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Sugar cookies are the quintessential holiday cookie. Whether you start with Grandma’s copper cutters or a plastic set from a big-box store, the buttery treats never fail to spread joy. But not all cut-out cookies are created equal!
To me, the perfect cut-out sugar cookie needs to have a light golden color, crisp texture, and buttery vanilla flavor. The dough should be easy to roll and cut out using both simple and intricate cookie cutters, and needs to hold its shape when baked.
To choose the contenders, I considered recipe nominations from Kitchn editors, then researched other popular and well-reviewed recipes online. I narrowed the field to four cut-out sugar cookie recipes and spent a few days baking. In the end, I found a clear winner: The only sugar cookie you’ll need for all of your holiday decorating needs.
Meet Our 4 Sugar Cookie Contenders
For this showdown, I focused on sugar cookie recipes that are rolled out and cut with cookie cutters. If the recipe contained both cut-out and drop cookie variations, I followed the cut-out instructions. While some recipes also included frostings, icings, or sparkling sugars, I did not add these extras to the taste test so that I could focus on the flavor, texture, spread, and ease of working with the dough. Here is a quick look at the four recipes I tested.
Grandbaby Cakes’ How To Make Sugar Cookies recipe is as classic as it gets. The simple, straightforward recipe features the usual mix of ingredients — unsalted butter, granulated sugar, all-purpose flour, an egg, salt, vanilla extract, and a touch of baking powder — and there aren’t any surprises in the technique, either. Could this recipe hold its own against a field of cookies that include multiple extracts, separated eggs, and the tang of cream cheese?
No other cookie recipe entered this bake-off with more accolades than King Arthur Baking Company’s Holiday Butter Cookies. This recipe has over 250 reviews, a 4 1/2 star rating, and earned the title of “perfect cookie-cutter cookie” on their website. I was curious if the bakers behind this buttery, powdered sugar- and egg yolk based-dough had unearthed the secret to the ultimate cut-out sugar cookie.
No cookie competition is complete without a recipe from Dorie Greenspan. Her Do-Almost-Anything Vanilla Cookie Dough relies on egg whites instead of yolks and opts for a leavening-free approach. Would the vanilla version of these versatile cut-outs be enough to take the top spot?
How I Tested the Sugar Cookie Recipes
I purchased new packages of flour, butter, eggs, sugar, vanilla and almond extracts, and all other ingredients specifically for these tests to control for brand-specific differences and to make sure that all ingredients were at their peak. All four sugar cookie doughs were made and chilled on the same day and baked the following day. Cookie doughs were rolled to the thickness prepared as specified in each recipe and cut using a variety of holiday cookie cutters ranging from simple shapes to intricate designs. The cookies were tasted in a blind test and evaluated on flavor, texture, spread, and ease of working with the dough.
1. Soft and Chewy Sugar Cookies: Tastes of Lizzy T’s Cream Cheese Sugar Cookies
If you love a Lofthouse cookie, this is the sugar cookie for you. The cream cheese lends a subtle tangy flavor to an otherwise simple dough, but gives the cookie a softer, chewier texture than I look for in a classic cut-out cookie, which is ultimately why it landed in fourth place.
The dough was initially sticky to roll, but thanks to the thickness (1/4-inch), the cookies were easy to transfer to the baking sheet without altering the cut-out shape. The cookies puffed slightly upon baking, but held their shape well. The bakers behind Tastes of Lizzy T warn against overbaking, but ultimately I would have preferred the appearance and flavor after a longer bake time.
2. The Cut-Out for Shortbread Lovers: Dorie Greenspan’s Do-Almost-Anything Vanilla Cookie Dough
Of all the recipes I tested, I was looking forward to Dorie’s recipe the most. I appreciated the detailed thoroughness of the recipe — a sign that it had been thoughtfully written for bakers of any skill level. The buttery dough was soft, but not sticky, and the cookies were thick and held their shape. This was also the only recipe that had you roll the dough flat before chilling — a revelation! I loved not having to worry about rolling out cold, firm dough.
Ultimately, this is a solid and reliable recipe, but the cookies had a buttery, crumbly, and shortbread-like texture rather than the crisp sugar cookie texture I was seeking.
3. The Butter-Lover’s Sugar Cookie: King Arthur Baking Company’s Holiday Butter Cookies
This cut-out cookie was the butteriest of the bunch — appropriate, given the cookie’s name. The crisp cookies are rolled thin (1/8-inch thick) and bake up with the classic buttery crunch that is essential for holiday cookies. The dough is slightly dry, but came together after the addition of a scant tablespoon of water (an optional addition written into the recipe). The chilled dough cracked as I rolled it out, but once I sandwiched the dough between parchment I was able to roll with ease. The cookies baked without spreading and with pretty (and tasty!) golden edges.
Ultimately, while the flavor and appearance earned high marks, the dry, cracking dough was not as easy to work with as I’d like. But if I hadn’t found my new go-to recipe, I would definitely make these again.
4. The Ultimate Cut-Out Sugar Cookie: Grandbaby Cakes’ How To Make Sugar Cookies
These cut-out sugar cookies checked every box on my list. The ingredients and procedure were simple, straightforward, and easy enough for bakers of any skill level. The dough was slightly drier than others straight out of the mixing bowl, but once the dough chilled it was easy to roll and cut out. The dough was rolled thin (about 1/8-inch thick) which translated to appealingly crunchy cookies. The cookies also browned evenly in the oven, developing a rich, buttery, sugary flavor, and the cut-outs held their shape. These were the only cookies whose flavor and texture were perfect all on their own, which made it clear that these were the top treats.
Do you have a favorite cut-out sugar cookie recipe? Tell us in the comments!