Addictive Recipes from a Self-Taught Baker

Holiday Cut-Out Sugar Cookies with Easy Icing.

Cut-out holiday sugar cookies with crisp edges and soft centers. My icing recipe is so simple, making decorating hassle-free! 

Holiday Cut-Out Sugar Cookies with Easy Royal Icing Recipe by sallysbakingaddiction.com

Here we go, year number 2 of Sally’s Cookie Palooza! That’s 10 new cookie recipes for your Christmas season. I’ve been a cookie MADWOMAN for the past month in preparation for this festive, cavity inducing celebration. Make sure your cookie jar is currently empty. Make sure a glass of milk is handy. And make sure you have all the butter in the world because you’ll definitely be needing it. From sprinkles, to mint chocolate, to icing, to gingerbread, to red velvet, to peanut butter– I think you’ll all find a cookie to love. Ready for this?

We’re kicking it off with a Christmas cookie classic. Nothing beats an iced sugar cookie made from scratch, unless it’s a soft and buttery iced sugar cookie made from scratch. This particular sugar cookie beats any and all of the sugar cookie recipes I have ever tried. And I grew up making these cookies.

Holiday Cut-Out Sugar Cookies with Easy Royal Icing Recipe by sallysbakingaddiction.com

Trust me when I say that this is a sugar cookie recipe you need to try. It’s taken me awhile to find that perfectly soft-centered, yet slightly crisp edged recipe. A cookie that keeps its cookie cutter shape in the oven, has a nice flat surface, a recipe without any crazy ingredients, and a recipe that is easy and approachable for everyone.

I posted today’s sugar cookie recipe back in May and have gotten rave reviews. Since you may already be familiar with the all-star sugar cookie recipe itself, I’m using today to focus on the icing. I’ve slightly changed the icing recipe, making it a little easier to work with.

Holiday Cut-Out Sugar Cookies with Easy Royal Icing Recipe by sallysbakingaddiction.com

Royal icing can be a pain sometimes, but it doesn’t have to be. You can create gourmet looking cut-out sugar cookies at home and you don’t have to lose your mind doing it.

I do not use powdered egg whites or meringue powder in my icing because I never have either in my pantry. What I do use is confectioners’ sugar, water, vanilla extract, and a touch of corn syrup. The corn syrup makes the icing nice and shiny, while the ratio of confectioners’ sugar to water keeps it thick. The icing dries hard and slightly crunchy, so you can easily stack these decorated sugar cookies and travel with them.

Like I’ve been saying– this icing is so easy to work with. To make decorating a breeze, I’ve started to use empty plastic bottles. Plastic bottles are so much easier! You can find them for about $1 at Walmart, Target, on Amazon, or in your regular grocery store in the kitchen supplies aisle. I fill each with a different color icing and simply squeeze them onto the cookie. That’s about it.

This is a recipe that requires planning ahead. First, the cookie dough needs to chill. Chilling is a mandatory step. Before decorating the baked cookies, make sure the cookies are completely cool. If they are not completely cool, the icing will melt. To completely harden on top of the cookies, the icing needs at least 24 hours to set.

Holiday Cut-Out Sugar Cookies with Easy Royal Icing Recipe by sallysbakingaddiction.com

Before beginning the recipe, be sure to look at a few step-by-step photos at the bottom of this post. Happy Cookie Palooza-ing! Oh and don’t be overwhelmed by all the steps, I’m just extremely thorough. Here’s a video so you can see!

Holiday Cut-Out Sugar Cookies with Easy Icing

Ingredients:

Cookies

  • 3/4 cup (170g) unsalted butter, slightly softened to room temperature
  • 3/4 cup (150g) granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg1
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond extract (makes the flavor outstanding)
  • 2 and 1/4 cups (281g) all-purpose flour (spoon and leveled)
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Easy Icing

  • 1 and 1/2 cups (180g) confectioners' sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon light corn syrup2
  • 2 - 2.5 Tablespoons (30-38ml) room temperature water
  • pinch salt3

Directions:

  1. Make sure you have allotted enough time (and enough counter space!) to make these cookies. The cookie dough needs to chill, the cookies need to cool completely, and the icing needs 24 hours to completely harden. If enjoying right away and hardened icing isn't a concern, you'll only need about 4 hours to make these.
  2. In a large bowl using a handheld or stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter until creamed and smooth - about 1 minute. Add the sugar and beat on high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 or 4 minutes. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed. Add the egg, vanilla, and almond extract and beat on high until fully combine, about 2 minutes. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed.
  3. Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together in a medium bowl. Turn the mixer down to low and add about half of the flour mixture, beating until just barely combined. Add the rest of the flour and continue mixing until just combined. If the dough still seems too soft, you can add 1 Tablespoon more flour until it is a better consistency for rolling.
  4. Divide the dough into 2 equal parts. Roll each portion out onto a piece of parchment to about 1/4″ thickness. Stack the pieces (with paper) onto a baking sheet and refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to 1 day. Chilling is mandatory.
  5. Once chilled, preheat oven to 350F degrees. Line 2-3 large baking sheets with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. The amount of batches will depend on how large/small you cut your cookies. Remove one of the dough pieces from the refrigerator and using a cookie cutter, cut in shapes. Transfer the cut cookie dough to the prepared baking sheet. Re-roll the remaining dough and continue cutting until all is used.
  6. Bake for 9-12 minutes, until very lightly colored on top and around the edges. Make sure you rotate the baking sheet halfway through bake time. Allow to cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely before icing. No need to cover the cookies as the cookies cool.
  7. For the icing, whisk the confectioners' sugar, vanilla, corn syrup, and 2 tablespoons of water in a medium bowl. It should be quite thick. If it is much too thick, add 1/2 Tablespoon more water. If it is much too thin, add 2 more Tablespoons of confectioners' sugar. If you drizzle a little of the icing with the whisk, the ribbon of icing will hold for a few seconds before melting back into the icing. That is when you know it's the right consistency and is ready to use. If desired, add liquid or gel food coloring. You can pour some icing into different bowls if using multiple colors. If not decorating right away, cover the icing tightly and keep in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.
  8. Decorate the cooled cookies however you'd like. Squeeze bottles make decorating so easy. You may enjoy right away or you can wait 24 hours for the icing to set and harden-- no need to cover the cookies as the icing sets. Once the icing has set, these cookies are great for gifting or for sending. I find they stay soft for about 5 days at room temperature.

Make ahead tip: unfrosted cookies freeze well up to 3 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator. Frosted cookies do not freeze well at all.

Recipe Notes:

  1. Room temperature egg is preferred to be easily dispersed in the cookie dough. Good rule of thumb: always use room temperature egg if recipe calls for butter at room temperature or melted.
  2. Corn syrup gives the icing fabulous shine. You may leave it out if you aren't concerned about shiny, glossy icing.
  3. I know salt isn't a typical ingredient in cookie icing, but my taste testers and I preferred that little pinch of salt. I use about 1/8 teaspoon. OR you can add 1/4 teaspoon of salt to the dry ingredients in the cookie dough. I like it better used in the icing, though.

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Start with the right consistency of unsalted butter. This is important! Butter must be softened, but not melty in the slightest. You should be able to press your finger into the stick of butter and make an indent easily, without your finger sliding anywhere. Firm, but not cold. Lightly softened is what you should go for. Use this photo as a visual. If it’s helpful, this is exactly what butter should look like before being used in frosting recipes.

Perfectly Softened Butter for frosting

Once the cookie dough is prepared per the recipe’s instructions above, it will be slightly thick and not wet. Sticky and crumbly, yet manageable. I compare the cookie dough to the consistency of play-doh.

Before chilling the cookie dough, roll it out. Yes, roll the cookie dough out before chilling! With all of my recipe testing, I learned that this method is so much easier than chilling the cookie dough as a whole and then trying to roll out a cold chunk of dough.

To make rolling easier, divide the sugar cookie dough in half, shape into balls, and then roll into two flat rectangles – about 1/4 inch thickness each – onto parchment paper. Stack onto a baking sheet, with parchment paper in between each rectangle, and chill for at least 1-2 hours. Once the dough rectangles are chilled, cut into shapes.

Holiday Cut-Out Sugar Cookies with Easy Royal Icing Recipe by sallysbakingaddiction.com

Bake until the edges are very lightly browned. This is the secret to their soft centers! A slight underbake. You do not want to overbake these cookies, unless you prefer a crunchy sugar cookie.

The BEST Holiday Cut Out Sugar Cookies Recipe

Now, the icing. This easy sugar cookie icing is thick; thicker icing is easier to work with. If you drizzle a little of it with the whisk, the ribbon of icing will hold for a few seconds before melting back into the icing. That is when you know it’s the right consistency.

Easy Royal Icing

At this point, you can color the icing if you want. Or just begin decorating. Have fun!

Holiday Cut-Out Sugar Cookies with Easy Royal Icing Recipe by sallysbakingaddiction.com

Christmas sugar cookies on sallysbakingaddiction.com

See more Christmas recipes.

See more cookie recipes.

EASY holiday sugar cookies! This is my go-to recipe because it is so straight-foward and simple!
Holiday Cut-Out Sugar Cookies with Easy Royal Icing Recipe by sallysbakingaddiction.com

273 comments

  1. Howdy! Thanks so much for sharing 🙂 Do you have any idea what these would taste like with cream cheese icing?
    I got a recipe from my grandma for sugar cookies with cream cheese icing. I remember them tasting so delicious but couldn’t get good results with her recipe. Maybe you might have some insight as to what I could do to not get such sticky dough or puffy cookies. You also may have better luck with it or could get some inspiration from it.

    I was just given an ingredient list and no directions but of course I followed your tips and basic cookie logic.

    Nana’s (difficult) Cookies:
    1 cup sugar
    1/2 cup butter
    2 beaten eggs
    1 tsp vanilla
    3 cups AP flour
    3 tsp baking powder
    1 tsp salt
    1 cup cream

    bake at 350 for 8-10 minutes

    Some food for thought 🙂

    • I used cream cheese icing and they were really delicious, but definitely on the sweeter side!

      • I would say maybe less baking powder. I think that is what is making them more puffy than you would like. Also maybe a little more butter might help as well.

  2. Hi, Sally. I love your blog and I really appreciate all the helpful bakers’ tips! How long will the icing keep once it’s been made? Can you freeze it?

    Thanks!

  3. SALLY -I have been making your cookies for about three weeks now and before your recipes I researched a lot and made a lot lol. Your cookies by far ROCK your a cookie making genius .I cannot give you enough compliments ! your cookies taste so wonderful their like little drops of Heaven. my children agree with me their teachers agree with me and so do all of our friends I cannot wait for you to come out with more recipes .I’m definitely and truly your number one fan thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you.

  4. Hi Sally! I love all of your recipes! Have you ever tried writing with this icing? I’d like to make these into place cards for Christmas but not sure the icing will work well for that. Any idea? Thanks!!

  5. Hands down the best sugar cookie recipe I’ve found!! I love them, hubby/kids love them, and everyone else who tries them!! I think people invite me to their Christmas parties just because they know I’m bringing a batch of these bad boys lol!! I love the icing as is but this time I added a hint of lemon extract in the icing and it was really good! Thanks so Much for this recipe! ☺☺

  6. I made these cookies exactly as you stated and they came out perfect!! I used a squirt bottle as you suggested and the frosting doesn’t look like it was sloppily put on. I’ll be making another batch of these before Christmas. Thanks for the recipe 🙂

  7. I am making these cookies tonight and the dough is currently chilling in my fridge! I am so excited, I have always liked baking but I really never did it until i found your recipe for cake batter chocolate chip. You’re recipes are always easy to follow, very descriptive (which is so helpful) and always turn out soooo good. Thank you!

  8. Can you refrigerate the dough for days? Or just up to one day only?

    • I’ve actually refrigerated it for 2 days, but made sure that it was covered with another piece of parchment paper. And the cookies were fine!

  9. I LOVE your recipes dear Sally! I’m baking gingerbread men tonight and I’ve just placed the dough to chill in the refrigertor. Can’t wait to use your easy royal icing recipe to decorate them! 🙂

  10. Hello Sally,
    I don’t normally comment on the internet and I can’t bake to save my life! This recipe is amazing and the details made me feel like my mom was in the kitchen helping me! (mom passed years ago) My children love the cookies! Thanks for helping me make beautiful and delicious Christmas cookies! I feel like super mom!

  11. Hi, what if I want to make different color icings, would I need to use one whole icing recipe for each color and also do I use a gel food coloring? Thanks.

  12. Have you ever used almond extract in place of vanilla???

  13. Hi Sally,

    Thanks for sharing the recipe, gonna try it for this Christmas.
    As with the icing, I don’t have 24 hours to chill them, do you think it is possible to put it in the fridge and it will harden faster?

    Many thanks.
    Katie

  14. Oh my!! These are the BEST cookies! The dough is so easy to put together and to work with. They taste amazing; buttery and not too sweet. They cooked up perfect, just like you said, crispy on the edges with a nice soft middle!! And the icing…oh the icing! It’s the perfect consistency for using a squeeze bottle and yet it sets up firm and glossy so you can stack the cookies or pack and ship them. I’m SOOOO glad I finally found this amazing recipe! Thank you thank you thank you Sally!!

  15. Hello Sally,

    thank you for another great recipe. Can I use this dough for spritz cookies? Thanks again!!!

  16. Hello Sally this will be my first time using your recipe,hope all comes out well I will surely let you know, thank you.( I saw a recipe that called for powder Suger in recipe and another used cream cheese in recipe have you ever used these and how did they come out for taste? Thanks Monica.

  17. Made these today with my daughters – 2 and 5 – and they came out wonderfully. Love your recipes and I love that even I can’t seem to screw them up. Now to stop eating them all…

  18. I just made these yesterday. I made two batches, and I left out the almond extract because I don’t have any. They turned out so beautifully! I love the icing recipe; it sets perfectly and has a nice glossy sheen to it. Your cookie recipes rock!

  19. Best cookies ever! Made them for Chanuka with a stained glass dreidel inside. Baked them for my daughter’s class. Voted the tastiest cookies hands down!

  20. Hi Sally, I can’t wait to try these! On icing the entire top of cookie say with a base color, do you use squirt bottle and spread? Thank you
    Glenda

  21. Made these tonight but did them as valentine cookies, wish I could attach a pic to show you how they turned out.  

  22. This recipe is wonderful! I am so happy that I found it. I have wanted to bake my own cookies that tasted as good as the ones I buy at local bakery. THANK YOU! These are fun to make and this is a great recipe. The only change we make to it is to TRIPLE the almond…..amazing results. I am sharing this with any who ask. So far, my cookies are a hit. This is a novelty for me since my husband does the majority of the cooking.

  23. Hi Sally

    -I’ve made a few of your recipes over the years so when I had to make cut out sugar cookies for my daughter in laws shower I knew exactly what website to go to -yours!
    They came out perfect and everyone loved them. thank you !!!

  24. I would love to try your icing for my cookies.  Do you really need to add the salt.  If I did not add the salt would it matter. 

    Thank you for your delicious recipes!! julie

  25. Another recipe that’s perfect

  26. Sally, These are on my to-do list for Christmas. Where can I find the cookie cutters you used? Thanks.

  27. Do you have to roll out the dough before refrigerating?

  28. Peppermint patties covered in dark chocolate 

  29. Cori, this is a little far out from your original post about your gram’s but there are a few things that are atypical for a sugar cookie. You sure she was not one of those cooks that doesn’t give the exact recipe cause they like..want a monopoly on the deliciousness? For three cups of flour you would usually see more butter. Most cookie recipes do not have added liquid if they are to hold shape and not be like mini cakes. That much baking powder will make puffy cookies. Play with the recipe. I am not a pro and not sally but I have baked alot of cookies.

  30. Can you share a link to the type of bottles you’d buy on amazon? I’m having overwhelm perusing the bottles, worrying about size and opening!

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