Turn your kitchen into an art studio this holiday season.

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Painted Shortbread Cookies
Credit: Greg DuPree; Food Styling: Emily Nabors Hall; Prop Styling: Audrey Davis

In our recipe for Painted Shortbread Cookies, food coloring and almond extract transform into a set of watercolors; a shortbread cookie iced in white royal icing acts as your canvas. What comes next is an afternoon of creative expression.

The best part about these Painted Shortbread Cookies? Once you've got the base made, there are absolutely no rules. The kids can go wild with decorations, painting any design they'd like. Unlike classic cookie decorating, which requires piping bags and multiple colors of royal icing, this watercolor technique couldn't be simpler. Plus, painting these cookies is a great baking activity for kids of all ages. We can guarantee that baking and decorating these simple shortbread cookies will be a highlight of your kids' holiday.

Step 1: Make Shortbread Dough and Royal Icing

This shortbread dough couldn't be any easier: It only calls for 5 ingredients. Older kids can handle making this dough on their own; younger kids will need a little guidance. Luckily, the recipe is quite straightforward. Your shortbread will be chilling in the fridge in no time.

When you slice these shortbread cookies, it's important for each cookie to be even in thickness. Don't be afraid to break out the ruler.

While your cookies are baking, prepare the royal icing. Ask your kids to combine all the ingredients in the stand mixer, then beat them together. Royal icing is similar to pie dough in that you'll never be able to predict exactly how much water you'll need; for these cookies, you're looking for a spreadable consistency, thick enough to still hold its shape but thin enough to easily spread. Allow your kids to add water tablespoon by tablespoon (patience is a virtue here) until you reach the perfect consistency. Be sure that the water fully incorporates into the icing before adding more.

While baking the cookies and making the icing is part of the fun, you can involve the kids in as much or as little of the process as you want. After all, the real fun is the decorating.

Step 2: Flood Cookies

"Flooding" means icing the cookies with a thin coat of royal icing. For all of our best cookie decorating tips and tricks, refer to this guide.

Once the cookies have fully cooled, you can flood them with your royal icing. Here, you're creating a blank canvas that you can paint on top of. You'll want to fill a piping bag (or a ziplock bag with the corner snipped off) with your royal icing and start by piping a circle around the circumference of the cookie. Then, once your cookie is outlined, fill it in with white icing, starting in the center of the cookie and expanding outwards. Use a toothpick to fill in icing in any spots you missed until it is smooth over the entirety of the cookie. Once you've shown your kids how it's done, you can set them up with their own piping bags.

It's crucial to let the flooded cookies dry fully before moving on to the next step (at least 1 hour) to prevent the colors from bleeding.

Step 3: Paint Cookies

Squeeze a few drops of food coloring into separate small bowls—we recommend starting off with red and green for Christmas, but you can customize your colors however you please. Add 2 teaspoons almond extract to each color and stir with a small paintbrush until combined. If you added a little too much food coloring, resulting in a darker color than you'd like, it's no problem. Simply lighten it up with more almond extract.

You'll want your kids to do a few practice strokes on a piece of paper towel to test your colors and get the hang of the motion. Then they can let their creativity run wild and paint their cookies. We love painting these cookies with classic Christmas icons (a Christmas tree or a wreath) or simple patterns, like tartan. But the beauty in this recipe is that it's entirely customizable. Celebrating Hanukkah? Use blue and yellow paints to make a Star of David and a menorah. This concept extends far beyond the winter holidays—use this technique for your Valentine's Day or St. Patrick's Day cookies, too. The possibilities are endless.