These Vanilla Sugar Cookie Trees with Cream Cheese Frosting are a holiday classic in a fancy new outfit. Basic sugar cookies get a double dose of vanilla. Decorated with a festive flourish of wintergreen hued cream cheese frosting stars.
When it comes to the holiday season, its all cookies all of the time around here! We celebrate December with everything from these sweet and seasonally spiced Cardamom Coconut Snowflake Cookies. To these nostalgia inducing classic Holiday Butter Cookies or my festively flocked Gingerbread Coconut Llama Cookies. There is a holiday cookie for everybody out there.
I had the honor of developing 3 festive recipes for the 2019 Holiday Cookies issue of Bake From Scratch magazine
- Vanilla Sugar Cookie Trees with Cream Cheese Frosting
- Orange Currant Oatmeal Cookies
- Salted Hazelnut Chocolate Maple Rum Bars
I poured a whole lot of love into each recipe and seeing them come to life in the pages of Bake From Scratch magazine was a holiday dream come true. Turning the pages of a physical book or magazine is a joy that simply can't be matched by scrolling the internet.
Before we get into this, I'm gonna let you know right now that decorating these Vanilla Sugar Cookie Trees with Cream Cheese Frosting takes some serious time. These cookies are a project. But, I've got alternative decorating ideas that will make things move a whole lot faster if you're short on time.
Start with a simple sugar cookie base
The dough gets a double dose of vanilla from both vanilla extract and the faint speckle of a freshly split vanilla bean. Don't worry if you don't have a vanilla bean, you can double down on the vanilla extract. The vanilla comes through beautifully in these cookies and tastes like a true and nostalgic, holiday sugar cookies. Plus, the dough rolls out like a dream, cuts easily and holds its shape with perfectly crisp edges when baked. All of the things you want in a solid sugar cookie recipe.
Pro Tip: beat the heck out of the sugar and butter
You want it super light and fluffy. This will help the cookies keep sharp edges when baking. Freeze the cut cookies and bake from frozen for best results.
Freeze the sugar cookie dough
Freezing cookie dough ahead of time is a big time saver. You have two options here. Either mix the cookie dough and freeze it into 2 disks to roll out. Or, roll out the dough and use cookie cutters to shape your trees. Then place the cookies closely on a lined baking sheet to firm up in the freezer. Once firm, you can transfer the frozen cookies into plastic baggies to stash away up to 3 months.
Pro Tip: You can mix up the dough, roll out and cut your trees and store them in the freezer. Then, bake them up on decorating day.
The cookies get dressed in their holiday best with a festive flourish of wintergreen hued frosting in a dazzling mini star design. The pointillism style frosting of these Vanilla Sugar Cookie Trees makes them a labor of love. It takes time to adorn each cookie with dozens of tiny star dots. But, it's easier and much more forgiving that trying to flood the cookies with a more intricate and detailed decoration.
Decorate with a pointillism style frosting
This style really takes more time than it takes skill. My suggestion, put on your favorite holiday movie or two, recruit a family member or friend to help and watch movies while you work. It's a nice way to spend a Sunday in December, and shows that you truly poured your heart your baking.
Faster decorating techniques
- You can use a larger tip. Here I've used a Wilton No. 16 or 18 Open Star Tip. Switch it up to a larger size tip and you'll power through much quicker. Or meet in the middle and mix up the sizes.
- Skip the tips altogether and just smear that frosting on in a big swoopy mess like I do with my Big Pink Cookies. They still taste just as great but save you some serious time.
- If you go for the swoop method, add some holiday sprinkles for a festive touch.
- If you don't want to mess with multiple colors, keep it simple and just add a single color.
- If you want variation in color, mix up 3 separate colors and frost the cookies in the different colorways for variation, using the simple swoop method. Or even add a little of each color to each cookie and then drag an offset spatula across the top for an ombre effect.
Cookies are a perfect gift
This time of year I put extra effort into my baked goods because I give them as gifts to my friends and family. These Vanilla Sugar Cookie Trees with Cream Cheese Frosting are a gorgeous gift that will warm the hearts and holidays of your loved ones. I encourage you to share the love by giving the gift of beautiful home-baked cookies this year.