Soft cut-out sugar cookies are light and buttery with gentle vanilla flavor. There is no need to chill the dough. Roll out the room-temperature dough, cut it into shapes, freeze for a few minutes, and then bake. The cookies will not spread out and are great for decorating.
Once I got into making royal icing, the next step seemed obvious! Nailing down a great cut-out sugar cookie for decorating. It turned out, I didn’t need to look any further than my favorite vanilla slice-and-bake cookies. And I owe a reader for pointing out that I already might have a recipe here on the site that would work!
The recipe I’ve used to make vanilla cookies for years comes from my mom’s recipe binder and the now-defunct McCall’s magazine (circa, I would guess, the 1980s). If you’ve been reading for long, you might know the ones. These cookies have become a favorite in our house and are the base for colorful pinwheel cookies. See the Christmas version here and the Fourth of July version here.
The best part about these cookies? Well….the tender texture and sweet buttery flavor are probably the best part. But the second best part? There’s no need to chill the dough for hours. Just mix up the dough and it is immediately ready to roll out and cut into shapes. You’ll want to freeze the dough on the baking pans for about 15 minutes before baking (this prevents the cookies from spreading out), but otherwise there’s very little waiting from mixing to eating these sweet soft sugar cookies.
Find all the details on these cookies below, and if you want to decorate them with royal icing, be sure to pop on over to this post for the details.
- Unsalted Butter - If using salted butter, just skip the extra salt in the recipe. Let the butter come to cool room temperature before using. It should be soft but still hold its shape.
- All-Purpose Flour - If you have a kitchen scale, measure the flour by weight. You’ll get the most consistent results this way. Otherwise, just gently spoon the flour into measuring cups so that it doesn’t compress.
- Baking Powder - Be sure your baking powder is reasonably fresh. You’ll want it to help give the cookies some lift so you get that light, buttery texture.
- Kosher Salt - I test all of my recipes with Kosher salt which has a slightly larger grain compared to regular table salt. If using regular table salt, reduce to ¼ tsp.
- Pure Vanilla Extract and Almond Extract - I like to use both of these in the cookies. Vanilla flavor really shines through, but a small amount of almond extract gives the cookies that classic subtle almond flavor. It’s fine to skip the almond extract if you’d like.
- White Sugar, Large Eggs - Standard baking ingredients.
Chill the Dough After Rolling Out (not before)
Many recipes for soft cut-out sugar cookies have you mix the dough and then chill it for an hour or more before rolling it out. But there is a better way! As soon as the cookie dough is mixed, roll it out on a floured surface (skip the chilling step). Not only does this safe time, but room temperature dough is much easier to roll out than chilled dough. Cut the dough into shapes and then transfer directly to a sheet pans.
Next (this is key), freeze the cookie dough on the sheet pans for 15 minutes before baking. That 15 minute freeze time helps the cookies to hold their shape when they hit the hot oven and will prevent them from spreading out.
Keep in mind that there’s no need to bake all of the cookies right away. Once they are cut into shapes and frozen on a sheet pan, just bake what you need. Transfer the rest of the frozen cookie dough to a freezer-safe bag and freeze for up to 2 months.
Bake Sugar Cookies from Frozen
Once they are cut out and frozen, sugar cookies can be baked straight from the freezer. Bake frozen cookies directly from the freezer at 375°F / 190°C for 11 to 15 minutes.
How to Decorate with Royal Icing
If you want to decorate your cookies with royal icing, let them cool completely before decorating. You can even bake the cookies a day ahead of time.
To decorate cookies with royal icing, outlining and then filling / flooding is key. First create an outline with icing of the area you want to fill with color. Then go back in and fill or “flood” the center of the outlined area. Gently jiggle the cookie to help the icing to spread out and fill the entire area. You can create layers of icing, but let each layer dry before adding more icing on top.
Once royal icing has been used to decorate cookies, let it rest at room temperature until fully set. This can take 1 to 4 hours, depending on the humidity and temperature in the room.
More Cookie Recipes
- Chocolate Chip Cookies
- Peanut Butter Chocolate Chunk Cookies
- Chocolate Brownie Crackle Cookies
- Kitchen Sink Cookies
- Crisp Gingerbread Cookies
- Brown Sugar Oatmeal Cookie Cups
- Salted Caramel Stuffed Chocolate Cookies
Soft Cut-Out Sugar Cookies
- Stand or Handheld Mixer
- Rolling Pin
- Cookie Cutters
- Half Sheet Pans
- Cooling Rack
- 4 cups All-Purpose Flour, plus more for dusting (4 cups = 500g)
- 2 teaspoons Baking Powder
- ½ teaspoons Kosher Salt
- 1 ⅓ cup Unsalted Butter, softened to room temperature (1 ⅓ cup = 21 Tbsp)
- 1 ½ cup White Sugar (1 ½ cups = 300g)
- 2 large Eggs
- 1 teaspoons Pure Vanilla Extract
- ⅛ teaspoons Almond Extract (optional)
- 1 cup Water
- 6 Tablespoon Meringue Powder
- 1 (32 ounce) bag Powdered Sugar (see note)
- Gel Food Coloring, if desired (be sure to use a gel-based food coloring; water-based food coloring can change the consistency of the icing)
- In a large mixing bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
- Using a stand mixer or handheld mixer, beat butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.
- Add eggs one at a time, mixing between each addition. Add vanilla extract and almond extract and beat until evenly combined.
- Add dry ingredients in three increments, mixing on low between each addition. Continue mixing on low until no dry spots remain (do not over mix).
- Lightly dust a work surface with flour.
- Working with about ⅓ of the dough at a time, roll it out to about ¼-inch thick. Use cookie cutters to cut the dough into shapes and transfer them to a lightly greased sheet pan (you can also line it with parchment paper or a Silpat baking mat), leaving space between each cookie.
- Transfer the sheet pan(s) with cookies to the freezer for 15 minutes. (This will minimize spreading as the cookies bake.)
- While the cookies chill, preheat oven to 375°F / 190°C.
- When the oven is heated and the cookies are done chilling, transfer sheet pans with cookies directly to the oven and bake until the cookies are just set and show a hint of golden brown around the edges, 8 to 10 minutes (if cookies are frozen solid, they may take 3 to 5 minutes longer).
- Transfer to a cooling rack and cool completely before decorating.
- Make Icing: Pour water in the bowl of a standing mixer or a large mixer (if using a hand mixer). Gently swirl the water around to coat the sides of the bowl (this will help to prevent the dried ingredients from sticking).
- Add meringue powder and powdered sugar all at once.
- Start mixing on low, scraping down the bowl as needed, until everything is evenly combined.
- Increase speed to medium-high and beat for 1 minute.
- Continue mixing on medium-high in 30 second intervals, stopping to check the consistency after each interval. To check the consistency, use a spatula or spoon to scoop and drizzle some icing over the surface. Watch the design you drew as you count to 10. The icing is done when it takes 10 seconds for the surface of the icing to turn completely smooth.
- Divide icing between bowls and stir in food coloring as desired. Transfer to piping bags. Icing can be refrigerated for up to 2 days or frozen for up to 2 months.
- Make sure that cookies have cooled completely before using the frosting to decorate. Let decorated cookies sit at room temperature until the icing is fully set (this can take 1 to 4 hours, depending on the temperature and humidity of the room).
- Store cookies in a well-sealed container at room temperature for up to 3 days.
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