These thick, soft, bakery-style Cut Out Sugar Cookies are a fun and festive addition to your Christmas cookie tray! Every mom (or grandma) should have an easy sugar cookie recipe that she can whip up in minutes with just a handful of simple ingredients. This is truly the best sugar cookie recipe ever! Cut out a batch and have fun decorating these sweet treats with your loved ones!
The Best Sugar Cookie Recipe
For years, I searched for an easy sugar cookie recipe that would yield perfectly thick, soft cut-out cookies that don't spread in the oven. Ultimately, I adapted a recipe that I found in Country Woman magazine to create these bakery-style treats that are absolutely the best! They're easy to make ahead, they're perfect for sharing with friends and neighbors, and they're a kid-friendly treat that always delivers loads of holiday cheer. My boys love decorating these fun holiday shapes, largely because they're a vehicle to pile-on as much icing, sprinkles and candy as possible. The classic sugar cookie recipe is a holiday tradition that you'll want to save and enjoy for years to come!
Are sugar cookies supposed to be soft?
While some folks might prefer thin, crispy sugar cookies, we think that a perfect sugar cookie recipe should be firm enough to hold its shape without spreading in the oven, but also soft and supple with a tender crumb. When you sink your teeth into these cookies, you get a bit of chewy resistance and a flavorful explosion of butter, vanilla and a hint of almond extract.
What thickness should sugar cookies be?
Thick, soft sugar cookies are the ultimate bakery-style treat! To ensure a thick, puffy and soft baked cookie, you'll roll the dough to ¼-inch thickness. This is thicker than many cut-out cookie recipes, but it's the best way to achieve that ideal texture.
How to Keep Sugar Cookies from Spreading in the Oven
Here are a few of my best tips to prevent the cookies from spreading:
- Roll First, Then Chill. I learned this process from America's Test Kitchen, and it's genius! Roll out the cookie dough before chilling, while it's still soft. After the discs of dough have hardened and chilled, you can cut out the cookie shapes and bake them immediately. Rolling the soft dough is much easier than rolling a hard ball of chilled dough, and the cookies go into the oven while they're still very cold and firm (thus preventing spreading).
- Chill the dough. It's very important that you chill the rolled dough for at least 1-2 hours before cutting. If you re-roll the scraps and cut out additional cookies, chill again just before baking to make sure that the dough is nice and cool.
- Room Temperature Butter. If your butter is too warm, the dough will be sticky and difficult to roll. Leave your butter out overnight to make sure that it's right at room temperature before making your dough.
- Enough flour. The total amount of flour required for this dough can vary (often by the humidity in the house, the season, and the way that you scoop and measure the flour). If you don't have enough flour in your dough, the cookies are more likely to spread. While rolling, add small amounts of additional flour, as necessary, to make sure that your dough doesn't stick to your hands, parchment paper, or rolling pin.
- Don't Overmix. Whipping the wet ingredients too much or overmixing can add excessive air to the dough, causing the cookies to collapse and spread in the oven.
- Cool Baking Sheets. Never place cookie dough on warm baking sheets.
How to Make Cut Out Sugar Cookies from Scratch
This easy and delicious cookie dough comes together in just minutes! You'll need to be patient while it chills in the fridge, but the end result is well worth the wait…
- All-purpose flour
- Baking powder
- Granulated sugar
- Vanilla extract
- Almond extract
Step 1: Mix Dough
Cream together the butter and sugar; add the eggs, vanilla and almond extract; and finally mix in the dry ingredients until a soft dough forms. The texture of the dough is very similar to Play-doh!
Step 2: Roll Out
Divide the dough into 2 equal portions. Place each portion on a piece of lightly floured parchment paper or on a silicone mat. Roll to ¼-inch thickness.
Step 3: Chill
Stack the discs of dough on a baking sheet (separated by parchment), cover tightly with plastic wrap, and chill for at least 1 hour (or until firm).
Step 4: Cut Out Cookie Shapes
Once the discs of rolled out dough are nice and cold, use your favorite cookie cutters to create the desired shapes. Transfer the shapes onto lined baking sheets.
Step 5: Bake
Bake in a 375 degree F oven for 8-10 minutes. The cookies are done when the edges are just starting to brown, but they're still fairly soft in the center. They will firm up as they cool, so be careful not to overbake them or the cookies will become hard. Cool completely before decorating.
How to Decorate Sugar Cookies
Frosted sugar cookies are the sweetest holiday treat! Set out an array of decorations and let your kids get busy. There's no right or wrong way to do this! I've included a simple recipe for a great cookie icing, but you can also use frosting, store-bought tubes of icing, or a simple dusting of colored sugar or sprinkles. Outline the cookies with white icing or fill in the entire cookie for maximum sweetness -- whatever you prefer.
Sugar Cookies Icing
This basic cookie icing is just a classic combination of confectioners' sugar, milk, vanilla extract and corn syrup (for shine). It typically firms up in about 30 minutes, but may take up to a few hours to set if you lay it on thick. Leave the icing white, or divide it between smaller bowls and tint it with food coloring. For detailed designs, place the icing in piping bags or Ziploc plastic bags (and snip off one corner).
More Fun Decorations
- Red, white and green sprinkles are always an easy, festive touch and will stick nicely to your icing before it sets.
- Red hot cinnamon candies make great buttons, ornaments, holly berries, or reindeer noses.
- Mini chocolate chips create perfect little eyeballs on reindeer, Santa shapes, or gingerbread men.
- Candy eyeballs are also a cute way to create a face.
When to Add Sprinkles
There are two ways to get sprinkles or colored decorating sugar to adhere to the cookies. If you're icing the cookies, add the sprinkles or sugar while the icing is still wet. The icing will set and the sprinkles will be stuck to the cookie. If you're not planning to frost the cookies, add the sugar or sprinkles to the cut-out cookie dough before baking (pressing gently to help the sprinkles adhere). The sugar will bake into the tops of the cookies and will stick when cooled.
Store the cut out sugar cookies in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week.
Prepare the dough up to 1 day ahead, roll out the discs, and chill in the refrigerator overnight. Alternatively, you can freeze the dough discs for up to 1 month. Thaw the dough in the refrigerator overnight and then proceed with cutting and baking.
To bake the cookies in advance, allow them to cool completely, wrap tightly, and freeze for up to 2 months. Thaw on the counter at room temperature before decorating.
Can you freeze frosted sugar cookies?
Yes, you can freeze the cookies after icing and decorating, too. Be aware, though, that the quality of the icing or decorations may not be quite as good when thawed. It can run, thin, or get smooshed.
Set out a tray of cut out sugar cookies and offer a warm mug of hot cocoa, mulled cider, eggnog, or tea on the side. It's the ultimate cozy fireside treat!
Tips for the Best Frosted Sugar Cookies
- Almond Extract. I have a friend who is a professional sugar cookie baker. She decorates the most intricate, beautiful, personalized cookies and sells them for weddings, holidays, birthday parties, and more. Kelly adds a good amount of almond extract to her cookie dough and it gives them such a delicious, unique flavor -- so I borrowed that idea! I like ½ teaspoon in this recipe, but you can cut it back to ¼ teaspoon if you prefer a more subtle taste. You can also omit the almond extract altogether and substitute with additional vanilla extract.
- Keep the dough cold to prevent the cookies from spreading in the oven. Chill for at least 1 hour before cutting and baking, and then if you re-roll the scraps, chill again in the freezer or fridge for about 10 more minutes before baking.
- Don't overbake the cookies. Watch for the cookies' edges to just start to turn a slightly darker color. The insides of the cookies should still be soft when they come out of the oven. They will firm up as they cool, resulting in that great soft texture that we're looking for. Overbaking the cookies will yield dry, hard or crunchy cookies.
- Easy Decorating. I've provided a simple powdered sugar icing recipe that you can use for decorating the cookies; however, you can substitute with any cookie frosting or icing that you like. For more intricate designs, try a royal icing. If you want a thicker, richer frosting (but not as much detail in your designs), try a vanilla buttercream frosting. And for a convenient shortcut that's easy for the kids to use, I like the different colored tubes of Betty Crocker Cookie Icing that you can purchase in the baking aisle at the grocery store.
More Christmas Cookies You'll Love
- Soft and Chewy Gingerbread Man Cookies
- Peanut Butter Blossoms
- Russian Tea Cakes (Snowball Cookies)
- Magic Cookie Bars (Hello Dolly Bars)
- Soft and Chewy Snickerdoodles
Soft Cut-Out Sugar Cookies
- 2 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¾ cup salted butter, softened at room temperature
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 2 large eggs, at room temperature
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ½ teaspoon almond extract (or reduce to ¼ teaspoon for a more subtle flavor)
- 3 cups powdered sugar, sifted
- 3-4 tablespoons milk
- 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- Gel food coloring, optional
- Whisk together flour, baking powder and salt in a large bowl. Set aside.
- In a separate large bowl, use an electric mixer to cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing to combine. Add vanilla extract and almond extract; mix until incorporated.
- Gradually add the flour mixture to the butter mixture; mix on low until a soft dough forms.
- Divide the dough into 2 equal portions. Place each portion on a piece of lightly-floured parchment paper or a lightly-floured silicone mat. With a lightly-floured rolling pin, roll the dough to about ¼ -inch thickness. Use more flour if the dough seems sticky.
- Lightly dust the top of the dough with flour, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 1-2 hours (or overnight).
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line 2-3 large baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats.
- Carefully remove one portion of the dough from the refrigerator. Use cookie cutters to cut the dough into desired shapes. Arrange the shapes about 2-3 inches apart on the prepared baking sheets.
- You can re-roll the dough scraps to cut out additional cookies, but you will need to chill the cut-out dough on the baking sheets in the fridge or freezer for at least 10 minutes before baking. This will give the dough a chance to firm up again so that the cookies don’t spread in the oven.
- Bake for 8-10 minutes, or just until lightly browned. Allow cookies to cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely before decorating.
To Prepare Icing (Optional):
- Combine confectioners sugar, 2 tablespoons of milk, corn syrup, and vanilla extract in a medium-sized bowl and stir until combined. If icing is too thick, add more milk, about a teaspoon at a time, until the icing is thick but spreadable. If it’s too thin, gradually add more powdered sugar until it reaches the desired consistency. Use gel food coloring to tint the frosting, if desired. Pipe or spread onto the cooled cookies and then allow the icing to firm up and set before packaging (this may take a couple of hours).