Valentine’s Day grapefruit sugar cookies


There has been snow on my patio for nearly two weeks at this point – and not small amounts either. I have discovered that snow comes in different textures and road salt in different colors. I’ve watched the owners of the car across the street unsuccessfully attempt to unearth it from nearly five feet of plowed and piled snow. 

The southerner in me is equal parts delighted and baffled by all of this. (For context, it was nearly 70°F in my hometown last week.)

I don’t know why all the snow is making me think of citrus – maybe it’s that I keep thinking of all those hot, punchy colors against the white snow. Either way, when a friend asked for a box of Valentine’s cookies, grapefruit was the first thing that came to mind. 

These cookies are subtle – the citrus is more a whisper than a shout, just enough to make your standard holiday cut-out cookie into something a little more interesting. I chose grapefruit because I wanted something that called to mind the pinks and reds of Valentine’s Day, but you could just as easily go with lemon, or blood orange, or lime. The formula is flexible – any kind of zest and juice combination will work. 

I love taking the time to do intricate frosting work, especially for gifts, which is why I chose a royal icing for these cookies. It’s easy to thin to different textures for piping and flooding and sets up nice and hard so the decoration work will hold in transit. If you’re nervous about raw egg, feel free to swap for an equivalent amount of meringue powder or pasteurized boxed egg whites. Or skip the egg altogether and just make a glaze with powdered sugar and grapefruit juice. It won’t set as hard, and you won’t be able to pipe it, but it’ll taste delicious and look beautifully abstract drizzled over the cookies. 

I hope you’re staying warm, and that you enjoy something sweet this Valentine’s day – whether by yourself or shared (safely) with someone you love. 

Around here, at least, we can always use an excuse for more cookies. 

Grapefruit Sugar Cookies

Yield: about 40 2 1/2 inch cookies Time: about 2 hours, including chilling time Source: adapted, barely, from KCET, courtesy of America’s Test Kitchen

I absolutely despise washing my food processor. I wouldn’t ask you to drag yours out if it wasn’t worth it. The blades do a much better job grinding the zest into the sugar than the paddle attachment on the stand mixer would, and it’s hard to argue with a dough that comes together in four minutes flat without softening butter. 

Juice the grapefruit you zested for the cookies to make the royal icing. You’ll have some leftover, but baking is thirsty work, so it shouldn’t go to waste!

For the cookies: 

  • 198 grams granulated sugar
  • 1 ea grapefruit, zest only
  • 226 grams (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cold, cut into 16 pieces
  • 1 ea egg, whole
  • 2 grams (1/2 teaspoon) vanilla extract
  • 6 grams (3/4 teaspoon) salt
  • 354 grams all-purpose flour
  • 1 gram (1/4 teaspoon) baking powder
  • 2 grams (1/4 teaspoon) baking soda

Place the grapefruit zest and granulated sugar in the workbowl of your food processor. Grind the sugar and the zest together until the sugar is very fine and the zest has almost disappeared – about 30 seconds. The sugar should look damp and like it wants to start sticking together. Your kitchen will smell like a hot summer day in South Florida. Breathe it in and try to forget that it is below freezing outside. 

Add the butter in an even layer across the top of the sugar. Process until it forms a single solid ball of butter and sugar. This will take about 30 seconds, and you may need to stop and scrape the bowl down if things are sticking. 

Smush down the butter until it is flat-ish (it doesn’t need to cover the whole bottom of the bowl, you just want it spread out a bit). Add the egg, vanilla, and salt. Process until the butter-egg mixture is smooth and paste-like, 30 more seconds. 

Add the flour, baking powder, and baking soda and process until no dry flour remains, but the dough is still crumbly, about 30 seconds more. You will probably need to scrape down the bowl at least once during this process. 

Dump the dough out onto your counter and squish it into a ball. You may need to knead it a few times to make sure everything is cohesive, without any overly wet or dry spots. Rule of thumb – if your dough is sticking to the counter in spots when you lift the whole mass of dough, knead a few more times until it stops.

Divide the dough in half. Take one half and squish it into a rectangle-ish shape about half an inch thick. Place that rectangle between two sheets of parchment, and roll the dough until it is a quarter of an inch thick. Repeat with the other half of the dough.

Chill your dough sheets until they are completely firm. This will take about an hour and a half in the fridge or 20-30 minutes in the freezer. 

Preheat your oven to 300°F (149°C), and place the rack in the lower third of the oven. 

Cut your dough into whatever shapes you’d like. When you’ve finished, squish the scraps together and re-roll them. They can chill back down while your first round of cookies bakes. 

Space the cookies half an inch apart on a parchment-lined cookie sheet. Cook’s Illustrated recommends that you use a rimless sheet pan to encourage airflow. I didn’t have one, so I took one of my normal sheet pans and turned it upside down. Bake until the cookies are just starting to turn golden around the edges that are touching the pan, 14-17 minutes, with a rotation halfway through the cooking time.

Cool on the pans for 5 minutes before moving to a wire rack. Cool completely.

Grapefruit royal icing

Yield: about 2 cups of icing Time: 10 minutes Source: adapted from Julia M. Usher

  • 1 pound powdered sugar
  • 2 egg whites
  • 1/2 teaspoon grapefruit juice

To make the icing, sift the powdered sugar into the bowl of your stand mixer. Add the egg and grapefruit juice. Using the whisk attachment, mix on low speed until all the powdered sugar is incorporated, then increase the speed to high and beat until the icing is bright-white and fluffy.

Make sure you keep the icing covered with a damp towel when you’re not using it. It will crust over and harden on you. 

This icing is extremely thick. You’re going to want to thin it out to work with it. I find this easier than trying to nail the consistency in the bowl. Here are some guidelines: 

  • Piping and outlining: add ½ – ¾ of a teaspoon of grapefruit juice to one cup of thick icing
  • Top-coating cookies without a piped dam: 1 ½ – 2 ½ teaspoons of grapefruit juice to one cup of thick icing
  • Flooding cookies with a piped dam: 2 – 3 teaspoons of grapefruit juice to one cup of thick icing. 
  • For the best finish, color the icing with gel food coloring before you start to thin it. This will help prevent the icing from drying spotty. 
  • Put the icing in small bowls and work in extra liquid with a spoon. This reduces the air bubbles in the finished icing. 

These cookies are delicious on day one, but the grapefruit blooms overnight as the cookies soften a bit under the icing. If you have the time (or the self-discipline), I highly recommend letting them sit. 


By Jessi Spell

Jessi Spell

A culinary degree and two years of professional experience has not stopped Jessi from making stupid mistakes – she just makes them more efficiently. She habitually reads cookbooks before bed, loses track of time on Wikipedia, and yells at cooking shows like dads watching football. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband Jackson, five plants, and more cookbooks than a 600 square foot studio should hold.


Hey! I send out a newsletter every Friday, and it's a pretty good time. It's a quick sneak peek into what's happening in my real life kitchen - recipes I've been loving, cool stuff I found around the internet, you know, the usual. If that sounds good to you, you can subscribe at the link below, and I'll see you on Friday!


Groceries are expensive (these days more than usual) and your support over on Patreon helps me keep the lights on without resorting to advertising. In return, you'll get early access to all my recipes, plus some other fun goodies. If that sounds good to you, you can check out the options at the link below!