Everyone says they have the best Christmas sugar cookies recipe don’t they? Well, they’re wrong, I do. Seriously though, this is the best sugar cookie recipe I’ve ever tasted. It’s soft, flavorful, and the dough is easy to work with. I love making these cookies. They’re cute and you can decorate them in so many ways for any occasion. In this post I’m going to share my favorite sugar cookie recipe, and show you how easy they are to decorate.
What makes these cookies so amazing? Two secret ingredients. One is cream cheese, the other is almond extract.
Best Ever Sugar Cookies
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
- 3 oz cream cheese, softened (do not use low fat cream cheese or your cookies won’t turn out
- 1 teaspoon almond extract
- 1 egg yolk
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F, and get out two to three large baking pans, cover each with parchment paper.
Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar on medium high until fluffy and light yellow. Then beat in the cream cheese until well combined. Beat in the almond extract followed by the egg yolk until combined. Add the flour and the salt, mixing until just combined. Finish mixing by hand with a spatula if necessary.
The dough will be extremely soft at this point, so in order for you to be able to roll it out it needs to be refrigerated for 1 to 2 hours. Split the dough in two balls and form into discs. Wrap each disc in cling wrap and put in the fridge. If you’re in a rush you can put the dough in the freezer for about 15 to 20 minutes.
Once your dough is cool, working with one disc at a time, roll the dough out on a floured surface until about 1/4 inch thick. This dough is very sticky so I use a lot of flour under and on top of the dough. If your dough is sticking to your rolling pin rub flour on that as well. The dough warms up pretty quickly so if you find it’s getting hard to work with wrap it up and swap out for the other disc. You can also dip your cookie cutters in flour if you’re finding the cutouts are getting stuck to the cutter.
Using your cookie cutters, cut out the dough and place on your prepared pans, approximately two inches apart. Once your pan is full, place it in the fridge for about 15-20 minutes. This helps the cookies keep their shape during the initial stage of baking. This is especially important if you have an intricate cookie like the snowflake ones I did.
Once your cookies have been chilled, bake them for 7-9 minutes. When they are starting to brown around the edges pull the pan out of the oven. Keep a close eye around the 6-minute mark. If you have narrow areas on your cookies they tend to bake a lot faster and you don’t want them to burn.
Let them cool for about 5 minutes on the pan, then move them to a wire rack to cool completely. When they are completely cool you’re ready to decorate!
If you want your sugar cookies to have that glossy smooth look to them, you need royal icing. Royal icing is traditionally made with raw egg whites; but gross, so most people now use meringue powder. You can find meringue powder at any craft or baking stores, and some well-stocked grocery stores.
I use the royal icing recipe on the back of my container of meringue powder. There are many recipes online, and they all basically require the same ingredients. Here is the one I use:
- 1/2 cup cold water
- 1/4 cup meringue powder
- 4 cups confectioner’s (icing) sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon clear vanilla extract or almond extract (optional)
In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment beat the meringue powder and water on high until peaks form (when you stop the mixer and lift the whisk out the mixture that pulls off should stay in a somewhat stiff peak). Then switch to the paddle attachment and beat in the confectioner’s sugar until combined.
That’s it! This makes a pretty thick icing, for the techniques below you will want to add more water.
This is the fun part. I’m sure you’ve seen those beautifully decorated sugar cookies that look like tiny works of art. These can take a lot of time to make, and you often have to let layers dry completely before adding more icing. I’m going to show you the quick and dirty way to get your cookies camera-ready.
In addition to just doing one color, I’m going to show you how to add polka dots and a swirl effect to your sugar cookies. Depending on how many colors you want to work with, split your royal icing up into several bowls and add food coloring. You may need to add some water to your royal icing to get the right consistency for the cookies we’re going to decorate here.
We’re going to use a technique called ‘flooding’ and basically the icing needs to be fairly liquid, similar to the consistency of honey. If it’s too runny it will drip off the side of the cookie, and if it’s too thick it won’t fill your cookie nice and smoothly. It can take a bit of trial and error to get just the right consistency. I don’t know how many times I’ve filled my piping bag with icing only to find it’s too thick.
Once you have your icing ready, put it into a piping bag or a squeeze bottle. I actually prefer squeeze bottles since they are less messy and easier to hold. But use whatever you’ve got. A quick tip if you’re using piping bags: when filling your bags stand them upside down in a tall glass. I also keep them in the glass to prevent spills out of the tops as well while I’m decorating. You can buy racks for this purpose, but unless you’re doing a lot of decorating a glass will do just fine.
The first thing you want to do is the outline of the cookie. Hold the tip a few inches from the cookie. If the icing is the right consistency you shouldn’t have to apply much pressure to the bag or bottle to get the icing to come out. Don’t squeeze out too much or the icing will drip over the sides. Don’t worry too much about being exact, you can fix any places you’ve missed with a toothpick by gently pulling the icing where you want it to cover.
Once the outline is done you need to flood the center. I do a zig zag motion with the icing. Don’t fill the entire cookie, the icing will spread out and flood the area within the outline in a couple of minutes. Use a toothpick to pull icing into any areas that didn’t get flooded.
Simple flooded sugar cookies are beautiful, and if you want to stop here that’s fine! If you want to add a few more embellishments, you can throw a few sprinkles on top. Nonpareils look great on sugar cookies, and you can get them in just about any color.
Another design I like to do are polka dots. You can wait until your base coast is dry and then pipe on polka dots to give the cookies some texture (you would need a thicker consistency to do this), but I like to add the dots while the cookie is still wet. It keeps its color but the cookie is just one level of icing.
All you need to do to accomplish this is add your dots using either a squeeze bottle or fairly small round piping tip (not too small or the icing can get stuck). As soon as you’ve flooded your cookie add small dots in a different color and that’s it! Super easy right?
Another cool trick is to create a kind of feathery look by adding another color and then gently pulling a toothpick through the still-wet icing. To do the star I simply piped two circles in the center of the star, and then pulled a toothpick from the center outward to each star point. You can make hearts this way (drag the toothpick through a dot) as well. This technique is really fun to play with and kids really enjoy trying this out.
Once your designs are done, let your cookies dry for at least 24 hours. And that’s it! Sugar cookies are simple, pretty, and are a welcome addition to any holiday cookie plate.
I hope you enjoyed my Christmas sugar cookie recipe and tutorial. If you have any questions or would like to share your favorite cookie designs, please leave me a comment below!