5 from 3 votes

Holiday Sugar Cookies

Holiday Sugar Cookie House | ZoeBakes photo by Zoë François

This is an updated post from one of my very first blogging efforts back in 2007. The recipe is wonderful, but my photos were a bit rough back then. You can see them at the end of this post, I kept them because I am sentimental and a reminder of how far my photos have come ;). This Holiday Sugar Cookies recipe is perfect for simple cut-out cookies and for building a more intricate house. I live in a big house that makes me think of a wedding cake. I have been meaning to create it out of cookies since I moved in and I finally did. It was so much fun, I think it will become an annual tradition and I imagine I’ll get more and more detailed with every try. I am lucky to have the original blueprints for the house, which made it easier to trace the outline of the house.

My cookie house was featured in Architectural Digest, which you can see here.

2007 Post: My aunt Kristin is a great collector of recipes. She sends me packages of them, often! The recipes come from magazines, books, cooking shows, gourmet grocery stores, and various people she meets. They are far too numerous to try all of them, but I use them as a constant source of inspiration. This past week, just in time for Christmas she sent me a sugar cookie recipe by Dorie Greenspan she had clipped from Bon Appetit, and a set of snowflake cookie cutters. I am always searching for the perfect sugar cookie. I’m not sure yet if this is THE ONE, but it is really great. The flavor is not too sweet, slightly lemony (because I added the lemon zest) and the texture is crisp but not at all tough.

I decorated the holiday sugar cookies and house with royal Icing made with lemon juice, which is tasty, quite stunning, and strong enough to hold up as the glue for the house. I’ll admit that I love the fussy work of intricate decorations on sugar cookies. It is the closest I will come to ever using my BFA from college. If you don’t share my enthusiasm for precision piping then sprinkle them with colored sugar like my boys did and they are delicious and festive!

Obviously, this recipe and technique are great for Valentine’s Day, Easter, and any other holiday or special occasion when you celebrate with sweets! Which means every day…

See my Instagram video for baking, decorating, and assembling tips.

Holiday Sugar Cookie House | ZoeBakes photo by Zoë François

Holiday Sugar Cookie House | ZoeBakes photo by Zoë François

Once all of your cookies have been outlined then you will want to thin out a portion of your icing in order to flood the center. It should be the consistency of molasses. Fill another parchment pastry bag about 1/4 of the way full. Carefully flood the area between your outline. Go slowly so as not to go over the lines you’ve drawn.

docorating christmas cookies
docorating christmas cookies
docorating christmas cookies

Once the you’ve flooded the center of the cookie with the icing it will be shiny and wet, you can put decorations on the icing and they will stick. You can also let the icing dry and it will lose its shine but you can then pipe more decor over the icing. (The cookies below: the cookie in the foreground is wet and the one in the back is dry)

docorating christmas cookies

Here are the cookies as I was working on them.

Holiday Sugar Cookies | ZoeBakes photo by Zoë François
Holiday Sugar Cookies | ZoeBakes photo by Zoë François

These small photos are from the original post in 2007, they aren’t very good, but they represent a sweet memory, so I am keeping them in the updated post.

Here is the house that inspired the cookie version:

Holiday Sugar Cookie House | ZoeBakes photo by Zoë François
Sugar Cookie House | ZoëBakes

Holiday Sugar Cookies

This delicious sugar cookie recipe is a classic from Dorie Greenspan. The buttery, delicious cookies are perfect for decorating and are a tasty treat for parties or gifting.
5 from 3 votes


Cookie Dough

  • 10 tbsp unsalted butter, room temp
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tsp lemon zest optional
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp baking powder

Royal Icing

  • 4 cups powder sugar, sifted
  • 1/4 cup Meringue Powder
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup water
  • food coloring



  • Cream together the butter, sugar and salt in a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, until pale and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add egg, beat until well blended, about 1 minute, then add vanilla and lemon. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
  • Add flour, and baking powder, mix on a low speed until just combined. Gather dough into a ball, divide in half. Form each half into a flattened disk and wrap in plastic, chill for at least 4 hours. (I only chilled mine for 2 hours and it seemed to roll out and bake beautifully) It can be made up to 3 days ahead or freeze for later.
  • Preheat oven to 325°F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
  • Working with one disk at a time, roll out dough between two sheets of wax paper or on lightly floured counter to 1/8″ thin.
  • Using decorative cookie cutters, cut out cookies and transfer to a cookie sheet, spacing 1 inch apart. Gather any scraps, roll them out until all the dough is used. If not using icing then decorated with sprinkles before baking.
  • Bake one sheet at a time until cookies are firm and golden around the edges, about 10 minutes for smaller cookies and up to 14 minutes for larger ones. Cool completely on rack.

Royal Icing

  • Using electric mixer on low speed, mix powdered sugar, meringue powder, lemon juice, and water until thick and shiny, adding more powdered sugar by the tablespoon if it is too thin to spread, about 3 minutes. Cover with wet towel until ready to use.
  • Fill a parchment pastry bag with about 3 Tbsp of the royal icing. The consistency should be soft enough to pipe, but firm enough to hold its shape, like soft mashed potatoes. Cut a very small hole at the tip of the bag and draw an outline around the cookie. If you are going to be flooding the center of the cookie with icing double up the outline.
  • You can also separate the icing into little bowls and add coloring. Be sure to keep the icing covered at all times because it is meant to dry out and will end up with a crust if exposed to air.
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

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26 thoughts to “Holiday Sugar Cookies”

  1. hi zoe –
    happy holidays!!
    just checking that i’m not missing any info. about my chocolate chip cookie dilemma…
    have you posted a response somewhere that i haven’t located – or is it still coming in the future?
    these cookies look gorgeous!
    p.s. i’m on my 4th ‘bucket of bread’ since christmas!!(and keep ordering more copies of your book to give to friends!
    everyone thinks i’m an AMAZING bread baker!!and that your’s is an AMAZING book!

  2. Hi Tracy,

    I have the bag of Nestle chips on my counter just waiting for the butter to soften! I’ll write a post in the next couple of days! Thanks for checking.

    I’m so thrilled you are baking so much bread.

    Happy New Year!!! Zoë

  3. these look great! I owe the neighbors some cookie. They have a peanut-allergic kid, which means i can’t use commercial chocolate chips, so these will fill the bill.

  4. Hi Patricia,

    Great idea for your neighbor! Just make sure you always read the label on the ingredients just to make sure they don’t warn of the equipment being used for other nut production. I’m always surprised what shares machines with nuts!

    Thanks! Zoë

  5. I really love this idea, dears. My husband and I would love to do this. My name is Hans. I really feel that I need more information so my significant other and I may produce our own version. Thanks for the origianal idea, but please send me more info on how to make it. Thanks, hun and happy holidays,


  6. I was wondering about the royal icing and how exactly to thin it for the smooth look you show? what do I use to then it? water? and how much?

  7. Hi Heidi,

    You can use water or even lemon juice, if it goes with the flavor of your cookie. Just add a drop at a time until you have the consistency of molasses.

    Enjoy and happy holidays!


  8. We made these…Wonderful cookies. Easy recipe, easy dough to work with, EXCELLENT results. We even rolled a bunch up in balls and pressed big sprinkles in them. Yum. Thanks! Merry, Merry!

  9. I Zoe
    Thank you for all those lovely recipies. You are an inpiration. I spend great time cooking with the kids and surprise all family in Christmas eve.

  10. Zoe, Your decorating ideas are terrific. Love the piping first, so the ‘filler’ doesn’t run wild! And the Royal Frosting is one of my faves for quick drying. But…

    Question: What do you suggest for quick drying for someone highly allergic to egg white?



  11. I’ve always wanted to try making these cookies. It looks wonderful…now I have a reason to. Thanks for sharing it to us avid bakers!

    Manila< Philippines

  12. I made them today and they were quite good although really small cookies need 5-6 min top 😛 The dough was easily used and the icing a success.

    Tip i made two dozens of 3cm xmas trees with green royal icing and then spread some colourful sprinkles on top (like this but only smaller: http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_gXpjXQMeWPA/TPURSvujGpI/AAAAAAAABRs/SVTpC3-4yes/s640/Christmas_tree_cookies_with_icing_and_sprinkles.jpg) they turned out amazing!!!! ps try them with red royal icing as well 🙂

    1. Hi Ric,

      Yes, freeze the cookies and then ice them, if time is permitting. The icing may get damaged if you freeze and stack the cookies. Be sure to leave the cookies wrapped as they are defrosting.

      Cheers, Zoe

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