2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting (see Cook's Note)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon fine salt
1 1/2 sticks (12 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg, plus 1 egg beaten for egg wash
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
White gel food coloring
Black gel food coloring
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
1 teaspoon meringue powder
Red water-based food coloring
Make the cookies: Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl. Beat the butter and granulated sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes. Beat in the egg and vanilla until incorporated. Reduce the mixer speed to low, add the flour mixture and beat until just combined.
Remove 3/4 cup dough and set aside. Add 1/2 teaspoon white food coloring to the remaining dough in the bowl and mix on low until evenly colored white. Reserve 1 tablespoon white dough and turn the rest out into a ball and set aside. Clean out the bowl and the beaters and place the reserved 3/4 cup dough back into the bowl. Add 5 drops black food coloring and beat on low until evenly colored a deep black. Turn out into a ball.
Make the face: Cut one-third off the white ball of dough (about 1/2 cup). Form into a 1/2-inch-thick 10-by-2-inch rectangle. Set aside. Roll the remaining white dough into a 10-inch log. Use a ruler or your fingers to slightly flatten the top, then roll the log back and forth so that the bottom rounds out a bit. Put on a baking sheet. Roll the reserved 1 tablespoon of white dough into a thin 10-inch rope and set aside.
Make the eyes and ears: Cut the black dough into three even pieces (about 1/4 cup each), then cut one piece in half. To make the ears, roll the half pieces into 10-inch ropes. Put on the baking sheet. Set aside and keep at room temperature. To make the eyes, roll the remaining two pieces of black dough into 10-inch ropes. Flatten the sides with your fingers, so that the top and bottom are still round. The ropes should be about 1/2-inch tall.
Assemble the cookie: Brush the flat side of the white log with egg wash. Place the skinny white rope in the middle of the flat log. Pinch the sides so that it has a pointed top, almost like a triangle. Place the two eye ropes, flat side down, lengthwise across the flat side of the white log, on either side of the white strip, with the top of the white between them. Press the eyes down into the log (this will keep the eyes in place while assembling the rest of the cookie and give them a downturned shape).
Place the room temperature rectangular piece of dough on top of the two black eye ropes and press the dough down over the sides so that the entire surface is covered. Use your finger to smooth out the sides. Cut a slit down the length of an empty paper towel roll and pull it open so you can place the dough inside. Wrap the roll around the dough and wrap tightly with plastic wrap. This will help the cookies keep their round shape. Refrigerate 1 hour.
Brush the top of the dough log with more egg wash and adhere the ear ropes lengthwise on the outer edges of the log. Press them into the dough so that they are oval shaped. Refrigerate until hardened, about 15 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
Cut 1/4 inch off each end of the log with a very sharp knife to reveal the panda face. Slice the log into cookies about 1/4-inch-thick. Arrange the slices 1 1/2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheets. Bake, rotating the pans halfway through, until crisp and just starting to turn brown on the bottom, 10 to 12 minutes. Let the cookies cool on the baking sheets for 10 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack to cool completely.
Meanwhile, combine the confectioners' sugar and meringue powder in a large bowl. Add 1 tablespoon water and beat with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until the icing forms thick and glossy peaks, adding up to 1 tablespoon more water if needed, about 2 minutes. Take a third of the icing and transfer to a small resealable plastic bag. Add 1/4 teaspoon black gel food coloring to the remaining icing and whisk to combine. Transfer the black icing to another small resealable plastic bag. Snip a very small piece off one corner of each bag.
Pipe a nose and smile on the center of each cookie with the black icing. Use the white icing to pipe small circles in the center of each eye. Let the icing harden completely, about 20 minutes. Mix 1 drop red water-based food coloring with 2 tablespoons water. Dip your finger into the red liquid and brush a small pink circle each cheek of the pandas.
When measuring flour, we spoon it into a dry measuring cup and level off excess. (Scooping directly from the bag compacts the flour, resulting in dry baked goods.)
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