal Icing Recipe by sallysbakingaddiction.com

Trust me when I say that this is a sugar cookie recipe you need to try. It’s taken me awhile to find that perfectly soft-centered, yet slightly crisp edged recipe. A cookie that keeps its cookie cutter shape in the oven, has a nice flat surface, a recipe without any crazy ingredients, and a recipe that is easy and approachable for everyone.

I posted today’s sugar cookie recipe back in May and have gotten rave reviews. Since you may already be familiar with the all-star sugar cookie recipe itself, I’m using today to focus on the icing. I’ve slightly changed the icing recipe, making it a little easier to work with.

Holiday Cut-Out Sugar Cookies with Easy Royal Icing Recipe by sallysbakingaddiction.com

Royal icing can be a pain sometimes, but it doesn’t have to be. You can create gourmet looking cut-out sugar cookies at home and you don’t have to lose your mind doing it.

I do not use powdered egg whites or meringue powder in my icing because I never have either in my pantry. What I do use is confectioners’ sugar, water, vanilla extract, and a touch of corn syrup. The corn syrup makes the icing nice and shiny, while the ratio of confectioners’ sugar to water keeps it thick. The icing dries hard and slightly crunchy, so you can easily stack these decorated sugar cookies and travel with them.

Like I’ve been saying– this icing is so easy to work with. To make decorating a breeze, I’ve started to use empty plastic bottles. Plastic bottles are so much easier! You can find them for about $1 at Walmart, Target, on Amazon, or in your regular grocery store in the kitchen supplies aisle. I fill each with a different color icing and simply squeeze them onto the cookie. That’s about it.

This is a recipe that requires planning ahead. First, the cookie dough needs to chill. Chilling is a mandatory step. Before decorating the baked cookies, make sure the cookies are completely cool. If they are not completely cool, the icing will melt. To completely harden on top of the cookies, the icing needs at least 24 hours to set.

Holiday Cut-Out Sugar Cookies with Easy Royal Icing Recipe by sallysbakingaddiction.com

Before beginning the recipe, be sure to look at a few step-by-step photos at the bottom of this post. Oh and don’t be overwhelmed by all the steps, I’m just extremely thorough. Here’s a video so you can see!

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Christmas Sugar Cookies with Easy Icing

Cut-out Christmas sugar cookies with crisp edges and soft centers. My icing recipe is so simple, making decorating hassle-free! 

Ingredients:

Cookies

  • 3/4 cup (170g) unsalted butter, slightly softened to room temperature
  • 3/4 cup (150g) granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg1
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond extract (makes the flavor outstanding)
  • 2 and 1/4 cups (281g) all-purpose flour (spoon and leveled)
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Easy Icing

  • 1 and 1/2 cups (180g) confectioners' sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon light corn syrup2
  • 2 - 2.5 Tablespoons (30-38ml) room temperature water
  • pinch salt3

Directions:

  1. Make sure you have allotted enough time (and enough counter space!) to make these cookies. The cookie dough needs to chill, the cookies need to cool completely, and the icing needs 24 hours to completely harden. If enjoying right away and hardened icing isn't a concern, you'll only need about 4 hours to make these.
  2. In a large bowl using a handheld or stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter until creamed and smooth - about 1 minute. Add the sugar and beat on high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 or 4 minutes. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed. Add the egg, vanilla, and almond extract and beat on high until fully combine, about 2 minutes. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed.
  3. Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together in a medium bowl. Turn the mixer down to low and add about half of the flour mixture, beating until just barely combined. Add the rest of the flour and continue mixing until just combined. If the dough still seems too soft, you can add 1 Tablespoon more flour until it is a better consistency for rolling.
  4. Divide the dough into 2 equal parts. Roll each portion out onto a piece of parchment to about 1/4″ thickness. Stack the pieces (with paper) onto a baking sheet and refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to 2 days. Chilling is mandatory.
  5. Once chilled, preheat oven to 350F degrees. Line 2-3 large baking sheets with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. The amount of batches will depend on how large/small you cut your cookies. Remove one of the dough pieces from the refrigerator and using a cookie cutter, cut in shapes. Transfer the cut cookie dough to the prepared baking sheet. Re-roll the remaining dough and continue cutting until all is used.
  6. Bake for 9-12 minutes, until very lightly colored on top and around the edges. Make sure you rotate the baking sheet halfway through bake time. Allow to cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely before icing. No need to cover the cookies as the cookies cool.
  7. For the icing, whisk the confectioners' sugar, vanilla, corn syrup, and 2 tablespoons of water in a medium bowl. It should be quite thick. If it is much too thick, add 1/2 Tablespoon more water. If it is much too thin, add 2 more Tablespoons of confectioners' sugar. If you drizzle a little of the icing with the whisk, the ribbon of icing will hold for a few seconds before melting back into the icing. That is when you know it's the right consistency and is ready to use. If desired, add liquid or gel food coloring. You can pour some icing into different bowls if using multiple colors. If not decorating right away, cover the icing tightly and keep in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.
  8. Decorate the cooled cookies however you'd like. Squeeze bottles make decorating so easy. You may enjoy right away or you can wait 24 hours for the icing to set and harden-- no need to cover the cookies as the icing sets. Once the icing has set, these cookies are great for gifting or for sending. I find they stay soft for about 5 days at room temperature.

Make ahead tip: Plain cookies freeze well up to 3 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator. I do not recommend freezing with icing on top. You can chill the rolled-out cookie dough in the refrigerator for up to 2 days (step 4). You can also freeze the cookie dough (before rolling out in step 4) for up to 3 months. Then allow to thaw overnight in the refrigerator and bring to room temperature before rolling out. Chill for only 30 minutes in step 4 as opposed to 1 full hour.

Recipe Notes:

  1. Room temperature egg is preferred to be easily dispersed in the cookie dough. Good rule of thumb: always use room temperature egg if recipe calls for butter at room temperature or melted.
  2. Corn syrup gives the icing fabulous shine. You may leave it out if you aren't concerned about shiny, glossy icing.
  3. I know salt isn't a typical ingredient in cookie icing, but my taste testers and I preferred that little pinch of salt. I use about 1/8 teaspoon. OR you can add 1/4 teaspoon of salt to the dry ingredients in the cookie dough. I like it better used in the icing, though.

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Start with the right consistency of unsalted butter. This is important! Butter must be softened, but not melty in the slightest. You should be able to press your finger into the stick of butter and make an indent easily, without your finger sliding anywhere. Firm, but not cold. Lightly softened is what you should go for. Use this photo as a visual. If it’s helpful, this is exactly what butter should look like before being used in frosting recipes.

Perfectly Softened Butter for frosting

Once the cookie dough is prepared per the recipe’s instructions above, it will be slightly thick and not wet. Sticky and crumbly, yet manageable. I compare the cookie dough to the consistency of play-doh.

Before chilling the cookie dough, roll it out. Yes, roll the cookie dough out before chilling! With all of my recipe testing, I learned that this method is so much easier than chilling the cookie dough as a whole and then trying to roll out a cold chunk of dough.

To make rolling easier, divide the sugar cookie dough in half, shape into balls, and then roll into two flat rectangles – about 1/4 inch thickness each – onto parchment paper. Stack onto a baking sheet, with parchment paper in between each rectangle, and chill for at least 1-2 hours. Once the dough rectangles are chilled, cut into shapes.

Holiday Cut-Out Sugar Cookies with Easy Royal Icing Recipe by sallysbakingaddiction.com

Bake until the edges are very lightly browned. This is the secret to their soft centers! A slight underbake. You do not want to overbake these cookies, unless you prefer a crunchy sugar cookie.

The BEST Holiday Cut Out Sugar Cookies Recipe

Now, the icing. This easy sugar cookie icing is thick; thicker icing is easier to work with. If you drizzle a little of it with the whisk, the ribbon of icing will hold for a few seconds before melting back into the icing. That is when you know it’s the right consistency.

Easy Royal Icing

At this point, you can color the icing if you want. Or just begin decorating. Have fun!

Holiday Cut-Out Sugar Cookies with Easy Royal Icing Recipe by sallysbakingaddiction.com

See more Christmas recipes.

Christmas sugar cookies on sallysbakingaddiction.com

EASY holiday sugar cookies! This is my go-to recipe because it is so straight-foward and simple!
Holiday Cut-Out Sugar Cookies with Easy Royal Icing Recipe by sallysbakingaddiction.com

354 Comments

All Comments

  1. I love how you decorated your all white frosting cookies at the bottom of this post. What sprinkles did you use? They are just so pretty.

  2. I made these for Christmas and they were fantastic and so delicious!  Dough was easy to work with and the icing too!  I added a tiny amount of Creme Bouquet flavoring in icing along with the vanilla mentioned. These will be on my baking list for many years to come!  Thank you for a great recipe, they were a hit!  Oh, and like the previous commenter, I also love the sprinkles you used in the white cookies…which ones did you use?

  3. Help! I made the dough last night and chilled it rolled out between parchment paper in my fridge. I’m trying to separate the 2 rolled out doughs but it’s breaking. After chilling for not even a day does it get too cold? Do I need to let it sit out for a few minutes to relax so it can separate? My kids are patiently waiting to cut them out.

      1. Thank you so much Sally! I ended up peeling one of them off and re-rolling it out. They turned out beautifully and tasty! We all enjoyed cutting them out and decorating them. Even got my parents to sit down and decorate too, so the whole family was in on it. I think I’ll have to make it a tradition! 

  4. I made these last week and they’ll be my go to sugar cookies from now on. Delicious!! I have them in the freezer( after my husband and I taste tested them 🙂 ) Yum!! I’ll be frosting some soon. I’m nervous to decorate as I’ve never done that before. I’ll be trying Santas before I take some up to the Grands.
    Thanks so much Sally!! Love your blog!

  5. Help!!! I’ve been making this recipe since 2014 and I absolutely love it! Anytime I make cookies THIS is my “go to” recipe for sure!! BUT I just made the dough and realized I put TOO MUCH almond extract in it! I doubled the recipe but quadrupled the almond extract (I know… terrible). Is there anything I can do to save this dough? Or am I screwed??? I tasted the dough and you can definitely taste the almond.

  6. My dough was unworkable dry. Even after chilling. Felt like too much flour but I weigh all my ingredients. Oh well, it happens, so I salvaged it with cream cheese. Now i have cheesecake sugar cookies!

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Reviews

  1. Dear Sally,

    I’m a home baker in Delhi, India and I keep following your website and Insta.

    Tried these sugar cookies and easy icing and they are really simple and easy! Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge!

    These are going to be my go to cookies as well, for all decorated sugar cookies orders I get!

Questions

  1. Hi sally!

    Your recipe calls for letting the dough chill after all of the cookies have been cut out, would you recommend layering the cookies on one aluminum tray separated by parchment paper? I have a very small freezer but would like to follow the recipe as closely as I can.

    1. Hi Lauren! I actually cut the dough into shapes after chilling. What I’m instructing here is to roll out the dough, then chill, then cut into shapes. I simply roll out the dough on parchment paper or silicone baking mats, place on a baking sheet, then chill.

  2. What is the best way to use different colors of the easy glaze? I want to do American flag sugar cookie using the easy glaze. Do I need to let each color dry before adding the next color?

  3. This sugar cooky recipe turned my love-hate relationship into a lovely long lasting favorite family keeper! Tried for years unsuccessfully until I found this a few years ago. Thank you for the added family memories we share making these! I now have a need to reduce the sugar for a family member with diabetes. I am afraid to deviate too far from this recipe of perfection but am wondering if anyone has tried these with 1/2 xylitol to 1/2 sugar?

  4. Hi Sally, love all your recipes! Quick question, i am taking these cookies to a play date for the children to decorate. I will bake the cookies the night before. Could i make the frosting the night before as well? And have it ready to go in a bag or bottle? Thanks! Vandana

    1. Sure can! Just leave the easy glaze frosting covered on the counter or in the refrigerator overnight. If refrigerated, bring to room temperature before decorating. Thank you!

  5. how long will the icing stay pliable in the container if I leave it at room temp? I don’t plan on icing them for another 3 weeks?

  6. Hello! I love this recipe and use it every year. This year, I’m having a cookie decorating party where I’ll provide cookies for all of the guests to decorate together. Just wondering if you’ve ever frozen the cookie dough? I’d love to get everything ready ahead of time if possible.

  7. Hello – is the almond extract necessary for the taste of the cookies or could you substitute with a different ingredient? I am making these for a school event where we can not use “nuts”.
    (I make these every year and use almond extract for my family – WE LOVE THESE!)

    1. Hi Lila, you can leave out the almond extract to make them more allergy friendly. The flavor will just be slightly different, but still delicious!

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