The Washington Post

Shortbread Cookie Animals

Shortbread Cookie Animals 18.000

Scott Suchman for The Washington Post; food styling by Lisa Cherkasky for The Washington Post

Holiday Cookies 2022 Dec 7, 2022

“Great British Baking Show” favorite Kim-Joy lets you choose between three super-cute animal designs — pandas, cats or frogs — that are all made from the same simple shortbread dough.

You can choose to make them all or create your own designs. You’ll find that this simple dough can be endlessly customized and is quite forgiving. “I think it adds more personality when your decorating isn’t totally perfect or symmetrical,” Kim-Joy says. “Embrace these ‘mistakes’ and just go for it!”

The quantities for each animal assume you’re splitting the dough into thirds and making all three designs. This would give you 6 medium cookies per design. If making just one animal design, then multiply the coloring/flavoring ingredients by three. If you want more cookies, you can make 8 or 9 mini cookies with the dough amounts for each type of animal and bake for 12 to 15 minutes.

It’s important to read this whole recipe before beginning, because you are dividing the dough into three batches, and coloring and shaping them separately.

Active time: 1 hour 10 mins; Total time: 1 hour 30 mins

Make Ahead: The unbaked cookies can be frozen for up to 1 month. After you have shaped the animals, transfer them on a baking sheet to the freezer. Once they’re solid, pack into an airtight container or bag and freeze until ready to use. Bake straight from the freezer, adding 1 to 3 minutes of bake time.

Storage Notes: Store the finished cookies in a single layer in an airtight container — ideally in a cool, dark place — for up to 1 week.

Where to Buy: Gel food coloring can be found at well-stocked supermarkets, cake decorating stores and online.

18 cookies

When you scale a recipe, keep in mind that cooking times and temperatures, pan sizes and seasonings may be affected, so adjust accordingly. Also, amounts listed in the directions will not reflect the changes made to ingredient amounts.

Tested size: 18 cookies

  • For the dough
  • 14 tablespoons (1 3/4 sticks/200 grams) salted butter, cubed and at room temperature (may substitute a plant-based butter, such as Miyoko’s brand, ideally around 80 percent fat)
  • 7 tablespoons (90 grams) granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract (optional)
  • 2 1/4 cups (280 grams) all-purpose flour (may substitute one-for-one gluten-free flour blend, such as Cup4Cup or Bob’s Red Mill)
  • 1/4 teaspoon cocoa powder (for the pandas)
  • Black gel food coloring (for the pandas)
  • Finely grated zest of 1/2 orange (about 1/2 teaspoon, for the cats)
  • Orange gel food coloring (for the cats)
  • 3/4 teaspoon matcha (for the frogs), plus more as needed
  • For the icing and decorations
  • 5 teaspoons confectioners' sugar, plus more as needed
  • 3/4 teaspoon water, or as needed
  • Black and pink gel food coloring (or any colors you like for mouths, eyes, hats, bow ties, etc.)
  • Sprinkles in the shapes and colors of your choice, such as hearts, snowflakes and circles
  • Candy eyes (for the frogs, optional)
  • Chopped chocolate, raisins or dried cranberries (for the frogs, optional)


Make the dough: Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 325 degrees. Line two large, rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats.

In a large bowl, combine the butter, sugar and vanilla, if using, and mix together with a spoon or spatula until smooth and spreadable. Add the flour and mix until just combined. The dough should be slightly sticky, but remain soft and easy to handle. (The dough can also be made using a stand or hand mixer on low speed, but take care to mix the ingredients only until just combined. Overmixing will make the cookies tough, and they will lose their melt-in-your-mouth quality.)

Separate the dough into three (190-gram) portions, each in individual bowls.

Make the pandas: Pinch off about 1 tablespoon (18 grams) of dough from one bowl and knead the cocoa powder into it, followed by a drop of the black food coloring. Set aside.

Divide the remainder of that portion of plain dough into 6 pieces and roll each into a ball. As you work, transfer to the prepared baking sheets (no more than 12 total cookies per sheet), then gently press down with your palm until flattened and slightly more than 1/3-inch (1 centimeter) thick, leaving at least 1/2 inch between the cookies after pressing.

Go back to the ball of black dough, from which you’ll be making 30 small pieces. Shape 12 little balls of black dough for the ears, then attach 2 of them to the top edge of each round of plain dough. Then, shape 12 teardrop-like shapes for the pandas’ eyes and secure them to the faces. Add a small piece of black dough for each nose.

Make the cats: Pull off a third of the dough (about 63 grams) from another bowl, and knead in the orange zest, followed by a drop of the orange food coloring. You can also use cocoa powder or another food coloring to create different colored cats.

Pinch about 1 tablespoon (18 grams) of dough from the remaining plain dough, and set aside.

Divide the remaining plain dough from the second ball into 6 pieces. Roll each portion into a ball, adding a little orange dough to one quadrant to form a spot. Transfer to the prepared baking sheets (no more than 12 total cookies per sheet), then gently press down with your palm until flattened and slightly more than 1/3-inch (1 centimeter) thick, leaving at least 1/2 inch between the cookies after pressing. Shape 12 triangles using the remaining plain dough and some of the orange dough (mix and match as you like), and form ears by pressing them onto the top edge of the rounds. You can also roll small dots of plain dough to add eyes to the face.

Make the frogs: Knead the matcha powder into the dough in the remaining bowl. If the dough is not green enough for you, add a little more matcha.

Pinch off 1 tablespoon (18 grams) of the dough and set aside.

Divide the remaining dough into 6 pieces. Roll each portion into a ball, transfer to the baking sheets (no more than 12 total cookies per sheet), then gently press down with your palm until flattened and slightly more than 1/3-inch (1-centimeter) thick, leaving at least 1/2 inch between the cookies after pressing. Use the remaining dough to create 12 eyes and attach 2 of them to the top edge of each round.

You can also add cute frog warts, using chopped chocolate (dark, milk and/or white), chopped raisins and/or chopped cranberries. Press these into the surface of the cookies before baking.

Before baking any cookies, chill them on the baking sheets in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes or in the freezer for 10 minutes.

Bake, one sheet at a time, for 18 to 20 minutes. They should have an ever-so-slight hint of color at the edges but not be visibly brown. Let cool on the baking sheet for 10 minutes, then carefully transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Decorate the cookies: Once the cookies are cool, it’s time to decorate with icing (this is optional for the pandas) and sprinkles.

Add the confectioners’ sugar to a small bowl and gradually add the water bit by bit, whisking as you do. You want to add enough water so the icing, when drizzled on top of itself, holds a trail on the surface for 10 to 15 seconds. Too much water will make it runny and difficult to pipe. If it’s too loose, add more confectioners’ sugar to thicken, going back and forth with water until the consistency is just right.

Divide the icing between enough small bowls for as many colors as you want (you only need a tiny amount of each color). You may wish to reserve some plain white icing, as well. Stir a drop of your desired food coloring into each portion until fully incorporated. Then transfer to small piping or zip-top bags, cut off a corner to form a very small tip and use it to pipe various faces. You can also use a little icing to stick sprinkles on. Use the instructions below for the different animal designs to help, but you can customize these in tons of different ways, so feel free to create your own versions!

For the pandas, you can add white icing to the eyes on top of the black spots.

For the cats, use pink to form a nose and black for the mouth and whiskers. Or use icing to adhere sprinkles as whiskers.

For the frogs, use white and then black icing to pipe on eyes to the dough you added to the top of the cookie. Just let the white icing semi-set before piping on the black. Or adhere candy eyes with a bit of icing. Pink specks are cute on the face.

You can customize any of the above basic shapes! They don’t all have to be the same size — so make cute mini versions and just bake them for a little less time.

You can also remove a little of the plain dough and use food dyes to color this however you like, then shape accessories such as hats and bow ties for the animals to wear. For Christmas, try making a little red Santa hat with white trim. There are lots of different options (including for many other occasions and holidays), so get creative and see what you come up with!

Recipe Source

From baker and food writer Kim-Joy, author of “Celebrate With Kim-Joy” (Quadrille Publishing, 2021).

Tested by Becky Krystal.

Email questions to the Food Section.

Email questions to the Food Section at

Nutritional Facts

Calories per cookie, based on undecorated pandas: 156

% Daily Values*

Total Fat: 9g 14%

Saturated Fat: 6g 30%

Cholesterol: 24mg 8%

Sodium: 80mg 3%

Total Carbohydrates: 17g 6%

Dietary Fiber: 1g 4%

Sugar: 5g

Protein: 2g

*Percent Daily Value based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.

Total Fat: Less than 65g

Saturated Fat: Less than 20g

Cholesterol: Less than 300mg

Sodium: Less than 2,400mg

Total Carbohydrates: 300g

Dietary Fiber: 25g

Most Read Lifestyle