Pecan Sugar Cookies with Maple Icing
Pecan sugar cookies are buttery, soft (not crumbly!), and have a toasty, nutty flavor thanks to the chopped pecans. We’re coating them in maple icing because maple + pecans is a total dream combo. They’re the perfect, unique cut-out sugar cookie for autumn or your holiday cookie boxes!
Not me posting another cookie recipe 2 days before Christmas. Like, I know you’re probably done with your holiday baking and you would rather run a marathon with lead boots on than eat another cookie. (No, just me?) But hear me out! As much as I love staring at sugar cookie decorating accounts on IG, never in my life have I desired that level of tediousness. (Plus, most sugar cookies are kinda….bad? Sorry).
But these are different because as it turns out, making tiny wreaths on sugar cookies is 1. ridiculously easy. No really, it requires zero special skills. And 2. when you pair this task with a bottle of wine and a true crime podcast, it’s so damn fun. So let’s make them and get in the Christmas spirit, yeah?
Why you’ll love these cut-out pecan sugar cookies
My hot take of 2022 is that sugar cookies are bad about 90% of the time. Gorgeous? Absolutely. But tasty? Debatable. So, I set out on a mission to make sugar cookies that are buttery, a bit cake-y, and have you know, actual flavor. And I did it, let’s celebrate! These cookies are:
- Buttery, soft, chewy, and flavorful with brown sugar, vanilla, and toasty pecans.
- Unique thanks to that pecan-maple combo (no boring sugar cookies here).
- Perfect for cookie cutters – they hold their shape!
- Have maple donut vibes thanks to the royal icing.
- As far as sugar cookies go, very easy to roll out. No messy, crumbly dough!
The ingredient list
We’re making both the pecan sugar cookies and a maple royal icing so you’ll need a few ingredients for both. Here’s everything you’ll need!
For the cookies
- Pecan halves – we’re going to toast them and chop them up very finely for a lovely, nutty flavor.
- Unsalted butter – nice and softened. Go with a good-quality butter, it adds so much flavor!
- Sugars – both brown sugar and white. I like dark brown but any will work.
- Vanilla extract – again, this will add a lot of depth to a basic cookie.
- Baking basics – all-purpose flour, baking powder, Kosher salt, and eggs.
For the royal icing
- Powdered sugar – you’ll need to sift it beforehand for a smooth icing.
- Meringue powder – this sounds like a specialty ingredient but I can actually find it in the baking aisle of my grocery store. You can also get it online!
- Room-temperature water – weird ingredient but you need room-temp for royal icing!
- Maple extract – usually you can find this in the spice aisle. This will give us that intense maple flavor.
- Gel food coloring – if you want to add colors to your icing. Totally optional!
- Sprinkles – again, totally optional. But perfect if you want an easier decoration idea.
How to make these cookies
We’ll be making these cookies in four parts but don’t worry, it’s all very easy. First, we’ll toast the pecans, then we’ll make the cookies, then the icing, and lastly we’ll do the best part – decorating! This is the perfect cut-out cookie for decorating with friends, family, and even kiddos.
Toast the pecans
- Start by evenly spreading the pecans in a sauté pan.
- Place the pan over medium-low heat. Cook just until the pecans are toasty and smell fragrant, about 1 minute.
- Next, cool the pecans for 5-10 minutes. Then, chop or pulse in a food processor until they are finely chopped.
Make the dough
- First, whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl.
- Next, cream the butter, brown sugar, and white sugar until very light and fluffy, about 3-4 minutes.
- Add the vanilla extract followed by the eggs, one at a time.
- Then, add the flour just until a dough forms. Fold in the pecans.
- Divide the dough into 2 discs and wrap. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or overnight.
- Roll out the dough on a floured surface until it’s 1/2” thick. Cut out the dough with cookie cutters.
- Bake at 350°F for 9-10 minutes until the cookies are set in the centers and light golden-brown on the edges. Cool completely.
Mix up the icing
- Sift the powdered sugar into a large bowl or the bowl of a standing mixer.
- Next, add the meringue powder, water, and maple extract.
- Whip the mixture until it’s the consistency of thin honey, about 1-3 minutes.
- Color the icing with gel food colorings, as desired.
Decorate the cookies
- First, dip the tops of the cooled cookies in the icing.
- Then, gently tap the cookies to even out the icing. Or, use a toothpick to pop any bubbles and even it out!
- Decorate with colored royal icing, sprinkles, nuts, or other decorations, as desired. Let the cookies set for at least 5-6 hours before storing. Do not stack the cookies until they are fully set or it’ll ruin the icing!
How do I know when the royal icing is ready?
First, there are 3 main types of royal icing. One is ‘stiff’ which is used for line work and piping. The second is piping consistency which is used for outlining cookies. The third is flood icing which is used to fill in the cookies. For more info, this guide is very handy!
For the wreath decorations, I only used flood icing to keep things nice and easy. If it’s the right consistency, you should be able to coat the cookies (without it running over the sides) and add the wreath decorations. This is an easier way and doesn’t make for the most polished looking cookies but still looks very pretty! To tell if the icing is ready, give it a drizzle. The outline of the drizzle should melt back into the icing in 10-15 seconds and it’ll be the consistency of a thinner honey. If the frosting is too thin, add more powdered sugar or whip it for another 1-2 minutes. If it’s too thick, add water to thin.
Can I use maple syrup instead of extract?
I tested this recipe with maple syrup and I honestly don’t recommend it. With real maple syrup, the maple flavor was barely noticeable and turned the frosting into more of a beige color. Maple extract, on the other hand, added a lovely maple flavor and kept the frosting bright and white!
Can I use regular icing instead of royal?
Absolutely! If you do not want to pipe frosting and just want a quick and easy dipping icing, you can use a regular powdered sugar glaze on these pecan sugar cookies. Use my basic vanilla icing and replace the vanilla extract with maple extract instead. Or, switch things up and use brown butter icing instead – so delicious! Then, decorate with sprinkles or chopped nuts if you feel like it.
Will the icing set?
Yes! But, you need to let them set completely for at least 5-6 hours. Or, place them in an airtight container in a single layer if you want to let them set overnight. Do not cover with plastic wrap or it’ll warp the icing, trust me!
How do I decorate the cookies like wreaths?
- To decorate these cookies like wreaths, start by dividing three bowls with about 1/2-1 cup of icing. Color one red and the other 2 with different tones of green. You can also just use 1 green if you like! Pour the colored icings into squeeze bottles or piping bags with tips. Place the rest of the white icing in a shallow bowl.
- Next, dip the top of a cookie in the white icing. Let the excess drip off and then flip it onto a counter. Gently tap the bottom of the cookie to evenly distribute the icing. You can also use a toothpick!
- Pipe a circle of green dots around the cookie. Then, use a toothpick to gently drag a circular line through the centers of the dots. (See a tutorial in the video above).
- Lastly, use the red icing to pipe ‘berries’ all around the wreath. Let set for at least 5-6 hours.
More decoration ideas
If you don’t want to make wreath cookies, you can use any cookie cutter shapes, icing colors, and decorations! You could even do leaf shapes for an autumn-inspired pecan sugar cookie. Here are some other easy decorating ideas:
- Chopped nuts – a sprinkle of chopped pecans are perfect for a rustic look.
- Sprinkles – just a bit of holiday sprinkles are so cute on these cookies.
- Buttercream – pipe buttercream on top for a more 3D look.
Storing & freezing
To store leftover cookies – once the icing is completely set (I cannot stress this enough at least 5-6 hours), place them in an airtight container. As long as the icing is set, you can stack them on top of each other with parchment paper in-between each layer of cookies. They will stay soft for 4-5 days.
Freeze the cookies – after the icing is set, place the pecan sugar cookies in an airtight container or freezer bag. Use parchment paper between each layer of cookies. Then, freeze for up to 2 months. To defrost let them come to room temperature in the container/bag for 1-3 hours.
To freeze the dough – wrap the dough in plastic wrap and pop the discs in a freezer bag or airtight container. Freeze for up to 3 months. Then, thaw overnight in the fridge before rolling, cutting, and baking.
Best cookie cutters?
I do not necessarily have a specific cookie cutter brand that I love because I usually use my mom’s vintage cutters! But, you want to be on the lookout for cutters that are thin so they can easily cut through the dough and nuts with clean edges. For the wreath cookies, I used 3” and 1” ruffled circle cutters but any shape will work!
- Bring the ingredients to room temperature to make sure everything mixes together properly. Butter and eggs should always be room temp.
- Measure the flour properly or you will end up with dry, cracked dough. To measure the flour, fluff it with a spoon or whisk. Spoon the fluffed flour into a measuring cup and level the top without packing the flour in.
- Toast the pecans to get a deeper flavor and crunch. Raw pecans can taste bitter and will have a soft texture.
- Chill the dough for at least 2 hours or it will be sticky and impossible to roll out. To get a soft texture, we’re not using as much flour as other recipes which makes the dough a bit sticker. Also, don’t freeze the dough to speed up the process, it doesn’t work! If the dough gets too warm when you’re rolling it out, pop it back in the fridge for 10-15 minutes.
- Bake the cookies on parchment paper or they will get too browned on the bottom.
- The cookies are done when the middle is set and the edges are a light golden-brown.
More holiday cookies!
The Best Chewy Chocolate Gingerbread Cookies
Cardamom Chocolate Chunk Shortbread Cookies
Gingerbread Biscotti with White Chocolate & Lemon
Eggnog Cookies with Boozy Glaze
Sesame Lace Cookies with Dark Chocolate
Cardamom Gingerbread Cookies with Orange Glaze
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Pecan Sugar Cookies with Maple Icing
Pecan Sugar Cookies
- 3/4 c pecan halves
- 2 1/2 c all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp Kosher salt
- 1 c unsalted butter, softened
- 3/4 c dark brown sugar, packed
- 1/4 c sugar
- 1 Tbs vanilla extract
- 2 large eggs, room temperature
Maple Royal Icing
- 4 c powdered sugar, sifted
- 3 tbs meringue powder
- 1/2 c room temperature water, plus more as needed
- 1 tsp maple extract
- Gel food coloring and sprinkles, for decoration
- Rolling Pin
- 2 rimmed sheet pans
- Cookie cutters
- Place the pecans in a sauté pan. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until the pecans are toasty and fragrant, about 1-2 minutes.
- Pour the toasted pecans in a bowl and cool to room temperature. Chop or pulse in a food processor until they are finely chopped. Set aside.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the all-purpose flour, baking powder, and Kosher salt. Set aside.
- Then, in a large bowl, cream the unsalted butter, brown sugar, and white sugar until it's light and fluffy, 3-4 minutes. Add the vanilla extract. Then, mix in the eggs one at a time until incorporated.
- Add the flour mixture and beat just until the dough forms. Fold in the pecans.
- Form the cookie dough into 2 discs and wrap in plastic wrap (it'll be a bit sticky). Refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to 2 days.
- Once the dough is chilled and you're ready to roll it out, preheat the oven to 350°F. Line 2 sheet pans with parchment paper. Then, remove one disc from the fridge. Roll the dough on a floured surface until it's 1/4-1/2'' thick (1/4'' for crisp cookies, 1/2'' for soft cookies). Use cookie cutters to cut out shapes, as desired. For wreath cookies, use a 3'' cookie cutter and then a 1'' cookie cutter in the center. Repeat until the dough is used up. You can form and re-roll the dough up to 3 times.
- Place the cookies 1'' apart on the parchment-lined sheet pans. If the cookies have warmed up at all, pop them in the fridge for 10-15 minutes (this will keep them from puffing up too much). Bake for 9-10 minutes, flipping the pan halfway through, until the centers are set and the edges are light golden-brown.
- Let the cookies cool on the pans for about 5 minutes. Then, transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Repeat this process with the second disc of dough.
- To make the royal icing, sift the powdered sugar into a large mixing bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the meringue powder, water, and maple extract.
- Whip the icing on high for 2-3 minutes, adding more water as necessary, until the icing is the consistency of thin honey. On dry days, you may need up to a cup of water (or more!). When you drizzle the icing, it should melt back into the rest of the icing in 10-15 seconds. That's how you know it's done! If it's too thick, add more water. If it's too thin, add more powdered sugar or whip it for 1-2 more minutes.
- Color the icing, as desired and place in bowls, squeeze bottles, or piping bags with tips depending on how you'd like to decorate the cookies.
- To decorate these cookies like wreaths, pour about 1/2-1 cup of icing into 3 separate bowls. Color one bowl of icing with red food coloring and the other 2 bowls with 2 different tones of green. You can also just use 1 green tone if you like. Pour the colored icings into squeeze bottles or piping bags with tips. Then, pour the remaining white icing into a shallow bowl.
- Next, dip the top of one cookie into the white icing. Let the excess drip off and then flip it onto a counter. Gently tap the bottom of the cookie to evenly distribute the icing. You can also use a toothpick!
- While the white icing is still wet, pipe a circle of green dots around the cookie. Then, use a toothpick to gently drag a circular line through the centers of the dots. (See a tutorial in the video above).
- Lastly, use the red icing to pipe 'berries' all around the wreath. Let them set on a wire rack for at least 5-6 hours. Store the set cookies in an airtight container with a piece of parchment between each layer of cookies.
- If you do not want to decorate the cookies like wreaths, decorate as desired with different colors of icing, sprinkles, chopped nuts, etc. Let the cookies set on a wire rack for 5-6 hours. Store in an airtight container with parchment paper between each layer.
xo Sara Lynn
Song of the day: White Christmas by Bing Crosby and Ken Darby Singers