A recipe for the best, iced Christmas cookies, featuring homemade sugar cookies and an easy buttercream icing for cookies. Plus, how to ice tree and wreath cookies to look like grass.
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A good sugar cookie is hard to come by. I’ve tried my fair share of both store-bought and homemade, and sadly I must report the majority have been lackluster and of one note. That note is sweet — all sugar and not much else. I guess you could say those old timers are just living up to their name. They are sugar cookies after all. But, if you ask me, we can do better. Actually, we can do way better.
HOW TO MAKE THE BEST SUGAR COOKIES EVER
You can take a sugar cookie from “just ok” to incredible with just two secret ingredients: almond extract and salt.
Just about all sugar cookie recipes contain vanilla extract, but it’s the addition of almond extract that adds a great deal more flavor, elevating these sugar cookies far above their humdrum predecessors.
Salt is such an important ingredient when it comes to baked goods, especially those containing vast amounts of sugar. Recipes like, let’s say, sugar cookies. Salt not only balances the sweetness of the cookie, but it helps to enhance the other ingredients as well.
This sugar cookie recipe was adapted from The Art of the Cookie, and I can say without hesitation, this is going to be the best sugar cookie you’ve ever made and the very best you’ve ever eaten. The dough is simple to throw together, and easy to work with.
Now that we’ve got the cookie base ready to go, it’s time to move on to the good stuff — the icing.
Ok so, same as before, icing for cookies can be super boring and one dimensional. Sweet, and nothing but sweet. Bleh. So how do we fix it? I bet you can guess. If you thought extract and salt, you thought right! We should celebrate by baking cookies.
Adding vanilla extract and salt to icing for cookies will take it from good to great in less than 30 seconds. And, if you were to try a before and after, you would undoubtedly taste the difference.
HOW TO MAKE ICING FOR SUGAR COOKIES
There are multiple types of icing for cookies: a standard buttercream icing, a shortening-based icing, and royal icing. You can get the how-to on royal icing here.
For these cookies, we will be working with a buttercream icing. To start things off, the most important thing is to make sure your butter is at room temperature before you begin. Set out your butter the night before you intend to make the cookies. The butter should be very soft, but not melty.
The butter goes into the bowl of a stand mixer, or a mixing bowl, and in goes the sugar and salt. Begin mixing on low (to keep that sugar from flying all over the kitchen), then as the sugar is absorbed into the butter, begin increasing the speed to medium-high until the mixture is perfectly smooth. Add this point the extract is mixed in, and that is all there is to making homemade icing for cookies.
HOW TO ICE SUGAR COOKIES
You can ice sugar cookies many different ways. The easiest being to simply spoon a tablespoon of icing in the center of the cookie and smear it to the edges using a small, offset spatula. However, if you want to get fancy (and boy-oh-boy, do I love to get fancy), it’s time to pull out the pastry bag and tips.
HOW TO USE A PASTRY BAG
Using a pair of scissors, snip away the pointed part of the pastry bag, about a 1/2″ from the bottom. Place tip in the bag and fold over the edges, about 2 1/2″ from the opening of the bag. Scoop in icing, and tightly twist where the icing ends.
Use one hand to steer the tip, and one to gently apply pressure. Squeeze at the twist to release the icing. Try practicing on a sheet of wax paper before you begin. I found a pretty good visual tutorial for you here.
HOW TO MAKE ICING LOOK LIKE GRASS FOR TREES AND WREATHS
The tip you’ll need for making grass is Wilton Tip #234. You can find this tip at just about any specialty craft store, and of course, online, for less than $2.00.
To make the grass, squeeze the bag and allow a small amount of icing to release onto the cookie. Stop the pressure, and pull the pastry bag away from the cookie. Repeat until the cookie is completely iced. Have sprinkles handy for decorating as the icing will set fairly quickly.
HOW TO COLOR ICING FOR SUGAR COOKIES
I prefer gel food coloring found at specialty craft stores, as it is more vivid and requires less product than the liquid food coloring. However, the liquid icing works fine for this recipe as well.
If you want to use multiple colors for icing cookies, you will first need to divide the icing into separate bowls. Then, add the food coloring in small increments, and mix well after each addition, until you have reached the desired color.
A beautiful cookie that actually tastes great. Now that is a win-win in the kitchen. Whether making this cookie at home as a quality-time activity for you and the kids or an addition to this year’s Christmas party menu, this recipe could do you no wrong. Even more so if you are giving them as a homemade Christmas gift this year.
And if you’re baking is in full-swing this Christmas, you might also consider making a few of these other spectacularly delicious Christmas cookies: buttery Mexican Wedding Cookies with Pecans, warm and cozy spiced Ginger Molasses Cookies, Painted Sugar Cookies with Royal Icing, and the crowd-pleasing Strawberry Thumbprints. You can’t go wrong with any one of these recipes!
These sugar cookies are legit the best tasting iced sugar cookies in the entire world. Homemade gifts don’t get much better or more sincere than this. To take the time to create something spectacular for loved ones is heartfelt and gracious, and your recipients will be over-the-top merry to receive these cookies. Please, enjoy.
A recipe for the best, iced Christmas cookies, featuring homemade sugar cookies and an easy buttercream icing.
- 2 3/4 c all-purpose flour plus extra for rolling
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp fine sea salt
- 1 c unsalted butter room temperature
- 1 1/4 c granulated sugar
- 1 large egg
- 3 tbsp half and half
- 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
- 1 tsp pure almond extract
- 1 cup + 2 tablespoons unsalted butter room temperature
- 2 3/4 cup powdered sugar
- Pinch fine sea salt
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- Food coloring, if desired
In a mixing bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside until ready to use.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium-high speed for 1-2 minutes. Alternatively, use a large mixing bowl and a handheld mixer. Add the sugar and beat on medium-high speed once again until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and mix briefly once again. Add the egg and mix on medium speed until well-incorporated. Add the half and half, along with both the vanilla and almond extract and mix once more.
Add the flour in 3 separate additions, mixing on low after each addition. Do not over-mix. Divide the dough into two rounds and lay each atop a sheet of plastic wrap. Flatten into a disk shape, wrap and refrigerate until chilled, no less than 1 hour. The dough can be made a day in advance.
Preheat the oven to 350° and have ready cookie sheets lined with either parchment paper or a Silpat.
One at a time, lay the disks atop a large floured work surface. Lightly flour each side of the dough round. Begin rolling, from the middle outward in each direction, shifting the dough slightly after each roll to avoid sticking. Do this until the dough is a 1/4” in thickness. Cut out dough into desired shapes. Transfer the cookies to the prepared cookie sheets, spacing them at least 1 inch apart. Bake until the outer edges are just tinged with golden-brown, about 8-10 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely before icing.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine the butter and powdered sugar. If you do not have a stand mixer, use a large mixing bowl and a handheld mixer. Begin mixing on low speed, until most of the powdered sugar is mixed in, then increase the speed to medium-high. Mix until well-combined.
Add the salt, extract and desired amount of food coloring (if using), and mix once more.
Makes about 24 cookies and 1 1/2 cup of buttercream icing.