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This Cut Out Sugar Cookie recipe is my family’s annual Christmas tradition! They’re easy to make, hold their shape, and are a thick, soft sugar cookie! I’ve been making this recipe for over 20 years and it comes out perfect EVERY time.

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christmas shaped cookies with frosting decorating the cookies

BEST Cut Out Sugar Cookie Recipe

My daughter is really big on traditions. Things at holidays happened once when she was little and now that’s the way they’re supposed to happen. This means we have to do three things: have Christmas Eve at her Aunts house, have monkey bread for breakfast, and make cut-out sugar cookies on Christmas Eve with my mom.

The Best Cut Out Sugar Cookies are great ALL year, not just for Christmas! I love making these for every holiday – cookie cutters come in all shapes! They are my favorite cookie, after all.

Why this recipe WORKS:

  • This is the only sugar cookie recipe I’ve used for more than 20 years….so you know it has to be the best recipe in the world.
  • These cookies hold their shape as long as you do all the chilling steps I detail below.
  • They are SOFT and you can make them as thick as you want.
  • I use buttercream sugar cookie frosting instead of flood icing. It’s much easier and tastes SO MUCH BETTER!
sugar cookie ingredients

Ingredients in Sugar Cookies

  • Butter – I always use unsalted butter, but you can substitute salted by reducing added salt in the recipe. Make sure the butter is softened.
  • Powdered sugar – instead of using granulated sugar, this recipe uses powdered. Powdered sugar has a teeny bit of cornstarch in it to keep it from clumping and that plus the powdery consistency of confectioners sugar keeps the cookies soft and tender.
  • Baking Soda – This helps them be nice and soft.
  • Cream of Tartar – in addition to baking soda keeps these from spreading AND keeps them soft. You don’t need to use baking powder because of the cream of tartar.
  • Egg – Use large eggs.
  • Flour – All-purpose flour is best for cookies. Be sure to measure it correctly so you don’t use too much or too little!
  • Extract – I always use pure vanilla extract in my cut out cookies. Sometimes I add a teaspoon almond extract for some extra flavor.
  • Cream or Milk – for the sugar cookie frosting.
  • Food coloring – I prefer gel food coloring for the frosting, or you can use regular grocery store food coloring (or leave the frosting white).

How to make Cut Out Sugar Cookies

  • Cream together butter and powdered sugar until nice and fluffy.
  • Add egg, baking soda, cream of tartar, and vanilla, then mix until smooth.
  • Add flour and mix until cookie doug forms. It will be slightly sticky.
  • Divide the dough in half.
  • I always roll my sugar cookie dough before I chill it! Roll it between sheets of parchment paper or wax paper so you don’t need to add extra flour, then chill.
  • Once the dough is hard, cut shapes using cookie cutters.

What’s the trick for cut out cookies?

Much like I roll out my pie dough, I roll out my cookie dough between two sheets of wax paper, right after I’ve mixed it up. Just place the dough between two sheets of wax paper and press it into a disk, then roll flat.

While I’m rolling, I’ll occasionally (carefully) lift up the wax paper on the top, put it back down, flip, and do the same on the bottom. That’s because the force of the rolling can cause the wax paper to crinkle.

Using room temperature just-made dough makes rolling out easy. No elbow grease is needed, like when you chill the dough first.

Using two sheets of wax paper makes less mess and eliminates the need for extra flour, which makes a more tender cookie.

sugar cookies stacked on a drying rack

How do you get sugar cookies to hold their shape?

As long as you follow my directions these cookies will hold their shape. They’ll puff a little bit but stay in the shape you cut. Here are my tips for cut out cookies that hold their shape:

  • Be sure you’ve measured your flour correctly.
  • Chill the dough before you cut the cookies.
  • Chill the dough AFTER cutting cookies BEFORE baking.
  • Do not bake cookies on a hot cookie sheet. Let the cookie sheets cool in between batches.

It really is better to chill sugar cookie dough for best results. It will ensure that your cookies hold their shape but are tender and soft and not too floury.

snowman shaped cookie decorated with frosting and sprinkles

How to make Sugar Cookie Frosting

Pro Tip: you don’t have to make flood icing or royal icing for sugar cookies. Buttercream tastes better, is easier to make, and more fun! I make a homemade buttercream for these cookies and it’s SO delicious.

The perfect sugar cookie icing has:

  • Butter
  • Powdered Sugar
  • Vanilla
  • Salt
  • Milk or cream

Just mix it together like you’d mix a buttercream. You can color your frosting as desired, or leave it white, but don’t forget all the sprinkles for decorating! Kids LOVE this frosting so much better than royal icing (and so does Santa).

christmas shaped cookies with frosting decorating the cookies

How do you decorate sugar cookies for Christmas?

  • Use gel food coloring in red and green to make fun Christmas cookies.
  • Use piping bags with different types of tips to make trees look more real or to make little details like eyes on snowmen.
  • Sprinkles make everything so much more fun!
christmas shaped cookies with frosting decorating the cookies

How to Freeze Sugar Cookie Cut Outs

How to freeze unfrosted cookies: Stack similarly shaped cookies in airtight containers and freeze for up to 2 months. Freeze prepared frosting in an airtight container. Thaw both on the counter.

Because of the powdered sugar, these soft easy cut out cookies are delicate, so be careful when freezing them!

How to freeze frosted sugar cookies: Place them in a single layer on a cookie sheet and cover them with plastic wrap. Freeze until solid then stack in airtight containers between layers of parchment or wax paper. Separate stacks before thawing.

How to make sugar cookies ahead of time: Roll the dough as directed before chilling. Stack the dough (between sheets of wax or parchment) on cookie sheets and wrap with plastic. Chill up to 24 hours before cutting and baking.

sugar cookies stacked on a drying rack

FAQs

Why does sugar cookie dough have to be refrigerated?

Chilled dough means your cookies stay in the shapes you cut them in. I love that about this recipe – the cookies always stay in shape. No bloated men or round hearts here – a candy cane stays a candy cane and a tree stays a tree! It sounds like a lot of chilling but in the time it takes the oven to preheat your cookies will be ready.

Why do you roll out the dough before chilling it?

Chilling it once it’s already rolled flat makes the dough chill so much faster – you can cut out your cookies after as little as 30 minutes.

Why are my cut out cookies dry?

They may be over baked or you may have used too much flour. Also make sure and check the expiration dates on the cream of tartar and baking soda.

How do you make sugar cookies without vanilla extract?

You can skip the vanilla and use almond extract instead or any extract you love.

How do you make sugar cookies without cream of tartar?

This recipe calls for cream of tartar because the acid activates the baking soda to make a nice soft cookie. I don’t recommend omitting it or swapping but in a pinch, you can swap an equal amount of lemon juice.

tree shaped cookie with frosting decorating the cookies

Soft Cut Out Sugar Cookie Recipe

3.98 from 137 votes
These are my family's favorite Cut Out Sugar Cookies! This easy cookie recipe holds it's shape and makes soft and delicate sugar cookies!
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Chill Time 1 hour
Total Time 1 hour 40 minutes
Yield 36 cookies
Serving Size 1 cookie

Ingredients
 

Cookie:

  • 2 ½ cups (304g) all-purpose flour
  • 1 ¼ cups (141g) powdered sugar
  • 1 cup (226g) unsalted butter , softened
  • 1 large egg
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract (optional)

Frosting:

  • 4 cups (452g) powdered sugar
  • ½ cup (113g) unsalted butter , softened
  • 1 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons milk regular, low- or non-fat are all fine (or use heavy cream)
  • Food color and/or sprinkles if desired

Instructions

  • Combine all ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a large mixing bowl if using a hand mixer). Mix on low, scraping the bowl occasionally, until the mixture forms a cookie dough. Be sure to start on low or the dry ingredients will fly everywhere!
  • Divide the dough in half. Place a large sheet of waxed paper on a large cutting board or flat surface. Place the cookie dough on the wax paper. Place another large sheet of wax paper on top of the cookie dough. Press down into a flat disk with the palm of your hand, then roll out the dough between the two pieces of wax paper. After each 3-4 rolls, carefully lift the top sheet of wax paper off the dough, then replace it, flip the dough over, and carefully peel the other wax paper sheet, replace it, then continue rolling until the dough is about 1/4” thick. Place the dough, still between the wax paper sheets, on another cutting board or cookie sheet.
  • Repeat with second half of dough. Place both rolled out cookie dough sheets in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes (or wrap them well with plastic wrap and chill overnight).
  • When ready to cut cookies, preheat oven to 375°F.
  • Cut cookies in desired shapes and place them on a parchment or silpat lined baking sheet. Save the scraps of dough and re-roll them as needed. Note: once you re-roll the dough, you may want to chill those cutouts for about 10 minutes before baking them so they’ll keep their shape.
  • Bake cookies for 6-10 minutes depending on the size. I take them out as soon as the bottoms start to brown because we like them softer. If you want crunchy cookies, let them cook longer. Cool completely before frosting and decorating.
  • To make frosting, beat butter until smooth in a large bowl with an electric mixer. Slowly mix in powdered sugar, then vanilla and 1 tablespoon of milk at a time until the frosting is the consistency you desire. Tint the frosting if you want it a color.
  • Frost cookies, decorating them with sprinkles. Store loosely covered at room temperature.

Recipe Video

Recipe Notes

  • If using salted butter, reduce added salt to 1/2 teaspoon.
  • Do not skip the chilling steps if you want your cookies to hold their shape. Roll then chill and cut, then chill again. This is important!
  • Feel free to use pastry bags and tips or just a knife to frost the cookies.
  • These are great in any shape!
  • How to freeze unfrosted cookies: Stack similarly shaped cookies in airtight containers and freeze for up to 2 months. Freeze prepared frosting in an airtight container. Thaw both on the counter.
  • How to freeze frosted sugar cookies: Place them in a single layer on a cookie sheet and cover them with plastic wrap. Freeze until solid then stack in airtight containers between layers of parchment or wax paper. Separate stacks before thawing.
  • How to make sugar cookies ahead of time: Roll the dough as directed before chilling. Stack the dough (between sheets of wax or parchment) on cookie sheets and wrap with plastic. Chill up to 24 hours before cutting and baking.

Recipe Nutrition

Serving: 1cookie | Calories: 171kcal | Carbohydrates: 24g | Protein: 1g | Fat: 8g | Saturated Fat: 5g | Cholesterol: 25mg | Sodium: 67mg | Potassium: 28mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 17g | Vitamin A: 245IU | Calcium: 6mg | Iron: 1mg
Nutritional information not guaranteed to be accurate
Course Dessert
Cuisine American
Author Dorothy Kern
Keyword cookies, frosting, sugar cookie

These are the BEST Cut Out Sugar Cookies we’ve been making for years. Easy soft cut out sugar cookies that hold they’re shape and topped with sugar cookie icing that’s like a buttercream – it’s easy and fast.

Last Updated on November 22, 2022

Dorothy Kern

Welcome to Crazy for Crust, where I share recipes that are sometimes crazy, often with a crust, and always served with a slice of life.

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118 Comments

  1. This is a perfect recipe! I doubled it to make a big batch to freeze for later decoration at our cookie exchange party in a couple weeks. I doubled everything exactly except for the almond extract, which I kept to 1 1/2 teaspoons. I also used vanilla bean paste, and it gave the cookies tiny black specks (a good thing!).

    You really have to do the chilling in stages: roll between wax paper, chill, cut, chill, bake on parchment. Just get an assembly line system going and make room in the fridge!

    I ended up with two big sized Tupperware full of cookies for the freezer. Maybe 60-70 medium size cookies in total. The taste is simple and good. 5 stars! Thank you for the detailed instructions and tips!

  2. They’re soft and they’re not too sweet and you can eat them without the frosting. Originally, it was just for the holidays but now I’m making them multiple times a year. Of that time they’ve only spread twice and that’s when it’s really hot outside and they’re room temperature by the time I get them to the oven. Even then it doesn’t spread very much.

  3. Honestly the best cookies Recipe I’ve ever made. When i make these for others they’re often compared to Loft House cookies (High Praise in my family) but i think they’re much better. I’m interested if the Author has a recipe book that i might purchase to get more high quality recipes like this!

  4. Great flavor, but these are not cut-out cookies. They spread like soup. You have to nearly double the flour to get the cookies to somewhat keep their shape, even after freezing the cut-outs solid to bake! The yield amount is also waaaaaaaaay off here. It sucks because if you were baking with a number of receivers in mind, you get about a fourth only and have to go back and redo everything (softening butter takes time!).

    1. I’m sorry that happened but these should not spread. I have made them every Christmas for over 20 years – with the chilling they puff a bit but hold their shape. Did you make any substitutions? Yield is subjective to the size of the cookie cutter as well.