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Cut Out Sugar Cookies (Soft & Buttery)

These cut out sugar cookies are soft, buttery, sweet and flaky with perfect crisp edges. They’re a big tradition in our family for 40 years and counting.

We make them for Christmas, Chanukah, Halloween, Valentines Day and other celebrations. 

heart shaped iced sugar cookies

I’m actually not a huge fan of making cut-out cookies (except for the decorating). I love the tradition part, but they require lots of time and a little patience.

If you want to make a traditional cut out sugar cookie recipe, though, there’s no getting around the multiple steps. My advice is to get the whole family involved, turn on some music and have some fun.

Make the recipe in 3 stages (with breaks) for a more manageable, enjoyable experience:

  1. Make the dough (just a few minutes plus chill time)
  2. Cut out the cookies and bake. 
  3. Decorate

You can be confident this cookie recipe works perfectly for cut-out cookies. It’s an old Noreen Gilletz recipe from her food processor cookbook.

We’ve been using the recipe forever – including making 150 tulip cookies as gifts for Jenna’s wedding guests. (Her husband proposed to her in a field of hundreds of tulips in Prince Edward Island, a province in Canada.OMG, I was weepy – no, of course I wasn’t there! Jenna is a good storyteller). 

tulip cookies lined up on table
We made these tulip sugar cookies with royal icing for Jenna’s wedding.

Why these sugar cookies are great

This is an easy sugar cookie recipe. Nothing is difficult. Just time consuming. In case you’re on the fence about trying these cookies (the best sugar cookies in my humble opinion)…

  • The cookies are fun to decorate especially when you involve the family. We don’t aim for perfect (as you can see) and often include a few silly or rude cookies as jokes. 
  • The end results are really satisfying. A lot of TLC goes into them.
  • The cookies are delicious.
  • And they freeze beautifully. 

Ingredients – tailored to your taste and celebration

butter, sugar, flour, baking powder, vanilla extract, egg.

For the cookie dough: We’re using a basic dough made with flour, sugar, egg, butter, baking powder and vanilla extract.

For the glaze: We mix together icing sugar, water, corn syrup and food coloring.

Glaze alternative: Instead of a simple glaze, you can try the more professional-looking royal icing. Instructions are in the recipe card. Royal icing takes a bit of practice, but creates a beautiful polished finish as pictured in the tulip cookies above.

Cookie shapes: Use any of your favorite cookie cutters. You can literally buy every shape, character or holiday decoration you can imagine. Pumpkins, Christmas trees, menorahs, Easter bunnies, hearts, and yes, tulips.

Flavor options: instead of or in addition to vanilla extract, you can use almond extract if you prefer. Even peppermint or coconut extract. Or try adding some lemon or orange zest. 

Decorating: Get creative or fancy with sprinkles and squirt-able icings in a tube. Or, just smear on some glaze, add some sprinkles and call it a day. Keep in mind gel icing in tubes does not harden, making it hard to store or freeze.

Step by step instructions

Blend sugar, egg, vanilla and butter in the food processor until fluffy. Add flour to the wet ingredients and process until dough starts to come together.

shapes cut into dough with cookie cutters
Roll out the sugar cookie dough and cut out shapes with cookie cutters.
pile of baked cut out sugar cookies on cooling rack
Let the soft sugar cookies cool on a wire rack.

To decorate: Make plain glaze (make double if you want to make several colors. Portion some off into small bowls or plastic cups. Add food coloring to make colored glazes.

decorated holiday cookies on plate
Decorate cookies with glazes, sprinkles and icing tubes as you like.
plate of christmas cookies 1
Place the cookies in a single layer until icing dries.
plate of christmas cookies 2
The festive cookies make the perfect addition to any Christmas cookie tray.
half a cookie on table showing inside of cookie
Heart shaped cut-out cookies are the perfect treat for your valentine.
tray of heart shaped cookies for Valentines Day

Tips

  1. Use room temperature butter and egg.
  2. Measure the flour by scooping flour into the measuring cup and leveling it off.
  3. Chill the dough for at least 30 minutes before cutting your shapes.
  4. Make sure the baked cookies have cooled completely before decorating.
  5. Let the icing – both simple glaze or royal icing – dry to a hard finish before storing. The cookies can then be safely stacked (unless you use gel icing which does not harden)

Shortcuts

  • At holiday times, some bakeries sell plain sugar cookies in holiday shapes that you can decorate with the kids. They are incredibly convenient if you don’t have time to make homemade sugar cookies. Some even sell piping bags with different colored sugar cookie frosting. I can assure you this was not available back in the day!
  • Buy decorating icing in little tubes for the finishing touches, found in most grocery stores.

Make Ahead

There are several make-ahead options and I’ve tried them all. 

  1. Dough: Make the dough and refrigerate it for a up to 2 days. Or freeze it for up to 3 months. 
  2. Plain cookies: Roll the dough, cut out the cookies and bake them. Cool the cookies completely (not iced), lay them in a freezer friendly sealed container or bag and freeze them. Or let them sit on the counter for a day or two before icing them. 
  3. Decorated cookies: The glazed sugar cookies dry to a nice hard shiny finish after several hours or overnight and can be stacked or piled on top of each other (except if you use icing gel which is sticky and does not dry). They will keep well at room temperature in a sealed airtight container for 2-3 days.

Recipe FAQs

Can you freeze decorated cookies?

Yes. You can freeze cookies with royal icing or glaze for 2 months. Make sure they are wrapped well and stored in a freezer-safe zip-top bag.

Can I use buttercream frosting?

Buttercream frosting has a thicker consistency. To prevent your tender sugar cookies from crumbling, you’ll want to use a thin layer of buttercream. Keep in mind that buttercream does not harden so they will need to be store in a single layer.

What baking tools do I need?

This cookie recipe does not require special tools except for the cut-out shapes. But if you’re going to make them frequently, there are few things you could purchase that will make baking and decorating easier:
-silicone baking mat or precut parchment sheets
-small squeeze bottles (for the glaze)
-different piping tips
–thin metal cookie spatula (for removing fragile cookies from baking sheet)

heart cut out cookies decorated on plate
Cookies with a simple glaze.

If you like this recipe, please leave a 5 star rating 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟in the recipe card below. And if you REALLY like it, consider a review in the comments. Thanks!

heart shaped iced sugar cookies
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Cut Out Sugar Cookies (Soft and Buttery)

Holiday cut out sugar cookies – buttery, sweet and flaky – are a big tradition in our family for 40 years and counting. We make them for Christmas, Chanukah, Halloween, Valentines Day and other celebrations. 
Prep Time15 mins
Cook Time15 mins
chill and frosting1 hr 15 mins
Total Time1 hr 45 mins
Course: Dessert, Snack
Cuisine: American
Servings: 40 cookies (depends on shape sizes)
Author: Cheryl

Equipment

  • food processor, electric hand mixer or stand mixer; cookie cutter shapes

Ingredients

cookie dough

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature (important) 2 sticks
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg at room temperature 1 egg = 1/5 cup = 2.7 tablespoons
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder

simple glaze (Note 1 for royal icing)

  • 1 cup icing sugar (also called confectioners sugar or powdered sugar)
  • 1 tablespoon light corn syrup optional to make icing glossy
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • food coloring, various colors

Instructions

  • HEAT OVEN to 375F/190C
  • MAKE DOUGH: Blend butter and sugar until fluffy in a food processor (or mixer on medium speed). Add egg and vanilla, mix until just combined. Add flour and baking powder in intervals. Measure flour by scooping it into measuring cup and leveling it off with a knife. Dough will seem as if it doesn't have enough moisture but continue to mix in food processor until combined. Shape into a log (or two logs) and wrap in plastic wrap or parchment paper, then put into fridge to firm up for 30-60 minutes or up to 2 days.
  • CUT OUT COOKIES: On a flat work surface, roll out dough between 2 sheets of wax paper to about 1/4 inch/6 mm thick. Or just use a rolling pin dusted with flour. Cut out with cookie cutters (Note 5) and place on baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicone mat. 
  • BAKE COOKIES: for 7-8 minutes or until lightly browned at the edges. Remove from oven. Let cool for a minute then transfer to a wired rack to cool completely. 
  • MAKE GLAZE/ICING: Note 2 to make extra colors. Mix the powdered sugar, water and corn syrup together in a bowl with a fork or whisk. You can omit the corn syrup, but the glaze will be less shiny. Add the food coloring, a drop at a time, stirring in between, until you reach the color intensity you want. Play around with the consistency of the glaze, adding more icing sugar (to thicken) or water (to thin out) as needed.
  • DECORATE: Use a small knife or back of a spoon to spread glaze on cookies. Decorate with store-bought piping icing (from a tube) and sprinkles as desired. Or use a toothpick to decorate with colored glazes on top of plain white glaze for example. Note 2 to decorate with extra icing. If you're using sprinkles, use them as soon as you glaze the cookies as they dry fast. Let the glaze harden for several hours or overnight at room temperature.
    These cookies dry to a nice hard shiny finish and can be stacked or piled on top of each other (except if you use icing gel which is sticky and does not dry). Note 1 for Royal Icing.

Notes

  1. Royal Icing (instead of simple glaze). Here’s a Royal Icing recipe and instructions on how to use it. A bit trickier, but once you get the hang of it, it looks amazing, very professional. 
  2. Tip for making colored glazes: To make several colors of glaze icing, double the recipe, divide into small bowls, plastic cups or a muffin tin and add different coloring to each.
  3. To decorate with homemade icing/glaze (instead of store-bought tubes): Make another batch of the glaze as per the recipe (make it thicker adding more icing sugar or less water). Put it in a small ziploc bag with a tiny corner cut off to pipe the icing through. (If you have a piping tip, place it through the hole in the bag before you put the icing in)
  4. Flavors: instead of or in addition to vanilla extract, you can use almond extract if you prefer. Even peppermint or coconut extract. Try adding some lemon or orange zest. 
  5. Make Ahead options
    1. Dough: Make the dough and refrigerate it for a up to 2 days. Or freeze it for up to 3 months. 
    2. Plain cookies: Roll the dough, cut out the cookies and bake them. Cool the cookies completely (not iced), lay them in a freezer friendly sealed container or bag and freeze them. Or let them sit on the counter for a day or two before icing them. 
    3. Decorated cookies: The glazed sugar cookies dry to a nice hard shiny finish after several hours or overnight and can be stacked or piled on top of each other (except if you use icing gel which is sticky and does not dry). They will keep well at room temperature in a sealed container for 2-3 days. You can freeze cookies with Royal icing or glaze for 2 months.
    •  
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Nutrition values are estimates and depend on size of cookies and amount of icing used.

Nutrition

Calories: 109kcal | Carbohydrates: 16g | Protein: 1g | Fat: 5g | Saturated Fat: 3g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 0.2g | Monounsaturated Fat: 1g | Trans Fat: 0.2g | Cholesterol: 16mg | Sodium: 8mg | Potassium: 13mg | Fiber: 0.3g | Sugar: 8g | Vitamin A: 148IU | Calcium: 7mg | Iron: 0.5mg
Tried this recipe?We’d love you to rate it above under ‘rate this recipe’ or in the comment section below. Thanks!

Calories: 109kcal | Carbohydrates: 16g | Protein: 1g | Fat: 5g | Saturated Fat: 3g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 0.2g | Monounsaturated Fat: 1g | Trans Fat: 0.2g | Cholesterol: 16mg | Sodium: 8mg | Potassium: 13mg | Fiber: 0.3g | Sugar: 8g | Vitamin A: 148IU | Calcium: 7mg | Iron: 0.5mg

This holiday sugar cookie recipe, originally published in 2016, has been updated with new images and tips. 

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