Introducing the actual best sugar cookie recipe! My recipe makes simple, versatile vanilla sugar cookies; the dough is easy to roll and to work with and doesn’t spread when baking, so your cookies will always have sharp, defined edges! You can decorate these cookies with sanding sugar, or you can use my recipe below for a simple (and tasty!) pipe-able sugar cookie icing (one that’s not royal icing!).
The Best Sugar Cookie Recipe
If you’re looking for perfect cut-out Christmas sugar cookies, ones that hold their shape and don’t spread in the oven, come together easily with no strange ingredients, and that actually taste incredible, too, I’ve got you covered this year.
If you want a foolproof (and I do literally mean foolproof) easy sugar cookie icing that isn’t royal icing, one that dries firm but not break-your-teeth hard, well I’ve got you covered there too.
I’m adding this flawless sugar cookie recipe to my Christmas cookie tray alongside the gingerbread men, meringues, and hot chocolate bombs (am I the only one including these on my cookie list this year?) and would like to gently suggest you consider doing the same, I don’t think you (or your guests or gift recipients!) will regret it.
Why You’ll Love This Easy Sugar Cookie Recipe:
- My recipe yields cookies that absolutely do not spread in the oven, so you have perfectly defined shapes and clear cookie-cutter edges.
- These sugar cookies have a soft interior texture with a classic, buttery flavor (and instructions for adding other flavors, if desired).
- Recipe includes instructions to easily customize the cookies depending on whether you prefer thicker and softer or thinner and crispier sugar cookies.
- Includes a simple, shiny, and absolutely foolproof (you seriously can’t mess this up!) sugar cookie icing that you are going to love. While royal icing certainly has its place (and I even have a fantastic royal icing recipe, if you’re searching or would like to use that here) I generally prefer this oh-so-easy frosting instead.
What You Need
Sugar Cookies Ingredients
- Butter. I recommend using unsalted butter so that we can best control the flavor. For best results, note that the butter should be softened, but not so soft that it’s melting/oily.
- Sugar. Use granulated sugar, it gives my sugar cookie recipe that classic Christmas cookie flavor you know and love and helps keep them from spreading.
- Egg. A single egg helps the dough bind together.
- Vanilla extract. You can really flavor these cookies with whatever extract you like best (almond and lemon are popular choices), but typically I always include at least a splash of vanilla, even when using other flavors, as it gives the sugar cookies a beautiful depth of flavor. (If you have homemade vanilla extract, now is a great time to use it!).
- Flour. I have only tested and only recommend this sugar cookie recipe with all-purpose flour (often simply referred to as “plain” flour outside of the US).
- Baking powder. My recipe uses just a small amount of baking powder, which helps give the cookies the perfect soft interior texture and crisp edge.
- Salt. I mentioned above that unsalted butter is best, but if you only have salted on hand simply reduce the salt in the recipe to ¼ teaspoon.
Sugar Cookie Icing Ingredients
- Powdered sugar. Also known as confectioners sugar or icing sugar. For best results (especially if you’ll be piping the icing), sift it to remove any lumps before using.
- Milk. I use whole milk, but any variety (low-fat, skim, or even non-dairy milk like almond) will work instead. Just note that if you are using a lower-fat milk you may need less than the recipe calls for, as it is thinner.
- Vanilla extract. If you want pure white icing I recommend using a clear vanilla extract.
- Light corn syrup. Not to be confused with high fructose corn syrup, this ingredient gives my sugar cookie frosting a glossy, shiny finish and helps it to to set firmly. If you must leave it out, I’ve included notes in the recipe on how to do so, but for best results I recommend using it. Dark corn syrup could work but will add a muddy color and additional flavor to your icing. Outside of the US, you may be able to find glucose syrup, which should work instead.
- Food Coloring. Of course this is optional, but for festively decorated Christmas sugar cookies, you’ll probably want to add a bit of color. I love and use gel food coloring for best results (and linked to the kind I use in the recipe). Liquid or powder food coloring will work, but may not be as vibrant.
As always, this is just an overview of the ingredients used here and why they were chosen. For the full sugar cookie recipe with amounts and detailed instructions, please scroll down to the printable recipe.
SAM’S TIP: Don’t have time to decorate? Skip the sugar cookie frosting and just sprinkle colorful sanding sugar over the cookies before baking!
Tips for Making the Best Sugar Cookies
- When cutting out your sugar cookies, make sure to keep your cuts as close together to get as many cookies out of your dough as possible. Re-roll any scraps so that you use all of your dough. Keep in mind that with each re-roll you’re adding more flour into the dough, so you want to get as much as possible out of that first roll.
- Bake cookies that are about the same size on the same baking sheet. Otherwise the small ones will burn and the large ones won’t finish baking.
- For thinner, crispy sugar cookies: Roll cookie dough thinner (about ⅛″) and look for the edges of the cookies to be beginning to turn golden brown to know that they are done.
- For thicker, soft sugar cookies: Roll dough to about ¼″, and watch for cookies to be just beginning to turn lightly golden around the edges. Let them cool completely on the cookie rack as they may break if you try to move them while they’re still warm.
- When making the sugar cookie icing: It’s hard to mess this one up, because if you make it too thin, just add more powdered sugar. If it’s too thick, just add more milk! Look for a consistency where the icing that drizzles off of the whisk holds its shape for several seconds before dissolving back into the icing bowl.
Frequently Asked Questions
Sugar cookies should always have a distinctly buttery, sugary and (usually) vanilla flavor, but in order to maintain their clean-cut shape they are never quite as rich as drop cookies. Much of their flavor comes from the sweet sugar cookie icing. While my sugar cookie recipe is already flavorful, to make them even more so, you can add different extracts or emulsions to the dough or top the icing off with sanding sugar or decorative candies.
Yes, my easy sugar cookie icing may be colored (if desired) and stored in an airtight container at room temperature or in the refrigerator for up to a week before using. To help keep the top from crusting, always place a piece of plastic wrap directly against the surface of the sugar cookie frosting when storing (or keep in a plastic bag and twist to keep the air from reaching the icing). Most likely you will need to stir (or if you stored it in piping bags, massage it) before using.
This is often a result of accidentally mis-measuring an ingredient or over-measuring the flour. Please see my post on how to measure flour properly, and remember to never scoop the flour directly into the measuring cup (for best results, use a scale!).
Add your flour gradually. Adding it all at once can make it difficult for the dough to properly absorb the dry ingredients, resulting in a crumbly, difficult dough. Make sure that your sugar cookie dough is thoroughly combined; if it still seems crumbly after you’ve added all the flour, just keep mixing with an electric mixer (or stand mixer) until dough is clinging together and no flour remains.
This is most often a result of accidentally mis-measuring or substituting an ingredient, using butter that is much too soft (it should never be melting/oily and should not be warmed in the microwave), or not chilling the dough for long enough. Dough that is still slightly sticky after chilling can often be salvaged by chilling longer or by generously dusting your countertop and the dough with additional flour.
Hopefully you love this easy sugar cookie recipe as much as I do, and don’t forget to check out the how-to video in the recipe card!
Easy Sugar Cookies & Sugar Cookie Frosting
Sugar Cookie Frosting
- 3 cups (375 g) powdered sugar, sifted (weigh before sifting)
- 3-4 Tablespoons milk (I use whole milk, but any kind will work)
- 2 Tablespoons light corn syrup (see note)
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- Gel food coloring optional
- Additional candies and sprinkles for decorating optional
- Combine butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a large bowl and use an electric hand mixer) and beat until creamy and well-combined.1 cup (226 g) unsalted butter, 1 cup (200 g) granulated sugar
- Add egg and vanilla extract and beat until completely combined.1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract, 1 large egg
- In a separate, medium-sized bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt.2 ½ cups (315 g) all-purpose flour, ¾ teaspoon baking powder, ¾ teaspoon table salt
- Gradually stir dry ingredients into wet until dough is smooth and completely combined.
- Lay out a large piece of plastic wrap and transfer approximately half of the dough onto the wrap (dough will be quite sticky at this point, that’s OK!).
- Cover dough with clear wrap or wax paper and mold into a flat disk. Wrap tightly. Repeat with remaining cookie dough in another piece of clear wrap. Transfer dough to refrigerator and chill for at least 2-3 hours and up to 5 days.
- Once dough has finished chilling, preheat oven to 350F (175C) and line a baking sheet with parchment paper (alternatively bake cookies directly on an ungreased baking sheet). Set aside.
- Generously dust a clean surface with flour and place one chilled cookie dough disk onto the surface. Lightly flour the dough and roll out to ⅛" (for thinner, crispier cookies) or ¼" (for thicker, softer cookies). Add additional flour as needed both on top of and beneath the dough so that it doesn't stick. Note: if dough is cracking as you roll it, let it sit at room temperature for 10-15 minutes to soften before attempting again.
- Use cookie cutters to cut out shapes and use a spatula to transfer shapes to prepared baking sheet, spacing at least 1" apart. If you are not intending to decorate your cookies with icing, you can decorate them with sanding sugar at this point before you bake them.
- Bake on 350F (175C) for 8-10 minutes (this is for cookies that are approximately 3" [7.6cm]; note that smaller cookies will need less time and larger cookies will need more), or until edges just begin to turn lightly golden brown.
- Allow cookies to cool completely on cookie sheet before decorating.
Easy Sugar Cookie Icing
- Combine powdered sugar, 2 Tablespoons of milk, corn syrup, and vanilla extract in a medium-sized bowl and stir until combined. If frosting is too thick, add more milk, about a teaspoon at a time, until the frosting is thick but pipeable. If you accidentally add too much milk, add powdered sugar until desired texture is reached.3 cups (375 g) powdered sugar, sifted, 3-4 Tablespoons milk, 2 Tablespoons light corn syrup, ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- If coloring the frosting, divide into bowls and color as desired at this point.Gel food coloring
- Transfer frosting to a piping bag with a piping tip (I used Wilton 5), or place in a Ziploc bag and snip a small piece of the corner off (not as neat, but this will still work, just take care that the frosting isn’t so thick that it breaks open the seam of the bag when you are squeezing).
- Pipe frosting on cookies and decorate with decorative candies, if desired.Additional candies and sprinkles for decorating
- Allow frosting to harden before enjoying, stacking, or storing (this took several hours for me and may vary for you depending on the consistency of your frosting).
Flavoring and extractsYou may also reduce the vanilla extract to ¾ teaspoon and add ¼-1/2 teaspoons of either almond or lemon extract (or just about any other extract you’d like!).
Corn SyrupI highly recommend using light corn syrup for the firmest, glossiest finish on your sugar cookies. However, if you must omit it, you may, but note that the frosting will not dry quite as hard and you will likely need to add more milk to get the icing to the proper consistency. Glucose syrup may be substituted, but outside of that I am not sure of a substitute that would give the same effect.
Making Frosting in AdvanceTo make icing in advance, store in an airtight container with a piece of plastic wrap pressed directly against the surface of the icing. It will keep for several days and may be stored either at room temperature or in the refrigerator. Icing will need to be stirred again before using. It may be colored with food coloring before or after storing.
StoringKeep uneaten cookies sealed in an airtight container at room temperature for up to ten days. Cookies may also be frozen for several months.
Nutritional information is based on third-party calculations and should be considered an estimate only. Actual nutritional content will vary based upon brands used, measuring methods, cooking method, portion sizes, and more.