You can dream up the most beautiful decorated cookies in the world, but you can’t pipe them to perfection unless you’re working with a perfect sugar cookie recipe.
Not all sugar cookie recipes are made the same. Cookie dough for cut-out cookies has to be not only delicious, but it has to cut well, keep its shape and not puff up too much.
For cut-out sugar cookies, this recipe is sugar cookie perfection. I can tell because I used it for one of the most sensitive cookies shapes there is — unicorns. With this recipe, my unicorn cookies had pointy horns, perfectly formed hooves and a sugary mane that would make any little girl giggle in delight.
Some notes on the recipe:
- In the past, I thought shortening was necessary for the cookie to keep its shape, but this recipe is all butter, make it incredibly easy to roll out and re-rolled numerous times without hurting the cookie. You can bake it when the dough is cold or warm with the same result. So basically, it’s the perfect sugar cookie.
- The recipe below makes about 4-5 dozen cookies, depending on your cutters. You can easily half it if you want a smaller batch.
- The instructions are written using the old-fashioned bowl-and-wooden-spoon method, but a stand mixer works just as well.
Classic cut-out sugar cookies recipe
Yield: 4-5 dozen, depending on shape of cookie
- 1½ cups butter, softened
- 2 cups white sugar
- 4 eggs
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 5 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons non-aluminum baking powder
- 1¼ teaspoons kosher salt
In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until smooth. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Stir in the flour, baking powder and salt. Wrap and chill dough for at least one hour (or overnight).
Preheat oven to 400 F (200 C). Roll out dough on floured surface ¼” to ½” thick. Cut into shapes with any cookie cutter. Place cookies 1″ apart on ungreased cookie sheets.
Bake 6 to 8 minutes in preheated oven. Cool completely.
You can easily leave these cookies plain and still have a delicious result. Or, top with your favorite icing. I topped mine with royal icing (recipe below).
Royal icing recipe
Yield: 4 cups
- 2 large egg whites
- 1 pound powdered sugar
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Scant ½ cup water
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine sugar and egg whites. Mixing on low speed, add a scant ½ cup water. Continue to mix on medium low for 5 minutes.
For a thinner consistency, usually used for flooding, add more water. A thicker consistency is generally used for outlining and adding details. You can read more about the different royal icing consistencies here.
Mix until icing holds a ribbon-like trail on the surface of the mixture for 5 seconds when you raise the paddle.
With a piping bag and a small round tip, fill a pastry bag halfway full with royal icing. The consistency should be smooth with just a tiny bit of flow. You can check the consistency of your royal icing by taking a spoonful, then putting it back into the bowl and watch how quickly it spreads. You want to line the cookies with icing that doesn’t spread too quickly.
Once the outline has dried, add a bit of water, one tablespoon at a time, to the royal icing until the consistency is much more liquid. Put a larger tip on your piping bag, then fill in the rest of the cookie. This is called flooding and is the technique used by cookie decorators everywhere.
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Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in September 2013 and was updated in February 2018.