The best sugar cookie recipe (2024)

As a dedicated baker and recipe reader, you're always looking for "the best," right?

The best recipe for sandwich bread. For brownies. For sourdough waffles, and apple pie, and golden cake with chocolate frosting. After all, why waste your time, effort, and money on anything less than the very best?

Problem is, "best" is very subjective, when it comes to baking. Is "the best" brownie cakey and light, or dense and chewy? Do you prefer your pancakes thin and crisp around the edges, or thick and fluffy? One baker's success can be the next baker's abject failure.

Because sugar cookies are a perennial American favorite, I recently embarked on a quest to identify the best sugar cookie recipe on our web site. Starting with our nine basic sugar cookie recipes (yes, nine BASIC recipes), I baked, tested suggested variations, and sampled sugar cookies. I looked at texture, flavor, size, and shape.

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It turned out to be quite a job. Several of the recipes suggested two or even three variations, and I tested them all. Suffice it to say my neighbors, friends, family, and the guys at the car repair store down the street have all had their fill of sugar cookies for the time being.

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But it was totally worth it. You know why? Because now I can say, with authority, that THIS recipe produces a chewy/tender cookie with balanced sugar cookie flavor; and THIS recipe, a thin/crisp cookie with pronounced butter flavor.

Now, rather than tell you which of the seven* sugar cookie recipes on our recipe site is The Best Ever – I'll simply describe them to you, and let you choose. Sound good? And then, you can tell me which one sounds best to YOU by commenting below. Maybe we actually WILL come up with a people's choice Best Sugar Cookie!

*Due to close similarity with other recipes, I eliminated two of the original nine along the way.

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When you wanta please-everyone cookie.

Recipe: Sugar Cookies
Known for: their all-around versatility. I'd term this the quintessential All-American sugar cookie.
Texture: Crisp edges, softer center.

Tip: This is our "guaranteed" sugar cookie recipe. Which means...? We've identified core recipes on our site (deemed "favorite classics") that we feel best represent the most common treats people bake: chocolate chip cookies, banana bread, fudge brownies, sticky buns, etc.

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This recipe suggests three variations. I prefer the original (far left), which produces a cookie with some body, though without becoming unpleasingly cake-like.

The corn syrup cookies are flatter and very slightly chewy, though I wouldn't call them a chewy cookie by any means. Those made with cream cheese are smaller/taller, more like little nuggets than cookies. Their texture is soft and fairly dry.

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When you want a tender, buttery cookie perfect for holding an imprint.

Recipe: Shortbread
Known for: Wonderfully buttery flavor.
Texture: Dense without being heavy; tender and crisp, with a touch of crumbliness.

Tip: Shortbread doesn't have to be baked in a shortbread pan. Despite how it's always pictured, it's just as tasty baked as a simple drop cookie. If you do decide to make drop cookies, though, shortbread's a wonderful candidate for a cookie stamp – with no leavening, it holds a pattern beautifully.

Don't have a cookie stamp? Look around the kitchen for something else that might imprint a pretty pattern: here I'm using the business end of my Cuisinart food processor's pusher.

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When you want the perfect cookie-cutter cookie.

Recipe: Holiday Butter Cookies
Known for: Rich flavor, especially with the addition of Fiori di Sicilia; easy rolling.
Texture: Crisp, ultra-light; roll them thin enough and they feel practically weightless!

Tip: Roll the dough 1/8" thick for super-light (though somewhat fragile) cookies; roll 1/4" thick for sturdier cookies, better able to withstand the rigors of travel.

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We originally had two recipes for cutout sugar cookies on our site. After baking both side by side, I eliminated one as redundant – and slightly inferior. Although the two tasted exactly the same, note how #3 held its shape better than #7. The dough for #3 was also easier to handle. So long, #7!

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When you want a super-crunchy cookie without a hint of softness.

Recipe: Vanilla Dreams
Known for: Baker's ammonia, a "secret ingredient" that yields super-light/ethereally crunchy texture.
Texture: Incredibly light/crunchy; possibly the crunchiest cookies you've ever enjoyed.

Tip: If you don't have baker's ammonia, the recipe suggests a baking powder substitution. Understand the texture won't be quite as light/crunchy, though the cookies will still be delightful.

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When you want an attractive crackle-top cookie using self-rising flour.

Recipe: Self-Rising Crunchy Sugar Cookies
Known for: Ease of preparation; with self-rising flour, you're able to skip the steps of adding baking powder and salt.
Texture: Nicely crunchy to sturdy/hard, depending on your choice of fat.

Tip: The directions give two options for the fat in this cookie: butter, and vegetable shortening. Use shortening for a puffier/thicker cookie whose texture is a bit hard, rather than crunchy; butter for a flatter cookie with a bit more flavor, and lighter/crunchier texture.

Why the difference? Butter's melting point is lower than shortening's.

Cookies rely partially on fat for their structure. The lower the melting temperature of the fat, the sooner that fat melts. The sooner the fat melts, the quicker the cookies spread, and the flatter they become.

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When you want a big cookie with great flavor.

Recipe: Vanilla Sugar Cookies
Known for: Size; large enough to sell as a stand-alone item at bake sales.
Texture: Somewhere in between soft and sturdy; firm rather than crunchy.

Tip: This cookie's a great example of the depth of flavor you get from adding just a touch of almond extract and ground nutmeg to the ubiquitous vanilla extract. Those three flavors together yield a taste that goes beyond simply sweet.

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When you want a gluten-free sugar cookie.

Recipe: Gluten-Free Sugar Cookies
Known for: Versatility – make simple drop cookies, or roll the dough and cut it with cutters for something fancier.
Texture: As a drop cookie, soft and tender. As a cutout cookie, firm.

Tip: Bookmark this recipe for those occasions when you need a fancy treat for your favorite gluten-free friend or family member. Prepared as cutout cookies and iced/decorated, they're quite festive!

So, now that you've taken the tour, which sugar cookie would you choose as "best"? Please tell us in "comments," below.

The best sugar cookie recipe (2024)

FAQs

What is the trick to sugar cookies? ›

The very best sugar cookies are soft and tender. → Follow this tip: One of the keys to great sugar cookies is mixing the dry ingredients only until they're just incorporated, and not a second longer. Once the dry ingredients are added, less mixing equals more tender cookies.

What is the secret to a perfect cookie? ›

The key is to always use top-quality ingredients as they'll result in a better cookie; it really is that simple.
  • Always use butter.
  • Choose the right sugar.
  • Choose the right flour.
  • Check your flour is in date.
  • Choose the right kind of chocolate.
  • Cream the butter and sugar.
  • Beat in the eggs.
  • Fold in the flour.

How do you make sugar cookies better? ›

Vanilla Extract: Adding a teaspoon or two of vanilla extract to the cookie dough can provide a rich and aromatic flavor. Almond Extract: For a twist on the traditional sugar cookie flavor, try adding a small amount of almond extract. Start with 1/2 teaspoon and adjust according to your preference.

What is the best thickness for sugar cookies? ›

The best thickness for sugar cookies can depend on personal preference and the desired texture. However, in general, a thickness of around 1/4 inch (6mm) is ideal for sugar cookies. This thickness allows the cookies to be firm enough to hold their shape while baking, but also remain tender and not too thick or doughy.

Should you refrigerate sugar cookie dough before baking? ›

The #1 Reason Why You Should Chill Your Cookie Dough is simple: it vastly improves your cookies in both taste and texture. If you're like most, you don't want to take the time to chill your cookie dough.

What stops sugar cookies from spreading? ›

Chilling is a step called for in many cookie recipes, and it isn't a place to cut corners. “When chilled cookies bake, the butter stays in a solid form longer, slowing the spread,” says Dawn.

How to bake cookies like a pro? ›

How to Bake Holiday Cookies Like A Pro
  1. Use room temperature butter. ...
  2. Mix the wet ingredients first, then add to the dry ingredients.
  3. Don't over mix—it makes the dough tough. ...
  4. Make your dough a day ahead and store it in the refrigerator so it the flavors mingle, and it has time to chill.

What makes cookies chewy and not hard? ›

Different types of sugars affect the texture because they absorb different amounts of water. Remember moisture is the key! White sugar creates crispier cookies and brown sugar creates chewier cookies.

Do you flatten cookie dough before baking? ›

If the dough is chilled before baking then the cookies will be slightly more rounded, so if you want slightly flatter cookies then bake them as soon as you have mixed up the dough. But we would not recommend flattening the cookies completely as this will affect the texture.

What happens if you add too much sugar to sugar cookies? ›

Sugar sweetens the cookies and makes them an enticing golden brown. Adding too little sugar can affect the taste and texture of cookies. Adding too much can cause them to be brittle. Take your time creaming the sugar and butter together at the beginning.

What happens when you add extra sugar to cookies? ›

This is a common baking mistake, and it's easily fixable. Adding too much sugar to cookie dough can result in a number of issues, such as making the dough too sticky, causing it to spread too much during baking, and making the final product overly sweet.

What is the best sugar for cookies? ›

Brown sugar

Using brown sugar will result in a denser, moister cookie. Brown sugar is also hygroscopic (more so than granulated sugar) and will therefore also attract and absorb the liquid in the dough.

How long should I chill sugar cookie dough? ›

Transfer the dough, still between the two pieces of parchment paper, to a baking sheet. Chill in the fridge for at least two hours to allow the dough to firm up, and up to three days ahead. Proceed with the recipe as written - such as my easy sugar cookie recipe.

Should sugar cookies be crunchy or soft? ›

Unlike many things in the baking world, sugar cookies are meant to be foolproof. They don't have much butter or leavening, so they'll keep their shape when you roll out the dough and cut them. They're sturdy enough to be handled and decorated, but soft and delicious enough to be a Christmastime dessert staple.

Do you grease sheet for sugar cookies? ›

Should I grease my cookie sheets? Unless the recipe tells you to grease the cookie sheet, resist the impulse. The extra grease causes cookie dough (which already contains a lot of fat) to spread. If you're concerned about cookies sticking, line the cookie sheet with parchment paper or a silicone non-stick mat.

Why do my sugar cookies not keep their shape? ›

Chill the Cookie Dough

Chilling your cookie dough is the single biggest piece of advice I give people to stop their sugar cookies spreading too much. By allowing your cookie dough to chill and rest in the fridge for between 24-72 hours allows the fat in your cookies, to solidify.

Are sugar cookies supposed to be soft or hard? ›

Even if a recipe promises the softest, chewiest cookies, you can't expect those results if you overbake the cookies. Start by baking the cookies for the shortest time recommended. Cookies should be slightly soft and pliable when they come out of the oven. They will firm up a bit as they cool.

How long should you chill sugar cookie dough? ›

Bake cookies on parchment paper: Sometimes greasing a baking sheet can cause sugar cookies to spread. Instead, use parchment paper to prevent sticking and help the cookies keep their shape. Don't let the dough get warm. Notice the dough needs to be chilled for at least 2 hours.

Why didn't my sugar cookies hold their shape? ›

Mixing Butter & Sugar

If it's over-mixed, the air pockets decrease in size and are unable to hold their shape in the oven—causing your cookies to spread. It's best to cream butter and sugar on medium speed for 2 to 3 minutes.

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