Every baker needs a good sugar cookie recipe in their toolbox. Besides being fairly easy to make, they can be cut into shapes and customized for every holiday imaginable. The plain cookies also present a blank canvas for kids or adults to get creative with icing, candy and sprinkles. I’ve made plenty of sugar cookie recipes in my day since I was a young teenager, and this recipe is by far my favourite. Tender and buttery, they are full of vanilla flavour and are the tastiest I’ve made yet. I like to use a glaze made with simply icing sugar and a bit of whipping cream, so that you don’t have to worry about the raw eggs in royal icing with young kids.
You could get all technical here with the decorating, but I like to keep things simple; a bit of food coloring, some sprinkles, and a small offset spatula are really all you need. Nothing fancy, here! In fact, you don’t have to make these a long process, either. Make the dough the day before and tuck it in the fridge overnight before you bake. Or you can wrap it up and freeze it to bake later in the week. Bake one day, decorate the next; no need to make it a gigantic process!
Baking sugar cookies isn’t that complicated, but you do need to keep some things in mind. First, butter makes a better cookie so don’t go substituting any margarine. Secondly, try not to handle the dough too much or you end up with a tougher cookie (throw this rule out the window if kids are baking; they won’t notice anyway). Third, chilling the dough makes them easier to roll out because the dough firms up a little. Chilling dough also gives the gluten time to relax a bit so that they come out soft and buttery rather than tough and rubbery. Don’t skip that step!
Classic Sugar Cookie Recipe
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 1/2 cups flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 large egg
2 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cups icing sugar
2-3 tbsp whipping cream
food coloring, sprinkles
1. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar together until creamy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
2. Whisk the flour, salt and baking powder together in a medium sized bowl. Set aside.
3. Add an egg to the butter mixture and beat until well combined. Scrape down the bowl again and add the vanilla, mixing well.
4. With the mixer on the lowest setting, add the flour mixture in two additions. It may look crumbly, but the dough will come together. Turn out onto a lightly floured counter and bring the dough together with your hands. Give it a good knead or two and then shape it into two disks. Wrap each with cling film and put in the fridge to chill for about an hour, or even overnight.
5. When you are ready to bake your cookies, take the dough out of the fridge and let it warm up for about 15 minutes or so. Roll the dough out on a lightly floured counter until it’s about 1/4 inch thick and cut with a 3 inch cookie cutter. Place the cookies about 1 1/2 inches apart on a cookie sheet and bake for about 10-12 minutes, until very lightly browned on the bottoms and the tops are set.
6. Remove the cookies to a rack and cool to room temperature before icing.
Icing the cookies:
1. In a medium bowl, stir the icing sugar with 2 tbsp of whipping cream. Add more whipping cream, or even water, bit by bit until you get a slightly runny consistency. You don’t want it so thick that the icing falls from your spoon in clumps, but a thick consistency that will run off your spoon is good. Accidentally make it too thin? Add a little more icing sugar.
2. Using a small offset spatula, ice the cookies and top with sprinkles. To keep sprinkles from getting all over the counter and floor, I like to set a wire rack inside a rimmed cookie sheet and decorate the cookies on the wire rack. The rimmed sheet catches any drips and stray sprinkles.
3. Let the cookies dry for 2-3 hours before packing away in an airtight container to keep fresh. They’ll last about 3-4 days if you can keep yourself from eating them. You can also freeze them in an airtight container for about 3 weeks. That is, if you can keep from eating them all.
- 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
- 2 1/2 cups flour
- 1 cup sugar
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
- 1 large egg
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1 1/2 cups icing sugar
- 2-3 tbsp whipping cream
- various food coloring, sprinkles
- Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
- In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour and baking powder. Set aside.
- Add the egg to the butter and combine until smooth. Scrape down the bowl again, then add the vanilla and mix well.
- With your mixer going on low, add the flour to the butter mixture in two additions until it's combined. The dough may appear a bit crumbly at first, but dump the mixture out on to the counter and bring it together with your hands, kneading once or twice. Pat the dough into two disks, wrap each with cling film, and chill for about an hour.
- When you are ready to bake the cookies, take the dough out of the fridge and let it sit on the counter for about 15 minutes. Pre-heat the oven to 350 F.
- Roll out your dough on a lightly floured counter about 1/4 inch thick and cut with a 3 inch cookie cutter. Set the cookies about 1 1/2 inches apart on a baking sheet and bake for about 10-12 minutes until the bottoms are lightly golden and the tops are set.
- Remove cookies to a wire rack and let cool to room temperature before icing.
- Mix the icing sugar with 2 tbsp whipping cream. It might clump a bit at first but keep stirring it vigorously. You want the glaze to be loose enough that it spreads easily, but not soupy or so thick that it falls in clumps off a spoon. If you can make it *just* run from your spoon to the bowl that's probably good.
- Ice the cookies, top with sprinkles, and set on a rack to dry for about 2-3 hours before packaging them in an airtight container. They will keep for about 3-4 days in the container, or up to 3 weeks in the freezer.
- The dough can be made ahead, wrapped in cling film, over wrapped in foil and then placed in a freezer bag and frozen for up to 3 weeks. Thaw before rolling out and baking. You can also bake the cookies and then freeze them, then take them out to decorate before eating.