These Christmas shortbread cookies are cute, crumbly and creative. With buttery, melt-in-your-mouth shortbread and colorful royal icing they make the perfect gift and treat this holiday season.
For me, the holiday season hasn’t started until I’ve taken that first cookie covered tray out of the oven. When the sweet aroma of freshly baked cookies fills my home it’s official – holiday season has arrived.
Whether it’s Dark Chocolate & Cherry Shortbread Cookies or a gingerbread man cookie wreath baking (and eating!) cookies is my favorite way to spend drizzly, December days. Thanks to this fuss-free yet flavorful recipe these Christmas shortbread cookies will soon become your go-to gift and festive treat, because who doesn’t love homemade cookies?
Before you think these are regular sugar cookies, let me introduce you to the world of shortbread. There are two reasons it’s believed Shortbread earned its name; due to its “short” crumbly structure (caused by the high fat content of the butter) and because of its “short” ingredients list.
It originates in Scotland, where the traditional recipe consists of one part sugar, two parts butter, and three parts flour. While it's revered as a buttery biscuit, historically, shortbread contained less butter and used ground oats as these were easier to come by than wheat flour.
Fast forward to today, the popularity of shortbread is thanks to not only its divine taste and simple recipe but how easy it is to customize. Whether you use salted or unsalted butter granulated or powdered sugar, chocolate chips or chopped nuts, the dough can be transformed easily into endless variations.
For these Christmas shortbread cookies, I’ve added a few more pantry staples such as cornstarch and vanilla extract. To me, this takes them from basic to the best and results in buttery tender cookies. The finishing touch is a simple, royal icing tinted green that is then drizzled on top creating Christmas trees. Add a few festive sprinkles and your rustic sweet treats are ready! The hardest part of this recipe is then deciding whether to keep them or gift them, so that’s why I’ve doubled up the batch so you can do both!
WHY WE LOVE THESE CHRISTMAS SHORTBREAD COOKIES
- Easiest Cookies – Like most cookie recipes, these Christmas shortbread cookies begin by sifting your dry ingredients, beating your wet ingredients then combining the two to form a dough. Then it’s simply chill, bake and decorate. It’s a recipe even beginner bakers will be able to master and result in melt in your mouth cookies.
- Kid Friendly – Let the little ones get creative with this fun festive activity! To maximize your time and minimize mess, you could bake cookies ahead and then set up a decorating station with sprinkles and piping bags. Your little ones may also love my no-bake Christmas treat recipe using Oreo cookies.
- The perfect gift – This great recipe makes 24 cookies, perfect for sharing! For added nice list points, wrap them in treat bags and gift your homemade Christmas cookies to friends and family. You could also add them to a hamper alongside my homemade eggnog , grinch fudge and apple cranberry jam for an extra special gift basket. Add them to your holiday cookie platter or swap them at your next cookie exchange!
- Customizable – these shortbread cookies are essentially a blank canvas, ready for you to get creative. Whether you pipe on Rudolph, angels or gifts instead of trees, or shape them into stars or holly it’s totally up to you. You could also throw in some chocolate chips, caramel chunks or candied ginger.
- Unsalted butter
- Powdered Sugar
- Pure vanilla extract
- Corn Starch
- All-purpose flour
- Kosher salt
- Egg whites of 2 large eggs
- Powdered Sugar
- Green gel food color
- Colorful sprinkles and stars
SUBSTITUTIONS AND ADDITIONS
- Candy melts - Avoid any risk of Grinch green hands by skipping the food color and use green colored candy melts instead.
- Dip then decorate - For a sweeter cookie, you could dip it into royal icing first similar to my old fashioned oatmeal cookie. This will create a layer of icing before piping on your tree details. Use a contrast colored icing such as white or red to make your green tree stand out.
- Other flavors – You could switch out vanilla extract for coconut, lemon, orange or almond extract instead. Peppermint would also work well in the icing for candy cane vibes.
- Chunk it up – I let the rich butter shortbread do all the talking, but I get it, some people crave a little chunk when it comes to cookies. If you’re one of those people, chopped candied ginger, toasted nuts or dried cherries work well in shortbread.
- Flour – For that authentic crumbly classic shortbread texture, I prefer to stick to all-purpose flour. However, you can also use whole wheat flour for a coarser texture which lends well to shortbread’s already dense structure.
- Butter – Butter is the star of the show when it comes to shortbread. It’s the difference between good cookies and great cookies. Use the best butter you can afford and avoid using margarine at all costs!
- Royal Icing - Although a slight risk, raw egg whites can contain Salmonella so are not advised for pregnant women. If preferred, you can prepare the royal icing using pasteurized egg whites or meringue powder. The egg in meringue powder has been dried and pasteurized so is safe to consume without cooking.
RECOMMENDED TOOLS TO MAKE THIS RECIPE
- Measuring cups/spoons
- Baking Tray/ Cookie Sheet
- Parchment Paper
- Large Bowl
- Stand Mixer
- Cling Wrap
- Rolling pin
- Knife/cookie cutter
- Wire rack
HOW TO MAKE CHRISTMAS SHORTBREAD COOKIES
Don’t be intimidated if you’re new to this shortbread cookie recipe. The process is easy – dry ingredients meet wet ingredients to form a dough. Just like any other cookie. The secret is to not skip the chill time and let your imagination go wild with the sprinkles and icing!
- Make the shortbread dough - Cream together the butter and sugar. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour and cornstarch. Combine both mixtures and work the dough until a crumbly mixture forms. PRO TIP: For best results, it is essential your butter is at room temperature. Not melted, but warm enough that you can beat it with ease and so they’ll bake evenly.
- Chill - Form the dough into a ball and separate into two equal balls. Wrap in a piece of plastic wrap and chill for 1 hour. PRO TIP: Chilling firms up the cookies and helps to solidify the butter for that signature texture, color and texture. It also avoids the cookies from spreading in the oven.
- Prep - Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Roll out the chilled dough on a lightly floured surface to ⅓-inch thickness and cut out rectangle shapes using a sharp knife or a cookie cutter. (I’ve made about 1 ½ inch by 3-inch rectangles here using a knife) PRO TIP: I find rectangles work best for the tree design but use whatever cookie cutters or shape you prefer
- Bake- Place the cut-outs carefully on the prepared baking tray and bake for at least 12-13 min in a preheated oven. PRO TIP: If you’ve created a variety of shapes instead of uniform cookies, it may be easier to batch the similar sized cookies together as they’ll have similar baking times. Larger cookies will take longer than smaller etc.
- Let the cookies cool for a few minutes in the baking tray before transferring them to a wire rack to cool completely. PRO TIP: Letting the shortbread sit on the baking tray before transferring gives them an extra few minutes to firm up so don’t skip it.
- Pour the egg white into a stand mixer fitted with a whip attachment and beat on high till it foams up. (You can also use a hand mixer)
- Add powdered sugar in batches and mix on medium speed until sugar is incorporated and the mixture looks shiny.
- Turn the speed up to high and mix till the mixture becomes thick and starts to hold peaks.
- Tint the Icing with green gel food color till you get the desired shade.
- Put the icing in the icing bag and make tree shapes on the cookie, add a star on top and sprinkle some colorful sprinkles while the icing is still wet. PRO TIP: If you have little helpers, do this over the sink or on a large baking sheet to avoid sprinkles decorating the kitchen and the cookies.
- Let the icing set completely then enjoy!
SHORTBREAD RECIPE TIPS
- Sweet not Salty - Shortbread is a sweet treat, but as with most baked goods it still requires a little touch of salt to balance out the sweetness. You may need to play around with the quantity depending on your tastes. To make it easier for you to control the amount of salt in this Christmas shortbread cookies recipe, always use unsalted butter.
- For the perfect texture – These Christmas Shortbread cookies should have a tender, melting texture. The perfect balance of soft, but slightly crisp when you bite into it. If you overmix the dough, it will develop gluten making the finished cookies tough, not tender. Sifting the flour to remove any lumps can help make mixing quick and easy as can soft butter. If the butter is too hard, it won't easily incorporate into the dough also resulting in tough shortbread.
- Baking time – Use my baking time as a guide and not as gospel. The best way to judge is by color - shortbread cookies are done when they are a pale golden in color and just a hint of brown at the edges. Keep in mind the cookies will remain baking on the tray once removed from the oven as the tray is still hot. If you over bake they will go dry and brittle, not buttery and crumbly but if you transfer to the wire rack too soon they’ll be too soft and fall apart before they fall into your mouth.
- Keep it tidy – Sprinkles and kids are always a recipe for chaos. You’ll be finding them all over your kitchen well into the New Year if you have little helpers. As a little tip, sprinkle the cookies over the sink or on top of a large baking sheet to minimize mess.
- Re-roll the dough – Create a variety of sized cookies from the scraps so no dough goes to waste. I recommend re-rolling the scraps only once because if you re-roll too many times, the dough will start to get greasy.
- You can store these Christmas shortbread cookies in an airtight container for 1-2 days at room temperature or for 3-4 days in the refrigerator.
- You can also freeze the dough for up to 3 months then thaw overnight before using. Alternatively, the shortbread cookies can also be stored in the freezer. Thaw at room temperature then decorate before serving.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Why Do You Put Shortbread in the Fridge Before Baking?
Once you’ve mixed your shortbread cookie dough, the butter will be super soft. That means if you were to bake it immediately, the cookies will turn out very thin and likely burn. To ensure the butter doesn’t melt too quickly causing the cookies to spread and burn, chill first so the dough firms up.
In addition to chilling, cooking shortbread at a low temperature (around 300-350F) will also help the starch set as the butter melts. Again, this will help to avoid misshapen cookies that spread too thin.
Can I Use Powdered Sugar For Shortbread Cookies?
It’s totally depending on your tastes but yes, you can use powdered sugar for shortbread cookies. Granulated sugar will result in dense shortbread that’s a little more rustic and authentic. Powdered sugar however will create a more delicate, light and airy shortbread cookie.
If you opt for powdered sugar instead, increase the amount of sugar by around 25% to get the same sweetness because powdered sugar is not as dense as granulated sugar.
Can you make these Christmas shortbread cookies without a stand mixer?
Yes. You can make these Christmas shortbread cookies using a stand mixer or by hand. The key is soft butter!
- For the stand mixer - Use the paddle attachment and mix on a low speed as you add the flour mixture. Continue until the dough starts to come together in a ball around the paddle. Remove and refrigerate as per instructions.
- By hand - Mash the sugar into your softened butter with the tines of a fork. Then, use a wooden spoon and beat the mixture until it is light and fluffy. Add your remaining ingredients as per instructions and use your wooden spoon to combine until the dough forms, then pat into a ball. This will take time and effort so patience is key!
MORE FESTIVE TREATS
- Gingerbread Whoopie Pies
- Christmas Wreath Marshmallow Treats
- White chocolate cranberry oatmeal cookies
- Stained Glass Cookies
- 2 cups salted butter room temperature
- 1 ½ cups powdered sugar
- 4 cups all-purpose flour
- ¼ cup corn starch
- 2 large egg whites
- 3 cups powdered sugar
- Green gel food color
- Colorful sprinkles and stars
In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar.
In a separate bowl, sift together the flour and cornstarch. Combine both mixtures and work the dough until a crumbly mixture forms.
Form the dough into a ball and separate into two equal balls. Wrap in a piece of plastic wrap and chill for 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Roll out the chilled dough on a lightly floured surface to ⅓-inch thickness and cut out rectangle shapes using a sharp knife or a cookie cutter.
Place the cut-outs carefully on the prepared baking tray and bake for at least 12-13 min in a preheated oven.
Let the cookies cool for a few minutes in the baking tray before transferring them to a wire rack to cool completely.
Pour the egg white into a stand mixer fitted with a whip attachment and beat on high till it foams up. (You can also use a hand mixer)
Add powdered sugar in batches and mix on low speed until sugar is incorporated and the mixture looks shiny.
Turn the speed up to high and mix till the mixture becomes thick and starts to hold peaks.
Tint the Icing with green gel food color till you get the desired shade.
Put the icing in the icing bag and make tree shapes on the cookie, add a star on top and sprinkle some colorful sprinkles while the icing is still wet.
Let the icing set completely. Seve and Enjoy! Merry Christmas!!
You can store these in an airtight container for 1-2 days at room temperature or for 3-4 days in the refrigerator.
You can use green candy melts to make the tree instead of royal icing.
You can add 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract to the icing if you like for an added flavor.
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