Soft, delicious sugar cookies decorated with homemade royal icing — just like grandma made them! Absolutely perfect for the holiday season, this Christmas sugar cookie recipe has been passed down through the generations in my family, and I can't wait to share it with you.
There's nothing quite like freshly-baked Christmas cookies, is there?
Every year when Christmas rolls around, I pull out the tiny index card that contains my grandma's handwritten Christmas sugar cookie recipe. It's covered in flour and a bit hard to decipher, but it's my favorite recipe to make each and every holiday season.
And personally, one of my favorite parts about recipes is how they can transcend generations. I will always feel a connection to my dad (and my grandmother) when I make these cookies, and I hope to one day share them with my children as well.
I hope you get as much joy from my Grandma's Christmas Sugar Cookies as my family has throughout the years!
What You'll Need
Here's a quick overview of some of the ingredients and tools needed to make these cookies. The full recipe can be found at the bottom of the post!
- Unsalted butter - You'll want to use unsalted butter (rather than salted) in this recipe so you can control the amount of salt in the cookies.
- Eggs & egg whites - We'll use whole eggs in the cookie dough and egg whites for the royal icing. Be sure to use pasteurized egg whites for the icing!
- Whole milk - I prefer to use whole milk, but 2% or skim milk would also work well. I haven't tried making this recipe using plant-based milk, so I wouldn't recommend that.
- All-purpose flour - Be sure to use the spoon & level method when measuring out the flour.
- Powdered sugar - Be sure to sift it first to avoid any clumps.
- Water - This will help thin out the royal icing.
- Mixer - Personally, I like to use a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment for this recipe. However, an electric hand mixer will also work.
- Rolling pin - You can use any rolling pin you'd like, but I prefer to use a French rolling pin because it helps ensure that you roll the dough out evenly.
- Christmas cookie cutters - I've gathered my collection of cookie cutters over the years, but if you don't have any of your own, these Christmas cookie cutters from Amazon are a good option.
- Baking sheet - This recipe calls for 2 baking sheets.
- Piping bag - I like to keep a stash of these disposable piping bags in my pantry at all times.
How to Make These Cookies
We'll start by making the sugar cookies, and then once they're baked, you can enjoy them as is or decorate them with royal icing!
1. Make the sugar cookie dough. Start by mixing together all the wet ingredients, then add in the dry ingredients until just combined. It's okay if the dough seems sticky at this point — it will firm up in the fridge. (Image 1)
2. Chill the dough. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. This lets the dough firm up, which makes it easier to roll out later. You can even refrigerate the dough overnight if you want to make the cookies in stages. (Image 2)
3. Roll out the dough and bake. Roll out the dough to ¼-inch thickness (Image 3), then cut the dough out using your desired cookie cutters. (Image 4) Transfer the cookies to a baking sheet, then bake for 8-12 minutes at 350°F, or until the edges are a light golden brown.
4. Make the royal icing. Whisk the pasteurized egg whites until light and foamy, then gradually add in the powdered sugar. Add in the water one teaspoon at a time until you can make a figure eight with the icing that disappears in eight seconds. You want the icing to be stiff enough to pipe, but not too runny. (Image 5)
5. Decorate. Color the royal icing with food coloring if desired, then divide the royal icing into piping bags. Have fun decorating the cookies! (Image 6)
Tips to Make Perfect Cookies
These cookies are pretty simple to make, and the fun part is definitely the decorating. Here are a few tips to keep in mind when making them:
- Make sure to use softened butter (not melted). When mixing together the butter and sugar, make sure your butter is just a little bit soft. If the butter has melted, the dough will be too soft, and you will have to refrigerate the dough for a longer period of time. If it's coming straight from the fridge, I like to warm my butter up in the microwave in 15-second increments until it is ready.
- Make sure to refrigerate the cookie dough before rolling it out. This lets the dough firm up, which makes it easier to roll out later. You can even refrigerate the dough overnight if you want to make the cookies in stages.
- Flour your surface well so that the dough doesn’t stick. Honestly, is there anything worse than cookies that won’t come off the counter? I will usually re-roll the dough once or twice, and I recommend flouring the surface well in between each roll.
- Use the figure-eight test to see when the royal icing is ready. After making the royal icing, make a figure eight in the icing with a spoon, and if it disappears within 8 seconds, the icing is ready to go. If the icing is too stiff, you can add in some water a teaspoon at a time. If it's too loose, you can sprinkle in small amounts of powdered sugar until you reach the desired consistency.
Common Questions About These Cookies
These are some questions I frequently hear about this recipe. If you have a question that isn't answered below, feel free to leave it in the comments.
Absolutely! I personally love to make these cookies in a few stages so that I'm not too overwhelmed all in one day. You can make the dough, then tightly wrap it and refrigerate it for up to two days. Alternatively, you can freeze the dough for up to 2 months — just let it thaw to room temperature before rolling it out.
Yes, you can double (and even triple) this recipe with ease. If doing so, I would recommend separating the cookie dough into a few circular disks before refrigerating it. You will also want to roll the dough out in stages so that it's easier to handle.
First off, make sure to use softened butter, not melted! If the butter has melted, the dough will be too soft and you will have to refrigerate it for a longer period of time. Then, don't skip the refrigeration time for the dough. This lets the dough firm up, which makes it easier to roll out later. Finally, make sure to flour your surface well so that the dough doesn't stick.
How to Store & Freeze
To store: You can store the cookies in an airtight container for up to one week.
To freeze: Baked cookies can be frozen for up to 2 months. Wrap them in plastic wrap and place them in a frozen-safe zip-top bag before freezing. You can also freeze the cookie dough for up to 2 months. Just be sure to let it thaw to room temperature before rolling it out and baking.
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