My classic shortbread cookies decorated with royal icing make for a delicious and fun activity for the holidays.

Decorated Shortbread cookies with royal icing


These beautifully decorated cookies start off so easy with my classic shortbread cookie recipe. Only a few simple ingredients make these cookies incredibly buttery, sweet, and a little salty. They can be rolled and cut out into any shape you like.

Next comes my new recipe for royal icing. This icing pairs perfectly with shortbread cookies. When the icing hardens and dries it becomes crunchy and adds wonderful flavor to the cookies.

Royal icing mixed into different colors in various bowls

How to Decorate

Decorating with royal icing is ALL about the consistency. True cookie artists can spend several hours on a single cookie. They can layer the icing, marble it, and create intricate designs of just about anything. What they have perfected is getting the consistency just right for the perfect application.

While I am by no means a cookie artist, I can do a few simple designs. I love to practice and really play around with it which is what makes it a great activity! Bring your family and friends around for a day spent decorating holiday cookies. Not only are they fun to make, they taste great too. Wrap them up and include these in your annual holiday tin.

Royal icing piped into thick lines and borders on cookies

Thicker Icing for Borders and Lines

If you make my royal icing recipe as is, you will have the perfect thick consistency. This consistency is great for piping lines and outlining borders.

Royal icing filled in between a border on cookies

Thinner Icing for Filling in

To fill in cookies when you want to cover an entire area, pipe out a border using the icing as is. As you wait, add a few drops of water to your icing to thin it out. You want it to be pourable but too runny. Add this to a piping bag and fill in the bordered area.

Add more powdered sugar if you need to thicken up the icing, and add more water if you need to thin in out.

Decorated Shortbread Cookies with Royal Icing
Decorated Shortbread Cookies with Royal Icing
Yield: 24-3 inch cookies

Decorated Shortbread Cookies with Royal Icing

My classic shortbread cookies decorated with royal icing make for a delicious and fun activity this holiday season!


For the Shortbread Cookie Dough

  • 220 grams (2 sticks, 1 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 100 grams (1/2 cup) granulated sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 280 grams (2 1/3 cup) all-purpose flour

For the Royal Icing

  • 90 grams pasteurized egg whites, room temperature (from about 3 large eggs)*
  • 540 grams (4 1/2 cups) powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract or paste
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • Gel food coloring, if using (do not use liquid food coloring)
  • Holiday sprinkles or candies, if using


For the Cookies

  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fit with a paddle attachment, or a large bowl with a hand mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. About 4 minutes.
  2. Mix in the salt.
  3. Add the flour to the mixing bowl and mix on medium/low speed until just incorporated.
  4. Press the dough out on a piece of parchment paper to about 1/2-inch thick. Cover and chill the dough in the refrigerator for about 15 minutes.
  5. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 C).
  6. Roll the dough out to 1/4-inch thick and stamp out with cookie cutters.
  7. Place the cutout cookies on parchment lined baking sheets and prick each cookie with a fork several times. Bake for 8-12 minutes until lightly browned and set.
  8. Allow to cool completely before decorating.

For the Icing

  1. Place the room temperature egg whites into the bowl of a stand mixer and beat using the whisk attachment. Whip until very frothy about 2-3 minutes.
  2. Add all of the powdered sugar to the bowl and start whisking on low. After combined, turn up the mixer and beat on high for about 5-7 minutes until very glossy with stiff peaks.
  3. Add in the vanilla extract or paste, almond extract, and salt and whisk together.
  4. If you wish to color your icing: add a couple drops of gel food coloring and whisk to combine. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and get rid of any white streaks. Add more coloring a drop at a time until you have the desired color. If you'd like to do several colors, divide the icing into smaller bowls and color them individually.

To Decorate

  1. Use the thicker icing as is to decorate with lines, stripes, borders, dots, and any smaller details like a snowman nose or lettering. Pour icing into piping bags fitted with tips.
  2. Use a thinner icing to fill in areas inside borders where you want to cover an entire area. To thin out, add a drop or two of water and stir together. It should be pourable but not runny. Add to a piping bag without a tip and fill in. To thicken up, add more powdered sugar.
  3. To layer the icing: wait at minimum 2 hours before piping the next layer.
  4. After decorating, let completely dry before packaging. Be careful not to move them too early or they'll smudge. I recommend leaving cookies out overnight before moving.


Decorated cookies do not need to be refrigerated. Store in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

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