Sugar cookies are budget-friendly, simple to make, and a delicious way to create memories that will last a lifetime. Whipping up a batch of this sugar cookie recipe and spending the afternoon decorating them with family and friends is my favorite thing to do during the holidays.
Why These Are The Best Sugar Cookies
- The dough comes together in minutes.
- They have a subtle vanilla flavor and aren’t overly sweet.
- They bake up firm but are still soft and chewy.
- They don’t shatter when you bite into them.
6 Tips For The Best Sugar Cookie
- Cream softened butter with sugar until it doubles in size and lightens in color. This creates air pockets in the dough, giving you a light and airy cookie.
- Roll the dough out to 1/4 inch thickness. Any thicker and the cookies will lose their shape. Any thinner, and they won’t be able to hold the weight of the icing.
- Chill the dough after you roll it out, and then cut it. Giving the butter time to harden will make the cookies easier to cut out and help your cookies keep their shape as they bake.
- Use simply shaped cookie cutters. Anything too intricate will likely break off or lose its shape as it bakes.
- Bake the cookies just until they’re set. You’re not looking for a golden brown; as they bake the cookies will lighten in color. Overbaking them leaves you with a dry, rock-hard cookie.
- Cool your cookies completely before decorating them with icing. Spreading icing on warm cookies will melt the icing, so it doesn’t hold its shape and drips all over.
How To Soften Butter
Perfectly softened butter will form an indentation when you gently press a finger into it—like play dough. Here are three ways to achieve this consistency:
- METHOD #1 Pick a warm spot in your kitchen and leave the butter out at room temperature for an hour or two.
- METHOD #2 Fill a large glass with boiling water. After a minute, carefully dump the water out. Stand the stick of butter (still in its wrapper) straight up on your work surface and cover it with the heated glass for five minutes.
- METHOD #3 Chop the stick of butter into four pieces and place it in a microwave-safe dish. Microwave the butter in 5-second increments, being careful not to melt it. Press your finger into the butter after every five-second increment. As soon as there is any give to it, pull it from the microwave.
How To Cut Sugar Cookies
Traditionally cookie cutters are used to shape sugar cookie dough. While metal cutters are the most popular, I prefer plastic cutters, as they don’t bend or rust. Of course, you don’t need to invest in cookie cutters to shape your dough. You can use the mouth of a glass or the ring of a mason jar lid, as we did here. If you want to create a different shape, draw it on paper, cut it out, and place it on the dough. Use a knife to trace the outline. Always cut dough that’s been rolled out to 1/4 inch thickness and chilled to create clean lines.
How To Fix Cookies That Have Lost Their Shape
If you open your oven to find that your cookies have lost their shape, it can be an easy fix. First, allow the cookies to cool on the sheet pan for a minute, then reshape them by pressing the cookie cutter into them and using a butter knife to separate the trimmings from the cookie. Work quickly; the more the cookie cools, the more likely it is to shatter. Don’t throw out those trimmings! They’re crispy and a total delight.
Decorating Sugar Cookies
You can eat plain sugar cookies, but decorating them is always so much fun. Traditionally royal icing is dyed with food coloring and piped onto the cookies to decorate them. But if you prefer a simpler method, you can also garnish the cookies with a bit of icing, a sprinkle of cinnamon sugar, or a pinch of zest. They will still look and taste amazing. If you want to steer clear of food coloring, grate freeze-dried raspberries or blueberries into a powder and sprinkle them into the icing to create a vibrant pink or purple hue.
How To Make Royal Icing
Royal icing is a stiff white icing that’s dyed with food coloring and used to decorate pastries. It can be plain or flavored with vanilla extract, almond extract, lemon zest, or orange zest. When decorating cookies, there are three textures you should make:
- Stiff consistency: When you dip a spoon into stiff icing and lift it out, the icing will form a stiff peak that won’t disappear. Use this icing to pipe flowers, leaves, or ruffles.
- Piping consistency: When you drip a line of icing across the surface, it will take 20 to 25 seconds to disappear. Use this icing to outline the cookie and prevent flooding consistency icing from spilling over.
- Flooding consistency: When you drip a line of icing across the surface, it will take 15 to 10 seconds to disappear. Use flooding consistency icing to fill in the cookie quickly.
How To Store Sugar Cookies
Store sugar cookies in an air-tight container for up to a week at room temperature. You can also freeze them in a freezer-safe container, separated with layers of parchment or wax paper, for up to 3 months. Don’t refrigerate sugar cookies, as it can dry them out and dull their flavor.
- 12 Tbsp salted butter, softened* ($1.50)
- 1 cup sugar ($0.32)
- 1 tsp vanilla ($0.57)
- 1 large egg ($0.21)
- 2 cups all-purpose flour ($0.24)
- 3/4 tsp baking powder ($0.05)
- 1 lb. powdered sugar* ($1.00)
- 1/4 tsp cream of tartar ($0.10)
- 2 large egg whites ($0.42)
- In a large bowl, use a hand mixer to whip the softened butter & sugar until fluffy.
- Add the egg and vanilla to the creamed butter and mix to incorporate.
- In a separate bowl, mix the flour and baking powder.
- Add half the flour to the creamed butter and mix just until a wet dough forms. Add the second half of the flour and mix gently until a stiffer dough forms.
- Place the dough between two sheets of parchment paper and roll the dough ¼ inch thick. Cool for thirty minutes in the fridge. Preheat your oven to 350°F.
- Once the dough has hardened, cut out the cookies, remove the scraps from the cookie sheet, and leave the cookies behind. Roll any scraps out on a separate piece of parchment, and chill before cutting them into cookies.
- Place the sheet of parchment paper with the cookies on a sheet pan. Bake the cookies at 350°F for 3 minutes. Next, rotate the sheet pan, so the front faces the back—then bake for 3 to 4 minutes.
- Cool the cookies in the sheet pan for a few minutes before transferring them to a cooling rack. Decorate when cookies have cooled completely.
- To make the royal icing, combine half of the pound of powdered sugar and all of the cream of tartar in a large bowl. Add the egg whites and whip the mixture to soft peaks.
- Add half the sugar and mix it at a lower speed to keep the powdered sugar in the bowl. Next, increase the speed to medium-high and whip until the icing is stiff and fluffy, about 1 minute.
- Thicken the icing with as much powdered sugar as necessary to create a piping consistency for outlining—thin the icing with a bit of water for flooding.
- If coloring your icing, separate it into as many bags as necessary to create your palette. Then, follow the directions on the food coloring package to make your palette. Next, close the bag and squeeze and press it to disperse the food coloring throughout.
- Remove as much air as possible and twist the top of the bag to close it. Secure the twisted end with a rubber band. Snip off the tiniest bit of the bottom corner of the bag.
- Next, gently squeeze the top of the bag while moving it steadily to outline the cookie with the stiffer icing.
- Then flood your cookie with the thinner icing. Allow the icing to dry before enjoying your sugar cookie!
See how we calculate recipe costs here.
How to Make Sugar Cookies – Step by Step Photos
In a large bowl, use a hand mixer to whip the 12 tablespoons of softened butter & cup of sugar until fluffy.
Add the egg and the teaspoon of vanilla to the creamed butter and mix to incorporate.
In a separate bowl, mix the 2 cups of all-purpose flour and the 3/4 teaspoon of baking powder.
Add half the flour to the creamed butter and mix just until a wet dough forms. Add the second half of the flour and mix gently until a stiffer dough forms.
Place the dough between two sheets of parchment paper and roll the dough ¼ inch thick. Cool for thirty minutes in the fridge. Preheat your oven to 350°F.
Place the sheet of parchment paper with the cookies on a cookie sheet or sheet pan.