5 Mistakes to Avoid When Making Sugar Cookies

updated Oct 29, 2020
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(Image credit: Faith Durand)

Whether you make beautiful cut-outs, dust them with colored sugar, or sandwich them with buttercream or Nutella, sugar cookies are a holiday staple!

Before you whip up your next batch of sugar cookies, be sure you’re not making one of these five common mistakes.

1. Using butter that’s too soft.

We’ve all been there — wanting to make cookies yet forgetting to take the butter out of the refrigerator to soften. Whatever you do, fight the urge to heat it in the microwave for a few seconds. This will very likely make the butter too soft.

Cookies won’t hold their shape as well and are likely to turn out greasy when made with butter that’s too soft.

→ Follow this tip: Let the butter stand at room temperature for about an hour, until it’s soft and gives to gentle pressure. If you’re really pressed for time, you can speed the process along by cutting the butter into small cubes, or even grating it.

2. Working the dough too much.

When making cookies, I used to have a (very!) bad habit of mixing in the dry ingredients until they were completely incorporated. And then mixing the dough even more, for no good reason. Thankfully I was eventually steered in the right direction.

Over-working the dough yields a tough cookie, which is not at all what you want. The very best sugar cookies are soft and tender.

→ Follow this tip: One of the keys to great sugar cookies is mixing the dry ingredients only until they’re just incorporated, and not a second longer. Once the dry ingredients are added, less mixing equals more tender cookies.

3. Not chilling the dough.

Chilling the dough is a key step in making sugar cookies, especially when you’re making cut-outs. Even if you’re tight on time, make sure to get the dough in the fridge, or even the freezer, even if it’s only for a little while. Skip this step, and the dough will be sticky, and much harder to work with.

→ Follow this tip: Chill sugar cookie dough in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes, or in the freezer for 15 minutes. The dough will be so much easier to work with! It will roll out nicely, and if you’re making cut-outs, chilled dough will help you get clean, sharp edges. Chilled dough also holds its shape better in the oven.

4. Rolling out the dough too thick or too thin.

When you’re making cut-out cookies, it can be tricky to roll the dough just right. Roll it too thin, and the dough will be really fragile and may easily tear or break. Roll it too thick, and you run the risk of the cookies not baking evenly or cooking all the way through.

→ Follow this tip: For super soft, tender sugar cookies, roll the dough to 1/4-inch thick. The dough will be easy to work with, without breaking or tearing, and it will bake up nicely.

5. Over-baking the cookies.

We often tell you to bake cookies until they’re golden brown. This isn’t the case with sugar cookies, though. Once the edges develop a golden hue, you’ve gone too far. While overcooked sugar cookies are certainly still palatable, they’ll be hard and crunchy, instead of soft and chewy.

→ Follow this tip: Pull the cookie sheet from the oven as soon as they’ve set and gained some color, but not too much. They should also look slightly crackled across the center.

What are your best tips for making sugar cookies?