A secret ingredient in this sugar cookies recipe makes these cookies the SOFTEST and most flavorful cookies of your life! And they even hold their shape after baking, so you get exactly what you want instead of sad blob cookies. (Frost them with The BEST Buttercream Frosting for Sugar Cookies.) Originally posted March 15, 2017.
The Best Soft Sugar Cookie Recipe
I’m doing dishes in the kitchen when all the sudden I hear the saddest, most piercing cry come out of 4 month old Valentine. Slightly panicked, I ask Eric what happened, and he said, “I kissed her.” Oh the drawbacks of having a beard. This actually happens all the time. Poor baby faced Valentine!
I went running last week for the first time in a very long time (like, pre-pregnancy…) I ran for 20 solid minutes and probably only went a mile and a half. (Picture a slug glorping along on the sidewalk and you pretty much have an idea of me running.)
Anyway, when I got home both of my big toes were killing me, and since then they have developed dark bruises underneath my nails. You know what this means, right. Get new shoes? Learn how to run the right way? No. Listen people, it’s a sign. The sign says DON’T EVER GO RUNNING AGAIN KAREN.
Instead, eat alllll the sugar cookies.
I’m super excited to share this recipe with you guys today! I’ve been working on this post for a while now. The recipe is adapted from my sister-in-law Sandi. I wrote it down in pencil in a notebook years ago and have been tweaking it ever since. They are good sugar cookies, for sure, but I was on the hunt for a secret ingredient that would make them next-level.
Here’s the thing. Sugar cookies for me MUST be super soft. No crunchy edges please. I want a THICK cookie with a THICK layer of frosting. And please, none of this royal icing business. Give me the goods. Go buttercream or go home.
So, here it is. A sugar cookie that is moist and soft and does not dry out or crunch! It’s magical! How is it done? Cream cheese. I know, what?? Didn’t our grandmas only use butter for sugar cookies? Why yes, yes they did, and guess what, their cookies were hard and crunchy ;)
We are still using butter, oh yes. But we are replacing half of the normal amount of butter used in sugar cookies with dreamy creamy cream cheese. The resultant cookies are tender and soft and have a delicious flavor, with a tiny bit of a tang from the cream cheese. I tested this recipe several times and didn’t make frosting every time. I enjoyed the cookies all by themselves. They are sweet but not overwhelming. (The buttercream frosting for cookies takes care of that.) They have tons of flavor from the butter, as well as the almond and vanilla extracts. Let’s dig into the details!
Soft Sugar Cookie Ingredients
Make sure you have the following on hand. (Quantities given in the recipe below.)
- Cream cheese
- Salted butter. Unsalted butter will work just fine, but remember to add a ¼ teaspoon of salt for every stick (½ cup) of unsalted butter.
- All purpose flour
- Granulated sugar
- Almond extract. You can sub the almond for vanilla if you want. But I’m telling you, the combo of almond and vanilla is what makes this cookie.
How to make Soft Sugar Cookies
I’m going to start with the basic overview below and then drill into the finer details with pictures further down. (Don’t worry; all the instructions are given in the recipe as well!)
- Beat the butter on medium speed 1-2 minutes. Add the softened cream cheese and continue to beat for 1 minute. Add the sugar and beat 1-2 minutes. Add the egg, vanilla, and almond extract and beat 1-2 minutes.
- Add salt and flour and beat until just barely combined. Do not stir too much or you will make your dough tough.
- The dough will be sticky!
- Scrape the dough out onto a sheet of plastic wrap and refrigerate 2 hours (or overnight) or in the freezer for 1-2 hours. (If I am in a hurry I will split the dough in half and wrap separately so that it will chill faster.)
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
- Line 2-3 baking sheets with silpat baking mats or parchment paper.
- Use floured hands to flatten out half the dough on a floured surface, then use a rolling pin to roll it and smooth it out to be THICK, about 3/8 inch.
- Press floured cookie cutters into dough, then place the shaped dough on the prepared baking sheet.
- If you’ve taken long enough that your shaped cookies are no longer chilled, place the baking sheet in the fridge or freezer for a couple minutes.
- Re-roll dough to cut more cookies, working it as little as possible and chilling it if it gets soft.
- Dough should go into oven cold!!
- Bake the shaped cookies at 350 for about 9 minutes for smaller cookies, and about 10-11 minutes for larger cookies. Cookies should be barely browned on the bottom. See photos.
- Leave the cookies on the pan for 5 minutes, then immediately transfer to a large, sealed tupperware until they are completely cooled.
- Frost cookies with The BEST buttercream frosting for Sugar Cookies!
What thickness is best for cut out cookies?
I researched sugar cookies for quite a while before landing on today’s recipe and method. One of the things I learned is that it doesn’t matter how great your sugar cookie recipe is, the rolling technique is where most people go wrong.
This is 3/8 inch. Thiiiiick.
To get a THICK, soft sugar cookie, the dough needs to be rolled out, you guess it, MEGA THICK. We are talking about ⅜ of an inch, and yes I’ve provided an actual measuring tape for all you people like me who have a hard time with the maths. You can see in the picture on the left about how thick this is compared to my fingers.
How do you keep a Sugar Cookie soft?
One of my biggest tips is to make sure you care for your final baked cookies! If you put the sugar cookies into a tupperware right after they have cooled a few minutes on the pan, they will stay softer longer. Letting sugar cookies sit out is what makes them get dry and crunchy. Don’t do it! Put your treasure into a tupperware or ziplock asap!
FAQ About This Soft Sugar Cookies Recipe
Absolutely nothing! If you use unsalted butter, your cookies will be exactly the same as if you had used salted butter, but they will have less salt, which will make them a little more bland. No thanks. Just add in an extra 1/4 teaspoon of kosher salt and you are good to go!
Want to keep your dough from spreading? Try humming Ice, Ice Baby the entire time you’re cooking. Or go ahead and rap it. You might have skills I lack.
COLD dough, people. COLD. Cold dough holds its shape in the oven, preserving the adorable shapes you so painstakingly cut them into. If you bake your cookies when the dough is not chilled, they will not hold their shape as well, and the texture of the final cookies will be wrong.
You will also notice that there is no leavening agent in this recipe. No baking soda, no baking powder. Just flour and eggs to help these cookies rise a minimal amount. This is on purpose! We do not want our sugar cookies rising, we want them to keep their shape. Chocolate Chip Cookies
go into the oven in a ball, and the baking soda helps them rise and spread out. Exactly the OPPOSITE of what we want for cut out sugar cookies.
Cut the dough before baking. There’s pretty much no way to get a consistently clean edge if you bake first and then try to cut.
You know how most cookie recipes say to cook until the edges are golden? Just say no! No, I tell you! They’ll be hard and crunchy instead of soft, tender, and chewy. You do not want the edges or tops to brown at all.
The cookies should be barely browned on the bottom. When the cookies are baking, they will have a shiny surface on top. When they are fully baked, they will appear completely matte across the top, but not at all brown. Watch carefully! Over baking is a death sentence for soft cookies.
What makes this sugar cookie recipe so soft?
I will only accept soft cookies. Soft!!! In case you’re skimming this post and haven’t been bossed around enough on SOFT COOKIE RULES, here’s the short version:
- Use cream cheese in the dough to replace some of the butter
- CHILL the dough!
- Roll out the dough mega thick, like ⅜ inch.
- Do not over bake the cookies! They should be just barely matte on top, but not golden on the edges.
- Transfer to a sealed container within minutes after cooling.
- Frost with Buttercream Frosting. Royal icing just is not going to cut it my friends. The buttercream locks in moisture and makes your cookies ultra soft!
Can you freeze soft sugar cookies after frosting?
Bless us all, yes! So much yes. You can bake all throughout November to get Christmas cookies ready, or bake weeks before that wedding you’re providing treats for. Trust me, I always do this!
- Remove your cookies from the oven and let them set up on the pan for 5 minutes.
- Transfer to a cooling rack and let cool completely.
- Transfer cookies to a cold pan.
- Put the whole pan in the freezer for 1-2 hours
- Transfer the frozen cookies into a large food storage container.
- Store for up to 2 months if they are unfrosted. I would only do about 4 weeks if they are already frosted. More on that below.
How I mass produce this soft Sugar Cookies recipe
Everybody’s got their way of doing things, right? When I need a ton of sugar cookies, here’s how it goes down:
- Day 1: Make the dough and chill at least 2-3 hours, if not overnight. (You can freeze the dough in a ziplock for up to 3 months at this point! Let thaw in the fridge)
- Day 2: Roll out the dough and bake ALL the cookies. Immediately remove cookies from the pan to a cooling rack and cool completely.
- If you are freezing before frosting: Immediately after cooling (don’t let them dry out! Time is of the essence!) transfer all the cookies to a large food storage container, the kind that are flat and rectangle and hold about a gallon. You can leave these in the freezer for about 4 weeks.
- If you are frosting and then freezing: Once the cookies are cooled, frost as desired and place back onto a baking sheet. Cram on as many as you can without messing them up. Flash freeze the cookies for about an hour until the frosting has hardened. Then transfer the frosted cookies to a large food storage container. I like to line them up on their sides so that the frosting has less of a chance to get messed up. Pack em in like sardines.
- At this point, you can leave the cookies in the freezer for up to 4 weeks.
- On the day you want to serve them, take them out of the freezer at least two hours beforehand. Make sure you move them to a flat surface before the frosting gets to room temperature, otherwise all the cookies will start sticking to each other.
- CHRISTMAS: When I am putting together cookie plates at Christmas, I add frosted sugar cookies to the plates completely frozen, along with any other cookies, fudge, or candy that is going on the plate. By the time I’m done assembling all the plates, wrapping them up in cellophane and tying with ribbon and adding name tags and taking them out for delivery, the cookies will have thawed, but all the jostling and wrapping happened when they were still quite chilled and stiff.
Buttercream Frosting versus Royal Icing
I’ve figured out my absolute favorite buttercream frosting to top these cookies with! This simple recipe has a few secret ingredients that give it the best, most nuanced flavor. I love it!
But I know, I know, some of you are going to want to stack these cookies for shipping. No, you can’t use buttercream if you’re doing that. You need royal icing and a royal amount of patience. THESE cookies are meant for jamming into your mouth immediately with a sticky, soft, glorious buttercream that will get all over your fingers. No apologies. If you insist on using royal icing (here’s a recipe), be very careful not to break the cookies. These cookies are much more delicate than your average sugar cookie, meaning they break easier when shipping.
Cut Out Sugar Cookie Recipe for every holiday
I’ve had this sugar cookie recipe on the blog for years now, and I’ve been surprised at the level of traffic on this recipe for EVERY holiday. People just want sugar cookies for every occasion! They are a classic! I’ve picked out a few of the holidays and linked to cookie cutters that would work for each one, just in case you’re looking for some cute ones. Sugar cookies are so fun to make all year long!
- Valentine’s Day cookie cutters
- St. Patrick’s Day cookie cutters
- Easter cookie cutters
- 4th of July cookie cutters
- Halloween cookie cutters
- Thanksgiving cookie cutters
- Christmas cookie cutters
To be honest though, I often don’t even make shapes with my sugar cookies, especially if I’m making a massive amount for my kid’s class parties or Christmas gifting. I just use a circle biscuit cutter and have fun with colored frosting and sprinkles.
And that’s it folks! The best, softest sugar cookies of your life, with no sinister crunching going on. Make it! Love it! Repeat for every holiday!
More frosted cookies you will love!
- The Softest Chocolate Sugar Cookies << a chocolate version of this recipe
- Coconut Frosted Sugar Cookies with Strawberry Hearts << if you are desperate to make today’s recipe before I post the buttercream frosting on Friday, use this frosting. It’s amazing.
- Mint Chocolate Chip Cookies << these are one of the top recipes on my site!
- Peppermint Meltaways from 5 Boys Bakers
- Frosted Gingerbread Cookies from Baker by Nature
- Iced Oatmeal Cookies from Dessert Now Dinner Later
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Soft Sugar Cookies
- 3/4 cup salted butter, softened (1 and 1/2 sticks)
- 4 ounces cream cheese, softened
- 1 & 1/2 cups granulated sugar
- 1 egg
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 & 3/4 teaspoons almond extract
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 3 cups flour, spooned and leveled
- In a large bowl or stand mixer, beat the butter on medium speed until it is soft and fluffy, 1-2 minutes.
- Add the softened cream cheese and continue to beat for 1 minute, until well incorporated.
- Add the sugar and beat well, 1-2 minutes, until fluffy.
- Add the egg, vanilla, and almond extract. Beat well. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl with a spatula. This is my spatula that I love and use for every baking project.
- Add salt and flour and beat until just barely combined, scraping the sides and bottom again. Do not stir too much or you will make your dough tough. The dough is pretty sticky!
- Scrape the dough out onto a sheet of plastic wrap (or into a ziplock or tupperware). Cover or wrap tightly and put it in the fridge for 2 hours (or overnight) or in the freezer for 1-2 hours. (If I am in a hurry I will split the dough in half and wrap separately so that it will chill faster.)
- When the dough is completely chilled, preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
- Line 2-3 baking sheets with silpat baking mats or parchment paper.
- Prepare a work surface with a light dusting of flour.*
- If you have not already split the dough in half, do so now. Put any dough that you are not working with in the fridge.
- Use floured hands to flatten out the dough a bit, then use a rolling pin to roll it and smooth it out a little bit. Don’t go too crazy here, remember we want the cookies to be THICK, about 3/8 inch. I actually busted out the measuring tape for this step. No crisp cookies, please.
- Lightly dust your chosen cookie cutters with flour. Press firmly into the dough, utilizing your space wisely. Use your finger or a knife (depending on the shape) to wipe away the excess flour/dough on the outer edge of the cookie cutter before pushing them out onto the pan. This helps you get clean lines.
- Place the shaped dough on the prepared baking sheet. If you are using multiple cookie cutter shapes, bake all of the same shape on the same pan. Otherwise your smaller cookies will get over baked. Leave at least 1 inch in between each cookie.
- If you’ve taken long enough that your shaped cookies are no longer chilled, place the baking sheet in the fridge or freezer for a couple minutes.
- Scrape together the excess dough and knead it together once or twice (as little as possible), then roll it out again to 3/8. Don’t overwork the dough! (It will get tough.) Continue until the dough is gone. Refrigerate the dough as necessary. They should go into the oven cool.
- Bake the shaped cookies at 350 for about 9 minutes for smaller cookies, and about 10-11 minutes for larger cookies. Do NOT over bake. You do not want the edges or tops to brown at all. The cookies should be barely browned on the bottom. See photos.
- Leave the cookies on the pan for 5 minutes, then immediately transfer to a large tupperware and cover until they are completely cooled and you are ready to frost.
- Frost cookies with The BEST Buttercream Frosting for Sugar Cookies!
These are my all-time-favorite sugar cookies! The flavor is so rich with the almond – even though I never usually like almond – and the density is absolutely perfect. I made them obsessively last year and lost your recipe after my computer died. I have spent the last 9 months looking for it and I am so excited to make them again this year. Thank you so much for this wonderful recipe!
These are the absolute best sugar cookies ever. I love how the salt combats all the sugar both from the cookie itself and the additional frosting and sprinkles. They’re super soft and hold up well for a 1.5 weeks, don’t think they’ve stayed around longer than that! I make 3 double batches when I make them to give them out to friends at church and this will be my 5th year making them. I’ve had so many people ask for the recipe. After the first year of going fancy with decorating, I simply do a glaze icing and the kids add sprinkles. They are perfect. Thank you!
I wi be trying your recipe tonight or tomorrow. I think I will make the dough & freeze overnight. I just have to say thank you for being so detailed. I love how you discussed everything in detail of what to do & not to do. And the pic of the thickness with the measuring tape was great. It made me laugh cause I’m that person to do that. So I will let you know how they turn out. Thanks again!!
Sorry but we tried these are they were horrible tasting. Held shape but were hard and tasted like cardboard (if cardboard had a taste)! We followed recipe exactly minus Almond Extract we used Vanilla only – so bummed as we have all these decorated cookies that will not be eaten.
Hi Jess! So sorry to hear these didn’t turn out well for you. The almond extract is really good, but just using vanilla shouldn’t have caused you an issue. Sometimes an oven that runs hot can bake the cookies faster than usual, and over-baking is easy to do with sugar cookies. I hope your next batch of cookies turns out perfectly.
I am flying 7 hours to see grandkids at christmas and would like to frost these with them but not sure if they will hold up traveling through security, etc. Would it be okay to freeze them so they are thawing while flying? Then would they hold up to frosting a day or two later?
You sound committed Vicki. I think it’s totally doable. I would make and frost the cookies, and put sprinkles (I’m thinking jimmies) on top so they have a harder “edge” covering the buttercream. freeze the cookies in a tupperware so they stay fresh. Then transfer the frozen cookies to a well packaged box, tin, tupperware, or better yet, a very small cooler that you could take with you through security. I would use crumpled parchment paper to create layers and provide padding in whatever box you choose. They will thaw fairly quickly but freezing before hand will help set the frosting a little bit. I hope this helps! You have the luckiest grand kids!!
If we are substituting the almond extract with vanilla, we don’t modify the amounts do we? The recipe calls for 1 tsp of vanilla and 1 and 3/4 tsp of almond so would that be 2 and 3/4 tsp of vanilla total or do we just eliminate the amount with the almond and use 1 tsp vanilla?
Hi Amy! Great question. You’d use 2 and 3/4 tsp vanilla total if you’re not using the almond extract. Enjoy!
I love this recipe! Thank you. The cookies are awesome….
I like all your recipes!!
I doubled the recipe & they turned out great. Very soft! Keep dough in the fridge for 24 hours before rolling out the dough & cookies keep their shape.
Hi! These seem great so far (just pulled first batch out of oven) but I wanted to 100% confirm there’s no baking powder or soda in the recipe, correct? Thanks!!!
None at all Meredith! It’s what makes them so “fudgy.” enjoy!! Happy T-day!
Awesome cookies. I scooped them 2t scoop, dipped in crystal sugar and flattened to 3/8” and they were great. I didn’t see any difference between the ones chilled or not chilled. If I were rolling out I would definitely chill the dough. Thanks for sharing.
Okay so tried this recipe and what I noticed,
1. Way too much salt. And I love salt. But it’s way too much with the salt and the salted butter. I’m thinking maybe 1/4 tsp if you really need to add more. I added closer to 1/2 tsp unlike the full tsp recommended
2. The cream cheese is quite strong, my husband doesn’t bake or understand flavours and when tasting the batter that was the first thing he picked out. (He thought he tasted cream cheese icing) So although the cream cheese helps I would definitely lessen it and add more butter.
Overall i will be making them again with the changes because they still seem to be great
I am thinking of adding pumpkin purée to this recipe! How would you suggest going about that?
Hi Keslie, that’s a fun idea! I haven’t tried it, Let me know how it goes!
Hello, I made these for Christmas last year, they are wonderful. This year I’m hoping to make my dough and freeze it ahead of time. Can this dough be frozen? How should I do that?
Hi Tiffany! Yes, I make and freeze this dough all the time. I like to split the dough into 2 or even 3 discs, then wrap in plastic wrap, place in ziplock, and freeze. Let thaw in the fridge overnight, then let the dough sit at room temp for a few minutes before rolling it out. Works perfectly! Enjoy!
These are AMAZING and came out perfectly shaped and so soft! I love them! How long do they keep on the countertop after cooled and frosted? Wasn’t sure if their shelf-life was a bit less with the addition of the cream cheese. Thank you for this incredible recipe!
Hi Leni! So glad you are enjoying the recipe! These cookies will keep on the counter just fine for several days, at least 3-5 days. (I’ve never had any that lasted that long though.) I usually store any frosted leftovers in the freezer to keep them fresh, they only take about an hour to thaw. Enjoy!
Can you use margarine or does it have to be real butter?
Hi Jenny! Real butter is best!