This easy sugar cookie recipe is fun to make, and the results are delicious! It yields lightly sweet, buttery sugar cookies that are perfect for decorating!
When I was a kid, my family’s sugar cookie recipe was the first thing that brought us back into the kitchen after Thanksgiving. We’d spend the weekend after the holiday rolling out dough, cutting out festive shapes, and decorating the cookies once they were baked. To me, baking sugar cookies still feels like the first sign that Christmas is on its way, and this easy sugar cookie recipe is the perfect way to kick off the holiday season!
It’s festive, fun, and simple to make, and the cookies themselves are delicious. They’re thick, delicate, and soft, with scrumptious crispy edges. Growing up, we always added almond extract to our Christmas sugar cookies, so I had to use it in this recipe, along with lemon zest (of course) and vanilla. None of these flavors is overbearing, but they combine to make the cookies taste rich, warm, and slightly tangy.
These sugar cookies are tasty, lightly sweet treats on their own, but they’re also a blast to decorate! We dressed up ours with royal icing (recipe below) and matcha sugar for a natural pop of color, but this cashew frosting or this simple glaze would work just as well. Happy baking!
How to Make Sugar Cookies
Want to learn how to make sugar cookies? Here’s what you need to do:
First, mix together the dry ingredients: all-purpose flour, baking soda, cream of tartar, and salt.
Then, cream together the butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer. Beat in the egg, vanilla and almond extracts, and lemon zest, and then add the flour mixture, 1/3 at a time, and mix until everything is well combined.
Next, chill the dough. Shape the dough into 2 disks, wrap it in plastic wrap, and transfer it to the fridge to chill for 2 hours.
After the dough has chilled, roll it out on a lightly floured surface. Be careful not to roll the dough too thin here. To get thick, soft sugar cookies, aim for it to be about 1/4-inch thick. If it gets much thinner, the cookies will be crispy instead of soft.
Once you’ve rolled out the dough, use cookie cutters to cut out your desired shapes. Re-roll the dough, as needed, to get as many cut-outs as you can!
Then, it’s time to bake. Line several baking sheets with parchment paper and transfer the cut-outs to the baking sheets. Bake one sheet at a time for about 10 minutes each, until the cookies are just beginning to brown around the edges. Let them rest on the baking sheet for 2 minutes before transferring them to wire racks to cool completely.
To decorate, wait for the cookies to cool completely before topping them with royal icing (recipe below), frosting, or this simple glaze. I topped my royal icing with a little baking sugar mixed with matcha, and these Supernatural White Sequins.
Best Sugar Cookie Recipe Tips
- Chill the dough for at least 2 hours. We tested baking these sugar cookies after just one hour of chilling, and here’s our takeaway: don’t cut the chilling time short! Their warm, tangy flavor improves exponentially when they chill for an extra hour. If the dough is too stiff to work with when it comes out of the fridge, let it rest for 5 minutes at room temperature before you start rolling it out.
- Bake one sheet at a time. Because temperatures vary throughout an oven, bake one sheet at a time for the most even cooking. You don’t want cookies on the bottom rack to burn before the top rack starts to brown!
- Let the cookies rest on the baking sheet for 2 minutes after they come out of the oven. If you move them too early, they will crumble. Let the cookies set up for a full 2 minutes before transferring them to wire racks to cool completely.
- Wait for them to cool completely before decorating. It’s tempting to start decorating these guys right away, but your cookies need to be at room temperature before you decorate them. Otherwise, the frosting will melt! I like to make my cut-outs a few days in advance and then freeze the cookies to frost on another day.
More Favorite Holiday Treats
If you love this sugar cookie recipe, try one of these easy recipes next:
- Perfect Oatmeal Cookies
- No Bake Cookies
- Best Peanut Butter Cookies
- Lemon Cookies
- Vegan Gingerbread Cookies
- Coconut Macaroons
- Cranberry & Pistachio Chocolate Bark
- 2¾ cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon cream of tartar
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
- 1 cup butter, softened
- ¾ cup powdered sugar
- 1 egg
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon almond extract
- 1 tablespoon lemon zest
- 4 cups powdered sugar
- 3 tablespoons meringue powder
- 5 to 6 tablespoons water, more as needed
- Make the cookies: Preheat the oven to 350°F and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
- In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, cream of tartar, and salt.
- Cream the butter in the bowl of an electric mixer. Add the sugar and beat until fluffy, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the egg and beat well, then add the vanilla extract, almond extract, and lemon zest, and mix again. Add the dry ingredients one third at a time, mixing until well combined. Divide the dough into two balls and flatten into disks. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for 2 hours.
- Roll the dough on a lightly floured surface until ¼ inch thick. Use cookie cutters to cut out desired shapes. Transfer to the baking sheets and bake, one sheet at a time, for 10 minutes. Let cool on the baking sheet for 2 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to continue cooling. Cool completely before icing.
- Make the Royal Icing: Sift the powdered sugar into the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the meringue powder and 5 tablespoons water. Mix until smooth and glossy, adding more water, ½ teaspoon at a time, if necessary. Transfer half of the frosting to a piping bag with a #3 tip for piping thin lines (ie, the snowflakes) and for outlining filled-in shapes. For flooding/filling in cookie shapes, add more water, ½ teaspoon at a time, to thin the icing to a runny consistency. There are some helpful decorating video tutorials here.
Recipe adapted from Disney’s Family Cookbook by Deanna F. Cook. Royal icing recipe from wilton.com.