How To Make Cut-Out Sugar Cookies

How To Make Cut-Out Sugar Cookies

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Emma Christensen
Dec 8, 2014
(Image credit: Emma Christensen)

A sugar cookie is such a simple, basic pleasure, don't you think? They're so wonderfully buttery and perfect for nibbling, and equally happy-making whether glazed with vibrant colors like these or sandwiched with creamy frosting.

When you find a recipe for a good one, you hold on tight. That's what we have here. This started out as Faith's favorite sugar cookie, then it appeared in The Kitchn Cookbook, and now it's become the go-to de facto cookie for all of us. Today, I'll tell you what makes this cookie so special and show you how to make it, one step at a time.

(Image credit: Emma Christensen)

What Makes These Sugar Cookies So Good

I won't lie: Butter and cream cheese are what make these cookies so darn good. (Quite a large portion of butter.) Not only does this make the cookies incredibly tender and delicious (because ... butter), but the cream cheese adds a nice mellow flavor. It's not so much that you think these are cream cheese cookies, but it turns an otherwise one-note cookie into something irresistible.

Roll, Then Chill!

Another reason we've all fallen in love with this recipe has nothing to do with the flavor, but with the rather unconventional technique of rolling out the dough between wax paper just after mixing, and then chilling the sheets until ready to cut out the cookies. Not only does this make the dough very easy to work with, but the thin sheets chill much faster than balls of dough and the chilled cookies hold their shape better during baking.

(Image credit: Emma Christensen)
(Image credit: Emma Christensen)

Decorating the Sugar Cookies

Although these cookies are tender, they're also very sturdy. You don't have to worry about them breaking as you frost them or falling into crumbs the second you break off a corner. They're great for kids who are enthusiastic helpers in the kitchen.

I love glazing each cookie with a thin layer of icing, as I've done here. It's a labor of love, but if I'm making cookies for a holiday cookie exchange or someone's birthday, it feels worth it go the extra mile. These cookies are also fantastic with a simple buttercream frosting, either spread on top or sandwiched between two cookies. Really, it's sugar cookies and frosting — how can you go wrong?

How To Make Cut-Out Sugar Cookies

Makes 2 to 3 dozen cookies, depending on size

What You Need

Ingredients
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened at room temperature for 1 hour
2 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1 teaspoon lemon zest
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

Equipment
Measuring cups and spoons
Stand mixer or hand mixer
Mixing bowl
Stiff spatula
Wax paper
Rolling pin
Baking sheet
Cookie cutters
Thin spatula

Instructions

  1. Cream the butter, cream cheese, and sugar: Place the softened butter, cream cheese, and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a mixing bowl with a hand mixer). Beat together on medium until very light and fluffy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and the beater.
  2. Beat in the egg, extracts, and lemon zest: Add the egg to the mixing bowl and continue beating until it's fully incorporated and the batter is smooth again. Beat in the vanilla extract, almond extract, and lemon zest. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and the beater.
  3. Add the flour, baking powder, and salt: In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Gradually add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients, beating on low speed until everything starts clumping together into a soft dough and the flour is nearly incorporated (the sides of the bowl will still look floury).
  4. Mix a few times by hand: Use a stiff spatula to incorporate the last of the flour and to make sure everything from the sides and bottom of the bowl have been worked in. The finished dough will be very soft and quite sticky.
  5. Roll out the dough between wax paper: Divide the dough into two portions. Sandwich each half between wax paper and pat the dough into thick disks. Then use a rolling pin to roll each disk out to 1/4- to 1/8-inches thick.
  6. Chill the dough: Transfer the rolled-out dough to a baking sheet, still sandwiched between wax paper, stacking them on top of each other. Chill the dough in the refrigerator for at least an hour or for up to 5 days. (See Recipe Notes for freezing instructions.)
  7. Preheat the oven to 350°F: Preheat the oven to 350°F with a rack in the middle position. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment or a Silpat.
  8. Cut out the cookies: Work with one portion of dough at a time, leaving the other in the refrigerator. Transfer the dough to your work surface and peel off the top layer of wax paper. You can cut out the cookies on the wax paper, or you can dust your work surface with flour, flip the dough over on top, and peel off the other piece of wax paper. Cut out cookie shapes and transfer to the prepared baking sheet with a spatula. (Do not bake the cookies on the wax paper; the wax will melt in the oven.) Repeat with the other portion of dough. Re-roll the dough scraps to cut out additional cookies.
  9. Bake for 8 to 15 minutes: Bake the cookies until the edges are set and just barely starting to turn golden, 8 to 15 minutes depending on the size of your cookies.
  10. Cool the cookies: Let the cookies cool on the baking sheet for 10 minutes — they are delicate when first out of the oven and can break if moved sooner. Transfer the cookies to a cooling rack to cool completely. If any cookies have baked together in the oven, use a sharp paring knife to gently cut them apart while the cookies are still warm.
  11. Frost or glaze the cookies: Once completely cool, the cookies can be frosted, glazed, or decorated.
  12. Store sugar cookies: Store cookies in an airtight container at room temperature. They are best if eaten within 5 days.

Recipe Notes

  • Freezing the dough: The prepared dough can be frozen, either in a disk of dough or rolled out, for up to 3 months. Wrap the dough tightly in plastic wrap before freezing. Thaw in the fridge overnight before cutting and baking the cookies.
  • Freezing the baked cookies: The unfrosted cookies can be frozen for up to 3 months in an airtight container.
(Image credit: Emma Christensen)

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