With an easy decorating technique, these delicious, Christmas Shortbread Cookies look like they came from a fine bakeshop!
Are you in the mode? Or the mood? Or whatever you want to call this getting-ready-for-the-holidays frame of mind. There's a lot to do, isn't there? Decorating, preparing for guests, making lists, checking them twice, shopping, baking. Baking... that's my sweet spot this time of year. But with everything else to do, it seems there's just not enough time. That's why these Christmas Shortbread Cookies have been a perfect way to create a delicious, festive holiday stash, without spending hours in the kitchen.
It's unusual, but Scott and I actually had the tree up, the house all decorated and most of the shopping done (thanks to Amazon) before the calendar ever flipped to December. We're usually scurrying around until the last minute, trying to check all the boxes, yet always feeling behind schedule. This year has been a little different.
We had plans to spend Thanksgiving in Memphis with our children and grandchildren and were super excited. With our daughter Cait, living in London for the past seven years, it was the first time in many years that we would have all been together for this special celebration of thankfulness. Things don't always go as planned though. Scott's dad got sick about a week before Thanksgiving and, at 95, started slipping downhill quickly. We canceled our trip in order to stay close to home.
Scott and I spent time each day with Pops (our children's name for Scott's dad) and had some sweet and tender conversations. He slept about twenty-three and a half hours a day, but whenever we visited, he would try to arouse a bit and converse with us. He rarely complained and was very gracious and thankful, even for the small things.
The weekend of Thanksgiving, we knew Pops was getting close to the end. We spent time with him each day and read to him from The Jesus Story Bible (a beautiful book for all ages). On Sunday, Scott sang Amazing Grace and Pops actually tried to join in the song a few times. When we left that day, his last words were, "I love you too". A few hours later we got a call that he had peacefully passed away, a kind hospice nurse at his side.
So, although the house is all decorated (we had lots of extra time over the long Thanksgiving weekend), it's a bittersweet holiday season for us. Pops was our last living parent. A friend of mine said something that so resonated with both Scott and me. She said that when you lose your last parent, no matter what age you are, somewhere deep inside, you feel a bit like an orphan. And now we know it's true.
It's also true that life is too short to not appreciate and cherish opportunities to spend time with loved ones. So, although baking is a favorite part of the holidays for me, I like to keep things simple. With an easy decorating technique, these fun, delicious Christmas Shortbread Cookies look like they came from a fine bake shop. Though they appear festive and professional, they are truly easy, with no fancy decorating skills necessary.
You'll need a rolling pin, a small (Wilton Number 5) round decorating tip, green food color and your choice of decorative sprinkles. The ingredient list for the cookies is short: flour, sugar and butter. That's it.
The cookies are stirred up in a bowl (no mixer needed), rolled, cut and then chilled for several hours before baking. The chilling is one of the secrets to cookies with nice crisp edges. A stint in the refrigerator helps the dough keep its shape while baking.
Another secret? Corn starch. It might sound strange, but replacing a small portion of the flour in this recipe with corn starch gives the cookies a crisp, light texture and keeps them from spreading in the oven.
The icing technique is fun and simple, making it a great project to do with kids. The tops of the delicious, buttery cookies are dipped into an icing made with powdered sugar, milk and peppermint extract.
After dipping, the cookies are allowed to dry. Later, a pretty, but simple Christmas tree is added with a piping bag and tip. It's basically just a squiggle of lines that get progressively bigger.
Add a sprinkle of nonpareils and the squiggle lines are transformed into a festive Christmas tree!
The idea for these Christmas Shortbread Cookies is not original. I was looking for some inspiration for Christmas baking back in November and came across these really cute cookies on Pinterest. When I clicked on the link, it took me to Etsy where these cookies were actually for sale. When I looked at the price, I did a double take; $36.00 for a dozen! And honestly, the cookies didn't really look super tasty.
I decided to apply the decorating idea to my favorite buttery, melt-in-your-mouth shortbread cookie recipe and made a delicious mint glaze, instead of the royal icing used on the Etsy cookies. A whole batch of these Christmas Shortbread Cookies costs less than $3.00 (that's with ingredients priced on the high side). I think I'll make my own, thank you! You can too and they'll just look like they came from a fine bake shop! You and your wallet will be secretly smiling...
P.S. If you're looking for other fun and easy cookies to make, we've got a plethora of them, just check out our cookie archives.
Café Tips for making these Christmas Shortbread Cookies
- Don't roll these cookies too thin, otherwise, they will be difficult to dip into the glaze when decorating. I roll mine to a ⅜-inch thickness and use an adjustable rolling pin. How do you roll them to the desired thickness? This reasonably priced rolling pin is a super easy way to achieve the same perfect thickness in all your cookies. It has 1/16, ⅙, ¼, and ⅜-inch removable discs, making it easy to flatten your dough to a uniform thickness. Have a baker on your shopping list? This would make a lovely gift that would be used year round.
- Because there's no mixer used, the butter needs to be very soft when mixing up these Christmas Shortbread Cookies. That can be difficult at this time of year, even if you let the butter sit out for hours. A short stint in the microwave on power level 10 (10%) works like magic to soften butter. You'll need to experiment a bit with your microwave though, as they're all different. Start with 20 or 30-second increments at power level 10 until you learn how long your microwave will take to get the butter nice and soft but not melted.
- I love to have a supply of these super sturdy decorating bags. They're not expensive and a box will last forever. The bags come in a nice flat box so they're easy to store. I used to buy my bags at the local craft store and got about 10 bags for slightly less than this whole box of 100 bags! Definitely a wonderful deal.
- Make a fun holiday project for kids with these Christmas Shortbread Cookies. You could make it simple by preparing the cookies ahead of time. Then just set up a station for decorating with fun sprinkles and tubes of icing. Or do it in two stages; mixing, rolling and baking the cookies and then decorating them later after they're cooled.
- I like to use several size cookie cutters for this recipe. It helps to utilize the rolled dough better. When you can't cut any more large cookies, sometimes you can use the smaller one on the scraps.
- A few tips on rolling and cutting out cookies:
- Keep your work surface and rolling pin lightly dusted with flour.
- I like to also rub the cutting edge of my cookie cutter in a little flour in between each cookie.
- Press fairly firmly when cutting out the cookies, but don't twist the cookie cutter as the shape will get distorted.
- If you don't have room in your refrigerator to chill the cookies on two sheet pans, just transfer all of them to one pan after cutting. Then later, once they're chilled, you can divide them between the two pans for baking.
- When re-rolling the scraps, incorporate as little of the flour on the work surface as possible.
- Occasionally some of the cookies will be slightly puffed on the top when removed from the oven. You can give them a nice flat top by pushing on the top gently with a metal spatula.
- Peppermint extracts are not all the same. Start with ¼ teaspoon in the glaze and taste. Add more as needed to achieve a nice minty flavor.
- Use any type of sprinkles you like for these Christmas Shortbread Cookies. I really like the tiny round balls called nonpareils. I find really pretty ones at Homegoods. Walmart will usually also have a nice seasonal collection, as will the big box craft stores. You can also find nonpareils online.
- One important last note: nonpareils can be like insidious little runaways and you'll find them all over your kitchen before you can blink an eye. I found that sprinkling them onto the cookies over the sink or over a large baking or sheet pan will help corral the little wandering rascals!
Another fun and easy Christmas cookie recipe. I like to call them my Snowy Night Christmas Cookies:
With an easy decorating technique, these fun, festive and super delicious, Christmas Shortbread Cookies look like they came from a fine bake shop!
- 8 ounces butter 2 sticks
- ½ cup powdered sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
- ¼ cup cornstarch
- 2 cups powdered sugar
- 4 tablespoons half and half (or milk) maybe more
- ¼-1 teaspoon peppermint extract
- 1 tablespoon very soft butter
- 1 cup powdered sugar
- 1 ½-2 tablespoons half and half (or milk)
- ½ teaspoon peppermint extract
- 3-4 drops green food coloring
Line 2 sheet pans with parchment paper. Set aside.
Place soft butter in a medium-size mixing bowl. Stir with a wooden spoon or sturdy spatula until nice and smooth. Add sugar and vanilla. Mix together by hand for about 1 minute, until fluffy and well blended.
Add the flour and cornstarch. Stir until flour is incorporated and the dough is shaggy. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and press dough in a ball. Knead a few times until fairly smooth then form into a ball again and press with your hands into a flat disk.
On a lightly floured work surface, roll out dough to a ⅜-inch thickness. Keep work surface, dough and rolling pin lightly (not too much) dusted with flour. Cut desired shapes and place on prepared pans. Re-roll scraps as many times as needed to use up the dough.
Place cutouts in the refrigerator for at least one hour or up to 24 hours.
When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350˚F. Remove cookies from refrigerator and bake for 12-16 minutes or until just beginning to turn golden at the edges. Rotate pans halfway through for even browning. Cool completely before icing.
For the mint glaze, combine powdered sugar, half and half and ¼ teaspoon peppermint extract in a medium-size bowl. Mix until smooth. Glaze should be thick but pourable. Add a little more half and half if too thick. Taste the glaze and add more peppermint extract, if needed (see note above in post).Transfer the glaze to a shallow bowl.
To glaze the cookies, holding onto the edge of a cookie dip the top surface into the glaze, being sure all of the surface touches the glaze. Pull cookie up and out of the glaze. Allow excess glaze to drip back into the bowl. When glaze stops dripping, quickly flip the cookie right side up and give it a gentle jiggle to allow the glaze to flow evenly over the surface. Repeat with remaining cookies. Allow glaze to dry for 15-30 minutes.
For the buttercream piping, place butter in a medium-size bowl and stir until smooth. Add powdered sugar, 1 ½ tablespoons half and half and mint extract and stir vigorously until smooth, adding a bit more half and half if needed to achieve a thick but smooth consistency. Add food coloring, a drop at a time, to reach desired shade of green.
Place buttercream in a pastry bag fitted with a small round icing tip (I used a Wilton #5 round tip). Starting at the upper edge of one cookie, pipe the Christmas trees by making lines that are increasingly larger, stopping about ¼-inch above the lower edge of the cookie (see pictures above). Immediately sprinkle with sprinkles of choice. Set aside to dry.
See Café Tips above for lots of extra tips and instructions.
Recipe makes a dozen large (3-inch) or two dozen smaller (2-inch) cookies.