Painted Shortbread Cookies

Get artistic with your cookies this year.

Active Time:
1 hrs 30 mins
Chill Time:
2 hrs
Total Time:
6 hrs
2 dozens

It's time to break out the paintbrushes. If you're looking for a way to show your artistic flair this holiday season, this recipe for Painted Shortbread Cookies is meant for you.

Slightly crunchier and more buttery than traditional sugar cookies, a simple shortbread forms a sturdy base for these cookie canvases. You'll want to make the cookie dough ahead of time to allow it a few hours to chill—at least 2 hours or up to 2 days. Then the fun of decorating really begins.

Painted Shortbread Cookies

Greg DuPree; Food Styling: Emily Nabors Hall; Prop Styling: Audrey Davis

Decorating these cookies is a great afternoon project for the whole family—set aside plenty of time to frost and paint these delicate beauties. Unlike more intricately decorated cookies, these Painted Shortbread Cookies don't even require a piping bag—a ziplock bag with the corner snipped off will work well. Not in the spirit for piping? You can also dip the cookies in white royal icing for the same effect (get all of our cookie decorating tips here).

Instead of fussing with multiple Royal Icing colors, we use an artistic approach, combining almond extract and food coloring gel to make edible "paint" that has a soft watercolor look when brushed onto dry royal icing. A plain white royal icing base makes a great canvas for your food coloring watercolors. From here, the design is entirely up to you—we love an elegant tartan pattern or tree silhouette. Get creative and have fun with it!



  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened

  • ½ cup unsifted powdered sugar

  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for work surface

  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt

Royal Icing

  • 1 (1-lb.) pkg. powdered sugar 

  • 3 tablespoons meringue powder (such as Wilton)

  • 6 to 8 tablespoons warm water

Additional Ingredients

  • Assorted food coloring gels

  • Almond extract

Additional Tools

  • Small food-safe paintbrush


  1. Prepare the Cookies: Beat butter and powdered sugar with a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add vanilla, and beat until combined, 20 seconds. Add flour and salt; beat on low speed until a smooth dough forms, about 2 minutes.

  2. Transfer dough to a lightly floured work surface; shape into an 8-inch-long x 2-inch-wide log. Wrap with plastic wrap; chill until firm, at least 2 hours or up to 2 days.

  3. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Remove dough from refrigerator; unwrap. Slice into 24 (⅓-inch-thick) rounds. Arrange 2 inches apart on baking sheets. Bake in 2 batches until edges are golden, 11 to 12 minutes per batch. Cool on baking sheets 5 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack; cool completely, about 20 minutes.

  4. Prepare the Royal Icing: Place powdered sugar, meringue powder, and 6 tablespoons warm water in bowl of stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Beat on medium speed until fully combined and smooth, about 1 minute, stopping to scrape down sides of bowl as needed. Increase mixer speed to high; beat until icing is no longer glossy, about 1 minute. Stir in more warm water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until a spreadable consistency is reached. Spoon mixture into a piping bag or a ziplock plastic bag with 1 corner snipped off.

  5. Pipe Royal Icing onto Cookies, using a wooden pick to fill and spread to edges of each. Let stand at room temperature until dry, 1 hour.

  6. Squeeze a few drops of assorted food coloring into separate small bowls. Add 2 teaspoons almond extract to each color, and stir with a small paintbrush. To test your colors, paint a few practice strokes on a paper towel. (Add more extract if you want the colors to be lighter.) Paint Cookies. Dry completely, about 1 hour.


Tips for Making Painted Shortbread Cookies with Kids: Want to make these cookies with kids? You can involve them in as much or as little of the baking process as you want—after all, the real fun is the decorating. 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.

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