I know there are a lot of sugar cookie recipes floating around out there. And I know you probably have a tried-and-true sugar cookie recipe passed down from your great-great-grandma. But I’m telling you, you can throw those all in the recycling, because this is the perfect sugar cookie recipe for cutouts.
I’ve been using this recipe for years, and it has never, ever failed me—and since I originally shared it years ago, you guys have been telling me that you come back to it again and again, too! That’s because it’s a total no-fail rolled sugar cookie and icing recipe. This recipe results in soft, tender, fluffy cookies that don’t spread in the oven—making them absolutely perfect for cut-out sugar cookies. And the cookies have the most beautiful mild vanilla flavor!
I also have the perfect icing recipe that goes on top that ends up drying hard enough to pack these perfect frosted sugar cookies in a tin, but is still soft enough to bite into without chipping a tooth. And it shines so bright and glossy in the light. It makes for some obnoxiously pretty cookies.
What do these sugar cookies taste like?
I think the perfect sugar cookie is mildly flavored and very buttery. The cookie itself isn’t too sweet—because the icing will add even more sweetness.
I usually just flavor these cookies with high-quality vanilla extract (I say “high-quality” not because I’m an ingredient snob, but because you can really taste the flavor of the vanilla in these, so you want to make sure it’s something good), but you can easily go with other flavorings, too. Peppermint is delightful for the holidays. Almond and coconut are also both delicious.
In fact, I made a batch of these cookies for my coworkers one Halloween (pumpkin and ghost-shaped, of course) and used almond flavoring, and I repeatedly had people stopping by my office to tell me they were the best sugar cookies they’d ever had. Most folks don’t expect an almond-flavored sugar cookie! It’s a really nice change of pace.
How do you make rolled sugar cookies with icing?
Making sugar cookies is a bit of an experience—it requires a few hours’ worth of work. It’s easy to do, but it isn’t something you want to try to wedge into your schedule before work one morning. Here’s the process:
- Make the sugar cookie dough: I like to do mine in my stand mixer, but you can also do it with a hand mixer or with a wooden spoon.
- Chill the sugar cookie dough: I suggest chilling for at least an hour, but you can speed that up by popping the dough in the freezer.
- Roll out and cut the cookie dough: On a floured or powder sugared surface, roll out the dough. Using your favorite cookie cutters, cut out shapes.
- Bake and cool: Bake for just a few minutes (really keep an eye on them), and then immediately remove them to a wire rack to cool completely.
- Decorate: Mix up a batch of our sugar cookie icing, and decorate to your heart’s content!
Wait, does the dough really need to be chilled?
Yes! This is a non-negotiable, friends. Chilling the dough makes it so the cookies won’t spread in the oven and will keep your beautifully cut out shapes. Yes, there are sugar cookie recipes that don’t need to be chilled, but most of those use shortening in them to keep their shape. I much prefer the flavor, texture, and natural-ness of an all-butter sugar cookie recipe!
How thick do you need to roll sugar cookies?
I like between 1/8″ and 1/4″ thick—you want a cookie that is thick enough to have some chew to it, but thin enough to bake evenly and quickly. Don’t stress too much about it. Just as long as every cookie on the baking sheet is roughly the same thickness, you’ll be good!
Can you re-roll the dough scraps?
Sure can! Depending on the temperature of your kitchen, you might want to re-chill your dough if it starts to get too soft. If the rolling pin feels more like it’s smooshing softened butter than rolling out cookie dough, you know it’s time to put your dough back in the fridge.
How can you make sure these cut-out sugar cookies hold their shape in the oven?
This recipe as written makes for perfect cookies straight out of the oven—no spreading, no puffing, no bloated Christmas trees. To make sure it stays this way:
- Don’t mess with adding more sugar or butter. These cookies have the perfect amount of butter and sugar to balance between having flavor and keeping their shape.
- Keep the dough chilled. Cool cookie dough helps keep the cookies from spreading.
- Try to use cool cookie sheets. If you immediately start to fill your cookie sheet the second you get the baked cookies off of it, you might get more cookie spread. Just let your cookie sheet cool down for a few minutes (or run it under cool water and then dry it, if you’re in a rush).
How do you know when cut-out sugar cookies are done?
If you’re a master sugar cookie baker, you know that the key to perfect sugar cookies is watching the oven very carefully. You’ll see some sugar cookie recipes saying to bake the cookies for 10-12 minutes (or even more), and that’s great if you want a dry, crunchy cookie, but who wants a dry, crunchy cookie? No one. Sugar cookies bake fast. So fast, that just a couple of degrees discrepancy in your oven can cause your cookies to go from soft and tender to hard as a rock in just a minute or two.
While I do provide a baking time as a general rule of thumb in the recipe below, I highly recommend that you go by appearance instead of time. Your cookies should be just the tiniest bit brown along the very edge of the cookie (right where it meets the pan). I’m not talking “golden brown,” I’m talking like you have to really squint to see it. And the top of the cookie should look solid, instead of jiggly. In most ovens, this happens between the 6-8 minute mark (yup, that fast!). In my last apartment, we had an oven that ran hot, no matter how low I turned it down, and my sugar cookies were almost always done at five minutes. Watch ’em like a hawk.
And then, once they are done, you want to get them off the hot baking sheet as quickly as possible, because they’ll keep right on baking on that hot metal. I usually take a large thin spatula (I love using a fish spatula to get hot cookies off of baking sheets) to the cookies almost immediately after they get out of the oven. Then I transfer to cooling racks or paper towels to cool completely. And do make sure they are 100% cool before you frost. Any residual heat in the cookie will warm up the frosting and make it a gooey, runny mess. It’ll still be delicious, it just won’t look as nice.
What’s the best icing for iced sugar cookies?
There are really three kinds of sugar cookie icing you’ll see out there in the baking world. All three have their benefits:
- Royal icing: This is the hard icing that you see people using to make intricate decorations on cookies (or gingerbread houses). While this icing makes for beautiful cookies, I honestly find the flavor to be…not great. So I tend to not use royal icing.
- Buttercream/frosting: You’ll see this kind of fluffy, thick, buttery frosting more frequently on soft-baked Lofthouse style sugar cookies. It’s delicious on these cookies, but it does tend to be tricky to stack on a cookie tray or pack in a gift tin.
- Powdered sugar glaze: The sugar cookie icing we’re showing here and the one I use most frequently is a simple powdered sugar glaze. The resulting iced sugar cookies dry solid enough to stack on a cookie tray, but soft enough to bite into without chipping a tooth (I’m looking at you, royal icing). It’s easy to color, easy to flavor, and easy to work with. This sugar cookie icing will harden in 2-3 hours at room temperature (or even faster if you chill the cookies).
What’s the best way to ice sugar cookies?
There are some absolutely exquisite iced sugar cookies out there, and I don’t even pretend that I can compete in that category. My piping skills tap out at frosting a cupcake. I typically just spread icing on my sugar cookies using a popsicle stick (since I’m an adult now, I really should invest in a proper icing spatula). You could most definitely pipe this frosting on if that’s your (piping) bag, but I’ll stick to my lazy girl popsicle stick method for now, thank you very much. I normally make my frosting thick enough that it will stay on top of the cookie, but still thin enough that it will self-settle and dry with a smooth, bump-free top. It’s really the fool-proof way to frost cookies. If you’re decorating with kids (or, ahem, inebriated adults—it makes a fun holiday party activity), squeeze bottles are the way to go!
You can also dip your sugar cookies in the icing. Just make the icing thin enough to be dippable, then grab a cookie and barely dip the top in a bowl of the icing. Make sure to do this over parchment paper or wax paper—it gets messy!
Can I make sugar cookie icing without corn syrup?
You can make this same sugar cookie icing with honey, but it does not dry to the same soft-but-stackable texture—it stays pretty soft. I keep a bottle of corn syrup in my pantry for this recipe, and this recipe alone!
How do you store iced sugar cookies?
Once the frosting has hardened, I stack them between layers of parchment paper in a glass food storage container and leave them on the counter for up to a week.
Can you freeze cut-out sugar cookies? What about the dough?
Yes, you can absolutely freeze both baked (un-iced) sugar cookies and the dough! Here’s how:
- To freeze the dough: Form into discs, and then wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Place the wrapped disc in a freezer-safe glass food storage container or zip-top freezer bag. Freeze for up to a year.
- To freeze the uniced baked cookies: Lay cooled cookies flat on a baking sheet, and freeze until solid—about 3 hours. Then transfer to a freezer-safe glass food storage container or zip-top freezer bag for up to three months.
This recipe makes A LOT of cookies, so I tend to always have both baked sugar cookies and raw dough in my freezer. In fact, my recommendation if you want fewer cookies is to go ahead and make the whole recipe, divide it into four discs as the recipe calls for, and then freeze the discs. One disc of dough is the perfect amount for one “batch” of sugar cookies—about 1-2 dozen. It’s the just-right amount if you just get the hankering to decorate some perfect cut-out sugar cookies, but don’t want to devote hours and hours and hours.
I usually make up a full-sized batch of this dough twice a year—once at Christmas, and I use it all for cookie trays for friends and neighbors, and then again for Valentine’s Day or Easter, but I freeze three of the discs. Then I pull them out again throughout the year at other holidays. Just let the disc defrost on the counter until it’s not hard anymore, and still a little cool. Then flour your work surface and roll out as normal. They always bake up and taste just as great as the fresh version does.
Why can’t you freeze iced sugar cookies?
I’ve tried it before, and while the taste is fine, this particular icing recipe tends to crack and lose its luster in the freezer. Our sugar cookie icing recipe is so easy to mix up, it will take you no time to frost them once they are out of the freezer!
Cassie’s protips for PERFECT cut-out iced sugar cookies:
- Don’t overbake. In fact, until you know how your oven operates with this recipe, I recommend watching them at the oven window. They could be done in as little as five minutes!
- Sugar cookies are done when they are just BARELY brown and set up. You’re not looking for “golden brown” here. You’re looking for very slight color along the edges.
- Let the cookies cool completely before icing. If not, the icing will run everywhere.
- Thicker icing is easier to work with. Start with thicker icing at first, and then thin it out if needed.