Festive Christmas sugar cookies with royal icing are golden brown and crisp on the outside, but soft and tender on the inside. They are decorated with a meringue-based royal icing to make the perfect gourmet Christmas cookies.
One of my favourite holiday traditions is baking and decorating these Christmas sugar cookies with royal icing for all my family and friends, especially as part of a holiday cookie box. Some of my other favourite Christmas cookies to include are linzer cookies, chocolate crinkle cookies, soft and chewy ginger cookies, jam-filled thumbprint cookies, peanut butter blossoms, and pecan snowball cookies.
What You Need
You will need the following ingredients to make Christmas sugar cookies with royal icing:
- unsalted butter - I prefer unsalted butter for this recipe. However, you could also use salted butter, but then leave out the extra salt int he recipe.
- granulated sugar
- vanilla extract
- baking powder
- all-purpose flour
- royal icing - made with confectioners' sugar, meringue powder, water, vanilla extract.
- gel food colouring - optional, if you want to decorate the cookies with different colours.
Kitchen Tools and Equipment
You will also need the following kitchen tools and equipment:
- measuring cups and spoons
- mixing bowls
- hand mixer or stand mixer
- rolling pin
- Christmas cookie cutters
- half sheet baking pan and silicone baking mat (or parchment paper)
- wire cooling rack
- piping bags with couplers and round piping tips or a squeeze bottle
How to Make the Best Christmas Sugar Cookies
- Combine the wet ingredients: In a large mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar together using a hand mixer (or stand mixer) on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add egg and vanilla and beat until combined.
- Add dry ingredients: Turn the mixer to low speed and add baking powder and salt. Gradually add flour and mix until combined.
- Chill the dough: Form the dough into a ball and wrap it tightly in plastic cling wrap. Freeze for 30 minutes or refrigerate until firm (at least 1 hour, up to overnight).
- Roll the dough and cut out cookies: Remove the dough from refrigerator and let it sit at room temperature for 5-10 minutes. On a lightly floured surface, use a rolling pin to roll the dough out until it is ¼-inch thick. Use Christmas cookie cutters to cut out cookie shapes. Transfer the cookies onto a half sheet baking pan lined with parchment paper or a silicone mat, placing them 1-inch apart. Re-roll any scraps and repeat to cut out more cookies.
- Bake: Bake the cookies at 350 F preheated oven for 8-10 minutes, until the edges start to turn golden brown. Let the cookies cook for a couple minutes on the baking sheet, then transfer them to a wire cooling rack to cool completely.
How to Make Easy Royal Icing for Christmas Sugar Cookies
Once you have made the Christmas sugar cookies and allowed them to cool completely, you are ready to start making the royal icing. Traditionally, royal icing is made with raw egg whites, but you can actually use meringue powder in place of the egg whites (as we did) and still get icing that hardens beautifully with the same taste, texture and consistency as royal icing.
Here is what you need to do:
- Combine ingredients: In a medium mixing bowl, combine confectioners' sugar with meringue powder. Add water and vanilla extract and beat with a hand mixer on medium-high speed, until smooth. If you find that the icing is too thick, add a little water (a teaspoon at a time). If you find the icing too thin, add a little more sugar.
- Add colour: To colour the icing, add gel food colouring. You can also use liquid food colouring, but this will have a slight effect on the consistency of the icing. You may need to add a little more sugar to get the consistency right.
PRO TIP: Once you have made the icing, I would suggest dividing it into smaller portions so that you can mix a few different colours. Note that when you are not using the icing, cover the bowl with a wet towel to prevent it from drying out.
How to Decorate Sugar Cookies with Royal Icing
- Outline the base colour on the sugar cookie, leaving about ⅛-inch from the edge. This is called "dam". You can use a fine round tip or a larger one, depending on how defined you want the edges.
- Fill in the base colour using a larger tip. This is called "flood". Allow the base to dry enough so that when you add icing on top, it won't smudge. It doesn't have to be fully set, but set enough, about 20-30 minutes.
- Use a fine round tip to create any small details on top of the base colour, or to create a border around the cookie.
- Add sprinkles (if using).
How to Store Sugar Cookies
- How to store: Store sugar cookies in a single layer in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days, or in the refrigerator for up to one week.
- How to freeze: Sugar cookies freeze beautifully. Store them in an airtight container, layered in between pieces of parchment paper and store in the freezer for up to 3 months.
- Plan ahead. You will need to plan ahead and give yourself enough time when making these cookies. The entire process spans over the course of a several hours, up to a day:
- the cookies need to completely cool before icing for at least a few hours. Otherwise the icing will get too runny from the warm cookies and won't set properly.
- the icing needs a few hours, up to a day, to completely set and harden, otherwise it can easily get smudged when storing, handling, or transporting. If adding multiple layers of icing, you need to allow the bottom layer to dry first, at least 30 minutes.
- If not using royal icing. If you decide not to decorate the cookies with icing, then you don't need to plan too far ahead or wait for the cookies to cool down or set. These cookies taste great both plain or iced.
More Cookie Recipes
- Soft and Chewy White Chocolate Cranberry Cookies
- Jam-filled Thumbprint Cookies with Almond Glaze
- The Best Soft and Chewy Peanut Butter Cookies
- Chocolate Chip Banana Bread Cookies
- Chocolate-Dipped Shortbread Heart Cookies
- The Best Chewy Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies
Did you make this recipe? I would greatly appreciate a comment and rating below, letting me know what you thought of the recipe. You can also snap a picture and tag me on Instagram @aheadofthyme or share it on the Pinterest pin so that I can follow along.
This post was originally published in 2015. It has been completely updated with new photographs and helpful tips.Print