Sparkly Vanilla Holiday Cookies

Vanilla Holiday Cookies with tons of sparkle from GF Canteen

Holiday cookies with over-the-top sprinkles and icing are a favorite. They take a little bit of time and care to prepare, but they’re easy and totally worth the effort – once a year.

When I was a short squirt I’d park myself on a chair by the front door right close to Christmas waiting for the annual arrival of homemade holiday cookies delivered by a family friend. I bet if she realized how deprived we were of sparkly holiday treats she might have added a few more cookies to the adorably festive indescribably little box. If I was lucky enough to answer the door, it meant being first in line to grab one of the decorated cookies. With 6 people in the house, it wasn’t easy being that stealthy but I managed. Cookies and I have a long standing relationship.

I bet you’re wondering why didn’t we have any sprinkly sparkly cookies? Because that’s what Jewish families didn’t do back then. They pretended to ignore the season to be jolly and went about celebrating Hanukkah with less sparkle than necessary. Hanukkah gelt – chocolate wrapped in gold and silver sparkle foil was too spendy so we never got any of those unless we went to a Hanukkah party and someone else brought them. Hanukkah candles, however, were festive – it’s called the festival of lights for a reason – but you certainly couldn’t eat wax candles.

Brownies were the closest thing to sparkle we got and even then they were rationed (blame the dad).  And as I recall, the brownies tended to be slightly dry and crumbly because the one thing my mom never figured out was how long to bake anything. She was a fantastic baker in that she could make pastry with her eyes closed but when it came time to bake anything in an oven, she was an advocate of “give it a minute more” until it looked gray enough to be well cooked. That was a rule for anything that went into the oven whether it was a cookies or a roast. Gray with a hint of smokey charcoal meant it was safe to eat.

I was totally smitten when I grew up and married into a family that celebrated Christmas and liked to use as much sparkly stuff as possible, including tinsel. Over the years we’ve also added lots of sparkle to Hanukkah. Like these cookies. Because we can. I have more sparkly toppings in the cupboard than one can use in a lifetime, but I’m making up for the lost shiny years. No judging. In fact, I line them all up on the counter top when I’m baking holiday cookies and it takes incredible restraint to not use every single one on every single cookie. Somehow I manage to resist. Sort of (you don’t actually get to see ALL the photos…).

About the cookies. The dough really likes to be rolled out while chilled. And roll it between sheets of parchment or plastic wrap. It will warm up as you work with it so have a baking sheet handy in order to slide the dough onto it (parchment, plastic and all) and chill as you go. The cutouts behave well when chilled and are a right royal pain when warm and floppy. I like to cut out the shapes, slide the whole dough sheet into the refrigerator and when the dough is chilly, pick up the cutouts and place them on a clean parchment lined baking sheet.

Also, the dough keeps remarkably well in the refrigerator (up to five days) and longer in the freezer (thaw in the refrigerator before using) so you aren’t required to bake it all at once. I like to bake as many cookies as we need at a time.

Making the royal icing in larger batches and then store it in the refrigerator in a covered container. It is a handy way to shorten up the decorating time. Just make sure you’ve brought it to room temperature before using. And be sure to add the sparkly stuff, whether colored sugar or sprinkles before the icing sets so it adheres. Most grocery stores carry Deb El powdered egg whites (not whole eggs).

Best cookie keeping is in a covered tin, not plastic which tends to make the cookies soft and stale rather quickly. This time of year, finding tins is easy. Stock up. Or let me know if you need one or a thousand. I collect them like other people collect toothpicks.

This cookie can be made dairy-free or with butter. Be sure to look at the notes at the bottom of the recipe for instructions regarding the use of butter v. shortening.

And whatever else you do this holiday, don’t forget to sparkle it.

Vanilla Holiday Cookies with tons of sparkle from GF Canteen

Vanilla Holiday Cookies
  • 390 grams Canteen flour blend (3 cups) (see notes)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt (just a pinch)
  • ½ teaspoon allspice(optional, but tasty)
  • 168 grams Spectrum solid shortening (3/4 cup) OR 165 grams unsalted butter (11 tablespoons)
  • 150 grams granulated sugar (3/4 cup)
  • 1 extra large egg
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons nondairy milk* (ONLY USE WHEN USING SHORTENING, SKIP W/ BUTTER)
Royal Icing
  • 440 grams powdered sugar, sifted (4 cups)
  • 4 tablespoons Deb-El Just Whites meringue powder, sifted
  • ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract (a drippy drop)
  • 140 to 170 grams warm water (1/2 to ¾ cup)
  • Sprinkles, colored sugar
  1. In a medium sized bowl whisk together flour, baking powder, salt and allspice (if using) until combined. In a larger bowl beat shortening OR butter with sugar until fluffy. Add egg and blend until you can't see any egg slime. Add vanilla and milk, if using. Add flour mixture and stir until dough comes away from the sides of the bowl. The dough will be sticky. Don't add more flour. Divide dough in half and wrap in plastic and chill for at least two hours and overnight is better. At this point dough can remain wrapped in the refrigerator for up to five days or frozen longer - be sure to thaw frozen dough in the refrigerator before using.
  2. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Roll chilled dough a generous ⅛ inch thick between sheets of parchment or plastic wrap making sure dough remains chilled through the process. Cut out cookies. If the dough is getting floppy and warm, chill before transferring cutouts to parchment lined sheets for best results. Place cookies about an inch apart. Chill dough for 15 minutes before baking.
  3. Baking time will vary depending on the size of the cookies. 3.5-inch cookies will take 14-17 minutes to bake, until just barely golden. They should look rather pale when made with shortening. Cookies made with butter will brown more easily. Smaller cookies will take less time. Keep an eye on them and remove from the oven when the edges begin to turn golden brown. Cool in the pan for five minutes and then transfer cookies to a rack to cool completely before decorating.
Royal Icing
  1. In a medium bowl whisk together powdered sugar and meringue powder until combined. Add water by the tablespoon just until the mixture drips slowly from the back of a spoon in a thick ribbon. Add vanilla. If the icing becomes too thick, add a tiny bit of water and if it is too thin, add more powdered sugar (sifted, please). Make sure there are no lumps or bumps (why sifting is important).
  1. Apply icing by piping a design or spooning it on or dunking the face of the cookie into the icing and letting the excess drip off. Add sparkly sprinkles or sugar right away before the icing sets - which happen rather quickly on the surface. Let the cookies set for an hour or two before setting them on top of each other to make sure the icing is completely set. Makes about 40 3.5-inch trees or wreaths.
See sidebar, About Flour for Canteen blend. *Only use milk when using shortening because it lacks as much moisture as does butter. Leave out the milk when using butter.


Vanilla Holiday Cookies with tons of sparkle from GF Canteen



  1. I notice this recipe uses proportionately less sugar–does this affect browning?

    • GlutenFreeCanteen says:

      It can. But these are not meant to brown very much at all. You’ll want the edges to start to turn just barely pale golden brown. Also depends on how thin they’re rolled. Thinner = browns more quickly. Thicker = probably will never brown much. Since they are covered with royal icing or baked with decorations, these are the kind of cookies that shouldn’t get too golden. Also, since the icing is very sweet, having the cookie be less sweet seemed like a good idea. Hope that helps.


  1. […] The trio of spices are a big part of this cookie. Use all the ginger indicated. You won’t be sorry. Unless you aren’t a ginger fan (read: Vanilla Holiday Cookies here). […]