The Sugar Cookie tower, this year’s Holiday Cookies special project, can be gussied up fancy to display gold-brushed macarons, or decorated with colors of the season to display your favorite cookies. (Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post)

Pastry chefs Tiffany MacIsaac and Alexandra Mudry developed this edible platform for displaying holiday cookies. The decoration’s up to you. We’ve used it to showcase her elegant macarons (see photo above and the related recipe). Although its assembly looks formidable, an experienced baker/decorator can do it in a single day.

For the rest of us, 2 days is best. The dough is nice and firm, which makes it easy to work with. The finished dimensions of the tower: about 9 inches wide and deep by about 8 inches tall. Use it as a display, or keep the tiers separate and invert them to create edible boxes that can be filled with your favorite cookies.


For the cookie slabs

1 pound (4 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into pieces

2 cups plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar

5 large eggs, at room temperature

7 1/4 cups flour, plus more for the work surface

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon whole milk, at room temperature

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Shredded, sweetened coconut, for decorating (optional)

For the icing

6 cups confectioners’ sugar

5 large egg whites, or more as needed

Kosher salt

1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice (may substitute vanilla extract)

Food coloring gels


For the cookie slabs: Combine the butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer or hand-held electric mixer; beat on medium speed for 3 to 4 minutes, until creamy. Stop to scrape down the bowl.

Add the eggs one at a time, beating on low speed until each one is fully incorporated. Stop to scrape down the bowl.

Combine the flour and salt on a sheet of wax paper. Combine the milk and vanilla extract in a cup with a pour spout.

In five additions on low speed, gradually add the flour mixture, alternating with the milk mixture to form a firm dough. Transfer to a large piece of plastic wrap; shape the dough into a 9-inch square. Wrap the dough well, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line several baking sheets with parchment paper. Let the dough sit at room temperature for 15 to 20 minutes before rolling. Dust a work surface with a moderate amount of flour (you don’t want this dough to stick, and there’ll be lots of rolling).

Roll out the dough on the floured surface to a thickness slightly greater than 1/4 inch, giving the dough quarter-turns between rolls (to keep it from sticking) and maintaining the square shape as much as possible. (You may work with it in 2 portions if the size is difficult to manage on your countertop.)

Cut out the template pieces and place on the dough, so you can cut around them. (Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post)

Use the template below to cut the following pieces: 3 squares (in three sizes); 4 small rectangular panels, 4 medium rectangular panels and 5 large rectangular panels. (The template is the right size when printed on an 8 1/2-by-11-inch piece of paper.)

Place the slabs of dough on the baking sheets as you work, spacing them 1 inch apart. Scraps can be gently kneaded and rerolled once. (Leftover dough scraps can be used to make smaller cut-out cookies.)

Shave baked sugar cookie slabs with a vegetable peeler to get smooth, even edges. (Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post)

Bake one sheet at a time for 18 to 22 minutes, until firm and golden brown around the edges. Transfer the slabs to wire racks to cool completely. Use a vegetable peeler to shave all the edges as needed, so they are smooth and even.

Meanwhile, make the icing: Combine the confectioners’ sugar, egg whites, salt and lemon juice in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a balloon-whisk attachment, or in the bowl for a hand-held electric mixer. Beat on low speed until well blended, then on high speed for 4 to 5 minutes, until very thick. To test the consistency, drizzle a little of the icing into a bowl, then tap the bowl on the counter. The icing should slowly setting into a flat pool.

Distribute the icing among bowls according to the number of colors you’ll be using (one per color, including the base white).

Add a small dollop of food coloring gel as needed to the various bowls and mix to create even tones. The icing in the bowls must be covered with plastic wrap directly on the surface or it will dry out quickly. Fill the piping bags a little less than half full with the various icing colors. (The color/s you’ll be using to outline should be fitted with the No. 3 round tip.)

To decorate the cookie slabs, start by inverting all the panel pieces; that way, their nice, flat sides will be the ones you decorate.

Begin to decorate by outline each panel with a firm royal icing. (Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post)

Outline each rectangular panel piece with the desired color. Let dry for 20 minutes, or until firm.

(Deb Lindsey/For The Washington Post)

Use a more fluid royal icing (with added egg white) to fill the area; after you’ve piped enough on the surface, use an offset spatula to smooth it to the outline edges. (Deb Lindsey/For The Washington Post)

To flood/fill each panel, you might need to add extra egg white, 1 teaspoon at a time, mixing gently to adjust the consistency so it’s more fluid. Fill each outlined panel, using an offset spatula to smooth the icing evenly and into the corners. Let dry for 6 to 12 hours or until firm.

(Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post)

Have fun decorating with another color; be sure to wait until the flooded area is completely dry.

A good shot of firm royal icing will hold decorated panel edges together. (Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post)

Working with 2 of the 5 large decorated panels (their decorated sides facing outward), pipe royal icing (outlining consistency) on one undecorated short edge, affixing it near the end of the other panel so the two pieces form a right angle. You might need to use something to help prop up/hold the panels in place until they are set. Repeat with 2 other large panels, then assemble all four together to form a square.

Only the bottom layer gets a support panel; use icing to hold it in place. (Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post)

For this bottom tier, you also need to insert the remaining large panel at the center as a support; attach with icing and let dry for at least 4 hours.

Meanwhile, you can form the two smaller sets of tiers, repeating the process above with the medium and small panels (without the center support), so all three tiers are drying at the same time.

Pipe a decorative border around the platform, if you like. (Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post)

Top each frame with the correspondingly sized undecorated cookie square: Pipe icing along the top edge of each frame, then position the square on top. (Icing at the corners of the two smaller tiers should hold them in place on their platforms.)

Stack the tiers off-center, a little closer to one edge; this will allow for more display room for your cookies. (Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post)

Let it dry for at least 4 hours. Finally, stack the tiers (in descending size) on top of each other, so that on one of the four sides, the tiers are about 1/2 inch from the edge instead of at the center; that provides room on each tier for displaying cookies.

(Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post)

If desired, cover each flat horizontal surface with the shredded coconut. Arrange cookies on top.

(Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post)

To make the snowflakes attached to MacIsaac’s elegant macaron tower, position the template (below) under a piece of parchment paper. Pipe in firm royal icing on top; let dry thoroughly before affixing with more royal icing or Italian meringue buttercream (macaron filling).