Soft sugar cookies with crisp edges and a buttery, almost melt-in-your-mouth quality to them, these really are the best cut-out sugar cookies ever. Perfect for using your favorite cookie cutter shapes for any holiday or occasion!
Best Cut-Out Sugar Cookies
These sweetly decorated, easy cut-out sugar cookies check all the boxes for me when it comes to sugar cookie perfection. They have a medium-soft, slightly dense texture, as opposed to some recipes I tried in the testing phase that I found to be too fluffy. If you prefer a crispy cookie, you can always bake them a minute or two longer than I suggest in the recipe below.
While I adore the look and idea of sugar cookies, most of the ones I have tried in the past have left me disappointed (except for this chocolate cut-out sugar cookie recipe). Too many of them are tasteless, dry, crumbly affairs. So I set out to find the best sugar cookies I could possibly create so that I would have a go-to recipe once and for all. I made at least 8-10 batches of sugar cookies in March to finally find (and adapt because I can’t leave well enough alone) the recipe that was my ultimate cut-out sugar cookie.
The sacrifices I make for the sake of sharing the perfect sugar cookie! Thank goodness that I had plenty of reasons to keep experimenting and sharing cookies between St. Patrick’s Day, Easter parties, and some events at church!
There is a good reason why I haven’t posted a recipe for classic sugar cookies on the blog until now. It’s that I haven’t had a sugar cookie recipe that I absolutely loved and felt was worthy of the blog until very recently. And I only posts recipes on here that I have tried and tested and would for sure make again.
Also, I’ve been intimidated by royal icing since my decorating abilities are sub-par when it comes to creating Pinterest-worthy cookie creations, which held me back.
Not that these cookies need royal icing if you prefer buttercream or just plain sprinkles instead. Believe me, I ate plenty of these sugar cookies plain and unadorned and they were super delicious all on their own.
After trying sugar cookie recipes from some of my favorite baking cookbooks and bloggers, the one that ended up being the winner in my book was based off one shared by Bon Appetit in their “Best” collection of essential recipes. I now want to work my way through their list!
My criteria for the best cut-out sugar cookie recipe:
- First and foremost, they had to taste good! I don’t care how cute a cookie is, if it tastes bland then I’m not interested.
- Soft, slightly dense centers with slightly crisp edges. Next to flavor, texture is king for me when it comes to food.
- Cut-out cookies that hold their shape when baked. I wanted sharp, precise edges, not distorted, amorphous shapes once the cookies were pulled out of the oven.
How to Make Sugar Cookies
These sugar cookies start with the slightly unorthodox approach of beating the butter and sugar together while the butter is still cold. As long as you are using a stand mixer and cut the butter into chunks, this works really well and results in a better cookie texture than creaming softened butter together with the sugar.
The rest of the recipe is pretty straightforward. There is 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder in the dough, which might cause concern that these won’t hold their shape while baking, but it’s just the right amount to give that melt-in-your-mouth texture to the dough without making the cookies fluffy or causing distortions while they bake. I found that sugar cookies without baking powder weren’t quite as tender and this small amount was just right.
Don’t overmix the flour into the dough when it is added. Once the dough starts to come together, it will be thick and similar to the texture of play-doh.
I DO recommend chilling the dough. It helps the butter re-harden in the cut-out cookies before baking so that they don’t spread as much. Also, sugar cookie recipes that do not require chilling the dough tend to be heavier on the flour, resulting in a cookie with a texture that is slightly more crumbly and not as light as this one. It’s not like you have to wait overnight though – 1 hour will do it, and even then you could fudge it a little closer to 45 minutes if you needed to. I find that leaving the chilled dough out on the counter for just 10 minutes before attempting to roll it out makes a big difference in how easy it is to roll these out evenly.
I have one sugar cookie specific tool that I HIGHLY recommend if you like making sugar cookies (besides fun cookie cutters, of course). It’s a Joseph Joseph rolling pin with adjustable rings that go on each end of the rolling pin to help you roll out your sugar cookie dough to an exact thickness, depending on which ring you are using. It’s a game changer in getting consistent results in thickness and reliable baking times and worth the investment, in my opinion. Another, less expensive approach I have heard of but haven’t tried, is to use wooden dowels from the craft or hardware store, placed on either side of your dough so that a regular rolling pin can be used in the same way.
Incidentally, this rolling pin also makes it easier for my girls to roll out cookie dough on their own since they can’t get it any thinner than the measurement guides.
Sugar Cookie Tips & Tricks
- 1/4-inch thick is my preference, but you can make these super thick sugar cookies if that’s what you like. I made a couple of batches where I rolled the dough out 3/8-inch thick and they were certainly yummy. But in side-by-side taste testing of different thicknesses, we found that the sugar cookies rolled out 1/4-inch thick have a better mouth feel and icing to cookie ratio. Thicker cookies tend to be even softer and need to be baked an extra minute or two longer than the 1/4-inch ones.
- The key is to rolling out the dough is to let the chilled dough sit out on the counter for 10 minutes, then rolling it on a lightly floured surface using light pressure on the rolling pin.
- Don’t be afraid to use flour to keep the dough from sticking either to the surface you are rolling it on or to the rolling pin itself.
- The secret to soft sugar cookies is slightly underbaking each batch. You do not want to overbake these cookies unless you are intentionally going for crispy sugar cookies. Size will factor in to how long to bake, as well as the thickness you choose to roll your cookies out at. Mine typically are done right around the 12 minute mark, but I make large, 1/4-inch cookies. 3/8-inch cookies might take closer to 15 minutes. Small cookies might be done in the 9-11 minute range. The key is for them to look “set” because often, these won’t even brown around the edges (although the bottoms of the cookies will be lightly golden when lifted off the baking sheet).
- Both the dough and the finished cookies freeze well. If freezing the dough, transfer it to the fridge the night before you want to roll them out, then let the dough sit out on the counter for 30 minutes before rolling it the next day.
- Use a silicon baking sheet or parchment paper on your pans so that the cookies don’t stick.
- Frost with royal icing or buttercream. Or just press the unbaked cookies in sprinkles before baking.
- You can flavor the dough with a little almond extract or lemon zest, and I included amounts in the recipe notes. In my recipe testing, I experimented with each and liked them both (in fact, I was still on the fence between lemon and ended up photographing the batch with lemon zest, which you might notice in these photos), but when it came right down to it, I prefer the classic taste of a simple straightforward vanilla sugar cookie. If I really want a lemon sugar cookies, these double lemon glazed cookies are my favorite.
- Once frosted, the sugar cookies can be stored in an airtight container on the kitchen counter. Royal icing helps the cookies stay fresh longer, but even unfrosted cookies are good for at least a few days without going stale if stored in a well-sealed container. For longer-term storage, freeze the baked and decorated cookies by wrapping them up well in plastic wrap and freezing. Just give them time to thaw when you are ready to eat them!
- 1 1/4 cups chilled butter, cut into 1/2" pieces
- 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
- 1 large egg
- 1 large egg yolk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- In a large bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, mix the butter and sugar on high speed for about 3 minutes until well combined.
- Add the egg, egg yolk, and vanilla and mix well, scraping down the sides of the bowl.
- Add in the flour, salt, and baking powder on low speed, mixing just until incorporated and the dough comes together. Shape the dough into a flat disk and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Chill for 2 hours or up to 3-4 days in the refrigerator.
- When ready to bake the cookies, heat the oven to 325 degrees. Remove the dough from the fridge and let it sit on the counter for 10 minutes to soften slightly.
- On a lightly floured surface, roll out the cookie dough to 1/4-inch thick. Cut out using cookie cutters and bake on a baking sheet lined with a silpat mat or parchment paper for 12 to 15 minutes, until the edges just barely start to turn golden. Cool completely before decorating with royal icing or frosting.
You could add 1/4 teaspoon almond extract or 1/2 tablespoon of lemon zest to the dough, if you would like, but I actually prefer the classic, vanilla flavor of these cookies.
I have also rolled these 3/8-inch thick, which doesn't seem like much of a difference from the 1/4-inch thick cookie, but is actually quite noticeable. While I liked the thicker cookies too, I prefer the 1/4-inch version for the cookie to frosting ratio and the different texture. The cookies will need to cook an extra minute or two longer if you opt to make the thicker ones.
Recipe adapted from Bon Appetit.
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 187 Saturated Fat: 6g Cholesterol: 40mg Sodium: 160mg Carbohydrates: 22g Sugar: 10g Protein: 2g