Here’s a great idea! How about celebrating St. Patrick’s Day with festive treats made from sugar cookie dough? They are easy to cut into fun shapes and decorate with colorful royal icing.
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These St. Patrick’s Day cookies are going to put a big smile on the lucky friends and family that get their hands on one. This yearly Irish holiday is not all about corned beef and cabbage. Why not bake up some special treats to enjoy before or after your big feast?
I’ve been using my trusty sugar cookie recipe to roll and cut out shapes for a long time. It’s perfect for making ahead of time. There are various ways to decorate them, but I use royal icing to give a sturdy matte finish. This recipe is also a fun edible design project to do with kids.
Sugar cookie dough
Softened butter, around 65ºF (18ºC), is creamed with sugar to create air pockets for a light and crisp texture. The flour’s proteins provide just enough structure to hold their shape and thickness, making them easy to decorate.
Baking powder and eggs help the cookies slightly rise without too much spread. A little bit of salt and vanilla extract enhances the flavor of the base. I divide the batch in half, making it easier to roll and handle.
Use a good rolling pin
Chilled dough is a little sticky, so make sure to have some flour nearby for dusting as needed. To get a thick cookie with crisp edges and tender centers, roll it into ¼-inch thickness. I use an adjustable rolling pin with removable rings. This tool takes out the guesswork of measurement and yields a consistently even thickness.
Irish-themed cookie cutters
I use a St. Patrick’s Day cookie cutter set that includes shamrocks (a symbol of Ireland and the holy trinity), pots of gold, rainbows, and coins. The cut-outs range in size from about 2 ½ to 3 ½ inches. When using them, it helps to dip the cutter in flour to prevent sticking. A small offset spatula helps lift the cookie and gently release the dough if it sticks to the surface.
Irish Cookie Cutter Set
It’s best to bake similar-sized cookies on the same baking sheet to ensure even cooking. The cookies will slightly expand in size, so keep the pieces at least 1-inch apart. They also bake fast, about 11 minutes. Rotate the pan halfway through to give even exposure to the heat.
Adjust the bake time as needed for smaller or larger shapes. The tops should be set, with the bottoms lightly golden brown. Letting the cookies sit on the warm baking sheet for a few minutes before transferring to a wire rack gently completes the baking process.
How to make royal icing
My royal icing recipe uses meringue powder instead of raw eggs. The dry mixture rehydrates with warm water and is ready in just 10 minutes. The consistency will be like pipeable peanut butter, which I use to create the border design.
Once you add the color to the base, gradually dilute a portion of the icing with water to fill in the design. The texture will be more of a glue-like consistency that sinks back together and gives a smooth surface as it dries. Let it dry completely, at least 6 hours, then store in an airtight container.
- Gel coloring: This gives vibrant colors without diluting the icing. I use Wilton icing colors red (no taste), golden yellow, copper, kelly green, royal blue, violet, and black. I combine yellow and a small amount of red to make the orange on the rainbow. Use popsicle sticks or toothpicks for transferring the color to the icing and mixing.
- Plastic piping bags: I use 12-inch disposable piping bags and silicone ties to keep the icing from coming out. Cut the tips based on the size gauge you need for decorating.
- Sprinkles: To add eye-catching sparkle to small surface areas, white and green sparkling sugar sprinkles work nicely. I use gold sugar pearl nonpareils on the horseshoes for dimension.
- Sugar cooking icing for a shiny glaze (very simple!)
- Sugar cookie frosting for a thicker, pipeable topping
- Cream cheese frosting for a sweet and tangy flavor
Chill the dough before rolling
My recipe requires chilling the cookie dough in the refrigerator for 3 hours or 1 hour in the freezer. This process gives the ingredients time to marry together and allows the gluten bonds formed during mixing to relax, so the cookie texture isn’t tough. To save time, I often make the dough the day before.
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St. Patrick’s Day Cookies
- ¾ cup unsalted butter, softened to 65 to 67ºF (18 to 19ºC)
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 2 large eggs, room temperature
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 ⅓ cups all-purpose flour, dip and sweep, plus more for dusting
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- 4 cups powdered sugar
- 3 tablespoons meringue powder
- 9 tablespoons warm water, 100 to 110°F (38 to 43°C)
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, add the softened butter and sugar. Mix on medium-low speed (setting 4) until light and fluffy, 2 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula.
- Add the room temperature eggs and vanilla extract. Mix on medium-high speed (setting 6) until combined, 20 to 30 seconds. Scrape down the paddle, side, and bottom of the bowl.
- Sift the flour and baking powder into a medium bowl. Add the salt, whisk to combine, then add to the mixer. Pulse on and off 8 times. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Mix on low speed (setting 2) until the dough just comes together, 10 to 15 seconds. Do not overmix. Use a spatula to give a final mix. The dough will have a sticky consistency.
- Transfer half of the dough to a piece of plastic wrap, cover, and press into a 1-inch thick disc. Repeat with the remaining dough. Refrigerate for at least 3 hours or freeze for 1 hour. The dough can be placed in a resealable plastic bag for up to 5 days, or frozen for up to 1 month and defrosted before using.
- Line two baking sheets with parchment paper then set aside. Set the oven rack to the middle position. Heat to 350ºF (177ºC).
- Work with one piece of dough at a time to keep it cool. Allow it to sit on the counter for 3 to 5 minutes to make it easier to roll. Lightly dust the work surface, the top of the dough, and the rolling pin with flour, using more as needed. Roll, rotate, and dust with flour until ¼-inch thick.
- Immediately use desired cookie cutters to cut out shapes, cutting them as close together as possible. Transfer the pieces to the parchment paper lined sheet pans, about 1-inch apart. Any extra dough scraps can be rerolled out 1 more time. If needed, chill before rolling.
- Bake the cookies while still cool one tray at a time. If not baking right away after cutting, keep them chilled in the refrigerator. Bake for 6 minutes, rotate, and bake for an additional 5 minutes, or until the surface is dry and bottoms are lightly golden brown.
- Cool on the baking sheet for 3 to 5 minutes then transfer to a wire rack. Alternatively, for a softer cookie with less crisp edges, immediately transfer to the wire rack after removing it from the oven. Completely cool before decorating, about 30 minutes.
- Roll out the remaining piece of dough and repeat the cutting and baking process. If reusing the parchment paper-lined sheet pans, make sure the pan is cooled down before using.
- In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, add the powdered sugar, meringue powder, 9 tablespoons warm water, and vanilla extract. Mix on low speed (setting 2) for 7 minutes.
- Increase the speed to medium-low (setting 4) and mix until a thick glue-like consistency is reached, about 2 to 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.
- Creating Colors: Divide the royal icing into small bowls. Place a piece of plastic wrap directly on top to prevent it from drying out. Add the gel or liquid colors to each bowl, mix well with a spoon. Cover with plastic wrap.
- Make Border Icing (for outlining cookies): The consistency should be similar to peanut butter but pipeable. If you drizzle a little from your spoon, the ribbon should hold for a few seconds before combining back together. Add ½ teaspoon of water to the royal icing and mix. Gradually add more as needed.Add the border icing to a small squeeze bottle or piping bag fitted with a round tip (optional). Pipe an outline around the edge of the cookies. Allow it to dry until just beginning to set. Once done, if you have leftover, add it back to the bowl with the corresponding color. Keep the bag or bottle for the flood icing.
- Make Flood Icing (for filling cookies): The consistency should be similar to glue and not runny that it falls off the cookie when piped. When drizzled from a spoon, the icing should sink immediately back into the icing. If it gets too runny, you can add more powdered sugar, 1 teaspoon at a time. Add ¼ teaspoon of water to the icing and mix. Gradually add more as needed.Add the flood icing to the piping bag or bottle used to make the borders or a new bag or bottle. Fill in the cookie's interior with flood icing, pushing into the corners and against the edges. If needed, use a small offset spatula or toothpick to spread it closer to the outline.
- Adding Decorations: Add sprinkles, nonpareils, or other decorations while the icing is still wet for making lines with a toothpick or soft and sticky for sprinkles. Use border icing or edible writing pens to write messages on the dried cookies if desired.
- Drying the Cookies: Place iced cookies on a parchment paper-lined sheet pan or top of wire racks until completely dried on the surface before stacking or eating, at least 6 to 8 hours. Depending on the thickness of your icing, it may take longer. When the cookies are dry, the surface should be smooth and resistant to nicks or smudges.
- Properly weigh the flour: Weigh the flour on a digital scale for the most accurate results. Alternatively, dip the measuring cup into the flour, then sweep off the excess. This makes for a denser measurement, but don’t pack the flour in the cup.
- Bake time: About 10 minutes for 2-inch cookies, 11 minutes for 3-inch cookies, or 12 minutes for 4-inch cookies. A visual check is the best guide.
- Baking a smaller batch: If baking only about 6 cookies on a tray, check for doneness sooner. After baking for 6 minutes and rotating, check every 1 minute. They brown much faster due to less moisture in the environment.
- Make-ahead dough: The dough can be mixed and stored refrigerated for up to 5 days, or 1 month frozen. Unbaked cut-out cookies can be covered and refrigerated for up to 5 days or frozen for 2 weeks.
- Storing: Store baked cookies in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 to 7 days. Store in the freezer.
- Storing the icing: Transfer any unused icing into an airtight container. Place a piece of plastic wrap directly on top. Store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Allow it to come to room temperature before using. Mix on low speed in a stand mixer or by hand with a spoon before using to smooth out the consistency.
- Storing iced cookies: Store in an air-tight container for up to one week.
Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000-calorie diet. All nutritional information is based on estimated third-party calculations. Each recipe and nutritional value will vary depending on the brands you use, measuring methods, and portion sizes per household.
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