Santa's Elf Cookies Recipe photo by Taste of Home
Total Time
Prep: 2 hours + standing Bake: 10 min./batch + cooling
We teach you how to make rosy-cheeked Elf on the Shelf cookies that will impress kids and adults alike.

Updated: Dec. 11, 2023

Elf on the Shelf is a Christmas tradition that’s here to stay. This sweet (yet mischievous!) little helper finds his way into homes as the holiday draws near to help Santa sort out who’s naughty and nice.

Pay homage to this rosy-cheeked icon with these stunning elf cookies that will put your decorating skills to the test. Follow along to learn how these adorable royal icing cookies come to life.

Refresh yourself on what Elf on the Shelf is and how it got started before you begin.

Ingredients for Elf Cookies


  • Butter
  • Confectioners’ sugar
  • Egg
  • Vanilla extract
  • Self-rising flour

Royal icing:

  • Confectioners’ sugar
  • Water
  • Meringue powder
  • Cream of tartar
  • Food coloring


  • Black nonpareils
  • Pink luster dust
  • Chocolate frosting


Step 1: Make the cookie dough

Cream the butter and confectioners’ sugar until it’s light and fluffy. Then, beat in the egg and vanilla. Gradually beat in the flour.

Step 2: Refrigerate the cookie dough

Once everything is combined, divide the dough in half. Wrap each half in plastic and refrigerate for two hours, or until it’s firm enough to roll.

Editor’s Tip: Refrigerating the cookie dough is a step you can’t skip, so make sure you budget enough time for it. In the fridge, the dough becomes more firm—which prevents the cookies from spreading and losing their elf shape while baking. Here are more tips on making the best cutout cookies.

Step 3: Roll and cut out the cookie dough

Preheat the oven to 375°F. On a floured surface, roll each portion of dough to a 3/16-inch thickness. Cut with the floured elf cookie cutter, and place each cutout 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheets.

Editor’s Tip: Here’s an elf-shaped cookie cutter if you need one!

Step 4: Bake the cutouts

Slide the baking sheet in the oven and bake for five to seven minutes. Cool on the pans for two minutes after pulling them out of the oven, and then remove to wire racks to cool completely.

Step 5: Create and color the royal icing

In a large bowl, whisk confectioners’ sugar, water, meringue powder and water for icing. Whip the ingredients until they’re light and airy. Add water until you reach a thick consistency for piping outlines, then divide the icing into thirds. Leave one portion white, tint another portion with red food coloring (this will be for the elf’s signature outfit) and tint remaining portion with your desired skin tone coloring.

Step 6: Outline and flood

santa elf cookie icing step 1 gifTMB studio

Divide each colored icing in half. You’ll need to use two different consistencies for your royal icing—one stiffer icing for piping and one more fluid one for flooding—the pool of icing that creates a flat, smooth texture.

Place the stiff white royal icing into a piping bag fitted with a #2 round tip and pipe on the elf’s signature collar and the brim of his hat. Then fill in (or flood) the design with your reserved white icing. To get it to a flood consistency, simply add water a tablespoon at a time. Repeat this design on the remaining cookies.

Once the white icing is completely dry, start the process again using the red royal icing to fill in the top of his hat and the lower part of his outfit by outlining and flooding the shapes.

Editor’s Tip: While outlining before you flood may seem fussy, it’s essential for a crisp design as it prevents the thinner icing from dripping out of place.

Step 7: Fix up the face

decorating santa elf cookie face gifTMB studio

Create the foundation for the elf’s cute little face by outlining and flooding the center using the skin tone icing. While the icing is still wet, carefully place two black nonpareils to create eyes. Let the icing dry completely.

If you’d like, dip a Q-tip into pink luster dust, tapping off the excess, and dab onto cookies to create the elf’s cheerful pink cheeks.

Editor’s Tip: If the icing dries before you add the eyes, don’t sweat it. Simply draw on eyes using an edible marker or two dabs of chocolate frosting.

Step 8: Add a smile (and a ‘do)

finishing touches with decorating santa cookie elf gifTMB studio

Now it’s time for the finishing touches to make Santa’s helper come to life. Using leaf tip #67, pipe the stiff skin tone frosting to create a set of pointed ears. Then using a small round tip, pipe the same icing to create his nose. Using an edible pen, draw on his smile.

To finish it off, place chocolate frosting into a piping bag fitted with #14 star tip and pipe along the top of the face to create his lush locks.

Editor’s Tip: Make it your own by creating different hairdos and facial expressions on each cookie.

Tips for Elf on the Shelf Cookies

How else can you decorate elf cookies?

Besides drawing on different facial expressions and hairstyles on your Elf cookies, you can change the color of the elf’s outfit from a jolly red to a festive green, or, take some extra time by creating stripes with both colors. If you want to go the extra mile, write each of your kids’ names on the elf’s shirt with the food writing pen.

How should you store elf cookies?

Store decorated elf cookies in an airtight container, where they should last for about five days at room temperature. As long as you let the icing dry completely before putting away the cookies, you can store them in layers between waxed paper.

Watch how to Make Santa’s Elf Cookies

Santa's Elf Cookies

Prep Time 10 min
Yield about 4 dozen.


  • 1-3/4 cups confectioners' sugar, divided
  • 2 ounces almond paste
  • 1-1/4 cups butter, softened
  • 1 large egg, room temperature
  • 1/4 cup 2% milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups confectioners' sugar
  • 2 tablespoons water plus 2 teaspoons water
  • 4-1/2 teaspoons meringue powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • Food coloring
  • Black nonpareil sprinkles
  • Pink luster dust, optional
  • Edible food writing pen
  • Chocolate frosting of your choice


  1. In the bowl of a food processor fitted with blade attachment, pulse 1/2 cup confectioners' sugar and almond paste until well mixed and texture resembles finely ground cornmeal. In a large bowl, cream butter and remaining 1-1/4 cups confectioners' sugar until light and fluffy, 3-4 minutes. Add almond paste mixture and beat until fully incorporated. Beat in the egg, milk and vanilla. Combine flour and salt; gradually add to creamed mixture and mix well. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour.
  2. Preheat oven to 375°. On a lightly floured surface, roll out dough to 1/4-in. thickness. Cut out using a floured 3-1/2-in. elf cookie cutter. Place 1 in. apart on parchment-lined baking sheets. Bake until light golden brown and firm, 7-8 minutes. Let stand for 2 minutes before removing to wire racks to cool.
  3. For icing, in a large bowl, combine confectioners' sugar, water, meringue powder and cream of tartar; beat on low speed just until blended. Beat on high until stiff peaks form, 4-5 minutes. Divide icing into thirds. Tint 1 portion of icing with red food coloring; tint second portion with desired food coloring for face. Leave remaining portion white.
    Place icings into piping bags fitted with fine round tips. Pipe icing onto cookies to create clothing, hat and face. While icing is still wet, place black sprinkles to create eyes. Let icing dry completely. If desired, dip a small brush into pink luster dust; tap off excess and dab onto cookies to create pink cheeks. Using leaf tip #67, pipe frosting to create ears. Using a small round tip, pipe icing to create nose. Using edible pen or round tip, draw mouth. Place chocolate frosting into a piping bag fitted with #14 star tip; pipe along top of face and rim of hat to create hair. Store in an airtight container.

Nutrition Facts

1 cookie: 134 calories, 6g fat (3g saturated fat), 18mg cholesterol, 72mg sodium, 19g carbohydrate (10g sugars, 0 fiber), 2g protein.

These rosy-cheeked elf cookies will make a showstopping addition to your holiday cookie tray. Or set them atop cupcakes for an extra-cute treat. —Josh Rink, Milwaukee, Wisconsin