The Best Cut Out Sugar Cookies (Plus, 5 Tips for Better Cookie Baking!)
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The best cut out sugar cookies! My sugar cookie recipe uses simple ingredients and is so easy to make! Perfect buttery cookies with soft and chewy centers. Decorate them with royal icing or my easy sugar cookie frosting recipe. You can bake the cookies the same day, refrigerate the dough a couple of days in advance or freeze the dough as well!
We polished off 50 sugar cookies in like, 3 days.
I’m still deciding if I’m more embarrassed or amused by that fact. But when you have cut out sugar cookies with buttery, delicious rims, soft centers, and a quick, fuss-free sugar cookie frosting all put together, it’s easy to lose count of how many cookies you’ve consumed in a day.
If you’re skeptical that the sugar cookie will hold up in the oven if you’re using a particularly ridge heavy cookie cutter, the answer is, it will. I’m sharing my number 1 tip to make sure your sugar cookies retain their shape so that your Santa cookie doesn’t look like he ate 50 of my cookies when he comes out of the oven.
Also, these sugar cookies are just the right amount of sweetness. I hate when frosted sugar cookies are so cloyingly sweet that you can’t fathom having more than two bites. I may even love these sugar cookies more than my chocolate chip ones, and if you know anything about me, it’s probably the fact that it took me 10 years to get that one perfect. Anees disagrees.
He still prefers the chocolate chip ones.
Ingredients for the best homemade cut out sugar cookies:
- Softened butter: Butter’s first responsibility is to add flavor to the cookie. It’s crucial for a sugar cookie recipe that the butter be softened to room temperature. I also prefer to use salted butter for my sugar cookie recipe. If you don’t have salted butter on hand, you’ll want to add about 1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt in when you add the flour. We’ll cream the sugar and butter together to create air in the cookie naturally and give it a lighter, cake-like texture.
- Granulated sugar: the sugar gives the cookies a slight crispness to the edges. I use a 1:1 ratio of softened butter and granulated sugar for my sugar cookie recipe.
- An egg: eggs add structure to baked goods
- Extracts: I am using both vanilla and almond extract for this recipe. I know that almond extract isn’t something that everyone likes, and to be honest, I wouldn’t say I liked it either until I discovered this almond extract.
- Baking powder: aids in giving these cookies the tiniest rise so that the cookies are slightly soft and chewy in the middle and not hard like a cracker.
- All-purpose flour: The all-purpose flour absorbs all the softened butter and will allow the cookie dough to hold its shape when the butter starts to heat through in the oven. The method I use when measuring flour for this recipe is the scoop and level method. I use a smaller scoop or measuring cup and gently fluff the flour. Then, I add flour to my measuring cup, using the small scoop (you can also use a tablespoon or a 1/4 cup measuring cup) until it’s heaping full. Finally, I run a knife across the top of the measuring cup without apply pressure on the knife. This method works best when baking cookies and cakes.
How to make the best cut out sugar cookies:
- It starts with the dough. Get the butter going in your stand mixer with the paddle attachment. Beat the butter and sugar together on high speed until pale and sandy – this incorporates air into the cookie dough. You’ll want to stop the mixer and scrape down the sides and bottom a couple of times throughout the cookie dough process. Then, add the egg and extracts. Again, you want to make sure that everything is mixed in well because you must work the dough as little as possible once the flour is added. Next, add the baking powder and let it incorporate. Finally, add the flour and mix until the flour is *almost* combined. At that point, you want to stop the mixer and use a rubber spatula to fold the last little bit of flour. I find folding the very last little bit ensures that the cookies are tender.
- Roll it out before you refrigerate to make life easier. Now, dump the dough onto a clean work surface (I usually do this on a sheet of parchment paper.) Gather the dough into a ball and then flatten it into a disc. Place another parchment paper sheet on top and flatten the dough using a rolling pin into a thin sheet. Then, pop the entire parchment paper situation on a baking sheet and refrigerate the dough for 2 hours. This will save you time because now the dough is already flattened, and you can start cutting out shapes once chilled.
- Get things ready to bake – Preheat the oven. Be sure to use an oven thermometer to ensure your oven has preheated correctly! I like to bake only one tray of cookies at a time to maintain the optimum environment for cookie baking. Carefully remove the top sheet of parchment paper from the dough and cut out your chosen shapes using a cookie cutter. Place the cutout cookies 1 ½ inch apart on the baking sheet and when the sheet is filled up, place in the freezer to harden the cookie dough, about 10-15 minutes. Fill up the second cookie sheet with the remaining dough. Then, pop one baking sheet in the oven and allow the cookies to bake for 9-13 minutes. It’ll take 9-11 minutes for a 2 ½ inch cookie and about 11-13 minutes for a cookie that is 3 inches in diameter. Then allow the cookies to cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes. Move to a wire rack to cool completely. Frost the cookies once they are completely cooled.
The easiest sugar cookie frosting:
My sugar cookie frosting makes just enough for 1 batch of cookies.
- Start by whipping the softened butter in a bowl until pale and fluffy. Add the extracts (almond and vanilla) and milk and continue to beat until combined.
- Then add the powdered sugar with the mixer on the stir setting. If the frosting is too stiff, add 1 teaspoon of milk at a time until it comes together. But be careful not to add too much; you want it to be thick enough to pipe or smooth on with an offset spatula!
5 Mistakes to avoid when baking cut out sugar cookies:
- Don’t rush the softening of butter. You want to make sure your butter comes to room temperature. I store mine in the freezer and find that it takes at least 4-5 hours to bring it to room temperature in the cooler months. I pull it out first thing in the morning and make the cookie dough well after lunch. To check if your butter is softened, let it stand at room temperature for 1 hour (if you store it in the refrigerator.) Gently press the butter. If you feel a lot of resistance, the butter needs to sit at room temperature a little longer. Unwrap the butter stick, cut the butter into tablespoons and allow it to sit for another 20-30 minutes. Keep in mind the butter is ready to go when it’s soft but still cold, about 70ºF.
- Don’t overwork the dough. If you are mixing the cookie dough until all the flour is incorporated, you might be overworking the dough. Instead, consider mixing the dough in the machine just until *most* of the flour is incorporated. Then, switch to a rubber spatula and give the cookie dough just enough turns until the flour pockets are gone. The less you work the dough, the more tender your cookies will be!
- Give the dough adequate time to chill out. To make the best sugar cookies, you have to let the dough chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours before cutting out shapes. I like to roll it out immediately after I’ve prepared the dough. Since the ingredients are room temperature, it doesn’t require as much elbow grease, and it increases the surface area on the dough so it chills much faster than if the dough were in a disc. This also means you can skip one round of additional chilling. Once you cut out the cookies, I pop them on a parchment-lined baking sheet and place the baking sheet in the freezer for at least 15 minutes. With both a cold cookie sheet and dough, I find that they retain their shape so well in the oven.
- Roll the dough to the perfect thickness. You want to make sure that your cookie dough is rolled out evenly to ensure that all the cookies have uniformity. For this reason, I suggest using this rolling pin. It is a lifesaver! It will take all the guesswork out of rolling the dough!
- Pull the cookies out of the oven before they get that golden brown edge. I know this is counter-intuitive as you usually bake cookies until they visibly look darker. But when you’re making sugar cookies, the key is to pull them out of the oven before they develop that deep golden hue. We’ll allow the cookies to cool on the cooking sheet (which will continue to cook them a bit further) once we pull them out of the oven. Then move them to a wire rack to let them cool completely before attempting to ice or frost them.
Cookie baking staples:
- Stand mixer
- Almond Extract
- Vanilla Extract
- Parchment paper
- Rolling Pin
- Oven thermometer
- Baking sheet
- Wire cooling rack
- Piping bags and nozzle set
- Sprinkle Set – the white sparkling sugar you see on the cookies! I also used gold and silver on some of the remaining cookies.
If you like this cut out sugar cookie recipe, you might also like:
- Extra Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies
- Easy Maple Pecan Shortbread Cookies (Pecan Sandies)
- Twix Cookies
- Raspberry Almond Linzer Cookies
- Loaded Dark Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies
- Apricot Raspberry Thumbprint Cookies
- ¾ cup (12 tablespoons) salted butter, softened to room temperature
- ¾ cup granulated sugar
- 1 large egg, room temperature
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- ¼ - ½ teaspoon almond extract (optional, use less if you aren’t a huge fan)
- ¾ teaspoon baking powder
- 2 ⅓ cups all-purpose flour, plus more (spoon and level method)
- 3 tablespoons softened salted butter
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- ⅛ teaspoon almond extract (up to ½ teaspoon if you like almond extract!)
- 2 tablespoon milk (plus more)
- 2 ¼ cups powdered sugar
- DOUGH: In a large bowl using a hand mixer or a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar together on high speed until pale and sandy, 5 minutes. You’ll need to stop the mixer and scrape down the sides and bottom about halfway through so the butter and sugar combine thoroughly. Add the egg, vanilla, and almond extract, and beat on high speed until combined; 90 seconds. Add the baking powder, give the mixer 15 seconds to combine, then add the flour on low until the flour is *almost* combined. Dough will be quite soft. Finish mixing the flour with a rubber spatula by hand. If the dough seems too sticky for rolling, add one additional tablespoon of flour.
- REFRIGERATE: Dump the dough out onto a clean sheet of parchment paper, cut to the size of your baking sheet. Sprinkle lightly with flour. Place another sheet of parchment paper on top, and roll the dough out between the two sheets of parchment into a ¼-inch thickness (see notes.) The dough should roughly be 13x18 (or the same size as a half sheet pan.) Transfer the parchment paper (with cookie dough on it and the sheet you have on top) to a baking sheet then refrigerate the entire thing for at least 1 ½-2 hours. You could also do this two days in advance, but I do suggest using plastic wrap on the entire sheet pan so that the dough doesn’t become dry and brittle.
- BAKE: Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F. Carefully move the parchment paper (with the dough) to the counter. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper. Remove the top parchment paper from the dough. Using a cookie cutter, cut the dough into desired shapes and arrange cutouts on baking sheets, 1 ½ inch apart. When the baking sheet is full, freeze for 15-20 minutes or until the cookies harden. Re-roll any remaining dough, with parchment paper on top, and continue cutting until all dough is used. Place the first frozen cookie sheet into the oven (while the second one is freezing) and bake cookies for 9-13 minutes for a cookie that is 2½ - 3 inches in diameter. Bake closer to 9 minutes if you prefer the cookies softer in the center like we do. Remove cookies before they start browning. Let them cool on baking sheet for 5-7 minutes then transfer to wire rack. Once cooled, the cookies can be frosted.
FROSTING (optional): Whip the softened butter in a bowl until pale and fluffy. Add vanilla, almond extract, and milk. Add the powdered sugar in and mix with a hand mixer on the lowest setting. Then, add 1 teaspoon of milk at a time until the frosting comes together but is still thick enough to pipe (if you're piping!) Spread frosting on cookies using an offset spatula or pipe using your favorite piping nozzle.
- Room temperature ingredients: It’s crucial that you use room temperature butter and egg for this recipe. If the butter is too soft, you’ll find that it makes the dough a lot stickier. In this case, you can add 1 additional tablespoon of flour to the cookie dough. Allow the dough to chill in the refrigerator for 15 minutes before attempting to roll (roll and then refrigerate for at least 2 hours if not a little longer.)
- When rolling: If the parchment is moving around when rolling the dough, wet a paper towel, squeeze to remove excess water, and rub the paper towel on the counter. Then place parchment paper on top and press down to ‘seal.’ This should keep the parchment in place so you can roll the dough out.
- Freezing: Check the post for detailed instructions for freezing the dough and baked cookies.
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