It’s that time. Whether you love it or hate it, find it joyous or stressful, the holiday season is upon us. Or as I refer to it: cookie season. And I am a cookie fan, especially Christmas cookies. I touched on this last year when I blogged about easy slice-and-bake holiday cookies. Frosted holiday cookies are something I grew up on and something I looked forward to each December.
My mom was not a baker, but my mom loved (and still loves) a great cutout holiday cookie in almost any shape and form. My mom was not a crafty mother by any means. She did not make Halloween costumes for my sister and me. She could not sew. “Projects” (of any kind) were things we did at school; and she had a small repertoire of solid, but primarily basic, go-to family meals, like lasagna. But she loved to bake holiday cookies.
My mom spent hours hand-kneading the dough. Meticulously rolled out dough, to the perfect thickness. She would help cut, bake, and festively decorate each and every cookie until my sister and I ran out of steam. It was always worth it. Slightly under-baked to remain soft, these cookies defined my childhood holiday season. Stored securely in several large Tupperware with sealed tops, the cookies remained on the counter for us to have at will in the days leading up to Christmas. I took advantage grabbing one every time I passed through the kitchen.
I don’t celebrate Christmas, but I love and celebrate the holiday season open-heartedly. A time for joy, peace, connection, renewal, family and togetherness. And a time for sweet soft, frosted, beautifully decorated holiday cookies. This is not my mom’s recipe, this is mine, but one that reminds me of my youth. With numerous cookie cutter options, the sky’s the limit on how you shape and decorate them as well as the level of effort you choose to put into them. Regardless of those details, they are delicious.
This year I used a simple and versatile royal icing and a pale color dusting powder that I absolutely love. I find it relaxing to decorate cookies, and this is both a lovely and somewhat easy way to do so. Although I provide a recipe for royal icing using meringue powder, it’s holiday time and I always support shortcuts and making life easier.
The dough can be prepped days in advance. Or prepped and frozen. You can make the icing or use Wilson’s pre-made one without sacrificing flavor. I used some natural gel food colorings for frosting color variations. Once dry, you can apply a light coat of Wilton’s pearl dust with a small decorating brush. I topped some of my cookies with Wilton’s sugar pearl sprinkles to add a simple but subtle elegance. The items I used are readily available on Amazon or craft stores like Michael’s. As December kicks off, my best baking advise is start by getting organized to help keep this fun and festive holiday baking season stress-free and enjoyable.
Holiday Sugar Cookies
- For the Sugar Cookies:
- 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
- 1 teaspoon baking powder, sifted
- dash of salt
- 1 cup confectioners' sugar, sifted
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
- 3/4 cup unsalted butter, slightly softened
- 1 egg
- For the Royal Icing:
- 4 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
- 3 tablespoons meringue powder
- 7-8 tablespoons water
- Step 1 For the Sugar Cookies: In a medium mixing bowl add the sifted flour, baking powder and dash of salt. Mix well and set aside.
- Step 2 Using a kitchen mixer, fitted with a paddle attachment, add the sifted confectioners’ sugar, vanilla extract, almond extract, butter and egg. Turn the mixer on low to blend. With the mixture on low, add the flour-mixture and mix to incorporate.
- Step 3 Remove the cookie dough from the mixer and divide into two equal pieces. Shape each into a flat round disc. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.
- Step 4 Once the dough has rested, remove from the refrigerator and allow to warm up slightly.
- Step 5 Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
- Step 6 On a well floured work surface, use a rolling pin to roll out the dough to 1/4″ thickness. Use a cookie cutter to cut into desired shapes. Place on the prepared baking sheet and re-roll any remaining dough until all is used. Place in the oven and bake for about 7-8 minutes. Allow the cookies to cool completely before frosting.
- Step 7 For the Royal Icing: In the bowl of an electric mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment, add the sugar and meringue powder. Turn the mixer on low and add the water. Mix until the icing holds a ribbon-like trail on the surface when you lift the paddle above the icing. Note: Getting the right consistency is tricky, if the icing is too thick, add a little more water. If it is too thin, add some additional confectioners’ sugar. Add a small amount of gel food coloring to tint frosting to desired color(s) and decorate your holiday cookies as desired.
- Step 8 Decorated cookies should be stored in an airtight container to maintain freshness, they do not need to be refrigerated.