Hands down, this is the BEST sugar cookie recipe. The cookies keep their shape when baked, making them perfect for decorating. And because it came from Alton Brown, you know they’ll be delicious!
I know what you’re thinking. It’s January and I’m posting about Christmas cookies. Needless to say, the holidays were super hectic in my house and I couldn’t get my pictures taken before Christmas. In fact, the day after Christmas the kids and I spent the entire day in our pajamas decorating sugar cookies. I was in heaven.
My kids inhaled the carefully decorated sugar cookies, but I was able to hide these beauties for pictures. It took a week later for me to carve time and photograph them. My daughter saw me shooting pictures of the beautiful cookies and kept pestering me if I was done so she could eat them. It didn’t help that I needed her holiday themed hands for the shot below. So you see, it really was a Christmas miracle that I managed to take the photos at all!
The beauty of sugar cookies, is that you can cut them in any shape you want to commemorate any holiday or special occasion. Even though Christmas has passed, Valentines Day is around the corner, then Easter, Spring, Summer, birthdays, and on and on!
I have sampled many sugar cookies, finding some to be too puffy for cut outs, others to be teeth-cracking sweet. But this is recipe from Alton Brown is by far the best sugar cookie recipe I have found.
What makes this sugar cookie recipe the BEST sugar cookie recipe? It’s just sweet enough to enjoy plain. Plus, this recipe is perfect for cutout shapes because it retains it shape while it bakes. So feel free to make these cookies into whatever shape you want!
What’s the BEST fat to use for baking sugar cookies?
Now this is a question that can cause quite a bit of controversy! Traditionally speaking, the sugar cookie has a butter base. Butter adds wonderful flavor for baked goods, especially sugar cookies. But, they aren’t the only fat you can use when baking up sugar cookies.
I have also baked sugar cookies using cream cheese as the fat (click here for that recipe), as well as extra virgin olive oil as the base (recipe in my olive oil cookbook). GASP! They both offer terrific texture and flavor to the sugar cookie, as well as can be cut in a variety of different shapes. One note, olive oil cookies do not brown so make sure you do not over bake them.
What fat should you use? This would be based on your personal taste preferences. I like to switch things up and use all three varieties of fats. This particular recipe uses butter as the base.
How to make the best sugar cookies from scratch
Whichever fat base you do choose, the first step to baking sugar cookies from scratch is to cream the fat and sugar together (beat on high) until the mixture is lighter in color and very fluffy. The sugar should no longer look granular, but should be completely incorporated with the butter. Just mix on high for a few minutes until everything is creamed and smooth.
Mix in an egg, some vanilla extract and a little milk. The egg provides some stability to the cookie, as well as making them moist. And we are talking about using large eggs, not extra large, jumbo or any other size. Most baking recipes are referring to using large eggs in the recipes, unless otherwise stipulated.
Once all of the wet ingredients are mixed in, you now need to add the dry ingredients. This include the flour, baking powder and salt. Mix until incorporated without over mixing your cookie batter. An over mixed batter will yield a tough cookie. And no one wants to bite into a tough cookie.
Why chill sugar cookie dough?
If you are an impatient baker like me, the idea of mixing up cookie dough just to chill and wait a couple hours before you can roll it out and cut it sounds like torture. Why do we need to chill the dough? The main reason is to insure that the dough is stiff enough for the cookie cutters. Your chilled cookie dough will hold its shape better in the oven while it bakes.
This means sharp and crisp edges on your stars, Christmas trees, mustache tips, alphabet letters and the likes. You can either chill your dough before you roll it out, or you can roll out the dough and then chill it. Preference depends on how much room you have in your refrigerator!
One trick I like to use when rolling out pie crusts or sugar cookie dough is to roll the dough between two sheets of parchment paper or silicone mats. This prevents sticking to the work surface without adding too much flour or powdered sugar to the cookies. Overall, I find it to be a cleaner and less fussy experience.
The best way to decorate your sugar cookies
My favorite way to decorate sugar cookies is to use royal icing. It offers a thin sugar glaze without drowning your cookie in teeth cracking sugar. You can use buttercream frosting, but it offers a much thicker sugar coating to your cookie. The cookies decorated in this post is done with this royal icing recipe.
There are a number of ways you can apply royal icing to your cookie. There’s the professional way using piping bags and icing tips, which gives you a lot of precision and control with the icing. If you are not looking to decorate super crazy designs, you can transfer the icing to resealable plastic bags, cut a tiny part of one of the corners off and squeeze away.
Another way to adhere royal icing to your awesome sugar cookies is to use plastic squeeze bottles, which are super kid-friendly. I used these a lot when my kids were little and they were making a mess spooning icing over the cookies. Here are a few of my favorite products to help you decorate the best sugar cookies you just baked:
To sprinkle or not to sprinkle?
In my house, sprinkles provoke a lot of controversy when it comes to decorated sugar cookies. Adults usually don’t like sprinkles because of the flavor and many of them can really hurt your teeth! But the kids love the fun colors extra sugar that sprinkles offer.
I like to use a small amount of sprinkles for my cookies as it offers a fun way to make your sugar cookies come alive. And since I make the cookies for my kids, well, they just love seeing the colorful sprinkles in their many shapes and sizes. But I always make sure to ice a few cookies and leave them sprinkle-free for the adults.
I have a crazy sprinkle collection, because, well, they really are a lot of fun! One of my favorite places to buy sprinkles is Michael’s Craft Stores. You can get small bags of sprinkles of any size and color for 99¢ each. I also like to search through stores like Marshalls, Ross and Home Goods for sprinkles, too. Here are some fun sprinkles for you to choose from on Amazon:
How long will sugar cookies last?
You can plan ahead for your holiday baking by freezing your sugar cookie dough for up to 3 months. Just remember you need to thaw them out a little before you can roll out the dough, otherwise you’ll have some really tired arms and wrists from the attempt!
Once baked, place your sugar cookies in a sealed container and store in a cool, dry cupboard. They can last like this for 3 weeks, but not in my house. My kids inhale the cookies within 3-4 days of baking them! You’ll find the same problem at your house, too!
You can freeze the sugar cookies once they have been baked and cooled completely. They need to be frozen individually first. Place the cookies on a baking sheet not touching each other and freeze until frozen solid. Once frozen, transfer them to freezer safe containers.
Iced cookies need to be stored in layers, with parchment paper between the layers. To thaw baked cookies, remove from the containers and let the cookies thaw at room temperature. This prevents condensation from forming, making the cookies soggy.
- 3 cup all-purpose flour
- 3/4 tsp baking powder
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1 cup butter, unsalted, softened
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 egg large
- 1 TBS milk
- 2 TBS powdered sugar
- In a medium-sized bowl whisk together flour, baking powder and salt.
- Using a stand mixer, whisk butter and sugar until creamed and light yellow in color.
- Add egg and milk to the butter mixture and mix until incorporated.
- Put mixer on low speed, then gradually add flour mixture, and beat until dough pulls away from the side of the bowl.
- Place dough on a sheet of parchment paper and work into a ball.
- Divide the dough in half, roll into a ball and press flat into a thick disc.
- Wrap each half in parchment paper and refrigerate for 2 hours.
- Preheat oven to 375ºF.
- Sprinkle flat work surface with powdered sugar and place on disc of dough on top.
- Rub rolling pin with powdered sugar and roll out dough until 1/4-inch thick.
- Move the dough around and check underneath frequently to make sure it is not sticking. If dough has warmed during rolling, place cold cookie sheet on top for 10 mins. to chill.
- If dough is sticky, roll dough between two sheets of parchment paper or two silicone baking mats.
- Cut dough into desired shape, place at least 1-inch apart on greased baking sheet, parchment paper or silicone baking mat.
- Bake for 7 to 9 minutes or until cookies are just beginning to turn brown around the edges.
- Let sit on baking sheet for 2 minutes after removal from oven and then transfer using a small spatula to a cooling rack.
- Serve as is or decorate with royal icing. Store in airtight container for up to 1 week.
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Serving Size:1 cookie
Amount Per Serving:Calories: 108 Total Fat: 5g Saturated Fat: 3g Trans Fat: 0g Unsaturated Fat: 2g Cholesterol: 19mg Sodium: 29mg Carbohydrates: 14g Fiber: 0g Sugar: 6g Protein: 1g