How make sugar cookies; The best sugar cookies recipes use this secret ingredient! Learn how make sugar cookies perfectly.
These cookies are my all-time fav for basically every single holiday. Seriously, they’re like your favorite pair of black pumps, they go with everything.
Valentines Day? Heart shaped cutter and pink frosting.
St. Patricks Day? Shamrock cutter and green frosting.
4th of July? Star shaped cutter and white frosting with red and blue sprinkles.
Your dog’s birthday? Bone shaped cutter and make the frosting your dog’s favorite color.
Wait, dog’s don’t see in color. Or is that horses?
While these are popular at any holiday, at our house, they are an inarguable MUST at Christmas.
Over the years, I have taken my mother’s long-time favorite sugar cookie recipe, and perfected the details. These cookies are soft, never crumbly, and the cream cheese frosting is decadent, creamy, but never too oily. While the recipe itself is heavenly, it is the process that makes them absolutely perfect.
And so, it is the process I’ll be discussing today. Below are your rules for making the perfect soft sugar cookies, the ones your friends will remember for years and years. (Mine do.)
RULE #1: Follow the recipe exactly.
Those of you who do more cooking than baking may need to be reminded that when baking, you must measure. You must be precise. You don’t add flour until it looks about right, you add the exact amount of flour called for.
While normally I respect the choice of anyone to use butter or shortening more or less interchangeably, in this case, I strongly strongly recommend you use the shortening. My apologies to the Europeans who can’t find the stuff. Butter melts easier, which means your cookies will spread more, the consistency will change, and they may not turn out as well as hoped. If you absolutely must use butter, honestly, you might want to scour the interwebs for a recipe that calls for butter.
My very favorite thing about this recipe, the secret ingredient if you will, is the sour cream. It is the secret to success. Sour cream makes these cookies so soft and creamy, they are even amazing to eat frozen.
RULE #2: Chill the dough for 8 hours or more.
If you ever get impatient and think you’re going to chill for only 2-3 hours, you are going to regret it. This particular recipe needs, NEEDS, the full 8-10 hours of chill time. Personally, I chill the dough overnight before cutting.
Chilling the dough does two things. One is that it gives the ingredients time to combine, time to become one, time to taste even more amazing. The second is that it changes the texture of the dough. The dough needs to be cold when you roll it out, and cold when it goes in the oven. This will make the cutting clean and keep the cookies from spreading too far.
Plus, once you see the finished dough, you’ll know there is no way you can roll this dough without chilling it first.
RULE #3: Roll the dough on a non-stick surface.
I’m hoping this one goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway.
If you are really passionate about preserving the softness of your cookies, you can roll the dough between two layers of wax paper. However, I normally roll them on a floured countertop. A WELL floured countertop. It’s imperative the dough doesn’t stick to your rolling surface, because the cookies will not maintain their shape or thickness otherwise.
RULE #4: Roll the dough to the correct thickness.
If this post only had one rule, it would be this one. This is the absolute, total, and complete secret to well-made sugar cookies. Do not, I repeat, DO NOT roll them too thin! I find it’s a tendency of most people to roll the dough thinner than it needs to be. The dough should be thicker than 1/4 inch. Mine is generally somewhere between 1/4 – 1/2 inch. Let’s call it 3/8 inch.
If the cookies are too thin, they will be crispy. The edges will be brown, and have a tendency to break off. They will lose all of the gorgeous softness that makes these cookies great.
Of course, if they are too thick, they can have different problems, like spreading too much and not being cooked through in the center.
If you are going to take care during just one step of the process, make it this step. Dough thickness is key.
RULE #5: Don’t overwork the dough.
Get as many cookies as you can out of each roll. You can gather and re-roll the leftover dough pieces, but be aware that the more you do this, the chewier the cookies will be. The added flour (from the floured countertop) and the added working activates the gluten and turns your cookies into bread. Which no one wants. Trust me on this.
Instead of more rolling, I like to use up the little scraps with little cookie cutters like these. I love these cute little 1-inch cutters! And instead of frosting a bunch of little cookies, you can make the frosting a little thin (by adding more milk or using less powdered sugar) and just dip the cookies in it. It’s fun, and kids love it.
Normally, I roll half the dough, and re-roll it once. Then I start with the second half, and re-roll it once. What is left from both halves is combined for a third and final roll. Any dough left after that is eaten raw. Because this might be the best raw cookie dough in the history of humanity.
RULE #6: Trust the timer.
This one is actually a little tough, because altitude and some other factors can affect baking time. I live in Utah, at an altitude of about 4500 feet. Technically, this is a high altitude environment. You may have to experiment just a little to get your baking time right. Mine bake for 10 minutes exactly. (Unless they’re tiny, then they bake for 8 minutes) Once you’re certain of the baking time, stick with it.
The reason I’m telling you this is that these bake slightly differently than an average cookie. When I make chocolate chip cookies, I make sure the edges and tops are just ever-so-slighly browned before I take them out of the oven. But sugar cookies are a different story. If they get brown, in my opinion, they’re overdone. There’s really no clear visual cue to when the cookies are done. Trust your timer, pull them out at the right time, and don’t let them get brown.
RULE #7: Make the frosting soft and creamy.
First of all, the cream cheese and butter both need to be soft when you make the frosting. Plan accordingly. Maybe when you put the dough in the fridge, it’s a good time to take the cream cheese and butter out, and set the on the countertop to soften.
As much as I love mixing things simply, in a glass bowl with a wooden spoon, to make this frosting smooth, I recommend using beaters. The small hand held electric beaters work great for this, much better than a spoon could ever do.
You can also adjust the texture of your frosting quite easily by adding more powdered sugar or more milk. I like the frosting a little on the soft side to match the softness in the cookies. I find that when I use a piping bag, I tend to use much more frosting than if I just spread it on with a knife, so if you’re planning to pipe the frosting, you may want to double the recipe.
RULE #8: Store in an airtight container.
Once the cookies cool, you can frost them right away. If you’re not going to frost them within an hour or so, though, put them in an airtight container, and make sure they are sealed up tight. Even large plastic zipper bags will do.
After frosting, if you want to use sprinkles, do it quickly. After you’re done frosting, let the cookies sit out for an hour or so, to let the frosting sit and harden a little. After that, there are a couple choices.
CHOICE #1: Place the cookies on a baking sheet or tray, in a single layer, (I can fit about 14-15 cookies on a baking sheet) and freeze them. Once frozen, put them in your airtight box with wax paper between layers. Then keep the box in the fridge or freezer. These cookies are fantastic frozen, but if you prefer them at room temperature, take them out of the freezer 60-90 minutes before serving.
CHOICE #2: (The faster choice) Skip the freezing, and just layer your cookies in your airtight box with wax paper between each layer. The down side here is that without freezing first, the wax paper will smush the frosting and all the work you did to make them pretty will go to waste.
If you’re going to eat your cookies within a day or two, you can leave them on the countertop with no problems. If they need to last longer, keep them in the fridge or freezer.
Is that enough rules? Honestly, it seems like a lot of rules, but these cookies are sooooo worth it. They’re just so soft and creamy and wonderful. I know a lot of people use royal icing or a simple glaze on their cookies (my mom uses a lemon juice and powdered sugar glaze) but there is just nothing that can compare to cream cheese frosting.
I hope you enjoy these cookies, and please feel free to leave questions or comments below. I will try to answer all questions!
Soft Sugar Cookies
- 1 cup shortening
- 2 cups sugar
- 3 eggs
- 1 cup sour cream
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 5 cups flour (+ more for rolling)
- 4 ounces cream cheese softened
- 2 tablespoons butter softened
- 2 tablespoons milk
- 2 cups powdered sugar
- 2-3 drops food coloring (optional)
- Cream shortening and sugar. Add eggs, sour cream, and vanilla and mix well.
- Add salt, soda, and baking powder, and mix well. Add flour, and mix just until combined.
- Wrap dough tightly in plastic, or place in a plastic zipper bag, and chill 8-10 hours or overnight.
- Roll dough to ⅜-inch thickness and cut out shapes. Place on baking sheet and bake at 350F for 10-12 minutes.
- Combine all ingredients, mixing until smooth. Frost cooled cookies.
- Store in an airtight container between layers of wax paper. Will keep best if refrigerated or frozen.