Nothing quite says “Christmas” like these Pastel Holiday Sugar Cookies. Decorated with royal icing, each bite of these festive cookies is perfectly soft, sweet, and tender.
The best holiday sugar cookies
Ready to impress your friends and family this holiday season? Great! These Pastel Holiday Sugar Cookies are the perfect dessert when you feel like showing off a little.
Because they’re made with a pastry flour blend and decorated with pastel-colored royal icing, this sugar cookie recipe is a step above any other. The ingredients are quite simple and the flavors are warm, light, buttery, and soft. The best part? They’re SO much fun to decorate!
Pastel sugar cookie ingredients
Sugar cookies are commonly flavored with almond extract. This recipe is not! Instead, vanilla extract is our main flavor enhancer, giving the cookies a warm and balanced flavor all while keeping the recipe nut-free.
- Pastry flour - Pastry flour has a lower percentage of protein than all purpose flour, making your pastel sugar cookies soft, tender, and perfect. If you don’t have pastry flour, substitute it with all purpose flour and cornstarch. For every 1 cup of flour, remove 2 tablespoons of flour and add 2 tablespoons of cornstarch.
- Cornstarch - The secret to making the best Christmas sugar cookies is to use cornstarch! It’s the key to that irresistible melt-in-your-mouth texture.
- Butter - A must-have for any soft and delicious Christmas cookie. Make sure it’s unsalted!
- Vanilla - Vanilla extract is going to be our main flavor addition rather than almond extract. Whether you choose to use vanilla extract or substitute it with vanilla paste or another extract, the replacement must be of the highest quality.
- Royal icing - Most royal icing recipes are made with meringue powder but I’m using egg whites and powdered sugar instead. It’s a soft icing that sets and hardens beautifully when piped onto sugar cookies.
- Gel food coloring - I prefer to use gel food coloring in royal icing because it allows me to control the icing’s viscosity. If you were to use liquid food coloring, it may thin the icing too much.
How to make pastel holiday sugar cookies
Step 1: Make the sugar cookie dough. Sift the dry ingredients in a bowl and cream the butter and sugar together in another bowl. Add the eggs to the wet ingredients, mix, then add the vanilla. Mix in the dry ingredients in two parts to finish the cookie dough.
Step 2: Chill the cookie dough. Wrap the ball of cookie dough in plastic and place it in the fridge for at least 20 minutes.
Step 3: Cut out the cookies and freeze. Roll the chilled cookie dough out on a lightly floured surface and use cookie cutters to cut out the cookie shapes. Lay them on a lined baking sheet and freeze for at least 15 minutes (to help solidify the butter).
Step 4: Bake the sugar cookies. Bake the cookies until they’re just starting to turn golden.
Step 5: Make the royal icing. Beat the egg whites and vanilla until frothy. Gradually mix in the powdered sugar until the mixture is shiny, then turn up the speed and whip until stiff peaks form.
How to decorate sugar cookies with royal icing
The peaks are stiff and the icing is looking shiny! Now it’s time to decorate:
- Either add the food coloring to the entire batch of icing or portion it out into small bowls and add different colors to each portion.
- Transfer the pastel-colored royal icing to pastry bags and decorate the cooled cookies any way you like! I’m a big fan of snowflakes but feel free to get creative here.
- As soon as the icing is on each cookie, add the sprinkles of your choice.
- Once the icing has set and is firm to the touch, dig in!
Pro tip: If your royal icing is in a pastry bag, place the bag in a glass with a few drops of water on the bottom. This will prevent the icing from drying out or hardening in the tip.
Tips and tricks
- It’s important to NOT let these cookies brown in the oven at all. If you see even a hint of brown around the edges or bottom, immediately take them out of the oven.
- Let the cookies cool completely before frosting! After all, you don’t want the beautiful royal icing to melt right off the cookies.
- Keep your bowl of royal icing bowl covered with a wet paper towel to make sure it doesn’t dry out.
- Decorating sugar cookies with royal icing does take some planning ahead of time. The cookies need to cool fully and the icing on the cookies needs to firm up. I recommend decorating the cookies at least 1 day ahead of serving so you don’t have to rush.
- Want to keep things simple? Swap the royal icing for an easy cookie glaze made from powdered sugar, vanilla extract, and a splash of milk.
Frequently asked questions
Nope! Shortbread cookies are very soft and moist thanks to heaps of butter. Sugar cookies on the other hand have a higher flour to fat ratio, helping the dough become much more firm than shortbread. Sugar cookies also have a light and airy flavor and texture compared to rich shortbread cookies.
Of course! Cut out the cookie shapes from the dough, wrap them individually in plastic, and keep them in the freezer until you’re ready to bake.
Store the baked, cooled, and decorated cookies in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
Of course! Freeze the cooled and decorated or undecorated sugar cookies in a freezer-safe bag for up to 3 months. Put them somewhere safe so they don’t break!
More holiday treats you’ll love
- Chewy Molasses Cookies
- Dark Chocolate Cranberry Oatmeal Cookies
- Salted Honey & Vanilla Bean Caramels
- Butterscotch and Toffee Macarons
As always, I love seeing your creations and hearing from you! If you try these sugar cookies, please leave a review or share your creation with me on social media! You can find me on Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest - for more delicious recipes sent straight to your inbox, sign up for my newsletter!
Pastel Holiday Sugar Cookies
- Plastic Wrap
- Rolling Pin
- Cookie Cutter
- Parchment Paper
- Baking Tray
- Ziplock Bags or Pastry Bags
Sugar Cookie Dough
- 2 cups (250 g) All Purpose-Flour, sifted
- 2 Cups (240 g) Pastry Flour
- ⅓ cup (42.67 g) Corn Starch
- ¾ teaspoon Salt
- 1 cup (227 g) Unsalted Butter
- 1 cup (200 g) Sugar
- 2 Eggs
- 1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
- 3 Egg Whites, pastuerized
- 1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
- 4 cups (480 g) Powdered Sugar
- Additional Hot Water as needed
- Gel Food Coloring
Sugar Cookie Dough
- Sift dry ingredients into a large bowl and set aside.2 cups All Purpose-Flour, 2 Cups Pastry Flour, ⅓ cup Corn Starch, ¾ teaspoon Salt
- Cream the butter and sugar together for 3-5 minutes1 cup Unsalted Butter, 1 cup Sugar
- Add the eggs while mixing making sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl before adding vanilla extract.2 Eggs, 1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
- Add dry ingredients in two parts, mixing until combined.
- Wrap dough in plastic and allow to chill in the fridge for 20-40 minutes.
- Roll out dough onto a floured surface and cut out your cookie shapes using the cookie cutters of your choosing
- Place cut cookies in the freezer while preheating your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Bake cookies on a baking sheet lined with parchment for 10 minutes -you don't want to brown these cookies at all. Once you see even a hint of browning it's time to take them out of the oven!
- Allow to cool for 3 minutes on the cookie sheet, then place cookies on a cooling rack to cool completely before frosting.
- In a large bowl of a stand mixer combine the egg whites and vanilla and beat until frothy.3 Egg Whites, 1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
- Add powdered sugar gradually and mix at low speed until sugar is incorporated and the mixture is shiny.4 cups Powdered Sugar
- Turn speed up to high and beat until mixture forms stiff, glossy peaks. This should take approximately 5 to 7 minutes.
- Add food coloring, if desired and hot water if you would like to thin out your icing! For immediate use, transfer icing to a pastry bag or a heavy-duty storage bag and pipe as desired.Additional Hot Water as needed, Gel Food Coloring
- Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
- Are sugar cookies the same as shortbread cookies? Nope! Shortbread cookies are very soft and moist thanks to heaps of butter. Sugar cookies on the other hand have a higher flour to fat ratio, helping the dough become much more firm than shortbread. Sugar cookies also have a light and airy flavor and texture compared to rich shortbread cookies.
- Can you make them ahead of time? Of course! Cut out the cookie shapes from the dough, wrap them individually in plastic, and keep them in the freezer until you’re ready to bake.
- How do you store sugar cookies? Store the baked, cooled, and decorated cookies in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
- Can you freeze sugar cookies? Yes! Freeze the cooled and decorated or undecorated sugar cookies in a freezer-safe bag for up to 3 months. Put them somewhere safe so they don’t break!