Rainbow Sugar Cookies

These Rainbow Sugar Cookies bring you a kaleidoscope of color in rainbow-shaped cookies that are soft and chewy with a touch of crispness at the edges. Whether you’re planning a school bake sale or gearing up for summer Pride celebrations, this rainbow sugar cookie recipe is your perfect ally.

With just a bit of time, these rainbow sugar cookies are easy to make. So go ahead, bring out your inner unicorn, and unleash the rainbows!

rainbow colored sugar cookies shaped like rainbows on a cooling rack.
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Ingredients

ingredients for rainbow sugar cookies on a countertop.

 
  • Butter – sugar cookies don’t have a lot of flavor, so use a good, European style unsalted butter with a higher fat content like Plugra or Tillamook. It should be a cool room temperature to make these cookies.
  • Flavoring – these sugar cookies are flavored with vanilla and either almond extract or orange zest and orange liqueur.
  • Food coloring – the food coloring is the key ingredient in these rainbow sugar cookies! Use gel food coloring for bright colors with less volume.

Please see the recipe card below for complete information on ingredients and quantities.

Variations and substitutions

  • There’s no limit to the number of different shapes you can make. Or roll your rainbow colors into a log to keep in the freezer and slice and bake cookies as you want them!
  • Skip the food coloring and add sprinkles instead for rainbow sprinkle sugar cookies. Or sprinkle your rainbow colored cookies with demerara or another finishing sugar.
  • Use different colors in these multi-colored sugar cookies. Use red, white, and blue for Fourth of July cookies or the purple and gold of your school colors!
  • You can substitute other extracts or liqueurs with about the same alcohol by volume as vanilla (35% ABV). If using almond extract, I would keep it to a half teaspoon.

Recipe tips and tricks

Keeping it cool

Just like working with shortbread cookies or pie crust, this recipe works best if it isn’t too hot in your kitchen. If your kitchen is very warm, you may need to refrigerate your dough longer if it starts to stick and becomes hard to work with. Chilling the final shaped cookies for a short time minimizes their spread.

Making the rainbow sugar cookie dough

Step 1: Whisk or sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl and set it aside.

Step 2: Cream together the softened butter, sugar, and orange zest until it’s mixed well and no longer grainy. You just want some mechanical leavening but don’t need to incorporate as much air to get to light and fluffy or your cookies will puff and spread. You can read more about mechanical leavening and creaming butter in my coffee and walnut loaf cake recipe.

creamed butter and sugar for sugar cookies.

Step 3: Beat in the egg for one minute, then add the vanilla and almond extract or orange liqueur and beat an additional minute.

rainbow sugar cookie dough with liquid ingredients added.

Step 4: Add the dry ingredients and mix on low speed or by hand until just incorporated. Be careful not to over-mix.

If you don’t want to make rainbow sugar cookies, you could use this sugar cookie dough as is. Roll it into a log and freeze it to make sliced cookies, or chill before rolling it out.

Step 5: Divide the sugar cookie dough into six roughly equal portions. If you are using a kitchen scale to divide the dough, you should have about 680 grams or so. Each of the six portions should weigh about 113 grams.

Step 6: Take one portion of the cookie dough and add a drop or two of gel food coloring. Use a spatula or kitchen gloves to knead the dough until the color is evenly distributed. I recommend using food-safe kitchen gloves or a spatula to mix the colors so you don’t stain your hands. When I’m making anything rainbow-colored, I add food coloring in the following order: yellow, orange, red, purple, blue, and then green.

Roll the colored dough into a thick log and wrap it in plastic wrap. Repeat this process with the other portions of the rainbow cookie dough, Refrigerate for at least one hour to overnight.

six rainbow colored cookie doughs wrapped in plastic.

Shaping and baking the rainbow sugar cookies

Step 7: When you are ready to bake your rainbow sugar cookies, heat your oven to 350°F (175°C) with a rack in the middle of the oven, and line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats.

Step 8: Take each colored dough and roll it into a rope that is 12 inches long.

six rolled logs of rainbow colored cookie dough on a cutting board.

Step 9: Line the logs next to each other and use a sharp knife to cut each one into 24 half-inch segments.

logs of rainbow colored cookie dough cut into many small pieces on a cutting board.

Step 10: Starting with a purple segment, roll it into a log 2 inches long and bend it into an upside-down U shape. Next take a blue segment and roll into a log just long enough to bend around the purple. Continue with the green, yellow, orange, and then red.

four panels showing shaping of the purple segment, the blue, the green, and then the final rainbow shaped cookie.

Step 11: Carefully transfer the rainbow-shaped cookies onto the prepared baking sheet, leaving an inch between them as they will spread slightly during baking. If your kitchen is warm, it will be easiest to shape the cookies right on the baking sheet or even put half the dough in the fridge as you are shaping.

You should have 12 rainbow cookies per sheet.

a tray of unbaked rainbow colored cookies.

When you finish making the first sheet of cookies, press down on them lightly to make sure the colors stick to each other. Try to get the bottom of the rainbow cookies even across the colors before baking because you will not be able to do much once they are baked. Put the baking sheet in the freezer to chill just while you make the second sheet.

Step 12: When the second sheet is done, put that one in the freezer and bake the first sheet of rainbow sugar cookies for 10 to 12 minutes or until the edges are just starting to firm up. You can go a minute or two longer if you like crispy sugar cookies.

Step 13: Let the cookies cool on the baking sheet for a few minutes. Then transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely and store in an air-tight container at room temperature.

Recipe FAQs

What’s the difference between shortbread, butter cookies, and sugar cookies?

The easiest of these to define is the shortbread cookie like the ones in these Linzer cookies. Shortbread cookies should be crisp and tender and a bit crumbly, since they are made without egg. Compared to the 1-2-3 baking ratio of sugar, butter, and flour in shortbread, these sugar cookies have more sugar and butter as well as the egg. Lots of people have an opinion, but there doesn’t appear to be a clear definition of what makes a sugar cookie versus a butter cookie.

What brand of food coloring do you use for these rainbow cookies?

I have gotten the best results using gel food coloring by Ann Clark.

Can I use natural food colors instead of artificial?

Sure, but I cannot vouch for the color or the taste.

Can I freeze these rainbow sugar cookies?

Yes, you can freeze the cookies as unbaked dough, shaped but unbaked cookies, or baked rainbow cookies. Of those, you’ll get the best results by shaping the cookies and freezing them before baking. Put them on a cookie sheet overnight and then move to plastic bags. To bake, just add a minute or two longer to the cooking time.

Do you have other rainbow recipes that I can make?

Yes! Check out my rainbow poke bowl, rainbow salad, rainbow bread, rainbow fruit tart, or even peanut butter Rice Krispie treats with rainbow chips!

Check out other rolled, cut out, and spritzed cookie recipes from the Ugly Duckling Bakery archives like:

Love this recipe? Please leave a 5-heart 💜💜💜💜💜 rating in the recipe card below. Let me know how much you loved it, or any problems you had, in the comments section further down.

Recipe

Rainbow Sugar Cookies

5 from 2 votes
Category: Cookies
Cuisine: Unspecified
Prep Time: 1 hour
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Minimum chilling time: 45 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 55 minutes
Servings: 24 cookies
Calories: 126kcal
These Rainbow Sugar Cookies are rainbow-shaped cookies with a kaleidoscope of color that will bring joy your eyes and your stomach. Whether you're planning a school bake sale or gearing up for summer Pride celebrations, this rainbow sugar cookie recipe is your perfect ally.
Print Recipe

Equipment

  • 1 Stand or hand mixer

Ingredients

  • cups all-purpose flour 312 grams
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • sticks unsalted butter 12 tablespoons (170 grams), room temperature
  • ¾ cup granulated sugar 150 grams
  • 1 teaspoon orange zest optional
  • 1 large egg room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract or 1 teaspoon of vanilla and either ½ teaspoon almond extract OR 1 teaspoon of Grand Marnier or other orange liqueur.
  • 1 drop each of red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple gel food coloring

Instructions

  • Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a small mixing bowl and set aside.
    2½ cups all-purpose flour, ½ teaspoon baking powder, ½ teaspoon salt
  • Cream together the softened butter, sugar, and orange zest for 2 to 3 minutes, scraping down the bowl once or twice, until mixed well and no longer grainy. You don't need "light and fluffy" in this recipe.
    1½ sticks unsalted butter, ¾ cup granulated sugar, 1 teaspoon orange zest
  • Beat in the egg for one minute, and scrape down the bowl.
    1 large egg
  • Beat in the vanilla extract and orange liqueur for another minute.
    2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • Add the dry ingredients and mix on low speed or by hand until just incorporated. Be careful not to over-mix.
  • Divide the cookie dough into six roughly equal portions.
  • Take one portion of the dough and add a drop or two of gel food coloring. Use a spatula or kitchen gloves to knead the dough until the color is evenly distributed.
    1 drop each of red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple gel food coloring
  • Roll the colored dough into a thick log and wrap it in plastic wrap. Repeat this process with the other portions of dough,
  • Refrigerate for at least one hour to overnight.
  • When you are ready to bake the cookies, heat your oven to 350°F (175°C) with a rack in the middle of the oven, and line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats.
  • Take each colored dough and roll it into a thin rope that is 24 inches long. Line the logs next to each other and use a sharp knife to cut each one into 24 one-inch segments.
  • Starting with a purple segment, roll it into a log 2 inches long and bend it into an upside-down U shape. Next take a blue segment and roll into a log just long enough to bend around the purple. Continue with the green, yellow, orange, and then red.
  • Carefully transfer the rainbow-shaped cookies onto the prepared baking sheet, leaving an inch between them as they will spread slightly during baking (If your kitchen is warm, it might be easiest to shape the cookies right on the baking sheet). You should have 12 cookies per sheet.
  • When you finish making the first sheet of cookies, press down on them lightly to make sure the colors stick to each other and even out the bottoms, if necessary. Put the baking sheet in the freezer to chill just while you make the second sheet.
  • When the second sheet is done, put that one in the freezer and bake the first sheet of cookies for 10 to 12 minutes or until the edges are just starting to firm up.
  • Remove the cookies from the oven and allow them to cool on the baking sheet for a few minutes. Then transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely.
  • Store in an air-tight container at room temperature.

Notes

The “prep” time in the recipe includes both making the sugar cookie base, coloring the dough, and shaping the cookies. Be aware that the first time you make these, it will likely take you longer than the hour stated.
This rainbow cookie recipe has you cream the sugar and butter until it’s creamy and no longer grainy. You don’t need very light and fluffy here or your cookies will puff and spread.
If you are using a kitchen scale to divide the dough, each should weigh about 113 grams.
I recommend using food-safe kitchen gloves or a spatula (or two) to mix the colors so you don’t stain your hands. I color the dough in my  mixing bowl in the following order to minimize blending colors: yellow, orange, red, purple, blue, and then green.
If your kitchen is warm, you may need longer chilling times if the dough starts to stick and becomes hard to work with. Chilling the shaped cookies a short time minimizes their spread.
Try to get the bottom of the rainbow cookies even across the colors before baking because you will not be able to do much once they are baked.
If you don’t have orange liqueur, feel free to substitute other extracts or liqueurs with about the same alcohol by volume as vanilla (35% ABV). If using almond extract, I would keep to a half teaspoon.

Nutrition

Calories: 126kcal | Carbohydrates: 16g | Protein: 2g | Fat: 6g | Saturated Fat: 4g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 0.3g | Monounsaturated Fat: 2g | Trans Fat: 0.2g | Cholesterol: 22mg | Sodium: 61mg | Potassium: 19mg | Fiber: 0.4g | Sugar: 6g | Vitamin A: 187IU | Vitamin C: 0.1mg | Calcium: 10mg | Iron: 1mg
Love this recipe?Mention @Uglyducklingbakery or tag #uglyducklingbakery!

This rainbow sugar cookie recipe was first posted June 6, 2023.

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