Essential Holiday Recipe: The Best Cut-Out Sugar Cookies

Recipes from The Kitchn

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There are a few recipes that we turn to every holiday season, and this buttery dreamboat of a sugar cookie is one of them. The dough is delicious and easy to work with, and it makes the most beautiful cookies; we even had a reader tell us it saved the day for her!

While many sugar cookie recipes are a little bland, and frustratingly inconsistent in their texture (too sticky to roll out one minute, tough the next) we feel that this one gets it just right. This is a firm dough that can be rolled and cut out more easily than Play-Doh, and yet it yields a meltingly delicious cookie, with notes of almond, vanilla, and lemon.

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Of course, I realize that labeling any recipe "best" is a risky proposition; we all have our own opinions about these things. But out of all the recipes I've written for The Kitchn, I feel that these are most deserving of the "Best Recipe" label; they have stood the test of time and many, many batches — and at least one reader agrees with the assessment!

Since I first posted this recipe a few years ago, I've made these so many times. The original recipe was calibrated for an enormous batch, and it required your very largest bowl for mixing. This is appropriate enough at Christmas, but I know that you don't always need to make 12 dozen cookies at a time. So there are proportions and instructions below for both a normal-sized amount (2 to 3 dozen cookies) as well as for a perfectly enormous batch.

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Sugar Cookie Tips

  • This dough freezes perfectly. The original recipe makes a very large quantity, so roll out a few sheets of dough and freeze them flat between wax paper and plastic wrap for quick cut-out cookies later.
  • When you take the chilled dough out of the fridge you may need to let it sit for a few moments before it is soft enough to roll out. The high quotient of butter makes this a very firm dough.
  • That firmness makes these perfect cut-out cookies for children; if you roll the dough at least 1/4-inch thick children should have no problem cutting and picking up cookie dough shapes. The dough doesn't tear easily or get too soft like other more delicate cookie doughs.
  • They are firm yet tender, with a very buttery flavor. If you sandwich them with a soft filling like buttercream or Nutella the cookies soften even more.

Sugar Cookie Decorating Ideas

  • Ice with a sugar glaze then sandwich with Nutella between two cookies.
  • Glaze with warmed jelly then sandwich with another cut-out cookie on top.
  • Drizzle with melted chocolate.
  • Ice with royal icing and stick on candy dots for decoration.
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Best Cut-Out Sugar Cookies

2 to 3 dozen cookies, depending on size

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

In the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a large bowl, using a hand mixer), cream the butter and cream cheese with the sugar. Beat for several minutes, or until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg, vanilla and almond extracts, and lemon zest.

Mix the flour, baking powder, and salt in a separate bowl then gradually add to the butter and sugar mixture until fully incorporated and a soft dough is formed.

At this point the dough can, and should be, chilled or frozen. If making cookies in the near future, divide the dough into 2 balls and roll each out to 1/4 to 1/8-inch thickness between large pieces of parchment paper. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour. Or freeze the dough balls, wrapped in plastic wrap and a freezer bag, for up to 1 month. To thaw, leave in the refrigerator overnight then proceed with the recipe.

To bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 350°F and prepare baking sheets by lining them with parchment or a Silpat. Cut cookies out of the rolled dough and place on the prepared baking sheets.

Bake cookies for 8 to 12 minutes, depending on thickness. Let cool for 5 minutes on the cookie sheet, then remove to a wire rack.

Cool completely before icing or decorating, and store in a tightly covered container.

Best Cut-Out Sugar Cookies (Large Batch)

8 to 12 dozen, depending on size

3 cups unsalted butter, softened at room temperature for 1 hour
6 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
3 cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
2 teaspoons lemon zest
9 cups flour
4 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoon salt

In the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a large bowl, using a hand mixer), cream the butter and cream cheese with the sugar. Beat for several minutes, or until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg, vanilla and almond extracts, and lemon zest.

Mix the flour, baking powder, and salt in a separate bowl then gradually add to the butter and sugar mixture until fully incorporated and a soft dough is formed.

At this point the dough can, and should be, chilled or frozen. If making cookies in the near future, divide the dough into 2 balls and roll each out to 1/4 to 1/8-inch thickness between large pieces of parchment paper. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour. Or freeze the dough balls, wrapped in plastic wrap and a freezer bag, for up to 1 month. To thaw, leave in the refrigerator overnight then proceed with the recipe.

To bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 350°F and prepare baking sheets by lining them with parchment or a Silpat. Cut cookies out of the rolled dough and place on the prepared baking sheets.

Bake cookies for 8 to 12 minutes, depending on thickness. Let cool for 5 minutes on the cookie sheet, then remove to a wire rack.

Cool completely before icing or decorating, and store in a tightly covered container.

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Cookie Cutters

For these photos I used these cookie cutters:

(Recipe originally published December 18, 2007.)

Per serving, based on 32 servings. (% daily value)
Calories
505
Fat
26.5 g (40.8%)
Saturated
16.2 g (81%)
Trans
0.9 g
Carbs
61.4 g (20.5%)
Fiber
1.3 g (5.1%)
Sugars
25.4 g
Protein
6.3 g (12.6%)
Cholesterol
92.1 mg (30.7%)
Sodium
249.4 mg (10.4%)

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