This classic shortbread cookie recipe gets dressed up with a chocolate drizzle and plenty of sprinkles. Kids will love helping to decorate these easy Christmas Tree Shortbread Cookies. Best of all, you only need four basic ingredients (butter, powdered sugar, vanilla extract and flour) to make these buttery treats.
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If there was an award for best-dressed dessert, it just might go to this shortbread cookie. Cut into wedges, the cookies are drizzled with green-tinted candy melt and showered with a variety of sprinkles to make the cutest Christmas trees ever.
Shortbread cookies are different from butter cookies because they have a higher butter content and don’t contain baking powder or eggs. In fact, this recipe only contains a few ingredients, so you can splurge on fancy and interesting sprinkles.
I like to say sprinkles are to cookies what sequins are to dresses, making the difference between ordinary and extraordinary. If you’re a fan of this site, you probably know by now that I’ll add sequins —er, sprinkles — whenever I can, whether it’s on cookie pops, pretzel bark or homemade lollipops. These days, you can find sprinkles in fancy shapes, a dazzling variety of colors, delicious flavors and even colored with vegetable- or fruit-based dyes. Set out a variety of options and let the kids get to work. Even your tiniest helper will be able to decorate these trees beautifully!
Why You’ll Love These Cookies
- The dough has only four ingredients. Shortbread cookies generally only contain butter, sugar and flour. I’ve added vanilla extract for that delicious vanilla flavor.
- Easier than sugar cookies. If you can cut a pizza, you can cut the tree-shaped wedges. And decorating is just a matter of zig-zagging candy melts over the cookies and showering them with sprinkles.
- Done in one hour. Late for a party? You can prep, bake, and decorate these cookies in about an hour.
- So pretty! Sprinkles are the “ornaments” on these trees so it’s a great showcase for your fanciest, most colorful sprinkles.
- Butter: Use softened salted butter in this recipe to balance out the sweetness. Since butter is the star ingredient, I recommend springing for really good-quality butter, such as European-style butter.
- Sugar: The recipe uses confectioners’ sugar, which gives a more delicate, crumbly texture.
- Flour: All-purpose flour provides structure and texture.
- Vanilla extract: A generous dose of vanilla extract adds rich flavor.
- Candy melts: This confection, found in the baking aisle or at craft stores, is easier to work with than white chocolate and comes in a rainbow of colors.
- Vegetable oil: A little oil added to the candy melts helps it flow.
- Sprinkles: Use a few different shapes and colors of sprinkles to give your cookies a varied look.
See the recipe card for full information on ingredients and quantities.
Like decorated sugar cookies, shortbread lends itself to plenty of variations.
- Change up the flavor: Use almond extract in place of vanilla extract for a delicately nutty flavor.
- Use white chocolate: If you prefer, you can melt white chocolate chips instead of candy melts. Leave them all white for a snowy look, or use powdered food coloring to tint the chocolate. Liquid or gel food coloring could cause the chocolate to seize up.
- Adjust for different holidays: If you love this recipe so much that you want to make it year-round, get creative with your decorations for different holidays. Pink drizzle and red sprinkles for Valentine’s Day, chocolate drizzle and orange sprinkles for Halloween, pastel colors for Easter … you get the idea!
These shortbread cookies definitely look like they took more effort than they actually do. I won’t tell if you don’t!
- Preheat the oven. With the oven rack in the center position, preheat the oven to 300˚F. Prepare two 9-inch round cake pans by greasing them with butter. If your pans are not nonstick, line them with rounds of greased parchment paper.
- Make the dough. In a stand mixer, cream together the butter, sugar and vanilla until light and fluffy. Add the flour and mix just until combined.
- Press into the pan. Divide the dough between the two prepared cake pans and press into an even layer, making sure the dough goes all the way to the sides of the pan. Prick the dough all over with a fork to prevent air bubbles.
- Bake the cookies. Bake for 35 minutes, or until the shortbread is pale golden in the center, slightly more browned on the edges. Immediately invert the shortbread onto a cutting board and use a sharp knife to cut it into 8 wedges, like a pizza. Cool the pieces on a baking rack.
- Prepare the candy melts. In a double boiler pan or a glass bowl in the microwave, combine the candy melts and vegetable oil and melt completely until smooth and fluid. Transfer to a piping bag or a resealable plastic bag, snip off the tip, and drizzle over the cookies in a zig-zag motion. Immediately top with sprinkles. The candy melt drizzle will harden as it cools.
Kelly’s Note: It’s essential to cut the shortbread while it’s just out of the oven, when it is still soft and pliable. The shortbread harden as it cools and will crumble when cut.
- Use the Microwave: To melt the candy melts in the microwave, put the candy and oil in a glass bowl or measuring cup. Microwave at 50 percent power for 1 minute. Give it a stir, then microwave at 50 percent power in 15- to 30-second increments, stirring in between, until they are completely melted and smooth.
- Use the Stove: To melt the candy melts on the stove, use a double boiler with the lower pot filled with an inch of water. Bring the water to a simmer, then remove from the heat, put the top pot in place, and add the candy melts and oil. Stir continuously until melted.
- Keep it Clean: Before decorating, put the cooled shortbread wedges on a baking sheet lined with waxed paper or parchment paper. You can drizzle and sprinkle to your heart’s content and cleaning up will just be a matter of gathering up the excess in the paper and throwing it out.
Christmas tree shortbread cookies can be stored in an airtight container for up to five days.
Make sure the candy drizzle is completely hardened, then arrange them in a large lidded container, placing a piece of wax paper or parchment paper between layers to prevent sticking.
If you want to freeze these shortbread cookies, you’ll have the best results if you freeze them before they are decorated. Place the cookies on a plate baking sheet lined with parchment paper or wax paper and freeze, then transfer to an airtight container or resealable freezer bag. Thaw at room temperature before decorating with candy melt and sprinkles.
Frequently Asked Questions
Shortbread cookies are typically made of three ingredients: butter, flour and sugar. They have a higher ratio of butter to the other ingredients than butter cookies, which also contain eggs and baking powder.
I usually recommend unsalted butter for baking, but for shortbread cookies, I like to use salted butter instead, for that subtle salty flavor. If you are able, splurge on European-style butter, which has a higher milkfat content and will give a richer flavor.
Yes! But if you plan to tint the white chocolate, use powdered food dye instead of liquid, which will cause the chocolate to seize up. Better yet, leave it white, for beautiful snowy trees that show off the colors of the sprinkles.
Seizing is when candy melts or chocolate gets hard and clumpy when it’s melting. To prevent this, make sure your bowl or double boiler is completely dry. Melt very slowly over the lowest possible heat, and stir frequently.
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- 1 cup (2 sticks) salted butter, at cool room temperature
- 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
- 2 1/4 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 cup green candy melts (See Kelly's Notes)
- 1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
- Assorted sprinkles
- two round 9-inch cake pans; piping bag or sealable plastic bag
- Preheat the oven to 300ºF and grease two round 9-inch cake pans with butter. (If the pans are not non-stick, line them with greased parchment paper).
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter, sugar and vanilla until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the flour, 1 cup at a time, mixing just until combined.
- Divide the dough evenly between the two greased pans and press it into an even layer. Using a fork, prick the dough all over. Bake for 35 minutes, or until the shortbread is pale golden in the center and slightly darker around the edges.
- Remove the shortbread from the oven and immediately invert the pans onto a cutting board. (If the shortbread won’t release from the pan, use a sharp knife to cut around the edges.) Using a sharp knife, immediately cut each shortbread round into 8 wedges. It is important to cut the shortbread while it’s still warm, otherwise it will crumble if you try to cut it after it has cooled.
- Transfer the shortbread wedges to a cooling rack to cool completely.
- Melt the candy melts with the vegetable oil in a microwave or double-boiler, stirring until smooth. Transfer the mixture to a piping bag or plastic bag, snip off the tip of the bag and then drizzle it onto the cookies. Immediately top the cookies with sprinkles and serve.
- To melt the candy melts in the microwave, put the candy and oil in a glass bowl or measuring cup. Microwave at 50 percent power for 1 minute. Give it a stir, then microwave at 50 percent power in 15- to 30-second increments, stirring in between, until they are completely melted and smooth.
- To melt the candy melts on the stove, use a double boiler with the lower pot filled with an inch of water. Bring the water to a simmer, then remove from the heat, put the top pot in place, and add the candy melts and oil. Stir continuously until melted.
- For quick cleanup, put the cooled shortbread wedges on a baking sheet lined with waxed paper or parchment paper before decorating.
- ★ Did you make this recipe? Don’t forget to give it a star rating below!
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Cookie recipe adapted from King Arthur Flour.