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These soft Christmas sugar cookies are naturally sweetened and feature a subtle hint of vanilla. Paired with the best tasting, naturally dyed sugar cookie icing, these cookies are easy to make and a blast to decorate with the whole family!
Part of the reason I avoid baking Christmas sugar cookies is the labour involved. If you want the traditional biscuits, there’s always a lot of rolling, cutting, and juggling multiple trays. I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m a pretty lazy baker. I’ll take a slice and bake or drop cookie any day over a cut-out. It’s just too much faff.
But when I asked my readers on Instagram to tell me their favourite Christmas cookie to bake, an overwhelming 90% said sugar cookies! What else could I do but put aside my prejudices and try and come up with a… sugar-free sugar cookie.
I seriously think you have it in for me.
How to make natural, sugar-free sugar cookies
I won’t colour it – this was not an easy recipe to develop. The whole point of a traditional Christmas sugar cookie is the super sweet sugary vanilla flavour, which I found very difficult to replicate with natural sweeteners.
Honey was my initial starting point, but the flavour of it was too strong to allow any of the vanilla to come through, so around batch three I switched to agave nectar. Agave has a more neutral taste, so I was able to sweeten the cookies without overpowering the vanilla flavour.
My next struggle was the texture. I wanted a Christmas sugar cookie that was soft, yet held up to a good amount of icing. Liquid sweeteners aren’t best used for robust baked goods, which is why I normally opt for raw cane sugar, coconut sugar, or a combination in cookies. Liquid sweeteners are better used in cakes, puddings, and bars, where the treat has the help of a tin to keep its form.
[#PLUG: If you’re interested in which natural sweeteners work best in which baked goods, I have an entire guide that I created with all of that info and a printable conversions chart available for free here!]
It wasn’t easy. But with a few more tests, I was able to achieve an agave-sweetened cookie dough that rolled, cut, and baked up looking like the cut-out shapes!
How to make Christmas cookies from scratch
Although they do require a few steps, making these Christmas sugar cookies from scratch is very easy. Here’s how to do it (see the recipe card below for the full method):
- Whisk together the dry ingredients.
- Mix together the wet ingredients using a stand mixer or hand mixer.
- Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients until a soft cookie dough forms.
- Chill the dough for at least 30 minutes (1-2 hours is preferable).
- Roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface and cut out your Christmas sugar cookie shapes.
- Place the shapes on a baking tray and bake until lightly golden.
- Allow to cool completely before decorating with naturally-dyed icing.
Super simple. These are great cookies to bake with kids during the holidays, because they’re easy to make and also fun to decorate!
Or, if you’re kid-less like me, they’re very therapeutic.
How to naturally dye the best tasting sugar cookie icing
I love this Christmas sugar cookie icing recipe not only for its taste and simplicity, but also because it doesn’t require any food dyes or gels.
We know I like to keep things natural around these parts. And while some food colouring is made from natural ingredients, the chemically produced colours (ie. bright primary colours, blacks, browns) are derived from petroleum.
Not something I want to be eating.
Certain manufactured colours have also been linked to food allergies, so if you’re feeding these sugar cookies to a crowd, it’s best to use naturally-dyed icing.
- Yellow: ground turmeric
- Purple: blueberry powder
- Pink: strawberry powder
- Brown: espresso or cacao powder
- Black: activated charcoal powder
Food52 has a great list of natural food colourings you probably already have in your kitchen and how to use them.
To dye the icing in this recipe, simply add sifted half teaspoons of your powder of choice until you reach the colour you want.
How to decorate Christmas sugar cookies
Can I be honest with you? Decorating is probably my least favourite part of baking. I don’t know whether it’s from a lack of patience or lack of confidence in my abilities, but I always get very frustrated when I decorate. Cakes, cookies, whatever it is – if I had my way, I’d hire someone to do that bit.
That being said, I wanted to give you a couple of options for decorating these Christmas sugar cookies depending on whether you love to decorate or, like me, would rather poke a stick in your eye.
Method 1: The Pipe and Flood
This is the traditional way to decorate sugar cookies, and I used this method on the red and green cookies you see in the images. It achieves a professional finish, but requires a bit more time, practice, and patience.
Here’s how to decorate using the Pipe and Flood Method:
- Fill a piping bag fitted with a tiny round nozzle (I used Wilton #4) with your desired colour of icing.
- Pipe borders around the edges of each cookie, ensuring clean lines and a firm connection at each end.
- Allow the piping icing to dry for at least 30 minutes before flooding.
- To make the flood icing, simply add half a teaspoon more milk to the remaining icing to loosen it.
- Drop a teaspoon of flood icing into the centre of each cookie at a time and tilt the cookie to fill all the gaps. Use a toothpick to pop any air bubbles and spread the icing into all the gaps.
- If desired, dunk the tops into a plate of raw cane sugar then leave to dry for 24 hours.
Method 2: The Dunk and Dip
Also known as the “Lazy Girl Decorating” method and my preferred way to decorate Christmas sugar cookies. You can see this method used on the white snowflake cookies in the images. It takes about a third of the amount of time as the fussy method and still achieves the most important part: taste.
Plus, I mean, they really don’t look that bad. You may get a few drips, but they’re much more charming, I think.
Here’s how to decorate using the Dunk and Dip Method:
- Add 1-2 teaspoons of milk to each bowl of icing to bring the consistency up to flood icing.
- Dunk the top of each cookie, one by one, into the icing.
- Lift the cookie and hold it flat, allowing the excess icing to drip off.
- Dip each cookie into a plate of raw cane sugar.
- Turn over and leave to dry on a cooling rack for 24 hours.
So much easier and still just as delicious!
While I still don’t think I’ll be making sugar cookies every Christmas, it is good to know that I now have a naturally sweetened sugar cookie recipe in my back pocket for the holidays!
Looking for more refined sugar free cookie recipes?
- Cinnamon Espresso Oatmeal Cookies
- The Best Natural Peanut Butter Cookies
- Apricot and Hazelnut Cookies
- Apple Crumble Cookies
If you make this recipe, let me know by snapping a picture and tagging me on Instagram @naturallysweet_kitchen. I love seeing your creations and sharing them in my Stories. Or let me know you love these Christmas sugar cookies by leaving a comment and rating below!
Christmas Sugar Cookies Recipe
These soft vanilla Christmas sugar cookies are naturally sweetened and paired with the best tasting, naturally dyed sugar cookie icing!
- 320 g unbleached plain flour
- ½ tsp baking soda
- ½ tsp fine sea salt
- 113 g unsalted butter room temperature
- 150 ml (200g) agave nectar
- 1 large egg room temperature
- 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
- 125 g unrefined golden confectioner’s sugar, sifted (see note)
- 1-2 tbsp milk
- ½ tsp pure vanilla extract
- Spirulina powder for colouring
- Beetroot powder for colouring
- Raw cane sugar for decoration (optional)
- Sift the flour, baking soda, and salt into a large bowl and whisk to combine. Set aside.
- Add the butter to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and whip on a medium speed until creamy and slightly fluffy, about 5 minutes.
- Pour in the agave nectar and mix to combine well. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
- Add the egg and vanilla and continue mixing on medium speed until well combined.
- Decrease the mixer to a low speed and add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients in two parts, mixing just until the flour disappears.
- Remove the bowl from the mixer and finish mixing with a spatula, scraping down the sides into a loose ball. Refrigerate the dough for at least 30 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 180ºC (350ºF) and line two baking trays with silicone mats or non-stick paper.
- Remove the dough from the fridge and on a lightly floured surface, roll out it out to ½ cm (0.2 inches) thick. Cut shapes out of the dough using cookie cutters and place each shape on the baking trays. These cookies will not spread much, so you can place them quite close together.
- Bake the cookies for 6-8 minutes, or until risen and lightly golden on the bottom. Remove the cookies from the oven and allow them to cool on the tray for 5 minutes, then place them on a wire rack to cool completely.
- Whisk together the confectioner’s sugar, milk, and vanilla in a medium bowl until well combined. The icing should be thick but drip evenly off of a spoon.
- Divide the mixture into two or three separate bowls. Add ½ tsp of spirulina powder to one bowl of icing and ½ tsp of beetroot powder to a second bowl of icing and whisk each bowl with a fork to combine. Continue adding the powders a dash at a time until you reach your desired colours. Leave one of the bowls white.
- Decorate the cookies with the icing using one of the below methods.
Pipe and Flood Method: To pipe the borders, add one colour to a piping bag fitted with a small round tip (I used a Wilton #4) and pipe around the edges of each cookie. Allow the border icing to dry for at least 30 minutes before flooding. To flood the cookies, add ½ tsp of milk to each of the remaining icings to make them a bit runnier. Drop a teaspoon of flood icing into the centre of each cookie and carefully tilt the cookie to fill all the gaps. Add more icing as needed. Use a toothpick to pop any air bubbles and spread the icing to the edges. Allow the cookies to dry for 5 minutes and then dunk them, carefully but confidently, into a plate of raw cane sugar. Turn over and leave to dry on a cooling rack for 24 hours.
Dunk and Dip Method: Add 1-2 tsp of milk to each bowl of icing and whisk to combine. This should bring them to the consistency of flood icing. Dunk the top of each cookie, one by one, into the icing. Lift the cookie and hold it flat, allowing the excess icing to drip off. Dip each cookie into a plate of raw cane sugar. Turn over and leave to dry on a cooling rack for 24 hours.
- This is the brand I use for confectioner’s sugar. If you cannot get unrefined confectioner’s sugar, you can blend 200g of raw cane sugar in a blender until it reaches a powdered consistency. Measure the blended sugar as instructed in the recipe.
- Uniced cookies can be frozen in an airtight container for up to 2 months.
- Once iced, these cookies will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days.