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Soft-Baked Pinwheel Cookies

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Our family loves these festive, classic Pinwheel Cookies with soft-baked layers of vanilla and chocolate dough, just like Nana used to make! This is an eye-catching and easy Christmas cookie recipe that’s perfect for filling your cookie platters.

A stack of chocolate pinwheel cookies with one cookie propped up in front.

Nana’s Soft-Baked Chocolate Pinwheel Cookies

Today’s recipe is brought to us courtesy of my Nana’s kitchen! This is another recipe I’ve “thrifted” from the family collection, and it holds a special place in our house during the holidays.

My grandmother’s pinwheels are classic Christmas cookies, made from layers of vanilla and chocolate sugar dough rolled up into gorgeous little spirals. There’s a good chance you’ve seen something like them before. Pinwheel cookies come in many different variations and festive colors, and this recipe is the inspo behind my Rainbow Sugar Cookies.

I’ll tell you right now though, no other pinwheels come close to Nana’s! You’re going to love this recipe for soft, crave-worthy pinwheel cookies just as much as we do.

Pinwheel cookies piled on a wire rack.

Why You’ll Love This Recipe

I could go on for ages as to why these are the best cookies you’ll bake this season. But, I’ve narrowed it down to my top three reasons:

  • One base, two cookie colors. Both the vanilla and chocolate layers for these pinwheels come from the same cookie dough base. Easy-peasy.
  • Unbelievably soft and tender. My Nana’s pinwheel cookies were always soft-baked, melt-in-your-mouth, and irresistibly tender. This updated version delivers just that.
  • Classic Christmas cookie vibes. These cookies let their sweet chocolate and vanilla flavors do the talking. No fancy bells or whistles. However, they still leave tons of room for variations if that’s your thing! Don’t forget to check out the section later on with ideas.
A stack of homemade pinwheel cookies tied with a red and white string.

Key Ingredients

Below you’ll find a quick overview of the key ingredients you’ll need to make these chocolate pinwheel cookies from scratch. You’ll find the full ingredient amounts and details in the recipe card!

  • Butter – I prefer to bake with unsalted butter, but salted will also work. Just remember to adjust the amount of added salt that comes later in the recipe as needed.
  • Sugar – Since the base of these pinwheel cookies is very similar to a sugar cookie, I recommend using regular granulated sugar for the most consistent results. 
  • Milk, Egg. and Vanilla – Milk thins out the cookie dough a little, while an egg helps bind everything together. You’ll also add a dash of vanilla extract for flavor.
  • Flour, Baking Powder, and Salt – These dry ingredients form the basis for the cookie dough.
  • Chocolate – You can use either melted semisweet chocolate chips or chocolate bars to flavor the chocolate cookie dough.
A rectangle of chocolate cookie dough layered over vanilla cookie dough.

How to Make Pinwheel Cookies

Before you start, it’s important to soften the butter to room temperature. You can do this by taking the butter out of the fridge about a half-hour beforehand, or by warming it a little in the microwave. This makes it much easier to incorporate into the dough.

Now, let’s get started on some pinwheel cookies:

  1. Prepare the Cookie Dough: Cream together your softened butter with sugar, then add the milk, egg, and vanilla. Give it a thorough mix to combine. In another bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and a pinch of salt. Next, slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients to form the dough.
  2. Portion the Dough: Divide the dough in two. A kitchen scale comes in handy for this. When I made this recipe, the full batch of dough weighed in at 17oz. This made it easy to divvy the dough into two parts, 8-8.5 oz each, for the vanilla and chocolate layers. Afterward, melt the chocolate in the microwave, then mix the melted chocolate into one of the dough halves.
  3. Layer: Now, you’ll roll each colored dough to about ⅛-inch thick. Shape the flattened dough into two rectangles of about the same size. Layer the chocolate dough rectangle over the vanilla, and use a rolling pin to gently press the two layers together.
  4. Roll: If needed, use a sharp knife to trim away the edges of the dough. Then roll the dough into a tight log, and wrap it in plastic wrap. It’ll need to chill in the fridge before you slice it (the freezer can also help speed up the process).
  5. Slice and Bake: After the dough is well chilled, it’s time to slice and bake! Cut the dough log into even-sized slices, aiming for about a quarter-inch in thickness. Arrange your chilled dough spirals on a lined baking sheet, then bake at 425°F for 5 to 7 minutes. The cookies should be lightly golden and still soft in the centers.

Can I Make the Cookie Dough Ahead?

Yes. If you’d like, you can prepare and even freeze the dough in advance. Once your cookie dough log is rolled, double-wrap the dough in plastic wrap to store in the fridge for up to 1-2 days. 

If you plan on freezing the dough, I recommend pre-freezing the log on a cookie sheet to keep the soft dough from warping too much. The cookie dough can be stored frozen for up to 1 month.

Rolled pinwheel cookie dough cut into slices.

Tips for Success

I adapted my grandmother’s original recipe, and after some trial and error, ended up with these perfect pinwheel cookies! Below are some tips I picked up along the way.

  • Weigh the dough. As mentioned, weighing is the best way to ensure that the dough gets evenly portioned between the two colors. So if you have a kitchen scale, use it!
  • This dough is on the stickier side. Just use a bit of flour on your work surface and on your hands when turning out the dough. It will be a lot more workable! I’ve also found that rolling out the dough rectangles on parchment paper makes it much easier to transfer one dough on top of the other.
  • Roll the dough as tightly as possible. However, if you do have small cracks or spaces after rolling, don’t worry. These will fill in after baking.
  • Bake the cookies cold. The dough should be well chilled before you slice it, and still cold when the cookies go into the oven.
  • Know your oven. In my oven, exactly 6 minutes was the sweet spot when baking these pinwheel cookies. However, baking times can vary from oven to oven. So, keep a close eye while the cookies bake, and bake them on a silicone baking mat if possible (this keeps the bottoms from burning).
A pinwheel cookie with a bite missing propped up against a small stack of cookies.

Easy Variation Ideas

Whether it’s for Christmas or even Valentine’s day, you can totally make these cookies a little more festive to your liking. Here are some easy options to try:

  • Add food coloring. Rather than adding chocolate, use gel coloring to dye the dough instead, as I do in my Rainbow Sugar Cookies. You can use any color you want! 
  • Roll the outside edge in sprinkles, like sanding sugar or nonpareils, for a pop of color.
  • Change the flavors by using almond extract or peppermint extract in place of the vanilla in this recipe.

How to Store

Store these homemade pinwheel cookies airtight at room temperature for up to 5 days. 

Can I Freeze Pinwheel Cookies?

Yes, you can freeze the baked cookies. Let the pinwheels cool completely, and then store them in an airtight container or freezer bag. These cookies will stay fresh in the freezer for up to 3 months.

Thaw the pinwheel cookies at room temperature before serving.

Print
A stack of chocolate pinwheel cookies with one cookie propped up in front.

Pinwheel Cookies

  • Author: Julianne Dell
  • Prep Time: 2 hour, 5 minutes
  • Cook Time: 6 minutes
  • Total Time: 2 hours 11 minutes
  • Yield: 25-28 cookies

Description

These festive, classic Pinwheel Cookies with soft-baked layers of vanilla and chocolate dough are an eye-catching and easy Christmas cookie recipe.

Ingredients

  • ½ cup  (113g) unsalted butter
  • ½ cup (95g) granulated sugar
  • 3 tablespoons (44ml) milk
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon (5ml) pure vanilla extract
  • 1 ½ cups (210g) all-purpose flour
  • 1 ½ teaspoons (5g) baking powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 2 ounces chocolate (bar or chips), melted

Instructions

  1. Soften the butter to room temperature or microwave for 15-20 seconds until softened but not melted.
  2. Combine the butter with the sugar and beat on medium speed until well creamed together.
  3. Add the milk, egg, and vanilla extract. Mix until it’s well combined.
  4. In a separate bowl, combine the remaining dry ingredients. Slowly add into the batter and beat on medium-low speed until well combined and dough forms.
  5. Melt the chocolate in the microwave in 30-second increments, stirring occasionally until melted and smooth.
  6. Divide the dough in half (about 8.5 oz each) and mix the chocolate into one-half of the dough.
  7. Turn each dough out onto a lightly floured surface and roll out until is 1/8 inch thick into a rectangle shape. The shapes should be similar in size.
  8. Place the chocolate dough over the regular dough and gently press the layers together with the rolling pin. Trim excess edges.
  9. Roll the dough into a log, and tightly wrap it in plastic wrap. Chill the dough for at least 2 hours in the refrigerator or 1 hour in the freezer.
  10. Slice the dough into ¼-inch thick slices. Bake cold, on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Bake at 425°F for 5-7 minutes.

Notes

  • The dough will be tacky, turn out onto a lightly floured surface and flour your hands, and gently turn the dough to coat in the flour, which will make it much easier to work with.
  • In my oven, 6 minutes was the sweet spot. 7 minutes was too long. I recommend baking on a silicone baking mat to prevent the bottoms from burning, and transfer them immediately to a wire rack to cool.
  • Make sure the dough is plenty cold when you slice into it and I also recommend baking these cold.
  • If you want to change the flavor, substitute the vanilla extract for another flavor such as almond or peppermint.
Nutrition Information:
1 Cookie
61
5.4g
16mg
1.1g
.6g
11.6g
.4g
1.3g
8.1mg
  • Category: Cookies
  • Method: Oven
  • Cuisine: American

Keywords: christmas cookie recipes, easy christmas cookies, easy cookie recipes

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Recipe rating

6 Responses
  1. Sheila

    We are Russian Mennonites now living in Central America.. This is so interesting! These cookies look very familiar… Like the cookies my mom and grandma would make for Christmas.

  2. Erin

    I LOVE making pinwheel cookies, especially around Christmas time 😀 I once made plain vanilla pinwheels and tinted half the dough pink, and it was soooooooo pretty. But I think I would enjoy chocolate even more 😉 I also think these would be fabulous with a few drops of peppermint extract!

    1. John in Missouri

      425 degrees gave these burnt bottoms. 375 was still too hot on the next try, so I think 350 will be my goal next time.

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