The Best Sugar Cookies – Updated

Sometimes even a great recipe needs an update. There are two sugar cookie recipes I use, this one, and one from Sally’s Place that my colleague shared with me years ago.

Out of curiosity, I checked the difference between this recipe and my other go to, and I was surprised to see they are quite similar! The differences are that Sally’s adds the zest of 1 lemon, only 1 teaspoon vanilla and no almond extract, only 1/8 t. salt, and no baking powder. It also has the whimsical advice of wetting your hand with water and flicking whatever is left on it into the bowl.

Oh, and my colleague says to only use margarine in hers. Someday I’ll do a taste test, but for now, I might just use this one (and I use butter). It’s so simple, and I like almond better than lemon – your mileage may vary.

And now, for the frosting. Sometimes (like for the holidays), I’ll do royal icing. But when I need to be quick, this one is really, really good, especially if you like cream cheese. (And really, who doesn’t?) I can get the whole batch in a piping bag, and pipe it on with a star tip, starting in the center and working my way around, in 10 minutes flat (maybe less).

Sugar cookie base:
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 sticks butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. almond extract

Pink frosting:
4 oz. cream cheese, softened (you can use block or whipped, as long as you measure by weight)
3 oz. butter (3/4 stick), softened
1 tsp. vanilla
A few drops red food coloring
2 1/2 to 3 cups powdered sugar

Beat butter and cream cheese together on medium speed until smooth. Add vanilla and red food coloring and mix until combined. (Obviously you can do these any color, but pink is the way I first experienced them, so this is how I often do them. They are so pretty in any color.

Gradually add powdered sugar at low speed until fully combined. (Over-mixing will result in a lighter, aerated frosting–not my favorite with these cookies). More powdered sugar results in a stiffer frosting that develops a satisfying outer “crust” once dry (my preference), less results in a creamier texture that remains satiny.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats. Roll out each dough piece to approximately 1/4 inch thickness. Cut with cookie cutter (yield with a round 2 inch cutter is approximately 60 cookies). Place cut-outs on baking sheets 1 inch apart. Refrigerate sheets with cut-outs for 15 minutes (this helps the cookies spread less during baking and retain their shape).

Bake cookies for 8-10 minutes, rotating front-to-back and top-to-bottom (if using two sheets) halfway through. Let cookies cool completely before frosting.
Tip: If they aren’t soft and moist, you can add a couple of apple slices in an airtight container and they will soften.

For frosting, beat butter and cream cheese together on medium speed until smooth. Add vanilla and red food coloring and mix until combined. (Obviously you can do these any color, but pink is the way I first experienced them, so this is how I often do them. They are so pretty in any color.

Gradually add powdered sugar at low speed until fully combined. (Over-mixing will result in a lighter, aerated frosting–not my favorite with these cookies). More powdered sugar results in a stiffer frosting that develops a satisfying outer “crust” once dry (my preference), less results in a creamier texture that remains satiny.

What do you think?