Holiday Butter Cookies


I don’t like sugar cookies. Bland in flavor, crackled tops, and an unappealing texture–crispy, with maybe a little softness in the center if I’m lucky. I don’t do snickerdoodles, either; they’re just sugar cookies trying to be interesting.

As a result, I never made sugar cookies growing up. My go-to Christmas cookie recipe was the Land O’Lakes butter cookie recipe, conveniently printed inside the cardboard carton our butter came in. Like sugar cookies, these are rolled out and cut with cookie cutters. But these ones have flat, smooth tops, no crinkles in sight. And with no danger of becoming cakey, the texture is entirely in your control. You can roll it thinly at about 1/8″ for crispy cookies, or you can go thicker–I prefer 1/4″, 1/2″ if I’m daring–for fat, buttery cookies with a soft interior. I love picking the thickest cookie and biting all the edges until I’m left with the absolute middle. It tastes a little bit raw in the best possible way.


And then, about nine years ago, my best friend Kate introduced me to an even better version: these Festive Easter Cookies, courtesy of, interestingly enough, How Stuff Works. These cookies have all the advantages of the Land O’Lakes version with the difference that they use powdered sugar rather than granulated sugar. As a result, these wonderful cookies have an even finer, smoother texture.


Another thing that sets these cookies apart is the lack of leavening, which I think officially makes them butter cookies. Sugar cookies all seem to contain either baking soda or baking powder, but these festive cookies have nothing of the sort. They don’t rise much, they don’t crackle, and they don’t get take on a cakey texture. All that remains is smooth, vanilla, buttery bliss.

The shiny royal icing also makes these unique. Buttery, fluffy frosting is wonderful, and you’re certainly welcome to use that on these cookies. But I like that this icing, made with egg white, powdered sugar, and plenty of almond extract to make things interesting, allows the buttery cookies to shine through. You can use vanilla extract if almond isn’t your thing, but I really like the pop of flavor it brings.

Since Kate introduced me to these cookies, we’ve made them many times over since then, together and apart. Because she discovered them, we’ve taken to calling them Katemas Cookies–which I realize is probably sacrilegious, so call these what you will. Just don’t call them sugar cookies. They’re so much more than that.


Buttery Holiday Cookies with Royal Icing

Source: Adapted from How Stuff Works

Makes 24-36 cookies (depending on desired thickness)


  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tbsp vanilla
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Cream together the butter and sugar in a large bowl until light and fluffy. Add egg, vanilla, and salt; mix well.

Slowly add in the flour, one cup at a time, stirring after each addition. When a dough forms, divide the dough in two and wrap each half in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 1-3 hours or overnight (1-3 hours is preferable; if refrigerated overnight, it will need some time to warm up before it’s ready for rolling out).

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Roll out the dough on a floured surface to a thickness of your preference (1/4″ for thick cookies, or 1/8″ for thin, crispy cookies). Use cookie cutters to cut out shapes in the dough.

Set the cutouts on ungreased cookie sheets and bake for 8-12 minutes or until the edges are lightly browned and the bottoms are golden (this will take longer for thicker cookies–it took mine about 15-18 minutes to reach this stage). Let sit on the cookie sheets for a few minutes before transferring them to a wire rack to cool. Decorate with Royal Icing (below). Cookies are ready when the icing is glossy and fully set.

Royal Icing

  • 1 egg white, preferably at room temperature (use clean, Grade A eggs with intact shells)
  • 2 to 2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • almond extract to your taste (I start with a little and keep adding until it tastes right, which for me is around two teaspoons)

Beat the egg white in a small bowl until frothy. Gradually add the powdered sugar, almond extract, and pinch of salt until it is to the taste and texture of your liking.


4 thoughts on “Holiday Butter Cookies

    • Feel free to use any colors you like! The ones in this post were made with gel food coloring, but I’ve also made these with basic liquid food coloring or even no coloring at all for plain white icing. I tend to stick to about three colors (in this post, blue, green, and red; when I made these last week, I made them in green, white, and red) because I don’t have the patience to deal with separating icing into too many bowls to color them all. But you might be more adventurous than me 🙂


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