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

394 Comments

    1. The icing here is literally “the icing on the cake” for me as well. I have tried so many icing recipes that have fallen short. Never have added room temp. water before and I’m eager to give it a while. Haven’t done the whole corn syrup thing either. Stunning cookies Sally, what beautiful visual appeal. I find in my family that cutouts are the most requested dessert this time of year (and for me the hardest to make!!!) Can’t wait to make with my girls =)

  1. They are so perfect!!! Wow, so impressed! I really never do cutout cookies because they require rolling out dough AND icing them. Two things that I just, well, am not the most patient person for 🙂 I would gladly take a dozen off your hands though 🙂 Pinned! They’re the perfect kickoff to your cookie-palooza!

  2. Oh, yay! I loved your cookie-a-day run last year, and now it can become a holiday tradition! These are beautiful. I’m going to make a Chanukah version. My kids will love them!

  3. These look super adorable, Sally! 😀 Good tip on rolling out before chilling btw! Wish I had known this before. I can’t even tell how often I had a hard time rolling out chilled cookie dough to nice smooth (!) and flat ^^” I’m not really a star at iced cookies before either (I know, OMG!). I think I’ll give it another go this christmas and let you know how it turns out (or tag you on an IG-photo) ^^

    1. Hi, I was wondering how many cookies does one recipe make if I’m using small cookie cutters? I will probably be similar size to the one in the picture.

      Thank you
      Kelly

  4. You can never have too many recipes for Christmas cookies. These look so perfect and adorable Sally! I love them and thanks for all the effort you go to in making recipes easy for all of your readers!

  5. I’m SO excited for the cookie-palooza! I’ve been anxiously awaiting your cookie recipes so I can start planning out my holiday baking…but I loved so many of your recipes last year too, how will I choose?!

    I LOVE sugar cut out cookies…my mom and I make them every year and we usually do the Betty Crocker sugar cookie mix (which is still great) but I’d been hoping to talk her into homemade this year. We also do that same icing recipe but have never done the water added so we’ll have to try that this year.

  6. Woohooooo! I love the Cookie Palooza!!! Can’t wait for the cookie madness! And these soft sugar cookies are what I’ve been searching for for years. I was always on the look for a sugar cookie that’s soft but keeps its shape and this looks like a winner. Pinned!

  7. I use a lot of different ingredients the cookie police would throw me in jail if they found out. Good thing I’m like Santa Clause and keep my cookie eating habits during the hibernation months of winter. Haha! But on a serious note, these cookies are cute! Our family makes an AP Cake cutout cookie, but my mother mentioned an old-fashioned sugar cookie recipe should be tried out. So, you save the day again! 😉

  8. I’ve been baking for the purposes of buttering up professors at my new school O:) These seem perfect. As a rookie though I have what I hope is not a stupid question: how do I know how much food coloring to use?

  9. I want to make your cookies. Patience usually doesn’t allow me to attempt this type of baking. It seems to be something that even I can handle. I don’t have any cookie cutters. Do have any suggestions on size and/or shapes? I love the blue and white cookies. I’m psyched to make these for my grandchildren.

    1. I would just use any shapes you and your grandchildren would like. I prefer to make medium size cookies, about 3-4 inch cookies, because they are easier to decorate.

    2. You can hand-cut these into Xmas trees and candy canes pretty easily. Even MORE easy, find a 3 inch wide glass or coffee mug and use this to cut circular cookies. Once decorated, these become decorative (and edible) Xmas bulbs, similar to what you might hang on the tree. You can go crazy with colors and decorations doing these!

    1. Thanks Rebe– make sure to read the recipe which includes the times. I use a KitchenAid stand mixer, but a hand mixer is fine too.

  10. I’ve made your sugar cookies before but made my own icing which didn’t really turn out the best! I live in England and can’t seem to find corn syrup….Is there anything else which I could use instead? Love ur website btw!

    1. You can try using golden syrup instead. I am British but live in the US and use corn syrup in place of golden syrup in British recipes, so I think it might work the other way round too!

  11. Sally I’m so happy your cookie palooza for this year has started. I loved last years. My favorite cookie recipe on this planet came from it- the raspberry thumbprints! 🙂

  12. Hi Sally,

    I would like to try this recipe but am not a fan of icing. Is the icing key to the flavor of the cookies, or would they taste delicious also plain or with just sprinkles?

  13. These look great! I am a huge cookie fan. I use a very similar to glaze my cookies, and it works great every time! I think it tastes better than typical royal icing too. ALso, you can easily switch up the flavors, almond extract, lemon juice, whatever you’re in the mood for. 🙂

    1. Awesome! I was curious to know if you tried Almond Extract in the Icing Sally? I would really like to try this cookie recipe, but I know my family will notice if the icing doesn’t have almond in it.

  14. Wow these are so pretty! I love that the icing does’nt have egg white or meringue powder- both things that are hard to find for me. I already have the little squeeze bottle so, I can just get a couple more and make these cookies!

  15. Ah, Sally, these cookies are gorgeous! You started your cookie palooza with such a showstopper, I can’t wait to see what more you’ve got in store for us! 🙂

  16. Thank you Sally, This is just another Awesomness Recipe for the season from you. I took your chocolate chip recipe last year, and used it for the base of our family’s traditional superaddicting Mint Chocolate Chip / coloured candied peel, cookie, and when I showed up with them I was afraid I might be burnt at the stake for heresy, But They got rave revues and will be repeated again this year. I regularly make 2-4 batches of 72 each depending on whose dieting 😉 I have high hopes for this latest recipe, it looks so simple, just like the recipes I grew up with.

    Cheers, Gramps

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