Fall Leaf Sugar Cookies

24 cookies
30 min

I made my own fall leaf sugar cookies because we don't get the real deal out here in the Arizonian desert where I live. This sugar cookie recipe is crisp on the outside but soft and chewy on the inside. As a good sugar cookie should be. It's a cardamom orange variation on the classic. However, it's easily converted into a plain sugar cookie if you prefer. For a regular sugar cookie, leave out the cardamom and orange zest. In addition, replace the orange extract with vanilla extract. I list my supplies and give some detail into my painting process here.

Recipe details

  • 24  cookies
  • Prep time: 20 Minutes Cook time: 10 Minutes Total time: 30 min
Show Nutrition Info
Hide Nutrition Info


For the Cardamom Orange Sugar Cookies

  • 2 cups all purpose flour, plus more for flouring
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground cardamom
  • 3/4 cup plus two tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 stick unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 1/2 tsp orange extract
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg at room temperature
  • zest of 1 orange

For the Citrus Royal Icing

  • 4 cups plus two tablespoons powdered sugar
  • 1/4 cup meringue powder
  • 1/8 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp orange extract
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2/3 cup room temperature water, possibly 2-3 tbsps more for thinning.
  • gel food coloring (optional)

For Decorating (Optional)

  • 3-4 tbsps of vanilla extract or flavorless alcohol (like vodka)
  • gel food coloring in assorted colors


For the cardamom orange sugar cookies

Sift together the flour, baking powder, salt and cardamom in a medium sized bowl. Set aside.
Fit a stand mixer with a paddle attachment. An electric hand mixer will also work if you don't have a stand mixer. Cream together the butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, approximately 5 minutes. Remember to periodically scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl.
Add in the honey and beat on low speed for about a minute until incorporated. Next, add in the extracts and orange zest and beat on low speed for another minute until incorporated. Finally, add in the egg and beat on low speed until incorporated.
Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients. Mix for about 30 seconds on low speed. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl. Continue mixing on low speed for another 30 seconds up to a minute. You want to mix the dough until it just comes together. It will be sticky, but manageable.
Place a large piece of plastic wrap on the kitchen counter and scoop the dough on top of it. Gentle form it into a disc and wrap tightly with plastic wrap. Chill in the fridge for an hour.
After the dough has chilled, unwrap it and let it warm up for a few minutes before rolling it out on a lightly floured surface. You want it to be about a ¼ inch thick. Use a cookie cutter to cut out your desired shapes. I recommend chilling the cut-outs again for another 30 minutes at this point to prevent spreading. Preheat the oven to 350°F while you wait.
Re-roll the excess dough, cut out your shapes with cookie cutters and chill the dough again before baking.
Bake the cookies in the preheated oven for about 10 minutes or until the edges are nicely golden brown. Cool on the cookie sheet for a couple of minutes before transferring to a wire wrack to cool completely before icing.

For the citrus royal icing

Sift together the powdered sugar, meringue powder and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer.
Fit the stand mixer with a paddle attachment. Turn the mixer on low. I like to cover the bowl with a kitchen towel when I do this as a bit of the powdered sugar does kick up in the air.
Slowly drizzle about half of the water in. Scrape the bowl and add in the extracts. If the icing is crumbly add in more water a tablespoon at a time until all the dry ingredients are moistened. Mix on low speed for about 5 minutes until the icing is light in color.
Check the consistency of the icing by running a butter knife through the icing down the center of the bowl. The line created by the knife should disappear within 12-20 seconds. If the icing is too thick, slowly add in some more water. If it is too thin, add in some more powdered sugar. The consistency of the icing that you like to work with is a personal preference. I generally like to work with 15-second consistency icing (aka flood and outline icing or medium icing).
At this point you can leave the icing white and paint it with food color after it dries as detailed below. Or you can color the icing with food coloring now and decorate it with the colored icing. I recommend you use gel food coloring as it doesn't change the consistency of the icing and creates very vibrant colors.

Decorating Options

Place your icing in a piping bag or a ziplock bag. Cut the tip off the corner.
Outline the cookie with the icing and then fill it in (aka flood the cookie) with the icing. If there are any air bubbles in your icing you can pop them with a toothpick and gently shake the cookie from side to side to smooth out the icing.
Let the icing dry.
Use the alcohol or vanilla extract and thin out the gel food color and paint the dry cookie. The alcohol with evaporate and leave behind a watercolor look.


  • If you can't find orange extract, substitute vanilla extract instead.
  • For a plain sugar cookie, leave out the cardamom and orange zest. Replace the orange extract for vanilla extract.
  • You can find meringue powder and gel food coloring at craft stores, online or at cake shops. I've even found it in the cake aisle at my local Walmart.

Better than Zest | Alex
Want more details about this and other recipes? Check out more here!