Sugar Cookies

Two tried-and-true, fabulous sugar cookie recipes. Old fashioned, easy to make buttery cookies, perfect to decorate for any occasion. Photos and step-by-step instructions.

Ingredients

Sugar Cookie Recipe number one

Cookies:

  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup soft butter
  • 1 egg, slightly beaten
  • 3 tbsp cream
  • 1 tsp vanilla (can substitute almond extract)

    Icing

    • 1/3 cup Crisco (transfat-free) or a 1/3 cup of softened butter
    • 1 pound of confectioners sugar
    • About 1/4 cup of milk
    • 1 teaspoon of vanilla

Method

1 Sift dry ingredients, cut in butter and add other ingredients. Blend thoroughly; chill for several hours.

2 Break off a piece of dough the size of an orange and pat it flat in your hand. Using a rolling pin, roll on dough on floured board (best to use a 2/1 ration of flour/sugar - 4 Tbsp flour mixed with 2 Tbsp sugar) or between wax paper. (It helps if you flour both sides of the dought.) Roll out to about a 1/4 inch thickness. Cut out and put on silpat-lined or ungreased cookie sheet. Bake 5-8 minutes at 400 F. Remove the cookies from the oven as soon as you see them turning color at the base of the cookie. Let cool completely.

3 Mix icing ingredients together until smooth. Separate into different bowls, add food coloring to achieve various colors. Spread on cookies with a butter knife, use cake decorating piping equipment to add decorative accents. If you want the sprinkle type decorating candies to stick, brush the cookie with clear Karo syrup and then sprinkle.

Makes 5 dozen cookies.

sa-undecorated_cookies.jpg
Undecorated cookies

SA-Work_in_Progress_ii.jpg
The icing begins

SA-Karo_Sprinkle_illustrati.jpg
Using sprinkles

sugar cookies
The finished product.

Adapted from the recipe for Old Fashioned Sugar Cookies, Huntsville Heritage Cookbook, 1967, The Junior League of Huntsville, AL, Lowry Printing, Inc.


Sugar Cookie Recipe number 2

sugar-cookie-web.jpg

Cookie:

  • 1 1/2 cups sifted confectioners sugar
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 2 1/2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon cream of tartar

Icing:

  • 2 cups confectioners sugar, sifted
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • Food coloring

1 Beat the butter and sugar together for 1 minute. Add egg, vanilla and almond extract, beat until incorporated. Combine dry ingredients and add to batter, stirring to blend.

2 Divide dough in half, form 2 balls. Wrap and refrigerate for at least 3 hours.

3 Using a rolling pin, roll out dough (about 1/2 of one dough ball at a time) on a lightly floured surface to about 1/8" thickness. Dip cookie cutters into flour; cut out shapes. Place cookies on silpat lined or lightly greased cookie sheets. Bake at 375°F for 7-8 minutes.

4 To make icing, combine sugar, almond extract and just enough milk (about 1/4 cup) to make the frosting the consistency of thin glue. Pour icing into shallow bowls wide enough for dipping cookies. Add food coloring.

5 To decorate, dip the topside of each cookie into the icing. Remove quickly and let icing drip of excess back into the icing bowl. Let dry. Pour additional colored frosting into pastry piping, or use a plastic sandwich bag with the tip of one corner nicked off. Gently squeeze frosting on to cookies in whatever patterns you choose.

Makes 2-3 dozen.

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Comments

  1. Pamela

    Did you have a preference for one cookie over another? I ask because I’ve yet to find a sugar cookie recipe that delivers everything I want in terms of taste/texture. The recipe details matter much less to me than the finished product.

    I’d love to hear your opinion of the experiment!

    Pamela

  2. SAS

    Pamela, I’m the person who offered the first recipe from the Huntsville Heritage cookbook. We’ve done both in my family, and we far prefer the first one. However, I substitute almond extract for the vanilla (a tip I learned from the second recipe) but that’s a matter of personal taste.

    Enjoy!

  3. Chris

    Just wondering if either of them are soft cookies. I’m not fond of the really hard crunchy cookies, and I’ve been looking for a great cooking with a slightly crunchy edge and a softer center.

  4. Anonymous

    Chris,
    The second recipe is almost exactly like the recipe my family has been using for years. It may be the exact recipe, but I don’t have it in front of me to compare with. Cooking for 7-8 minutes (until there is just a hint of golden brown at the edges) will result in a light cookie that is soft in the middle but firm enough to pick up without falling apart. If you let it cook too long it gets a little crunchy. These are the best and I’ve made them every Christmas for as long as I can remember.

  5. elyse

    Not to steal the show from these lovely cookies, but I have been using this recipe: http://www.johnandkristie.com/archives/2005/10/perfect_sugar_c.html

    They’re vegan, for anyone who cares; I just use regular cream cheese, etc. The dough is really thick, but they’re the best. If you bake them just a bit less they turn out nice and soft, and the icing is soft but it dries over so the cookies can stack. These are perfect for a cookie-decorating party (which I did :)).

    I’m definitely going to try these recipes, though!

    elyse

  6. Julie

    For those of you who may not know…if your cookies are too crispy for you, or they have dried out, you can put a piece of plain sandwich bread in the container with them over night (or until they are gone) and they will get soft again. My Mimi (grandmother) taught me this.

  7. Cecilia

    I am looking for a sugar cookie recipe an old German lady made who was actually from England. They were basically sugar and butter, not much flour if any. The texture was very sugary and rich butter taste. Anyone have something like this?? Doing a church cookbook and I remember these from childhood.

  8. Sassy J

    I just made the first cookie recipe and the second icing recipe for Halloween–delicious! The second icing recipe is great for sprinkles to stick–and other candies, etc. It’s fun to drip green and yellow over a pumpkin, cat, ghost, etc. cutout–because the icing slips and slides–making them spooky.

  9. Laura

    I used the first sugar cookie recipe and the cookies were awesome. I made them for my daughters preschool class and everyone said they were the best they ever had. My daughter and I made them together, we had so much fun. Thanks for the recipe, it was delicious and simple to make.

  10. James

    I always make cookies t christmas your first recipe looks absolutely lovely especially once decorated they look much better than mine usually do. Merry Christmas.

  11. lydia

    Holiday greetings to you and Steve-Anna! I’ve just (finally) posted photos on my web site from a holiday cookie event called Drop In and Decorate. We use a basic sugar cookie recipe (available on the web site) with Royal Icing. You might get a kick out of our style:
    http://www.ninecooks.com/dropin.html

    I do like the idea of almond extract. That’s a nice twist.

  12. drew

    Your cookies look so fancy and marvelous! I made a batch of very similar sugar cookies to your second recipe this past weekend, with a slight variant. I used peppermint extract in place of the almond extract, and then sprinkled crushed candycanes over the top. No icing, just melted peppermint candies. Very neat little trick! Next batch I make, I’m going to try your first recipe!

    Long time reader, first time poster. Keep up the excellent work, and I hope you are fully recovered from your recent illness.

  13. Carol Bink

    How do you transfer the cutout cookies to the baking sheet? I have had lots of difficulty in this step, just distorting the cutouts beyond recognition. I have not been able to find any instructions for this.

  14. Abby

    I used your sugar-cookie icing recipe (the second one) over the weekend and it worked out perfectly. Thanks so much! Merry Christmas!

  15. Anna

    Hello Carol,
    I like to chill my rolled out dough before using the cookie cutter, that a way they are not too soft to pick up. Sometimes the cookie get stuck on the cutter so I just use my hand to gentley transfer them.

  16. LaDawn

    Hey cookie bakers-I have a tip for ya’ll. I am a volunteer for our local Home Hospice and bake a lot of cookies for patients and families. I make up 8-10 batches of cookie dough at a time for future use. I put each batch of dough in a large zipper bag and roll it out in the bag. As I roll the dough from side to side and back to front all the air is expelled resulting in an air tight seal. Also these rolled out bags stack nicely in the freezer. I have found out that the dough stays plyable when taken from the freezer and easy to remove and roll out for cut out cookies. Just “food for thought”

  17. C

    I made these these weekend – the first recipe for the cookie and the frosting – and they got RAVE reviews! Thanks, Elise and Steve-Anna!

  18. Robin

    Hi there,
    I am interested in trying your first recipe. For the cream, do I just use whipping cream?

    Note from Elise: Yes, whipping cream is what we use.

  19. Nikki

    I made the first sugar cookie recipe, followed the instructions to a “T” and am sad to report they were a huge disappointment. If I were to make these again, it would require a tremendous amount of tweaking. Still on the hunt for the Best Sugar Cookies…

  20. maybelle

    I was searching for a recipe just like my mother in laws for a long time and your second recipe did the trick I’m in cookie heaven now I will definitely use it again thank you so much for displaying it. I ran out of almond extract for the icing didn’t have vanilla so left it out. Next time i will try it with the almond.

  21. Lisa S.

    My neighbor and I made the first recipe for her tree-trimming party and they were a huge hit. Probably one of the better sugar cookies I’ve ever had too. It took about 2 hours to decorate 30 cookies – the table was covered in icing bags (ok, plain old sandwich bags with the tip of a corner cut off) and sprinkles and chocolate and vanilla chips, but it was fun. I used half vanilla and half almond extract and I think that made them a bit tastier. They were perfectly crisp on the edges and kinds soft in the middle as they are supposed to be. But I think if you intend to truly decorate them with colored icings, you should double the icing recipe – we used some cake frosting I had in the refrigerator as a base and decorated on that.

  22. trish

    How do you keep the cookies from losing their shape
    even though I make them super thin? Is it better to use a dark color or light color cookie sheet?

  23. Cynthia

    I made these cookies (recipe 1) this week for my son’s class. We made the dough one night and I left it in the fridge over night. The following night we baked them, but when I took the dough out it was rock hard. I had just started preheating the oven so I put the bowl with the dough in there for a few minutes until I was able to break off a piece, then I worked it in my hand. Did I do something wrong? Did I leave it in the fridge too long? In the end though they are delicious and everyone liked them.

    I don’t know about you, but some parts of my refrigerator are colder than others. In fact, there is this one corner that is so close to freezing, sometimes things do get partially frozen back there. What you are describing sounds like your dough just got a little too cold. Letting it sit at room temperature for 10-15 minutes probably would have done the trick to warm it up enough to handle. ~Elise

  24. k

    I don’t know if anyone asked this already. But do the cookies need to be refrigerated since they have milk in the frosting? I would like to make some to give to friends, some might have to be shipped…
    Thanks!

    No, they do not need to be refrigerated. They should be kept in an airtight container though. ~Elise

  25. Hannah

    Yes, the cookies can be frozen *without* icing. Remove them from the freezer and let thaw completely. Then ice as usual and they turn out great.

    I usually always layer the cookies between sheets of waxed paper when freezing.

  26. Jessica

    I am cooking the first recipe and had a question regarding the procedure. In the instructions it says to cut in the butter. Should I use a pastry blender or my hands?
    Should the mixture be pea sized or smaller when I complete this step? I usually see this in biscuit, or pie crust recipes but this will be a first for a cookie recipe that I have made. I will be anxious to see the results.

    Good question – you can handle it a number of ways. A pastry blender is fine, and so is working with your hands if you don’t have one (although that’s the messiest option!). You can also use a dough blade on a food processor, or, you can put the dough in a large ziplock bag and knead it inside the bag. Just be sure to get it thoroughly blended, whichever method you use! ~Steve-Anna

  27. ashley

    In the first recipe, can I use buttermilk instead of cream?

    I have no idea how that would turn out. If you try it, please let us know. ~Elise

  28. Jenifer

    Aweful! I made the 1st first recipe. The dough was so dry and crumbly. I had to add some milk to actually roll the dough. The cookies don’t have a very buttery flavor and they were still very dry.

    I read the recipe over six or seven times b/c I thought for sure I had left something out. I don’t understand, especially after all of the great reviews :( I’m going to try the 2nd recipe next time. Otherwise, pillsbury mix for me.

  29. Coleen

    The 2nd recipe is my favorite. I lost my mom’s receipe, and she wasn’t home today to give it to me again. I went on line and found this same recipe. The main difference to this recipe is the cream of tartar. Be sure you don’t increase the tartar on your own as it will make the cookies over powering with tartar taste. Follow recipe to the “T” and you will be pleased for sure. Cookie monsters will clean the platter!! I try to not decorate with ugly yellow, blues, greens, and just stay with white icing, and use sprinkles and colored sugars for the hints of color. And, be sure to roll out the dough not too thin or it will be hard to decorate, and if too thick it will not do the actual cookie recipe justice!! On your first sheet of cookies to bake, watch closely to the time it takes to bake your cookies, and bake all the rest of the cookie cut-outs at the same amount of minutes to keep the entire batch consistent, and professional looking. This is a cookie that I have to make in order for Christmas to be complete at my house……

    Merry Christmas Cookie baking everyone!!
    Pray for peace, and prosperity around the world.

  30. Kelly Geddes

    These cookies are yummy!! i made these about 100 of them and they went down a treat. My decorative skills are better on walls than baked goods but i gave it a go and was pleased. Well worth a try!!!
    Once i uplod my pictures i’ll let you see..

  31. Kim

    I love making sugar cookies all year round and decorate according to the season :-). I sometimes use Martha’s recipe which does produce a softer cookie. It is not really buttery or sweet on it’s own but I find that once it icing is on it’s perfect. I also prefer ‘royal icing’ style of icing, I find it’s easier to decorate with. Fun!

  32. tastyeatsathome

    Thank you for sharing! I made the first recipe, substituting almond extract for the vanilla, and they came out wonderfully!

  33. ardismom

    A few tips for these cookies. When rolling out your dough…add a little sugar to the flour and it really helps when rolling out. Also, if your dough seems dry just keep adding cream to it and it will help. These are great cookies.

  34. Janet Thompson

    The dough was tricky because if it got too warm the cookies did not keep their shape. Good tasting cookies but not for the first time cut out cookie maker. Dough 2

  35. Felicia Thompson

    I made the first recipe, and my cookies came out a bit too tart…the recipe called for 3 tbsp. of cream, was I suppose to use 3 tbsp. of cream of tarter, or of dairy cream? Could there have possibly been a mistake in how much cream I used? Please help! I’m disappointed, because I just wasted dough for 5 dozen cookies. Is there anyway I can salvage the leftover cookie dough that I froze?

    The recipe calls for cream, as in whipping cream or heavy cream, not cream of tartar. I have no idea why your cookies came out tart. Was your cream fresh? Was it real cream or some cream substitute? Is your flour new or old? Did you use 1 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder as called for in the recipe, or tablespoons? If something tastes off in the result, it is likely because one or more of the ingredients was off on the way in. If it doesn’t taste good, there is likely no way to save it. ~Elise

  36. Felicia Thompson

    Thank you sooooooooo much Elise for responding! I used 3 tbsp. of CREAM OF TARTAR, instead of whipping cream; I guess I was looking at the second recipe and assumed the first recipe called for cream of tartar, too! I feel like such an idiot! LOL! Thanks again!

  37. Jamie

    I just made a batch of the first recipe. I sifted the dry ingredients together, put them into my stand mixer, added the butter and other ingredients, and it came out really crumbly – i.e. wouldn’t stick together. I am very new to the baking world … what did I do wrong?

    Not all cup measures are the same, which might be throwing things off a bit. Just add a little more cream until the dough comes together. ~Elise

  38. JennyM

    Beautiful decorating. Definitely not in my skillset! As for the eating part, I prefer the second recipe as cream of tartar seems to make the cookies crispier. I’m not a fan of soft cookies.

    I do sift my flour when called for, but you don’t need a real sifter. A fine sieve works extremely well if that’s all you have. Many fine bakers (not me, I’m just okay ;-) just use sieves, and it’s one less item to store.

  39. Barbara

    I need to make royal frosting (the kind with egg white) because of stacking the cookies. It is harder and the icing won’t get all over other cookies. I worry because I am using an egg white recipe rather than meringue powder. Would these cookies have to be refrigerated because of the raw egg white to prevent salmonella or does the sugar act as a preservative?

    If you are concerned about salmonella, I recommend using pasteurized eggs or egg whites, or not using royal icing. The sugar in the icing might act as a deterrent to salmonella, but I’m no expert on this, so don’t know what to tell you. ~Elise

  40. Patricia

    Just baked the first recipe for Christmas Eve and, wow! These are the very best sugar cookies I’ve ever made! Everyone is thrilled at my house. Thank you so much for posting this — what a wonderful present for all.

  41. barbie l.

    A tip from Alton Brown that i’ve really taken to is WEIGHING flour and sugar instead of using cups. The science of the matter is that flour especially settle differently from day to day and from kitchen to kitchen, and that using weight like in pro baker’s formulas will result in more consistent baked goods. You will of course need a small food scale, but i think it’s REALLY WORTH IT!

    I bake confidently using 1 CUP FLOUR = 128 g or 4.5 oz

    Rest of chart at:
    http://allrecipes.com/HowTo/Cup-to-Gram-Conversions/Detail.aspx

  42. Melissa

    So many times my cookies spread out during baking losing their shape, even though I always refrigerate the dough. This is especially true when I use a heart cookie cutter. Any tips to help my problem? I need to made a large number of them for a 50th wedding anny. party.

    I was given a tip by David Lebovitz that one of the reasons cookies spread too much is if you beat the butter and sugar together too much. With cookies you don’t want to beat so much air into the butter, or the cookies will just spread too much. ~Elise

  43. Denise Lockhart

    I was just wondering if too much cream of tartar was accidentally added to a sugar cookie receipe would that make the cookie be dry?

    No idea. ~Elise

  44. Jennifer

    If you put 1 slice of bread in an airtight container with your cookies they will stay as soft as when they first came out of the oven!

  45. Cari

    I had the same problem as another person in the thread…The dough was so dry and crumbly. I read the recipe over and over again to see if I missed something but came up with nothing. My husband is always bragging how I can take a recipe and it always turns out right because I am precise with measurements and follow instructions to a “T” so I am not sure what went wrong.

  46. Katie

    LOVED the first frosting (with crisco) — seriously simple and tastes 100% better than the kind you buy in a can…but it’s just as easy to work with and the texture is similar (but oh so better!)

  47. Rachel

    Finally! A good sugar cookie cut-out recipe! I try a new recipe every year and can’t find one that’s just right. Either the dough is a pain to work with, or the taste is just so-so. I decided to try the first one since it was so different from anything else I’ve tried. I live in a very humid climate, and so I often have to add more flour to cookie recipes. But I thought since the liquid is added last, I could add less cream if need be. But, IT WAS PERFECT just like it is! The dough is easy to work with and the cookies are so tender and yummy. I will search no further. THANK YOU!

  48. nicole

    I made the first recipe today for the kids to decorate for valentine’s day and it was delicious! soft and wonderful. I added more cream to get the dough to come together and it didn’t make as many as I expected but we did have a fairly large cookie cutter. thanks for this recipe–I highly recommend it.

  49. Sarah Coller

    I just made recipe #1 and they are perfect! I used the icing recipe that went with it (adding a little salt as well) and it was just enough. Thank you so much…this is definitely my new favorite sugar cookie recipe!

    Sarah

  50. Allyson

    So I think I may have done something wrong because my dough is just like flour….there is no way to roll this into a cookie. I followed the recipe to a “T” but it seems there should be more liquid or something in it. Any suggestions for what I may have done wrong? Perhaps my butter wasn’t soft enough?? Thanks in advance for you advice!

    p.s. I am using recipe #1

  51. Wendy

    Your recipe sounds great. Do you think I would be able to use the dough in a cookie press? Really don’t like the recipe that Pampered Chef suggested.

    Don’t know, but I think it’s worth a try. ~Elise

  52. billie

    when cuttin out cookies roll ur cookies out onto the cookie sheet then all u gotta do is remove the extra dough around the cut outs this works wonders and no messed up COOKIES!!!

  53. Kimi

    I just want to point out to those saying their dough is crumbly and dry that some cookie recipes are just like that. They are similar to the old fashioned sugar cookies of the old days. My cookie recipe is also very dry and crumbly but a trick I use when rolling it out after chilling it until firm, is to spray water on it from a refillable pump bottle. Just enough to moisten it until it is like play doh. Then I cut and bake they come out delicious everytime.

    Use water and not milk or cream as that can alter the structure of the cookie if you use too much, and using a spray bottle ensures a fine mist you can control how much goes on. Too much and you will ruin it. Too little and the cookies crumble a lot but they will still taste good, if you don’t want to use water just roll into a log and slice and bake because the dryness of the dough won’t roll out well enough for cutting.

  54. erica

    going to try out the 1st recipe for superbowl cookies:) how long does the 1st recipe dough need to be refrigerated for? (like a minimum number of hours, I may not have 2 days to make them)

    Oh I would say at least a couple hours. ~Elise

  55. Cindy

    Hi! Love your recipes. Can’t wait to try them out. I do have a question, is there a trick to the batter or some way to keep those nice sharp cookie-cutout shapes? Your star cookie looks super nice! Last, year I used frozen cookie dough to make some Lego miniman cookies and they totally lost their shapes while baking. They barely resembled a miniman. That was soooo dissappointing. I’m hoping to avoid that this time around :) Thanks!

    I guess it depends on the cookie dough you are using. That and you do need to chill the dough completely. ~Elise