Cut-out holiday sugar cookies with crisp edges and soft centers. My icing recipe is so simple, making decorating hassle-free!
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?
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.
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.
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
- 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
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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. I don't recommend freezing with icing-- it never thaws very nicely!
- 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.
- Corn syrup gives the icing fabulous shine. You may leave it out if you aren't concerned about shiny, glossy icing.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
At this point, you can color the icing if you want. Or just begin decorating. Have fun!
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