This will definitely be your new go-to cut out sugar cookie recipe! Why? Because they’re soft and tender, have a smooth texture that’s not gritty like other sugar cookies, and they still hold their shape when baked. Plus they’re super easy to make and so fun to decorate. I’ve also included recipe for both classic icing or spreadable buttercream so you can decorate however you like!
What makes these sugar cookies the BEST?
Have you ever bit into a sugar cookie and wished it wasn’t so tough or gritty? I know I’ve had my fair share of sugar cookies that LOOK pretty, but just don’t stack up to my taste standards. That’s why I made it my mission to create a sugar cookie that ticked both boxes – one that had that soft and smooth texture but still held its shape when baked.
These cookies DEFINITELY hit the mark. They’re sweet, but not overwhelming, and have a unique flavor that makes them simply irresistible. These cookies are made with both vanilla and almond extract. While vanilla is typical, the hint of sweet almond adds a unique flavor that works so well in these sugar cookies. It’s subtle, but you can definitely tell a difference when it’s not there.
The other secret to these cookies is the use of cream of tartar. Combined with baking soda, theses two react to bring you a sugar cookie that’s soft and tender. Cream of tartar is commonly used in snickerdoodle cookies for that exact reason. I mean have you ever had a snickerdoodle that wasn’t perfectly soft?
But in order to get that soft texture, the trade off is a very slight change in size when baked. The cookies will definitely still hold its intended shape and look completely recognizable, but they will grow just a touch. This is to make room for the tiny little air pockets inside that helps make these cookies so soft and delicious.
Tips for making sugar cookie dough
Sugar cookie dough is one of the easiest cookie doughs to make. It requires really basic ingredients and only a few steps. But there are also a couple things that can go wrong during the process. Follow these tips and your cookies will turn out perfect:
- Room temperature butter – It’s very important that the butter is at the right temperature. If it’s too cold, the dough will be too crumbly. If it’s too soft, the dough will be too sticky. To prevent this from happening, allow the butter to sit out at room temperature for about an hour before starting. But if you’re in a rush, you can also place the butter in the stand mixer and mix the butter on medium-high speed until it softens and smooths out. It may take about 10 minutes.
- Properly measure the flour – I say this in every post, and for good reason. It’s the number one reason why most recipes fail, especially for cookies. If there’s too much flour, the cookies will turn out dry and they will not spread. If you can, measure the flour with a food scale. Otherwise, to ensure you use the exact amount needed, gently spoon the flour into your measuring cup and level if off with a flat edge. If you scoop directly into the flour container, it packs it down into the cup which could leave you with 1/4 cup or more of added flour.
- Don’t get discouraged – If the final dough looks too crumbly straight from the mixer, don’t be alarmed! Use a rubber spatula to combine any bits of dry ingredients that may rest at the bottom of the bowl, and this step should bring the dough together.
The best way to prepare and cut out sugar cookie dough
Once the cookie dough is prepared, it is then separated into two halves. Each half is then rolled out on to two separate sheets of parchment paper. But make sure to keep this in mind:
LIGHTLY dust your surface – Each sheet should be lightly dusted with flour before rolling. Do not completely coat the entire sheet with flour as this will absorb into the dough. Only give it a light and even dust. And if the rolling pin starts to stick, very lightly dust the surface with flour. If you add too much, this flour will absorb into the cookie and possibly make them too dry and crumbly.
This is a unique step in this recipe because typically, the dough is chilled whole and then rolled out. But when the dough is fresh and soft, it is much easier to roll it out. It doesn’t crack around the edges which gives you more surface area to cut cookies from. It also cuts down on the chilling time. Since the dough is rolled out thin, it takes about half the amount of time to chill compared to fully formed dough.
The two sheets of cookie dough are also stacked on top of each other to help you save room in the refrigerator. But once chilled the dough should be stiff and firm, making it very easy to cut out your cookies.
When cutting out the cookies, I first like to run a large knife between the cookie dough and the sheet of parchment paper. This just ensures your cookies don’t stick when you try to lift them up off the paper. Once all the cookies are cut out, they are then placed on a small cookie tray. This is where they will complete their last and final chill in the refrigerator.
During the cutting process, the dough will start to warm up and soften. If the dough is too warm before baked, the cookies will spread too much. Chilling the cut cookies right before baking ensures they’re chilled firm, preventing them from spreading.
Can I chill the dough overnight?
Yes, once the dough is rolled out and wrapped, the dough can chill overnight. It can also chill for 2 days.
Can I chill the cut cookie dough overnight?
Yes, once you’ve cut out all the cookies, you can wrap your tray full of cut cookie dough and chill overnight.
Can I freeze the cookie dough?
If you choose to freeze it, I recommend cutting out the individual cookies and freezing those. They should then be tightly wrapped with plastic wrap or placed in a freezer safe bag. They can keep in the freezer for up to 1 month.
Tips for decorating sugar cookies
What I love most about this recipe is that you are given two decorating options: the classic and pipeable royal icing method or easy to spread buttercream. Each give you a delicious and gorgeous cookie, it all just depends on how much patience you have when decorating!
Royal icing requires some technique practice and bit of extra patience. It’s tedious, but the end result is a very professional looking cookie. With buttercream, you simply just spread it on and top with sprinkles. The only downside is that buttercream doesn’t set firm like royal icing, so they cannot be stacked when stored.
So whichever you choose, here are a few tips to help you create gorgeous sugar cookies:
- Look for the right consistency. The royal icing should be a tad bit thinner than the consistency of Elmer’s glue. But not too runny to where it will slide off the edges of the cookie. For the buttercream, it should be soft and spreadable but not too firm.
- When piping the royal icing, start with a border all around the shape of the cookie. When doing so, do not pipe right up against the edge. Since the icing is a bit thin, it will slowly push its way out towards the edges as the center is filled in. So as a rule of thumb, pipe the border about 1/8 of an inch in from the very edge.
- Once you’ve placed the border, fill in the center with random squiggly lines. Then use a toothpick to spread and push around the icing to completely fill in the center. Doing it this way prevents you from using too much icing. If you pipe in a thick layer, it will not dry firm.
- Always add the sprinkles right after you’ve decorated with the icing or buttercream. Otherwise, both will form a skin on the surface which will prevent the sprinkles from sticking.
- To get a full coating of sprinkles, add the sprinkles to a shallow does. Then, place the cookie face side down into the sprinkles and shake off the excess. This will completely fill your surface with sprinkles, giving it an effortlessly polished look.
What is the best food coloring to use?
If you choose to color your icing or buttercream, I highly recommend gel food coloring. One, it gives you the biggest color pay off and two, it will not disrupt the consistency of your icing or buttercream.
I use this small kit from Americolor and it has everything you need! The unsung hero of this bunch is the brown food coloring. If you want to tone down the vibrancy of your colors, dip a toothpick into the brown food coloring and add just a tiny bit to any of your colors. This will help neutralize any bright color.
What are the best sprinkles to use for sugar cookies?
There is no wrong answer here, but I recommend a variety of colors, shapes, and sizes. If you’re completley starting form scratch, here is a list of sprinkles to use that work very well together:
- Crystal sugar sprinkles – I recommend grabbing white/clear, red, green, silver, or gold.
- Nonpareils – White nonpareils are my absolute favorite sprinkle because they make any cookie look simple but beautiful. I also like a variety mix of different holiday or rainbow colors.
- Pre-mixed – These often come in small packets but contain a variety of sprinkles in all shapes and sizes. Each are coordinated to create a beautiful mix that make your cookies look fancy and gourmet.
All of the sprinkles I use come from Wilton Cakes. They offer a wide variety and are easy to access online, or in grocery or craft stores. But the beauty of decorating cookies is that it’s totally up to you and your creativity!
For more Holiday cookie recipes, check out my:
- Butter Pecan Chocolate Chip Cookies
- Soft Molasses Cookies
- Brown Butter & Maple Pumpkin Cookies
- Soft & Chewy Sugar Cookies
Make sure to tag me @butternutbakery on Instagram and comment below if you make these Sugar Cookies. To pin this recipe and save it for later, you can use the button on the recipe card or on any of the photos above. Happy baking!