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Soft Cutout Christmas Cookies

Soft Cutout Christmas Cookies

I don’t particularly like crisp, buttery cookies with frosting on them. I feel like the sugary coating takes something away from the simplicity of that type of cookie. In other words, if it’s a good butter cookie, I don’t want to disguise it with icing. But Christmas cookies deserve to be decorated as much as the tree and there is only so much that one can do with sprinkles alone (which are, incidentally, a fine addition to butter cookies). Frosting can allow you to be a lot more creative. Christmas cookies just want to be frosted.

I like to use simple sugar icing for frosting cookies, since it’s not as rich or gooey as a buttercream, but still adds a nice, sugary taste. It is also easy to control the consistency of, so I can make it thin, for flooding large areas, or stiff, to draw the details. The frosted cookies themselves should be soft but firm, neither too sweet nor too buttery and they have to stay fresh for a few days. Gingerbread cookies are a good choice and easy to decorate, but whiter cookies give you a bit more color versatility, as well as less pressure to make ony gingerbread men.

Made with buttermilk, these cookies are soft and stay moist and fresh tasting for several days without getting too cakey or stale. They have a light vanilla flavor with a subtle tang from the buttermilk. The dough can be rerolled once or twice and holds it’s shape well in the oven, though it does puff up a bit. The dough is sticky when it isn’t cole, so be sure to have the dough well-chilled and your work surface floured. And the most crucial point? They hold up well to decorating and actually taste much better with the icing and sprinkles.

I’m already making another batch. After all, it’s still a few days until Christmas and, while these will stay fresh until then, I don’t expect them to last that long.

Soft Cutout Cookies
2 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter, very soft
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp almond extract

In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
In a large bowl, cream together sugar and butter. Beat in buttermilk, egg and extracts. With the mixer on low speed or by hand, add in the flour mixture, mixing until no flour remains.
Divide dough into two pieces. Wrap in plastic wrap and freeze for at least 2 hours.
Preheat oven to 375F.
Working with 1 piece of dough at a time, roll out to 1/4-inch thick on a lightly floured surface and use a floured cookie cutter to make desired shapes. Transfer cookies to a parchment lined baking sheet. Reroll remaing dough, chilling for a few minutes if it becomes too warm to handle easily. Repeat with second piece of dough.
Bake for 6-7 minutes at 375F, until the edges are slightly firm to the touch but cookies are not browned (The bottom of the cookies will be light brown).
Cool completely on a wire rack before icing.
Makes 4-5 dozen, depending on cookie cutter size.

Simple Colored Icing
4 cups confectioners sugar, divided
2 tbsp milk or light cream per bowl
1/2 tsp vanilla extract per bowl
white, red, green and blue food coloring

Place 1 cup of sugar in each of 4 small bowls. Add 2 tbsp milk or light cream, 1/2 tsp vanilla and a few drops of your desired food color to each bowl. Mix thoroughly with a fork, until smooth and a good consistency: thin for filling in large spaces and thick for making clear lines. Add extra milk if necessary.
Scrape each color into a small zip-lock plastic bag.
Snip the corner of the bag to ice cookies.

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  • Alicat
    December 20, 2005

    oh how adorable! I must make yet another trip to the store for more butter so I can make these. Too cute! And I agree on the overly crisp/frosting comment. Not my fav, not at all. 😉

  • The Cookbook Junkie
    December 20, 2005

    These look great! I never have the patience to do cut-outs at Christmas time but I’m going to try this recipe sometime after the holidays.

  • Clare Eats
    December 20, 2005

    so cute nic 🙂

  • Rebecca-bakesale
    December 20, 2005

    The “ho ho ho!” cookie is so darling! I’ve been inspired!

  • bokbaksa
    December 20, 2005

    Oh, so cute and pretty color!
    I am going to this recipe this christmas. Thank you. Merry christmas.

  • Rorie
    December 20, 2005

    Adorable – are they as tasty as they look?

  • Joe
    December 20, 2005

    Great cut-outs Nic!

  • Nic
    December 20, 2005

    Alicat – I think a lot of people think along those lines at Christmas.

    Cookbook Junkie – I think that they would be festive for New Year’s, too.

    Clare – Thanks!

    Bakesale – I really liked the Ho Ho Ho cookies too. I wish I had done more like that!

    Bokbaksa – Merry Christmas to you, too!

    Rorie – You bet they are. They’re delicious (if I do say so myself)!

    Joe – Thanks. Almost as nice as some of yours?

  • Nicky
    December 21, 2005

    Hi Nic,
    beautiful cookies! I always plan to do a huge batch of similar cookies and decorate them nicely, but usually stop somewhere in the middle – because I’m too impatient to give them all the same nice outfit 😉 Btw, on our last trip to the states I recognized a much broader variety of cookie decorating accessories available than here in Germany – lucky you!

  • J
    December 21, 2005

    hi nic, what artistry! everything looks so festive; christmas cookies somehow don’t look christmassy unless they’ve been seasonally embellished…

  • Chloe
    December 21, 2005

    Thanks for putting this recipe up! I actually took advantage of the icing recipe. BUT… I used powdered sugar. Was that the type of sugar you used? I just thought that the other sugar might be too granular with just 2 tbsps of milk to liquify it? It worked for me!

  • Pamela
    December 21, 2005

    Hey, Chloe, I’m jumping in here before nic answers to tell you that powdered sugar and confectioners sugar are the same thing. I also believe some call it icing sugar, although I might be wrong on that point. Anyhow, you used the right kind of sugar for the frosting; it’s just a matter of semantics.

  • Robs
    December 21, 2005

    Your cookies look amazing!!!!!

  • Lori
    December 22, 2005

    Nic, such creative cookies! I’ve tried to do these kinds of cookies in Manila, but the humidity gets to them every time.

  • Barbara Fisher
    December 22, 2005

    These are really pretty, Nic. And I am so with you on the issue of crisp cookies and icing–royal icing, especially. Ugh.

    But yours look not only lovely, but tasty as well.

  • Nic
    December 22, 2005

    Nicky – I am always impressed by the variety even between different shops. I keep my eyes out when I travel, too.

    J – You’re right on the money. Christmas isn’t Christmas without sprinkles.

    Chloe – It was a typo on my part, I fixed it now. Thanks for catching it!

    Pamela – Thanks for jumping it. I appreciate it.

    Robs – Thank you!

    Lori – That’s too bad! The humidity really can spoil things. I’m lucky I live in the desert.

    Barbara – Royal icing is something I try to use only when building gingerbread houses. It can look good, but is just not always right for eating on a cookie.

  • Brady
    December 13, 2006

    Hi, Nic,
    Can I use regular milk or is buttermilk required for the soft cookies?
    I never have buttermilk!!

  • Elizabeth
    December 6, 2007

    I almost never leave comments – but I have to say that this recipe is my new favorite thing! They are so easy and so delicious. I’m making a double batch this weekend. Thank you!!!

  • Mandy
    December 19, 2007


    I never have buttermilk either. You can substitute 1 c. buttermilk with:

    1 c. milk plus 1 tbsp of vinegar

    Thanks for the recipe Nicole, will be trying shortly!

  • Kathy
    December 10, 2008

    I never thought I’d bother changing sugar cookie recipes, but this is the best I’ve ever had. Thanks.

  • Victoria
    December 15, 2008

    Just wondering, what would you change about your recipe for those of us at a high altitude? I’m spending Christmas in Colorado and I really want to give these a try! Thanks so much.

  • Sarah
    December 16, 2008

    I was just wondering if the icing sets up hard? I’m planning on making these and package them up, but if the icing stays wet I’ll have to find a new icing recipe. Thanks 🙂

  • Melanie
    December 27, 2008

    I have to say these are the BEST sugar cookies I have ever eaten(I am a HUGE fan of soft cookies).But instead of the almond I just used vanilla extract.
    And I ended up just melting down some semi-sweet chocolate chips and smearing it on the cookies.Yum.

    I am so pleased with your recipes.I’ve tried your Sugar doughnut muffins,Mailable sugar cookies,these and the mini vanilla wafers(though mine just ended up tasting like the mailable sugar cookies =P ) and I plan on trying more.

  • andrew
    September 15, 2009

    Can you provide more information on this?

  • Laura
    December 10, 2009

    Wow, they look so great! Thank you for the inspiration. Will try some of them.

    Greetz from Germany

  • Tracy
    December 19, 2009

    All those well decorated christmas cookies salivate me already. With all the work load we have now, i don’t know if i’ll be patient enough to cut out the cookies, but they are just so attractively tempting that i so much want to try them out

  • Julia
    December 22, 2009

    I usually have great luck with your recipes, but this one has been a complete failure for me. I cannot get the dough to stay together once I roll it. The minute I cut the shapes, they go mushy. I’ve tried it several times, but no luck. Any suggestions from anyone who has had luck with these?

  • Nicole
    December 22, 2009

    Julia – Try working with smaller portions of the dough so that it stays colder when you roll it out/cut it out. This will keep the cookies firmer. Also, transfer them to the baking sheet right away after cutting them out. I hope that helps!

  • Lily
    December 4, 2014

    Can I add a 1/2 cup of unsweetened cocoa powder to these delicious cookies? And if so do I need to change the amount of flour to how much?

    Thank you for your time and your awesome recipes

  • Nicole
    December 4, 2014

    Lily – Yes, you would need to reduce the flour by 1/3 to 1/2 of a cup. With that much cocoa, the cookies will likely have a bittersweet chocolate flavor to them. You’ll still get a nice dark chocolate color by using less cocoa – maybe 1/4 cup (equally substituted for flour) – or buying some “black cocoa powder” for a darker color without changing the flavor of the cookie too much

  • Lily
    December 4, 2014

    Thank you for your quick response, will try your tips to turn these into chocolate cut outs. Hard to find a good soft chocolate cut out cookie with buttermilk 🙂 And these are yummy as they are.

    Thank you and Happy Holidays

  • Carlotta
    December 6, 2014

    How long do you have to thaw out the dough after it’s been frozen? I made the dough last night and will make the cookies today, just not sure how long I need for it to thaw.


  • Nicole
    December 8, 2014

    Carlotta – You need to let the dough thaw until it is soft enough to roll out. That time will vary depending on how solidly it is frozen. It could be 30 minutes, it could be 2 hours.

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