Christmas Cookies for the Win: A Recipe for Magic

Christmas Cookies
It wasn’t until I became a parent that I realized just how much work it is to pull off all that Christmas cookie-baking cheer.

Ah, Christmas. In childhood, it all seems so magical: Santa, crafts, and homemade Christmas cookies. But as an adult, you realize just how much work it is to pull off all that holiday cheer. You have to create the illusion of magical perfection. It’s kind of like Disney World, except you’re a team of 1-2 instead of thousands.

One of my favorite holiday memories was baking Christmas cookies with my mom and grandma. Looking back, I can see how much preparation and work they must have put into it. The careful collecting of sprinkles and decorative items, resurrecting the from-scratch dough and icing recipes. Spreading everything out on a table, and spending all day cutting out cookies.

There was the inevitable mess to clean up, and then the question of who would eat 4 dozen cookies. My most vivid memory is using full-sized chocolate chips for the eyes on a miniature snowman cutout; the result looked like the cookie had huge sunglasses on. On hour 3 of the experience, we all laughed so hard we cried.

As a busy mom, I’m tempted to buy slice n’ bake cookies. They taste great and are super easy. Or, just buy Christmas cookies – supporting a local maker is important these days. This time of year though, amidst all the chaos of doing literally everything else, I try to make the effort to keep up this special tradition. Here’s why: the great memories of that Christmas magic lives on through shared experience.

It may not feel like it in the moment when things feel hectic, but to a kid, it’s an unforgettable thing. I try to remember that when there’s flour everywhere and mini M&M’s are covering the floor, my kids are also smiling and loving every moment of it. 

Whether you make cookies from scratch, buy pre-made dough, go for Pillsbury, or just plain buy them ready-made, Christmas cookies are a memorable tradition for this time of year. Here’s a from-scratch recipe that I use, from Alton Brown. Now, to mentally prepare myself for this day of memory-making.

Sugar cookies


  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • ¾ teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • Powdered sugar


  1. Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside. Place butter and sugar in a large bowl of an electric stand mixer and beat until light in color. Add egg and milk and beat to combine.
  2. Put the mixer on low speed, gradually add flour, and beat until the mixture pulls away from the side of the bowl. Divide the dough in half, wrap in waxed paper, and refrigerate for 2 hours.
  3. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
  4. Sprinkle surface where you will roll out dough with powdered sugar. Remove 1 wrapped pack of dough from the refrigerator at a time, sprinkle rolling pin with powdered sugar, and roll out dough to 1/4-inch thick.
  5. Move the dough around and check underneath frequently to make sure it is not sticking. If the dough has warmed during rolling, place a cold cookie sheet on top for 10 minutes to chill.
  6. Cut into the desired shape, place at least 1-inch apart on a greased baking sheet, parchment, or silicone baking mat, and bake for 7 to 9 minutes or until cookies are just beginning to turn brown around the edges, rotating the cookie sheet halfway through baking time.
  7. Let sit on a baking sheet for 2 minutes after removal from the oven and then move to complete cooling on a wire rack. Serve as is or add icing as desired.
  8. Store in an airtight container for up to 1 week.