Cooking 101: Holiday Cutout Cookies

There’s nothing that feels quite like the holidays more than biting into an iced cookie shaped like your favorite decoration. Trees, snowflakes, candy canes, here at The Everygirl we are fans of them all! But going from dough to adorable treats can be intimidating. That’s why we enlisted Los Angeles baker Jessica Vargas to help us. Jessica owns Little Sparks Cookies and bakes hundreds of shaped cookies every day, year-round! Her delectable treats have a cult like following with stars like Mindy Kaling and are shipped all over the country to her devoted fans. And it’s not just because they are so cute—Jessica’s cookies taste even better than they look. We promise it’s possible.

While we couldn’t convince her to share her signature recipe, Jessica has provided us with a scrumptious no-fail alternative and invited us into her kitchen to show us exactly how to achieve perfectly shaped holiday cutout cookies. These make the perfect gift or you can bake them ahead of time and host a cookie decorating party with your close friends! All you have to do is follow her instructions and try not to eat all of your delicious creations before anyone else sees them. We know you can do it.

Holiday Cutout Cookies Recipe

Tools Needed:
Baking Sheet
Rolling Pin
Parchment Paper
Cookie Cutters
Angled Spatula
Food Coloring
Piping Bag & Tips

Cookie Ingredients:
1 cup of REAL unsalted butter, softened (2 standard sticks)
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 egg
2-3 tsp vanilla extract (or almond)
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder

Start by mixing together your butter and powdered sugar in a mixer on a low setting. You must let the butter sit at room temperature and soften ahead of time. No microwave cheating! Next, add in the egg and vanilla extract. You can crack the eggs separately to make sure no eggshells get in the mixer. Once this is completely mixed, add in the flour little by little, followed by your baking powder. You know the dough is ready when it is not sticking to the sides of the mixer. If your dough is too gooey, add more flour. It’s not necessary to refrigerate dough before baking. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. 

Utilize a large space on your counter or table to roll out your dough. You can roll out cookies on a surface liberally dusted with powdered sugar or covered in parchment paper. Powdered sugar is preferable. Using your rolling pin, roll out your dough. Depending on the amount of space you have to work with, you can press all the dough at once or work in sections.

Roll out your dough to about 1/4 of an inch in thickness.

Using your cookie cutters, press firmly down. Make sure to leave about 1 inch between each shape. This makes them easier to grab with your spatula. 

Using your angled spatula, slowly work the tip underneath and scoop up cookies. Be very gentle with fragile cookies like candy canes. TIP: the more powdered sugar beneath your dough, the easier cookies are to scoop up. When there isn’t enough powdered sugar, the dough will stick to your work space. 

Transfer to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Place your cookies about 1 1/2 inches apart. 

Combine any remaining pieces and reroll, repeating previous steps, adding additional powdered sugar to the surface, and changing cookie shapes if you desire. Once your baking sheet is full (usually about 9-12 cookies on a standard size), bake at 400 degrees for 7-8 minutes. When you see the bottoms start to turn golden brown it’s time to remove the cookies from the oven. Don’t wait too long! Cookies continue to bake even after coming out of the oven.

Allow your cookies to cool for at least 15 minutes. This is the ideal time to start preparing your icing.

Icing Ingredients

2 pounds (one bag) confectioner’s sugar {907 grams}
3 tablespoons meringue powder
2-3 teaspoons oil-free extract or emulsion
1/2-3/4 cups warm water

Place the sugar and meringue powder in mixer bowl. Add water and extract and whisk slowly by hand before turning the mixer on. Once it is slightly mixed from the whisk, turn mixer on to its lowest setting. Whisking before starting the mixer prevents powdered sugar from flying all over your kitchen. Once your icing is mixed, transfer to a smaller dish that is easy to handle (we used a disposable cup) and add food coloring as desired. TIP: white icing is usually made with white food coloring. If you can’t find any at the store, you can order some here. Cover 1 cup of icing and set aside for piping. Do not refrigerate. 

Using a small angled spatula, place a dollop of icing into the center of your cookie and move the icing toward the edges. If you find that the icing is too runny and overflowing the sides, add additional powdered sugar.

After icing all your cookies, allow them to dry for at least 6 hours before attempting to pipe. If the cookies are not dry, the piping designs will bleed. 

Piping Ingredients

1 cup of base icing (previously set aside)
1-2 tablespoons meringue powder (start with 1 and add more to desired thickness)
1/2 cup powdered sugar

To prepare piping, combine 1-2 tablespoons of meringue powder and 1/2 cup of powdered sugar to 1 cup of base icing that was set aside earlier. You want the consistency to be thicker than regular icing. Add desired food coloring. Using a piping bag and tip, spoon the icing into the bag. The easiest way is to wrap your hand around the outside of the bag and squeeze the end of the spoon once it is dipped in, ensuring you get all of the icing off. 

Decorate as desired. Once finished, allow cookies to sit for 5 hours before transporting them. Cookies should be stored in an airtight container or ziploc bag and NEVER refrigerated. 


feature image via Monica Wang Photography