Holiday Cookies: Ultimate Guide to Baking and Decorating

November 12th, 2015 by Elizabeth Nelson

This holiday season, you don’t have to do all of your cookie baking and decorating in one day! With some planning (and freezer space) you can get a head start on your holiday cookies. Check out this ultimate cookie making timeline!

4-6 weeks prior to holiday: Make and freeze cookie dough. Sugar cookie dough can be frozen in discs, slice-and-bake cookies can be frozen in logs, and chocolate chip cookie dough (or a similar drop cookie, like oatmeal raisin) can be formed into balls and frozen. Sugar cookie dough should be completely thawed and brought back to room temperature before using, but slice-and-bake cookies or drop cookies can be baked from frozen. Just be sure to add 1-2 minutes onto the bake time. If you’ve never made slice-and-bake cookies before but would like to give it a try, check out our online class on Creativebug!


Slice-and-Bake Cookies


2-4 weeks prior to holiday: Make and freeze undecorated cookies. If you’d rather freeze a fully-baked cookie, sugar cookies, spritz cookies, and some bar cookies, like brownies, freeze well. When freezing bar cookies, freeze the entire bar and cut into squares after it has been fully thawed. Wrap cookies in multiple layers of plastic wrap and place in a heavy-duty zip-top bag before freezing—layers of wrapping keep the cookies from getting freezer burn or picking up off-flavors from other items in the freezer.

Christmas Shimmering Spritz


3-4 days before decorating: Make and refrigerate icing. Royal icing and buttercream can be made ahead, but will need to be brought back to room temperature and re-beaten before using.

2-3 days before serving: Bake (if using frozen dough) or thaw frozen cookies and decorate cookies. Be sure freshly-baked cookies are fully cooled and frozen cookies are fully thawed before decorating.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and your holiday cookies don’t need to be all made in one day, either! With some planning (and freezer space), you can be the star of the cookie swap or Santa’s favorite elf. Pin this handy image below to your Pinterest board for future reference!


Holiday Cookie Baking and Decorating



Elizabeth Nelson Elizabeth Nelson is the Culinary Manager of the Wilton Test Kitchen. A graduate of the University of Missouri and Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Boston, she loves developing recipes for Wilton’s product lines and websites, as well as testing out new and existing products in the Test Kitchen. Outside of work, she enjoys running and spending time with family and friends.

30 Replies

  1. Theresa says:

    Thank you for this timeline guide for baking and freezing cookies. I usually stress out when I’m planning my baking for the Holidays. Mainly ’cause I end up running out of time to finish my “to do list” for my baking. You’re a life saver. 😉

    • Desiree Smith says:

      Hi Theresa,

      I’m so glad you found it to be helpful! Happy baking!


    • Auntie E says:

      I started baking and freezing my cookies a few years ago and it has totally transformed my annual “cookie factory.” It was getting difficult with more and more people on my list and trying to add more variety. I make the sturdier cookies — chocolate chip, bar, slice, pecan pie bars, peanut butter, sugar — then I wrap them well and freeze.

      I bought those huge Rubbermaid containers Costco has on sale this time every year and bagged 2-14 cookies in sandwich bags. No freezer burn or odd taste. I can bake a batch every day or two. A week before delivery, I make the fudge and the more fragile or time intensive cookies (royal icing!) a few days before delivery.

      This has really taken the stress out of my holiday baking, I can’t recommend it enough!

  2. wilma says:

    Indeed a good idea. I am always late. I can do it better now when the kids are in school. Otherwise the cookies are gone before Christmas. Then I can make a plate with notes on it: Sorry, cookies all gone”

  3. Katrina says:

    Thank you for the helpful tips.
    I’m making cookies for a fundraiser. If I make sugar, Linzer or gingerbread cookie dough and freeze ahead of time, can the cookies be refrozen (by the buyer) after baking and decorating?
    Thank you.

    • Desiree Smith says:

      Hi Katrina,

      Thanks for your comment! Many decorated cookies don’t freeze well—the icing or coarse sugar can bleed or become sticky as the cookies thaw.

      Happy Baking,


  4. Claudia says:

    Took a decorating class in 1988or1989 @ Wilton in Chicago and had my own buisness for 10 yrs. and then retired but still love to get your new ideas so thanks for the emails.Excellent ideas ,would love to find the pattern of for a bridal gown which i think was on a shower cake at the time going back a number of years.Thanks for your great ideas.
    Claudia Warhus
    NS, Canada

  5. Danielle says:

    thank you so much for the timeline! I was wondering where shortbread cookies fall under, can they be prepared in advance then frozen by log or cut and frozen?

    • Desiree Smith says:

      Hi Danielle,

      I’m glad you enjoy the timeline! Shortbread cookie dough can be made ahead and frozen. Our Test Kitchen has not tested freezing the unbaked cutouts, but they believe it should work.

      Happy Baking,


  6. Sandy Money says:

    I make and bake the cookies and then….wrap in press and seal in little sacks of five.
    Then put in a zip loc. They freeze perfec and never have freezer burn. I have even
    decorated…let sit, and the. Freeze and they have kept for months freezing like this.
    Ne’er had good luck before but that stuff is GREAT…

  7. J says:

    Where is the print button for this cookie timeline? I like to put on my cabinet door and with my calendar for viewing and planning.

  8. Kendra says:

    If someone don’t mine can you give me a good sugar cookies recipe the ones I have seem to make the cookie dry if anyone shares thanks

    • Linda says:

      Hi Kendra,

      I use the following recipe as a go to and never have problems with it as I am a baker and quite often need lots of cookies for childrens parties too.

      7oz caster sugar
      7oz unsalted butter, room temperature
      1 egg
      14oz all purpose flour
      vanilla to taste, but you can use any flavouring you like

      Beat sugar and butter until creamy, add the egg and then the flour and then the flavouring. You can then fridge to chill prior to baking for 15-20 mins depending on your oven, or wrap and freeze which I do alot. Allow to come to room temperature first if freezing and roll out on a floured surface or non stick mat. Hope that this helps.

      • Dianna Lucke says:

        In reference to Kendra’s asking for a sugar cookie recipe you gave a recipe to her but what temp is used and how long are they baked for? Thank you.

  9. Helen Morgan says:

    I don’t normally make cookies for Christmas but I plan to make them this year and give out as gifts so thanks for the ideas you shared. What am I doing wrong, my cookies always seem to come out too crunchy. I want them to be soft. Any ideas? Thanks

    • Sara says:

      My suggestions for dry sugar cookies: Try swapping butter for shortening. Cookie dough should not be dry before baking. Roll the cookies out thicker, many people make them Too thin and therefore crisp. Make sure you don’t over bake, cookies should but just slightly brown/golden at the edges when pulled out and not left on the hot pan or they continue to cook. If none of these fix it then you just need a new recipe, hope it helps!

      • Christy says:

        Also you could try rolling out the dough in between either plastic cling wrap or wax paper. This will cut out that extra flour usually used to keep the cookies from sticking, which used to make my cookies sometimes dry and dense.

  10. Jacquie says:

    Thankyou so much for the baking timeline. I love baking cookies, but due to illness wasn’t sure of doing
    any this year, but now I will sure try.
    Great Idea! Thanks again


  11. Sydelle says:

    I make about 12 doz cutouts each year. Have been using this process for many years. Saves my own sanity. 4 double batches of sugar cookies dough in the freezer right now.

  12. Sally L. Cinco says:

    Thanks a lot for this guide. I find these ideas very helpful.

  13. Sandy Dickson says:

    Can small tubs of royal icing be frozen? How about if it’s colored?

    • Desiree Smith says:

      Hi Sandy,

      Royal icing can be frozen (even if colored), but it must be brought back to room temperature and re-beaten before using.

      Happy Baking,


  14. Joanne says:

    Thank you so very much for the time line
    I have never seen anything so helpful
    Every year I stress about how to bake & store my cookies & brownies
    This will be on my kitchen cupboard
    Thank you again

    • Liz says:

      I need bigger kitchen cupboards with all the helpful hints recipes timelines etc! Might be time to renovate & get a kitchen that lends itself to “the busy baker”

  15. Melinda says:

    Oh my goodness I’m so glad I looked at all these wonderful helpful ideas. I makes cookies and cakes every year and I am exhausted from making them because I didn’t know I could bake and freeze, etc. Thank you all for sharing.

  16. faye says:

    Just want to mention that I’ve been making between 10-20 different kinds of Christmas cookies for about 8 yrs. I completely bake and frost them or fill with whatever, if that’s what’s called for – freeze them individually and then wrap and place in freezer bags. I’ve never had anybody think that they’re not wonderful.I just wanted to mention this because most people say you have to frost them after they defrost.

  17. Candice Brajcki says:

    Thank you for all the wonderful helpful ideas, very good info! I will be using them as I bake all year round!!!!

  18. Betty Gunderson says:

    What are the cookies or cake at the top of this page that are wide stripes of red green and white? On the Holiday cookie guide….email. Recipe?

  19. GERIANNE SMITH says:

    Does the sugar cookie dough need to be chilled if using the preformed cookie sheets instead of rolling out the dough and using the cookie cutters?

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