When it comes to classic treats that all home bakers should know, there are a few recipes that come to mind, like a basic homemade bread, a delicious apple pie and a chocolate cake that will please everyone. These are the types of recipes you can make over and over again for all kinds of occasions. I’d also put a great sugar cookie on this list. Learning how to make cookies—especially ones that can be easily customized to suit any holiday or celebration—is essential.
Because they require a few extra tools and steps, you might think that sugar cookies can be tedious, but they really are simple to make. Plus, having this recipe in your regular rotation means you’ll have a go-to treat for that next bake sale or picnic.
How to Make Cutout Cookies from Scratch
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To make a great cutout sugar cookie, start with a great recipe like this one. You’ll need:
- 1 cup butter, softened
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1/3 cup half-and-half
- 3-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
You’ll also need these ingredients for the frosting and decoration:
- 1/2 cup butter, softened
- 4 cups confectioners’ sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 to 4 tablespoons half-and-half
- Food coloring
- Sprinkles or colored sugar
Step 1: Stir Up the Dough
To make a basic cutout cookie, you approach it the same way you would most cookies—including our staff favorite big and buttery chocolate chip cookies—by creaming together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. You can use either the paddle attachment of your stand mixer or a hand mixer.
Then, add in your eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Follow this with the half-and-half.
In another bowl, quickly whisk together all your dry ingredients: flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Slowly add this to your creamed mixture and mix until combined.
Once your dough is put together, cover and chill for at least three hours. This will make your dough easy to handle and will prevent your cookies from spreading too much in the oven.
Step 2: Roll Out Your Cookie Dough
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Before rolling out your dough, dust your surface and rolling pin with flour. This will prevent the dough from sticking.
Then, use a rolling pin to roll out the dough to about an eighth of an inch thick. This will give you nice, crisp cookies that retain their shape. You can use any cookie cutter you like—here are some of our favorite silly ones. You can dip the edge of the cutters into flour to keep the dough from sticking to them as well.
Cookies like these can be rather fragile in this state, so use a thin spatula to move them from your workspace to the cookie sheet. Give the cookies about an inch of space—they won’t spread much, but breathing room is good.
If you like, you can reroll the scraps and get a few extra cookies. Just be sure the dough is chilled when you are rolling it out again.
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Step 3: Bake the Sugar Cookies
Thin cookies like these don’t take long to bake. Pop them into a 325ºF oven for six to eight minutes. If you have smaller cutout shapes or ones with fine detail, keep an eye on them after the first two minutes to make sure they don’t burn around the edges.
Once baked, allow them to cool for a minute on the cookie sheet and then transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely before frosting.
Step 4: Frost and Decorate the Cutout Cookies
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While the cookies are cooling, whip up a simple frosting. Just get your mixer out again and cream together the butter, sugar and vanilla. Then, slowly add in the confectioners’ sugar followed by a tablespoon of half-and-half. Add in more cream a tablespoon at a time until you get the right spreading consistency. (If you think your frosting is too runny, just add a bit more powdered sugar.) If you want to color your frosting, you can add a few drops of your favorite food color at the end.
When you have the right consistency and color, use a small offset spatula to frost your cookies. You’ll definitely want one of these tools instead of a butter knife or another spreader. They cost less than $6 and help you get beautiful results. The small shape and flat surface help you get into all the detailed edges of your cookies.
While the frosting is still tacky, decorate the cookies however you like with sprinkles, candy or colored sugar.
Cookie Troubleshooting Tips
Get the answers to your most common cookie questions.
Q: Why are my cookies hard?
A: Your cookies—be they these pretty cutouts or your favorite oatmeal variety—may be hard because they are overbaked. Cookies can also get hard if they aren’t stored in an airtight container. You can soften up cookies that are too hard for your liking with this easy trick right from my mom’s kitchen.
Q: How do you mix cookie dough?
A: Generally, most cookies call for the same creaming method. First, you combine your butter and sugar, then add the eggs. Finish with your dry ingredients. Be sure to read your recipe carefully, though, for any modifications to this method.
A: Cookies spread when the dough is kept a bit too warm, especially in the case of sugar cookies. What looked like perfect shapes going into the oven can come out looking misshapen. To avoid this spread, chill your sugar cookie dough before you roll it out. And if you can’t fit all the cutouts in the oven at once, chill the unbaked ones in the fridge or freezer until you’re ready to pop them in.
You can also use this trick when making any other type of cookie as well. Chilled dough spreads less.
Q: Why did my cookies not flatten?
A: You shouldn’t run into this issue with sugar cookies, though you may find that some drop cookies like chocolate chippers and oatmeal raisin cookies don’t flatten or spread out as much as you’d like. In this case, make sure you thaw the dough if you’re working from frozen. Also, when portioning cookies with a cookie scoop, you can press them down a bit (but don’t totally smoosh them) with your hand.
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