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10 Secrets to Baking the Best Cutout Cookies

Whipping up bakery-soft sugar cookies only requires two basic ingredients: a little love and a little baking know-how.

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Mom’s Soft Sugar CookiesTaste of Home

There’s nothing more indulgent than taking that first bite into a soft, tender cookie. The classic sugar cutout cookie is twice as nice because these sweet treats offers the opportunity for creativity and fun. You can shape, frost and decorate to your heart’s content, and they can be stylized to reflect your favorite holidays and occasions, like Christmas and Halloween.

Before you whip up a batch of cute creations, brush up on these helpful tips to ensure good and consistent baking results.

Check out our Christmas Cookies Baking Guide!

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Close up of cookie or cake batter ingredients of dry flour mix, egg and softened stick of butter in stainless steel mixing bowlShutterstock/Merrimon Crawford

Choose the Right Fat (Preferably Butter)

Julia Child famously quipped, “Life is too short for fake butter or fake people.” Amen! Butter is the ideal fat for cookies because it adds the best flavor. However, stick margarine (with at least 80% fat content) and shortening will also yield good results. All three fats tenderize, add moisture, carry flavors and provide richness to cookies, so it all comes down to your recipe or personal preference. Avoid whipped, tub, soft, liquid or reduced-fat products as they contain air and water and will produce flat, tough cookies.

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Butter cut into slicesShutterstock / Sea Wave

Soften Your Butter

When creaming butter or margarine with sugar, it should be softened first. (You should be able to make an indentation in a stick of butter with your finger and a table knife will be able to glide through it.) If you forgot to take the butter out of the refrigerator prior to baking, resist the urge to zap it in the microwave to soften. The butter may end up too soft or possibly even melted. This will result in cookies that will spread too much and turn out greasy. Follow these easy tips for softening butter when you’re pressed for time.

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Mixing Batter for butter cake or pancakeShutterstock/ inewsfoto

Don’t Overmix

Here’s the key when mixing the batter: Be gentle! Overmixing or handling the batter too much results in the gluten in the flour forming elastic gluten stands. You’ll end up with dense, tough cookies.

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Chill the Dough

For easier handling, chill the cookie dough for 1 to 2 hours before rolling out. This is especially true if the dough was made with butter rather than shortening. Once chilled, lightly dust your work surface and rolling pin with flour to prevent sticking.

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hand with rolling pin and flourShutterstock/vita pakhai

Show That Dough Who’s Boss

Roll out the dough as evenly as possible to the recipe’s recommended thickness. Most recipes suggest rolling the dough to ¼-inch thick because it’s easy to work with (less breakage) and achieves a soft, tender cookie. Roll out a portion of dough at a time and the keep the remaining dough in the refrigerator. Roll out from the center to the edge, keeping a uniform thickness and checking the thickness with a ruler. If the thickness of the dough is uneven, the cookies will bake unevenly. Thinner cookies will be crispy and may burn, while thicker cookies will be chewy.

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Making gingerbread christmas cookies with metal cutter. Ginger dough and flourShutterstock/Skumer

Keep Cutouts Intact

Cutting the perfect shapes with cookie cutters and successfully transferring them to the cookie sheet intact can be tricky (we’ve all had a dud or two). But with a little practice, you can master cutouts like a pro. First dip the cookie cutter in flour, then press the cutter into the dough. Lift each cookie with a small metal spatula or pancake turner to support the cookie as it is moved to the baking sheet. As a general rule, keep the cookies about the same size and thickness per batch for even baking.

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Top view of a baking sheet with a holiday shaped sugar cookies, with a rolling pin and wood box of cookie cutters on the sideShutterstock/ Steve Cukrov

Use the Right Baking Sheets

Use heavy-gauge dull aluminum baking sheets with one or two low sides. When a recipe calls for greased baking sheets, use shortening or cooking spray. Dark finishes may cause the cookies to overbrown. Insulated baking sheets cause cookies to be pale in color.

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Preparation of Linzer Christmas cookies - cut out shapes on a baking sheetShutterstock/Madeleine Steinbach

Evenly Distribute Cookies on the Baking Sheet

Unless the recipe states otherwise, place each cookie 2 to 3 in. apart on a cool baking sheet. Leave at least 2 inches around the baking sheet and the oven walls for good heat circulation. For best results, bake only one sheet of cookies at a time. If you prefer to bake two sheets at once, switch the position of the baking sheets halfway through the baking time.

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Check Your Oven Temperature

Use an oven thermometer to check the accuracy of your oven temperature. A few degrees too hot or too cool may cause the cookies to be under- or over-baked. Use a kitchen timer and check cookies when the minimum baking time has been reached, baking longer if needed. Follow doneness tests given in individual recipes.

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Heart shaped valentine's butter cookies cooling on the rackShutterstock/Irantzu Arbaizagoitia

Allow Sufficient Cooling Time

Unless otherwise directed, let cookies cool for 1 to 2 minutes on the baking sheet before removing them to a wire rack to cool completely. But be careful to not let them cool too long. This can cause them to become hard and break when removed. Additionally, allow the baking sheets to cool completely before placing the next batch of cookie dough on them. The heat from warm baking sheets will soften the dough and cause it to spread.

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Taste of Home

Looking for more cookie inspiration? Check out Taste of Home’s cookbook, 365 Days of Cookies, for recipes that will satisfy your deepest cookie cravings all year long!

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Taste of Home

Disclosure: This post is brought to you by Taste of Home editors, who aim to highlight products and services you might find interesting. If you buy them, we get a small share of the revenue from the sale from our commerce partners. We frequently receive products free of charge from manufacturers to test. This does not drive our decision as to whether or not a product is featured or recommended. We welcome your feedback. Have something you think we should know about? Contact us, here.

Amy Glander
Amy is a book editor at Taste of Home where she gets to pour her passions for food and storytelling into trade and series cookbooks. When she’s not writing or editing, you’ll find her antiquing, cooking and baking from her favorite vintage cookbooks and exploring Milwaukee’s urban beauty with her digital SLR in hand.

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