Cookies for the Census! - Vanilla Bean Sugar Cookie Recipe

On Saturday, May 16th at 1:30pm EST, I'll be hosting my first ever cookie decorating digital playshop to raise awareness about the census! Be sure to follow me on my Facebook page, which is where I'll go live!

This collaborative event is made possible by the support of the City of Pittsburgh's Inclusive Innovation team. It's super exciting as we have about 50 cookie kits reserved that attendees will get to decorate along with me during the event!

For those who weren't able to reserve a Census Cookie Kit but still want to follow along on Saturday, I'm sharing my Vanilla Bean Sugar Cookie and royal icing recipes below. These are exactly what I've used for all my Yummyholic cookie orders and what I used on Food Network's Christmas Cookie Challenge to win!

If you choose to bake your own cookies, at least one circle cookie is encouraged to represent a pie chart, but the rest can be whatever you like since we'll be primarily painting images on them. The Census Cookie Kits have a computer, a circle, a scalloped oval, and a rectangular strip to serve as an edible paint palette. For Saturday, you'll want to prepare the following materials:

  • Various food coloring (gel-based recommended)
  • Food-safe paintbrush or Q-tip (any new paintbrush will work)
  • Water or any kind of clear alcohol (vodka or a clear extract like almond)
  • Something to use as a palette; wax paper, plastic plate, etc.
  • Paper towels

If you don't have the time to bake and still want to follow along, below are some coloring pages of the cookie designs that you can download and print out so you and your family can still color along with us!

We'll delve into the importance of the census and why you should care during the playshop on Saturday, and I'll follow up with another blog post to recap. For now, just enjoy the recipes and resources, and I'll see you soon over on Facebook!

Vanilla Bean Sugar Cookie Recipe


  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks)
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tablespoon vanilla bean paste (this is an expensive ingredient and optional; you can just do 1 full tablespoon of vanilla extract)
  • 1/4 teaspoon lemon extract


  1. Whisk together flour and salt.
  2. Cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.
  3. Add all flavor extracts and mix together.
  4. Add egg and mix until just combined.
  5. Add flour and salt mixture a few cups at a time, mixing just enough until the dough comes together. Use yours hands at the end to form the dough together into a large ball. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 min to an hour.
  6. When ready to bake, roll dough to 1/4" thickness, cut into shapes on parchment paper or Silpat on your baking tray, and bake for 10-12 minutes at 350 degrees F.

Tips & Notes

  • I refrigerate my dough for at least 30 min to an hour prior to rolling and cutting. Throw your cut shapes into the freezer for another 5 minutes or so before baking in the oven to prevent spread.
  • If you have space in your fridge, it's best to actually roll out the dough while still at room temperature on either parchment or wax paper cut to the size of your sheet pan. Cover with some plastic wrap and then throw it into the refrigerator. This will make cutting your shapes out a lot easier.
  • Baked cookies will taste best within 2 weeks.

Royal Icing Recipe


  • 2 1/4 pounds of powdered sugar
  • 10 tablespoons of meringue powder
  • 1 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1 teaspoon clear vanilla extract (or any other clear flavor you'd like)
  • 6 oz. water
  • Various food colors (gel colors recommended)


  1. Whisk meringue powder into water until foamy.
  2. Add cream of tartar and vanilla and whisk until incorporated.
  3. Add liquid into sugar and mix until combined. The final texture you want is similar to toothpaste; when you cut a knife across the icing, it should take about 10 seconds to come back together. Add more water or powdered sugar to thin or thicken your icing accordingly.

Tips & Notes

  • I use Wilton meringue powder. In my personal experience, the texture and color have been way off with a couple of other brands I've used.
  • Be sure to store your royal icing in an airtight container. If you let it sit out uncovered, it will start to get hard and crusty.
  • Best used within 7-10 days.