Vanilla Bean Watercolour Cookies

Vanilla Bean Watercolour Cookies

  • Prep Time: 45 minutes
  • Cook Time: 10 minutes
  • Servings: 18 to 24

Channel your inner artist with this fun recipe than transforms buttery sugar cookies into edible works of art with the use of royal icing and gel food colouring. Decorate the cookies with simple stripes as we’ve done here, or let your imagination soar and create whatever patterns you’d like. Although the glycerin is optional, it will add shine to the royal icing and will prevent it from turning as hard when it dries. Look for it in baking specialty shops or craft stores that sell cake-decorating supplies, or order it online.


For the cookies:

  • 16 Tbs. (2 sticks) (8 oz./250 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for the pans
  • 3/4 cup (6 oz./185 g) granulated sugar
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1 vanilla bean, about 2 inches (5 cm) long, or 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2 1/2 cups (12 1/2 oz./390 g) all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt

For the royal icing:

  • 2 cups (8 oz./250 g) confectioners’ sugar, plus more if needed
  • 2 egg whites
  • 1/2 tsp. glycerin (optional)
  • Assorted gel food colourings
  • 1 Tbs. vodka, or as needed


  • To make the cookies, in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the flat beater, beat together the butter and granulated sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Add the egg yolks one at a time, beating well after each addition.
  • Using a small, sharp knife, cut the vanilla bean in half lengthwise and scrape the seeds into the butter mixture. If using vanilla extract, add it now. Beat on medium speed until well blended, about 1 minute. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl.
  • In a sifter, combine the flour, baking powder and salt and sift directly onto the butter mixture. Beat on low speed until well mixed, about 2 minutes.
  • Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and divide into 4 equal portions. Shape each portion into a ball, then flatten the balls into disks. Wrap separately in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to 3 days. Let the dough soften slightly at room temperature before continuing.
  • Position 1 rack in the upper third and 1 rack in the lower third of an oven and preheat to 350°F (180°C). Butter 2 large baking sheets.
  • On a lightly floured work surface, roll out a dough disk 1/4 inch (6 mm) thick. Using 2 1/2-inch (6-mm) round cookie cutters, or the cookie cutters of your choice, cut out the cookies. Transfer the cookies to a prepared baking sheet, spacing them about 2 inches (5 cm) apart. Gather up and reroll the scraps and cut out more cookies. Repeat with the remaining dough disks.
  • Bake until the cookies are golden on the edges, 8 to 12 minutes, depending on their size, rotating the cookie sheets about halfway through the baking time. Transfer the baking sheets to a wire rack and let cool completely.
  • Meanwhile, make the royal icing: In the clean bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat together the confectioners’ sugar, egg whites and glycerin on low speed until just combined, about 2 minutes. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl, if needed. Increase the speed to high and beat until medium to stiff peaks form, 3 to 5 minutes.
  • Remove the bowl from the mixer and test the icing on a cooled cookie. If it drips off the side of the cookie, it is too thin, so stir in about 1 Tbs. confectioners’ sugar. If it doesn’t spread out to a smooth, flat finish within 10 seconds, it is too thick, so stir in about 1 Tbs. water. Transfer the icing to shallow bowl.
  • Working with 1 cookie at a time, hold it upside down by the edges and dip into the icing, moving the cookie around to coat the entire surface. Shake gently to remove any excess icing. Use an offset spatula to spread the icing as needed to cover the entire surface of the cookie and to pop any bubbles. Place the cookies on a wire rack and let set for at least 4 hours or up to overnight.
  • To paint the cookies, put each gel food colouring in a separate small bowl and mix with small amounts of vodka. Add more vodka for a lighter colour and less for a deeper pigment. Using clean food-safe paintbrushes, decorate the cookies as desired. Makes 18 to 24 cookies.
  • Williams Sonoma Test Kitchen