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17 Smart Ways To Upgrade Sugar Cookies

Easy peasy.

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Jenna Benty / BuzzFeed

Sugar cookies are one of the most popular and nostalgic desserts of the holiday season.

And the baking process involved with making a batch of sugar cookies is half of their allure. Here, we've compiled 17 of the best tips to help you upgrade your sugar cookies from simple table decoration to delicious party-stopping dessert. When you're ready, head down to the bottom of the post for our complete sugar cookie recipe.

1. Use butter softened at room temperature, not melted butter.

When we say softened butter, we mean softened, not melted. Leave your butter out at room temperature for at least an hour before you start prepping, so that you get the perfect fluffy texture when you cream the sugar and the butter together.
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When we say softened butter, we mean softened, not melted. Leave your butter out at room temperature for at least an hour before you start prepping, so that you get the perfect fluffy texture when you cream the sugar and the butter together.

2. And use white sugar to ensure your sugar cookies are the right color.

You want your sugar cookies to be pale and uniform so that they look even better decorated.
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You want your sugar cookies to be pale and uniform so that they look even better decorated.

3. Add cream cheese to your dough to give it a slightly savory flavor.

Don't worry, it won't make your cookies taste salty. Instead, it'll lend them a certain tanginess that'll complement and bring out the other sweet flavor notes.
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Don't worry, it won't make your cookies taste salty. Instead, it'll lend them a certain tanginess that'll complement and bring out the other sweet flavor notes.

4. Completely cream the sugar and the butter together.

It should take about five minutes. To make sure you have the right texture, rub a little bit of the mixture in between your fingers. You'll know it's ready once you don't feel any sugar granules.
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It should take about five minutes. To make sure you have the right texture, rub a little bit of the mixture in between your fingers. You'll know it's ready once you don't feel any sugar granules.

5. Scrape the bowl while mixing to make sure you're incorporating all ingredients in your dough mixture.

When you're baking, every teaspoon of ingredients counts, and you'd be surprised how much sugar, butter, and dough can cake up on the sides of your bowl while mixing. Here's the difference when you DON'T scrape.
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When you're baking, every teaspoon of ingredients counts, and you'd be surprised how much sugar, butter, and dough can cake up on the sides of your bowl while mixing. Here's the difference when you DON'T scrape.

6. Add almond extract, in addition to vanilla extract.

It'll add a certain depth of flavor that'll make your cookies taste richer and even more scrumptious.
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It'll add a certain depth of flavor that'll make your cookies taste richer and even more scrumptious.

7. And a bit of kosher salt, which will enhance flavors and balance out the sweetness.

Like the other savory ingredients in this sugar dough recipe, the point of kosher salt isn't to make the dough salty, but rather to emphasize the other flavors by contrast.
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Like the other savory ingredients in this sugar dough recipe, the point of kosher salt isn't to make the dough salty, but rather to emphasize the other flavors by contrast.

8. Want to prevent browning and make your cookies snappy? Incorporate cream of tartar.

Made from acidic residue left in wine barrels, this multi-purpose secret ingredient helps to control texture, prevent browning, and make cookies slightly snappier.
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Made from acidic residue left in wine barrels, this multi-purpose secret ingredient helps to control texture, prevent browning, and make cookies slightly snappier.

9. And for a flaky cookie, also make sure you don't overwork the mixture.

Stop mixing the dough once you stop seeing streaks of flour. If you mix any more, you risk ending up with a tough and overly chewy cookie.
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Stop mixing the dough once you stop seeing streaks of flour. If you mix any more, you risk ending up with a tough and overly chewy cookie.

10. Keep the dough cold at all times.

Once the dough is ready, wrap it in plastic film and chill it for two hours. When it's time to roll out your cookies, make sure you don't warm the dough too much handling it. If the dough gets too warm, it won't hold its shape during the baking process.
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Once the dough is ready, wrap it in plastic film and chill it for two hours. When it's time to roll out your cookies, make sure you don't warm the dough too much handling it. If the dough gets too warm, it won't hold its shape during the baking process.

11. To get the most even dough, press on it before you even start rolling it.

And again, it'll make sure you're not overworking the dough.
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And again, it'll make sure you're not overworking the dough.

12. Flour the cookie cutters before using them so the dough doesn't stick.

A bit of flour will help the shapes pop out of their cutters easily.
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A bit of flour will help the shapes pop out of their cutters easily.

13. Position ALL your cookie cutters on the dough at the same time so the dough stays intact when you pull on each one.

This'll help the dough retain its thickness.
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This'll help the dough retain its thickness.

14. Pop all your cookies into the fridge for at least 20 minutes before you bake them.

By cooling and hardening the dough, you'll ensure that the cookies retain their shape when they're in the oven.
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By cooling and hardening the dough, you'll ensure that the cookies retain their shape when they're in the oven.

15. When making royal icing, SLOWLY incorporate the sifted powdered sugar into your egg whites.

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This will prevent lumps and make sure you have a smooth icing. And speaking of egg whites, make sure you get pasteurized egg whites so they're safe to incorporate raw in the icing.

16. Air on the side of ~thicker~ when making your primary batch of royal icing.

Since you'll likely be adding food coloring to your icing, and consequently thinning it out, you want to make sure you start out with a thick base.
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Since you'll likely be adding food coloring to your icing, and consequently thinning it out, you want to make sure you start out with a thick base.

17. Work fast with your royal icing because it'll set quickly.

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And if you need to thin it out, just add a little bit of water.

All that's left to do is decorate. Have fun!

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And if you want to try your hand at your own pretty batch of sugar cookies, here's the recipe:

THE BEST SUGAR COOKIES

Makes 1-2 dozen cookies depending on sizeINGREDIENTSSugar Cookies1½ cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened1½ cups granulated sugar1½ ounces (3 tablespoons) cream cheese, softened1 large egg2 large egg yolks1 teaspoon McCormick vanilla extract½ teaspoon McCormick almond extract1 teaspoon kosher salt3½ cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting½ teaspoon baking powder2 teaspoons cream of tartarRoyal Icing4 cups powdered sugar½ teaspoon kosher salt1 teaspoon vanilla extract¼ cup pasteurized egg whitesGel food coloring of choiceWater, as neededPREPARATIONMake the cookie dough: In a large bowl, cream together the butter, sugar, and cream cheese with an electric hand mixer on high speed for about 5 minutes, until fluffy and the sugar is mostly dissolved. Scrape down the bowl as needed to evenly beat the mixture. Add the egg, egg yolks, vanilla, and almond extract and mix well, scraping down the sides of the bowl. Add the salt, then sift the flour, baking powder, and cream of tartar into the bowl and fold to incorporate some of the flour, then beat on low speed, just until incorporated and the dough comes together. Shape the dough into a flat disc and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours, or up to 3-4 days.When ready to bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 350˚F (180˚C). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.Remove the dough from the fridge and let sit at room temperature for a few minutes to soften slightly. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the cookie dough with a rolling pin to ¼-inch thick.Dip cookie cutters of your choice in some extra flour and cut out shapes from the dough. Gather any excess dough into a ball, chill in the fridge to firm, then re-roll and cut out more cookies. Place the cookies on the prepared baking sheet and chill for at least 20 minutes to ensure they hold their shapes.Bake the cookies for 10-12 minutes, or until the edges just barely start to turn golden brown. Cool completely on a wire rack before decorating with royal icing or frosting.To make the royal icing, sift the powdered sugar into a large bowl and add the salt. On one side of the bowl, add the vanilla and egg whites. Where you added the liquids, begin whisking the powdered sugar into the liquids, gathering a bit more as you whisk to prevent lumps from forming, until all of the powdered sugar is incorporated. Add food coloring, if desired, and whisk to incorporate. You can divide the icing into smaller bowls to make more than one color. At this point, the icing should be a good consistency for piping borders. If you’d like the frosting to be looser to flood or dip your cookies, add a few tablespoons of water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until it reaches your desired consistency. Decorate the cookies as desired.Enjoy!
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Makes 1-2 dozen cookies depending on size

INGREDIENTS

Sugar Cookies
1½ cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

1½ cups granulated sugar

1½ ounces (3 tablespoons) cream cheese, softened

1 large egg

2 large egg yolks

1 teaspoon McCormick vanilla extract

½ teaspoon McCormick almond extract

1 teaspoon kosher salt

3½ cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting

½ teaspoon baking powder

2 teaspoons cream of tartar

Royal Icing
4 cups powdered sugar

½ teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

¼ cup pasteurized egg whites

Gel food coloring of choice

Water, as needed

PREPARATION

Make the cookie dough: In a large bowl, cream together the butter, sugar, and cream cheese with an electric hand mixer on high speed for about 5 minutes, until fluffy and the sugar is mostly dissolved. Scrape down the bowl as needed to evenly beat the mixture.

Add the egg, egg yolks, vanilla, and almond extract and mix well, scraping down the sides of the bowl.

Add the salt, then sift the flour, baking powder, and cream of tartar into the bowl and fold to incorporate some of the flour, then beat on low speed, just until incorporated and the dough comes together.

Shape the dough into a flat disc and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours, or up to 3-4 days.

When ready to bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 350˚F (180˚C). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Remove the dough from the fridge and let sit at room temperature for a few minutes to soften slightly.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out the cookie dough with a rolling pin to ¼-inch thick.

Dip cookie cutters of your choice in some extra flour and cut out shapes from the dough. Gather any excess dough into a ball, chill in the fridge to firm, then re-roll and cut out more cookies. Place the cookies on the prepared baking sheet and chill for at least 20 minutes to ensure they hold their shapes.

Bake the cookies for 10-12 minutes, or until the edges just barely start to turn golden brown. Cool completely on a wire rack before decorating with royal icing or frosting.

To make the royal icing, sift the powdered sugar into a large bowl and add the salt. On one side of the bowl, add the vanilla and egg whites.

Where you added the liquids, begin whisking the powdered sugar into the liquids, gathering a bit more as you whisk to prevent lumps from forming, until all of the powdered sugar is incorporated. Add food coloring, if desired, and whisk to incorporate. You can divide the icing into smaller bowls to make more than one color. At this point, the icing should be a good consistency for piping borders. If you’d like the frosting to be looser to flood or dip your cookies, add a few tablespoons of water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until it reaches your desired consistency.

Decorate the cookies as desired.

Enjoy!

Find more tips on how to bake the perfect sugar cookies here.

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