Sugar Cookies

$4.41 recipe / $0.37 serving
by Monti - Budget Bytes
4 from 3 votes
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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.

Overhead shot of round sugar cookies.

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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Use simply shaped cookie cutters. Anything too intricate will likely break off or lose its shape as it bakes.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
Hand holding a white sugar cookie with sprinkles in the foreground with red and white sugar cookies in the background.

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.

Overhead shot of round sugar cookies on a cooling rack. and a counter top.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Overhead shot of round red and white sugar cookies, with a bite taken out of one of them.
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Sugar Cookies

4 from 3 votes
Sugar cookies are budget-friendly, simple to make, and a delicious way to make memories that will last a lifetime.
Hand holding a white sugar cookie with sprinkles in the foreground with red and white sugar cookies in the background.
Servings 24 cookies
Prep 10 mins
Cook 7 mins
Resting Time 30 mins
Total 47 mins

Ingredients

Sugar Cookies

  • 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)

Royal Icing

  • 1 lb. powdered sugar* ($1.00)
  • 1/4 tsp cream of tartar ($0.10)
  • 2 large egg whites ($0.42)

Instructions 

Sugar Cookies

  • 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.

Royal Icing

  • 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!

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Notes

*If using unsalted butter, add 1/2 teaspoon of finely ground salt (like fine sea salt) or 1 teaspoon of coarsely ground salt (like kosher salt) to the butter
*If you don’t have powdered sugar, you can make your own by processing a pound of sugar in a blender until it forms a fine powder.

Nutrition

Serving: 2cookiesCalories: 199kcalCarbohydrates: 35gProtein: 2gFat: 6gSodium: 66mgFiber: 0.3g
Read our full nutrition disclaimer here.
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Overhead shot of round red and white sugar cookies.

How to Make Sugar Cookies – Step by Step Photos

Overhead shot of creamed butter and sugar in a white bowl.

In a large bowl, use a hand mixer to whip the 12 tablespoons of softened butter & cup of sugar until fluffy.

Overhead shot of egg and vanilla being added to whipped butter.

Add the egg and the teaspoon of vanilla to the creamed butter and mix to incorporate.

Overhead shot of hands mixing flour and baking powder in a white bowl.

In a separate bowl, mix the 2 cups of all-purpose flour and the 3/4 teaspoon of baking powder.

Overhead shot of hands holding sugar cookie dough over a bowl of sugar cookie dough.

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.

Overhead shot of sugar cookie dough being rolled out between two sheets of parchment.

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.

Overhead shot of sugar cookies being cut with a band and a mason jar lid.
Once the dough has hardened, cut out the cookies. Remove the scraps and leave the cookies behind. Roll any scraps out on a separate piece of parchment, and chill before also cutting them into cookies.
Overhead shot of naked sugar cookies in a sheet pan.

Place the sheet of parchment paper with the cookies on a cookie sheet or sheet pan.

Overhead shot of baked sugar cookies in 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.
Overhead shot of egg whites being poured into powdered sugar.
To make the royal icing, combine half of the pound of powdered sugar and the 1/4 teaspoon of cream of tartar in a large bowl. Add the egg whites and whip the mixture to soft peaks.
Overhead shot of icing being mixed with a hand blender in a white bowl.
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.
Overhead shot of icing being spooned into a plastic bag.
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.
Overhead shot of hand piping icing onto a sugar cookie on a tray of sugar cookies.
Next, gently squeeze the top of the bag while moving it steadily to first outline the cookie with the stiffer icing.
Overhead shot of decorated red and white sugar cookies.
Then flood your cookie with the thinner icing. Allow the icing to dry before enjoying your amazing sugar cookie!
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  1. We skipped the icing, but otherwise followed the recipe. They came out very soft and not overly sweet, and yielded the best results when compared to other recipes I’ve tried. This will be my new go to sugar cookie recipe!

  2. These are really delicious! They’re soft and hold up well for making other cut outs too. FYI, I swapped out King Arthur 1 for 1 gluten free flour and they still turned out great. Even non-GF folks loved them. Thank you!

  3. Wow this is a very sticky dough. Very hard to work with. I had difficulty removing extra dough from parchment after cutting. Back into the fridge for now, not sure it’s going to work for me.

  4. Do I have to buy pasteurized egg whites? I eat raw cookie dough so no qualms about that. Just didn’t know how the icing holds up safely

    1. Hi, Donna! That’s a great question! Since the royal icing does contain egg whites, it should be consumed fairly quickly, and the icing (and any leftover cookies) should be stored in the fridge. They will keep in an air-tight container for 2 days. While using pasteurized egg whites [or an egg-free binder/stabilizer] in place of the egg whites would be an added expense, it would help you to increase the shelf life of the icing to 10 days (However, any leftovers should still be stored in the fridge). ~Marion :)