Adults, Children Can Enjoy A Classic Holiday Cookie: Three Ways

In our home, Christmastime has always meant tins of holiday cookies will be stacked in the pantry. For gift-giving, an afternoon snack, an after-dinner dessert, or a sweet surprise for delivery drivers stopping by with packages, each tin holds family-favorite cookies.

From the time I was a teenager, I assumed the role of chief cookie baker at Christmastime, and it’s a role I still love. Seeing kids’ faces light up at the sight of decorated cookies is a magical thing – and aren’t we all kids at heart?  

This isn’t a surprise to anyone who knows me, for some of my earliest Christmas memories revolve around cookies – delicate, ultra-buttery spritz made by Grandmother Henrietta, my Grandmom Kathryn’s thin, crisp, spicy gingerbread cookies cut in the shape of bells, stars, and trees, and my mother’s Noel nut balls, date pinwheels, and sugar cookies. When we were growing up, my sisters and I wiled away many snowy afternoons decorating sugar cookies with frosting, sprinkles, and red cinnamon candies.

Those treasured memories are why Christmas cookies are still an essential part of my holiday celebration. Still, during the final weeks before Christmas, I transition from labor-intensive cookies to timesaving recipes that provide a blank canvas for quick decorating options. Take my Christmas Shortbread Cookies, for instance. These melt-in-your-mouth, buttery shortbreads are ideal for afternoon tea anytime, but when garnished with frosting, sprinkles, dark chocolate, or crushed candy cane, they become delightful, gift-worthy cookies my friends, family, and Santa will love. So, here’s my holiday gift to you – a classic Christmas Shortbread Cookie recipe, plus three ideas to turn the basic recipe into three entirely different, irresistible holiday cookies:  Sparkling Shortbread, Chocolate and Peppermint Dreams, and Sugarplum Shortbread.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

Christmas Shortbread Cookies


1 cup unsalted butter, softened

¾ cup sifted confectioners’ sugar

¼ teaspoon salt

1 ¼ teaspoons vanilla

2 cups flour

1 tablespoon cornstarch

*Other ingredients will depend on how and whether you decorate the cookies.


Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. In the large bowl of an electric mixer, cream butter, confectioners’ sugar, and vanilla until the mixture is light and fluffy.

In a medium bowl, stir together flour, cornstarch, and salt. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture in thirds, beating until the dough is crumbly. Dust hands with flour, form 1-inch balls and place them on greased cookie sheets. Using a sturdy glass with a flat bottom, dip the bottom of the glass in flour and flatten each cookie to ¼-inch thickness. Bake 14 to 16 minutes until the cookies are set but not brown. Remove them from the oven, cool 1 minute, and then transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely. Serve cookies plain or decorate as desired.

Yield: 3 dozen shortbread cookies  

Decorating options

Sparkling Shortbread: Whisk together 1 cup confectioners’ sugar, 1 to 2 tablespoons milk, and ¼ teaspoon vanilla until smooth. 

Drizzle cookies with icing in a back-and-forth motion and sprinkle with tinted sugar.

Chocolate and Peppermint Dreams: Break a 3-ounce dark chocolate bar into pieces and heat them in the microwave at 50% power until soft, then stir until the chocolate is melted and smooth.   Dip half of each cookie into the chocolate and garnish with crushed candy cane.

Sugarplum Shortbread: Melt two 2-ounce squares vanilla candy coating in the microwave at 50% power and stir until smooth. Spread the top of each cookie with a thin layer of coating and decorate with red, green, and white nonpareils.

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Christy Rost

Public television chef Christy Rost is the author of three cookbooks and a longtime resident of the Park Cities and Preston Hollow. For additional recipes and entertaining tips, please visit or follow her on Facebook and Twitter @ChristyRost.

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