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 or Royal Icing!) Originally posted March 15, 2017.

soft sugar cookie in shape of Christmas tree with dolluped green buttercream frosting

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!

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soft frosted sugar cookies with portrait close up of bite taken out of cookies and pink buttercream frosting

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.

soft frosted sugar cookies stacked, frosted with green and white buttercream frosting and sprinkles

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.

close up of best sugar cookies with dollops of pink buttercream frosting

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. (Update 2024: I stand by this sentiment in general, but have recently expanded my thinking 😂 Royal Icing can be easy, tasty, and such a fun project to do. Here is my Royal Icing recipe!)

Best Soft Sugar Cookie - St. Patrick's Day green frosting with sprinkles on top; close up

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!

Best Soft Sugar Cookie Recipe showing unfrosted shamrock-shaped cookie with green sprinkles

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
  • Egg
  • Vanilla
  • 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.
  • Salt
How to make sugar cookies showing a stack of unfrosted shamrock-shaped cookies

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!)

  1. 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.
  2. Add salt and flour and beat until just barely combined. Do not stir too much or you will make your dough tough.
  3. The dough will be sticky!
  4. 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.)
  5. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  6. Line 2-3 baking sheets with silpat baking mats or parchment paper.
  7. 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.
  8. Press floured cookie cutters into dough, then place the shaped dough on the prepared baking sheet.
  9. 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.
  10. Re-roll dough to cut more cookies, working it as little as possible and chilling it if it gets soft.
  11. Dough should go into oven cold!!
  12. 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.
  13. Leave the cookies on the pan for 5 minutes, then immediately transfer to a large, sealed tupperware until they are completely cooled.
  14. Frost cookies with The BEST buttercream frosting for Sugar Cookies! Or, go to town with fun decorations using my Royal Icing recipe!
Sugar Cookies Recipe showing sticky dough, unrolled

Sticky dough.

Sugar Cookies Recipe showing the underside of a freshly-baked cookie with slightly undercooked center for extra softness
Here’s the bottom of a baked cookie. It’s not browned at all and okay, okay, you may want to let it go a minute or two longer than this, especially if you plan to gift them to someone (as opposed to eating them over the kitchen sink, which was my plan for this cookie). Baking them longer makes them a bit more sturdy but also a bit more dried out (read: crunch). Do you see that dark spot in the center of the cookie? Perfectly under baked. THAT’S the sugar cookie I want to eat. Yum.

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.

Sugar Cookie dough that's 3/4 inch thick next to a ruler measuring 3/4 inch

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.

a plastic shamrock-shaped cookie cut out next to Soft Sugar Cookie dough in the shape of a Christmas tree
When you are cutting the cookies, don’t forget to put some flour on your cookie cutter, especially if it’s a very intricate design. On the right: I use my finger to get the excess flour/dough off the outside of the cookie cutter. I used a knife to get it out of the corners of the shamrock. If you don’t do this, you won’t have sharp edges on your baked cookie.
best soft sugar cookie dough in shape of Christmas tree on pan next to a plastic cut out trimming shamrock-shaped dough
I like to use a pastry brush to get the flour off the tops of the shaped cookies. The one on the right is already baked. It still looks like a shamrock!
white-frosted snowflake cookies next to a metal cookie cut out
Here’s another example. Snowflakes, not snow blobs.
Sugar cookie dough rolled out with 5 cookie cut outs on top in various holiday shapes next to a pan of freshly-baked Valentine and Christmas cookies
On the left: this is half the dough rolled out. On the right: all the cookies from an entire batch. How many you get depends on what shape cookie cutters you use.
how to make sugar cookies ahead showing unfrosted, pumpkin-shaped cookies stacked inside a storage container, ready to freeze

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

What happens if you use unsalted butter instead of salted?

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!

How do you keep sugar cookies from spreading when baking?

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.

Do you cut cookies before or after baking?

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.

How can I tell when the cookies are done?

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!
Sugar Cookies Recipe showing an egg-shaped soft sugar cookie with dollops of pink and yellow butter cream frosting

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.
Orange-frosted Halloween soft sugar cookie with green sprinkles

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 and it will always be my favorite!

BUT. This is a January 2024 update. I recently decided to try out Royal Icing, just to see if it was as scary and hard as I always thought. Guess what, it’s not! It’s definitely a project, but can be a really fun one, especially for a group. And I added a few special ingredients to my icing to make it a bit more like my favorite buttercream (and to pair perfectly with these cookies!) It’s really good!

overhead shot of red and pink heart sugar cookies on parchment paper, frosted with royal icing.

So the choice is yours:

  • Make Buttercream if you are looking for a rich, decadent cookie that you have to treat a little bit more like a cupcake (because the frosting is sticky), or
  • Make Royal Icing if you want a delicious frosting that is super fun to make intricate designs with, and hardens into a candy-like shell, meaning you can stack or ship your cookies easily.

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!

Red, white, and blue-frosted Fourth of July soft sugar cookie

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!

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!

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Soft Sugar Cookies

4.78 from 304 votes
Prep: 10 minutes
Cook: 10 minutes
Chilling Time: 2 hours
Total: 2 hours 20 minutes
Servings: 24 cookies
A secret ingredient in this sugar cookies recipe makes these the SOFTEST cookies of your life! And they even hold their shape after baking.

Ingredients

  • 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

Instructions

  • 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.

Notes

*Several tips I read said to roll out your cookies in between sheets of parchment paper, that way your cookies don’t get dried out from too much flour. I didn’t think the flour was a problem, but try it out if you want!

Nutrition

Serving: 1cookie | Calories: 176kcal | Carbohydrates: 25g | Protein: 2g | Fat: 8g | Saturated Fat: 5g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 2g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 27mg | Sodium: 166mg | Potassium: 28mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 13g | Vitamin A: 251IU | Calcium: 10mg | Iron: 1mg
Course: Dessert
Cuisine: American
Calories: 176
Keyword: Cookies, cut out, softest, sugar cookies, thick
Did you make this? I’d love to see it!Mention @thefoodcharlatan or tag #thefoodcharlatan!

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Comments

  1. Thank you for sharing your recipe. I’m going to give it a try. But first, can you tell me if the recipe will work well with royal icing instead of buttercream? I’m planning on doing some art work on the icing with coloring gels and I need royal icing to do it. If not, do you have an alternate recipe that will? Thank you 😊

    1. Hi Kerri! Yes you can totally make these with royal icing! I have a full tutorial coming up soon for royal icing, I’m excited. I’d love to see pictures of your final cookies! Tag me on instagram, @thefoodcharlatan! 💕 Merry Christmas!

    1. Hi Cari! The dough should be good for 3-4 days in the fridge. Have fun making cookies, and happy holidays!

    1. That’s awesome to hear Kelli, so glad you love these as much as we do! Thanks so much for taking the time to review, it means a lot :-)

    2. 3 stars
      I thought it was a great recipe as they were soft. Will be omitting the almond extract and redoing them with just vanilla.

  2. I’m going to attempt making these for kid’s Christmas party, and decorate with melted snow man. How many days in advance can i make and decorate without then drying out.. Thanks for the recipe, you make it sound easy.

    1. Hi there! You can make them up to 2 months in advance if you freeze them. If you’re just hoping to make them and keep them on the counter, they’re good for at least 2-3 days if kept in a sealed container. Enjoy!

    2. Hi Starbrite! So fun, I’d love to see a picture of the melted snow men! I make these cookies ahead all the time. Clear out some space in your freezer, make them start to finish, and freeze, with plenty of space in the tupperware (don’t crowd them). Then let thaw at room temperature. Are you using royal icing? I have less experience with roayl icing but it SHOULD be ok to freeze. lmk how it goes!

  3. Would it help to chill the cookies after cutting them out before baking? To help keep shape if dough happens to get too warm while working with it?

    1. Yes Ashanti, I actually almost always do this! I pop my shaped cookies into the freezer for 5+ minutes to help them get chilled again. You want cold dough hitting the oven! Enjoy!

    2. Hi Ashanti, yes, you can definitely chill cut-out cookies before baking if the dough has gotten too warm. Chilling the dough should be enough, though; usually I pop the rest of dough back in the fridge while I’m working with some of it. Good luck on your cookies!

  4. 4 stars
    The cookies turned out good. Probably could have even been a tad sweeter. They kept their shape when baking so I’m pleased with that.
    Not related to how the cookies turned out but I have to say that the ads on this page are incredibly annoying because they constantly move the page when reading the recipe. I had to scroll back to the recipe so many times while trying to make these cookies.

  5. 5 stars
    This is the second holiday season we’ve used this recipe, and my whole family (toddler included) absolutely love these! The flavor is great, and they’re so easy.

    1. That’s so awesome to hear Kae! Thanks for taking the time to review this recipe and comment – it means so much :-)

  6. 5 stars
    These are seriously the best, softest sugar cookies I have ever made! Just made them for the first time for halloween and people were raving about them! Had so many friend ask me for the recipe. I had been looking for my go to sugar cookie recipe for all occasions and this is it!! Thank you!

    1. I’m so happy you’ve found The One, Alexa! It’s a pretty magical moment, right?? Thanks so much for coming back to review, that’s so helpful and kind. Happy fall!!

  7. I just made these and I want to make sure I have the last steps right. I took them out of the oven, let them sit on the pan for 5 minutes, and then put the hot cookies in a Tupperware and put the lid on- is this correct? I’m letting them cool down all the way in the covered Tupperware? I had a warm one and they’re delicious:) Thanks!

    1. Hi Teage! Yes that’s the idea, though if the cookies are still quite warm you will want to wait until they are a bit more cool. I’m usually doing huge batches of these cookies, so by the time I’ve gotten to them, maybe it is more than 5 minutes, haha. Once the cookies are mostly cooled on the pan, transfer to a tupperware. The idea is that you don’t want to set them out on a wire rack to cool and then just forget about them, because they will dry out. Hope this helps, enjoy!

  8. When you chill the dough overnight how long do you leave out to get to a workable dough? It’s too hard coming straight out of the fridge but also don’t want to make it to a too cooled down dough.

    Also, just want to say. So many people love these cookies!! Happy I found it!

    1. So glad people are loving the cookies Jen! It’s such a great feeling right?? On the workable dough situation, I recommend dividing the dough in half and popping one half back in the fridge. I would leave the half you’re working with on the counter for about 10 minutes while you get out your cookie cutters and baking sheets. That’s about as long as you’ll want to leave it before slowly working to roll it out. Cold dough = cookies that don’t spread. If 10 minutes isn’t enough (maybe your kitchen is on the cool side), wait another 5. Hope your next batch of cookies is excellent!

  9. 5 stars
    This has been my go to sugar cookie recipe for the past two years! They are SO SOFT – though I do indulge in my love of royal icing and let them cool completely on a rack, and they still last long and stay perfectly soft the whole time.

  10. Been making a version of these cookies for years, wondering what have you updated to this post? Also, you used to have a chocolate version but I no longer see that recipe.

  11. 5 stars
    This is my go-to recipe around the holidays every year so thank you for that!
    Query : Since we’re using cream cheese in the recipe, would it be safe to parcel the cookies to someone overseas?

    1. Hi Jasnain! So glad you love making these for the holidays. Yes, it’s safe to mail these overseas; the cream cheese gets fully baked in and they won’t spoil any faster than butter cookies. Enjoy!

  12. 5 stars
    I never leave reviews but thought I would with this one. I made over 150 sugar cookies this weekend using this recipe and they turned out perfect and delicious too! These are perfect if you are looking for a sugar cookie that is soft and delicious.

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