How to Make Sugar Cookies

Learn how to make the long-time holiday favorite in just a few simple steps.

Sugar cookies have been around for generations—whether it’s a freshly baked batch for Santa or a deliciously-frosted creation just because. No matter the occasion, Betty has all the time-honored tips you need to bake your best batch of buttery, melt-in-your-mouth sugar cookies today. 

A Brief History of Cookies
Have you ever wondered where the tradition of baking cookies first originated? It’s speculated that baked cakes both large and small (the smaller being the more cookie-like) were first prominent in the Persian empire around the seventh century AD. When the spice trade began to develop after the invasion of Spain, Arabian cooking techniques (and ingredients) spread into Northern Europe. It’s there that the Dutch word koeptje or “koekje” came from, meaning “small cake.”

One could buy wafers on the streets of Paris by the 14th century, and by the 17th century, cookies were in high demand and common in cookbooks of all varieties. There’s something about sugar cookies, in particular, though, that’s seemed to stick over the last century. Their buttery consistency, their endless possibilities to be glazed or frosted and decorated to suit any occasion, all contribute to their unyielding popularity. And it just so happens that our recipe for classic sugar cookies is one of our most requested—and most frequently baked—for every time of year.

Getting Started
If you’re wondering how to make sugar cookies from scratch, good news: it’s easier than you might think! You’ll only need a few baking ingredients to get the job done—many of which you probably have on hand already—and some basic tools.

We recommend using 3-inch cookie cutters, but of course you can find the shapes and sizes that suit the occasion—snowflakes for Christmas, eggs for Easter, and hearts for Valentine’s Day. Whenever you bake cookies, however, be sure each batch has cookies that are the same size so they bake evenly.

We also recommend using a rolling pin, simply because it helps spread the dough out evenly and ensures uniform baking. Rolling pins often come in three different materials: wood, plastic, or marble. We prefer a wood rolling pin as it’s sturdy enough to get the job done while allowing flour to stick to the surface, making for easier rolling.

In terms of what sugars to use, it’s recommended that you follow the specific recipe. This is because each sugar affects the texture of cookies differently. Brown sugar, for example, is typically used to make softer sugar cookies. For this recipe we’ll use powdered sugar and then top our cookies off with a bit of granulated sugar for an extra-sweet finish.

What to Know About Sugar Cookie Dough 
Sugar cookie dough can be fickle if you don’t know how to work with it; luckily, we have the right techniques to ensure your dough is easy to roll, cut, and bake.

Rule of thumb number one: stick to unsalted butter when baking. We prefer butter over margarine for most baking needs—like pastry crusts, shortbread, and sugar cookies—because the high water content and low fat levels of margarine provides poor results.

In terms of the tools that will best help you whip your dough into shape, an electric or stand mixer works wonders, but a wooden spoon can be used if you don’t have the others; it just requires a little more elbow grease.

How to Make Sugar Cookies:
There’s a reason our classic sugar cookies have been a holiday favorite for generations! Not only are they melt-in-your-mouth good, but they aren’t fussy or hard to make. In fact, everything you need is probably already in your pantry. Here’s how to make our top-rated sugar cookies.

What you’ll need:
  • Ingredients for Classic Sugar Cookies
  • Large mixing bowl
  • Electric mixer or mixing spoon
  • Lightly-greased cookie sheet
  • Rolling pin
  • 3-inch cookie cutters (desired shapes)
  • Wire cooling rack
How to:

1.  Gather your ingredients.
2.  In a large bowl, beat three cups of powdered sugar, the butter, vanilla, eggs and one teaspoon of almond extract with an electric mixer on medium speed, or with a spoon. how-to-make-classic-sugar-cookies_02
3.  Next, stir in the flour, baking soda and cream of tartar. how-to-make-classic-sugar-cookies_03
4.  Once mixed, cover and refrigerate your cookie dough for at least two hours. how-to-make-classic-sugar-cookies_04
5.  After your dough has chilled, remove it from the refrigerator. Preheat your oven to 375 ºF and lightly grease a cookie sheet. Divide the dough in half and place on a lightly floured surface. Roll each half with a rolling pin until the dough is about 1/8-inch thick. how-to-make-classic-sugar-cookies_05
6.  Using 3-inch cookie cutters, cut your dough into desired shapes how-to-make-classic-sugar-cookies_06
7.  Place the cookies onto the greased cookie sheet, about two inches apart. how-to-make-classic-sugar-cookies_07
8.  Bake for five to seven minutes or until the edges are light brown. Remove them from the cookie sheet and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely (about 30 minutes). Repeat this process until all your cookies are baked and cooled. how-to-make-classic-sugar-cookies_08
How to Store Dough
At Step 4 you’ll notice that it’s necessary to chill the dough for a few hours. This is because chilling the dough helps the cookies keep their shape when baking. Why? Because the butter in the cold dough takes longer to melt, and the longer it takes to melt, the more solid the cookie stays. We like to store our dough in the bowl once we’ve mixed it, and cover with plastic wrap while it chills in the fridge.

In general, the longer you chill your dough past the time called for in the recipe, the harder it may be to roll out. It will most likely stay safe for a day or two, but if you don’t plan on baking it within 4-6 hours, we’d recommend freezing it for when you eventually do bake the cookies. Then, if you need to thaw the cookie dough, simply transfer it from the freezer to the refrigerator for a few hours before baking.

Expert Cookie Baking Hacks
  • Before rolling out your cookies, be sure to dust the counter with flour, as well as the rolling pin. This ensures that the dough will stick to the pin enough for you to roll it out. However, too much flour can dry out your cookies—so only throw down a dusting as needed.
  • If you don’t have cookie cutters, you can also use the open ends of drinking glasses. 
  • When recipes call for you to line your sheets, always use parchment paper, not waxed paper. Waxed paper will melt if it comes in contact with direct heat. Parchment paper is the perfect solution to keep cookies from sticking to the baking sheet.
  • If you want to add colored sugar to your cookies, lightly brush the cookies with milk and sprinkle the sugar on top before baking.
  • Unlike other cookies, you shouldn’t wait until sugar cookies are golden brown before removing from the oven. Once a little color has come over them and they’ve set (and the recipe calls for them to be removed) take them out.
Cookie Decorating
From royal icing to classic vanilla frosting, there are plenty of fun ways to make your sugar cookies stand out. Once your cookies are out of the oven, transfer them to a wire rack and allow them to cool completely. If you attempt to frost or decorate before they’ve cooled, the frosting may melt and slide off your cookies.

We happen to be huge fans of Vanilla Buttercream Frosting that you can make at home, there’s also this Raspberry Buttercream Frosting perfect for decorating Valentine’s hearts. For any frosting recipe, hold one cookie at a time and scoop a tablespoon of frosting into the center of the cookie using a small metal spatula. 

Next, slowly spread the frosting to the edges of the cookie until it’s evenly distributed. Add sprinkles and candy decorations to your liking. To make colored frosting, you can also add a few drops of food coloring to a vanilla frosting.

If you’ve ever wondered what the difference was between frosting and glaze, you’re not alone. Frosting is thicker and comprised mainly of butter, sugar, and milk. A glaze tends to be a little thinner (think of a glazed doughnut) because they are typically made with water instead of milk.

Royal Icing
Royal icing is a hard white icing that’s perfect for sugar cookies and can act as a delicious blank canvas for food coloring, candy decorations, and whatever else you can dream up. Our failsafe recipe is easy to follow; learn how to make royal icing with us and you’ll have an impressive finish to your already top-notch cookies.

How to Store Cookies
If you happen to have leftover cookies—and no judgment if you don’t—you can keep them in an airtight container for a few days or freeze them. Wondering how long to freeze baked cookies? They can be kept in the freezer for up to two months if stored correctly. That means placing them in a single layer to avoid breakage and storing them in flat-bottomed, plastic containers with airtight lids. Be sure to line the bottom of each container with waxed paper or plastic wrap.

If you leave your cookies out (in a container) at room temperature, expect them to stay fresh for about three days.

Looking for more unique sugar cookie recipes? Try some of our most popular cookie recipes.
What’s your favorite kind of sugar cookie to bake? What traditions, secret ingredients, or kitchen hacks have you picked up along the way to help make your cookies even better? Let us know in the comments section below!

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