crispy sugar cookies and christmas traditions

by Stacy

When I’m deciding what to cook or bake, I often ask my husband for his opinion. Usually this is so he has some input on what we eat and I can grumpily inform him that he picked it if he doesn’t like it. Sometimes, however, I don’t like his answers.

Last week I mentioned that I could make some Christmas cookies. What kind did he want?

Sugar cookies.

What else?

Sugar cookies are fine.

Don’t get me wrong, I like sugar cookies. Eating them, at least. But sugar cookies are a big undertaking. Make dough, chill dough, roll out and cut dough, bake cookies, cool cookies, make frosting, frost cookies, put cookies carefully away…

But my husband wanted sugar cookies.

christmas cookies

So we made sugar cookies.

We decided to finish them all in one sitting, so we rejected piped or fancy royal icing in favor of a simple buttercream slathered artlessly on top. While I admire other people’s beautiful cookie creations, I just want my cookies to taste good.

We don’t have a ton of cookie cutters either, but it was enough.

christmas cookies

The classic Christmas trees could have used more decoration, perhaps, but taste good nonetheless.

christmas cookies

The candy canes needed a little something, but we didn’t devote a lot of time. The palm tree cookie cutter we got last year in honor of our move to California.

christmas cookies

Minnesota: a blue state.

Our friend came over to help us and it was much more fun to have a cookie party. It’s especially important to have several sets of eyes (and mouths) for quality control. Broken and ugly cookies must be disposed of properly.

The cookies themselves are tasty, but a bit crispier than I like. I didn’t know I preferred a softer cookie until I made these and wished they were soft. However, if you are a crisp cookie fan, these will hit the spot.

christmas cookies

What kind of cookies do you make for Christmas? My mom always makes gingersnaps, peanut blossoms, and almond stamp cookies.

Crispy Sugar Cookies

Adapted from The King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion
Yields 8-dozen 2-inch cookies, or considerably fewer giant Christmas tree cookies

The dough is quite sticky, so I recommend placing plastic wrap on top of the dough as you roll it to prevent a mess. My kitchen is very warm so the cookies did spread a bit on the pan; cooler dough might alleviate that problem. I also add a splash of lemon extract because it makes me happy.


  • 1 cup (2 sticks, 8 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 cups (6 ounces) confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 2 1/2 cups (10.5 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt


  1. Cream together butter and sugar until fluffy, about 4 minutes in a stand mixer. Beat in egg until smooth. Add vanilla and almond extracts.
  2. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, cream of tartar, and salt. Add to the butter mixture and mix until smooth. Refrigerate dough 2-3 hours or overnight.
  3. Preheat oven to 375F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.
  4. Generously flour a work surface and turn out dough. Place a piece of plastic wrap on top of the dough and use a rolling pin to roll out dough 1/4-inch thick. Dip cookie cutters in flour and cut out shapes. Transfer shapes to prepared pans.
  5. Bake cookies for 7-8 minutes until just slightly golden around the edges. Remove from oven and let cool 2 minutes on baking sheets, then transfer to a cooling rack. Cool completely before frosting.

Stacy’s Basic Cookie Frosting

I don’t actually measure this, so I apologize for the vague measurement. I just add sugar until it looks like enough, then add liquid until it’s the right texture. It’s also tasty on graham crackers. Note that regular vanilla extract will turn the frosting ivory, so if you want pure white, use another flavor or clear vanilla.


  • 3 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
  • ~2 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla, almond, or lemon extract
  • ~2 tablespoons milk, cream, or water


  1. Cream butter until smooth. Add sugar and mix slowly to avoid a huge mess. Once crumbly-looking and combined, increase mixer speed until smooth.
  2. Add extract, then drizzle in liquid gradually. Taste and adjust sugar as needed. Add enough liquid to reach desired consistency. You may want a thinner frosting for piping.

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Liz the Chef December 20, 2010 at 9:22 am

I’m with your husband. There is something so classic about a decorated sugar cookie at Christmas. I tend to make my toffee and fruitcake, preferring to munch on other folks’ cookies. Happy Holidays!


Stacy December 20, 2010 at 10:03 am

I agree that they’re classic! I think my real resistance is that our kitchen has very little counter space and it’s tile, so I have to set everything up on the dining room table. Whine whine whine. :-p

Happy holidays to you as well :-)


Bridget December 20, 2010 at 9:32 am

I asked my husband what treat he wanted to snack on while we put up our tree, and he requested sugar cookies. I made gingerbread. Sugar cookies are too much work!

Two ideas for softer cookies: 1) Roll them a bit thicker and underbake them (take them out of the oven when they just barely start to brown). And 2) Read my sugar cookie comparison post and make one of my two recommended recipes. 😉


Stacy December 20, 2010 at 10:07 am

Hah! At least it’s not just me!

Pfft, now you tell me! I couldn’t remember which recipes I used the last few times so I just plucked one (of at least 4) out of my King Arthur Flour book. This particular recipe is meant to be crisp, so even underbaking them didn’t make them that soft. They still taste good, they just aren’t the texture I expect for a Christmas cookie. They might actually be nice cut out really small and sandwiched together with a little dab of frosting, like a creme wafer.


Jill December 27, 2010 at 6:54 pm

Your cookies look nice, and thanks for the laugh with the Minnesota “blue state” cookie! I like crisp cookies, so this would be a good recipe for me.


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