Soft Cut Out Sugar Cookies

Soft sugar cookies that are perfect to be used with your cookie cutters, no matter what the holiday or occasion. These cookies are tender and soft but keep their shape so well as they bake. The tangy sour cream icing pairs nicely with the buttery cookies and gives you and your kids the chance to become artists.

I have been on the hunt for a great sugar cookie recipe ever since my kids were old enough to hold cookie cutters in their cute chubby hands. Baking cut out cookies is such a fun activity to do with young children and I’m excited to be sharing this recipe with you.

After trying many different recipes every year for more than 5 years, this holiday season, I was determined to figure it out. My kitchen became a lab and I went through so many different cookie variations, trying out different combinations and rations of ingredients, testing out the best way to assemble the cookies and trying out different baking times.

Such a simple recipe has no room for error – there’s nothing to hide behind. I wanted to get the texture just right – having the cookies hold their shape, not spread out or puff out too much and a the same time be soft, tender – and stay that way for days! Not too much too ask right? The icing went through the same rigorous testing too.

Why should you try this recipe?

  1. These cookies are buttery, delicious and SOFT. If you’re going to put in effort of making homemade cookies, they’d better taste great:).
  2. They are also really easy to make. That means that you can make both the cookie dough as well as cut out the different shapes with your children. The cookies dough only takes a few minutes to prepare and everyone who has ever attempted to bake with children knows that the simpler the recipe, the better the experience for everyone.
  3. They keep their shape after baking! This is really important for a cut out cookie recipe. You want your cookies to come out as close as possible to the cookie cutter shape that you picked out, not puff out into a shapeless blob in the oven.
  4. The sour cream icing is so unique and easy to work with. I love the tangy, creamy and sweet flavor of this icing. The sour cream cuts through all the sugar making it much less cloying.

Ingredients:

Cookie Dough:

  • butter – it’s very important for the butter to be at room temperature before you make the cookie dough.
  • sugar – I use white granulated sugar.
  • egg – I use large eggs in baking. The egg also needs to be at room temperature.
  • vanilla extract/almond extract – in most sugar cookies, both or one or the other is used to flavor the cookies. You can use both or just one, it’s completely up to you and what flavor you prefer.
  • all purpose flour
  • salt – a bit of salt is great in most baked goods.
  • baking powder – since I used a bit more flour to make sure the cookies held their shape, adding just a tiny amount of baking powder did help slightly to puff them out just a bit. This is an optional ingredient – if you don’t overbake your cookies and chill the dough before rolling, you don’t need to use it at all.

Icing:

  • sour cream
  • cream cheese – the cream cheese must be softened to room temperature, or it won’t mix in evenly
  • powdered/confectioner’s sugar
  • any food coloring that you want

Tips For the Best Possible Cut Out Sugar Cookies:

Sugar cookie dough tutorial
  • Make sure the butter and egg are at room temperature before you mix the cookie dough. This will determine the texture of the cookies later. Butter and sugar mixed together until they are airy and fluffy create an emulsion, which later results in the cookies being tender and soft. If you use butter that is too soft (maybe you forgot to take it out ahead of time and then tried to cheat by putting it in the microwave and it melted too much), the cookies will spread out too much when they are baking.
  • Cream the butter and sugar until they are pale and fluffy, so that you incorporate enough air into the batter. Make sure to mix them long enough. Most people don’t beat the butter long enough. Time yourself, if you have to, 3-5 minutes for sure. This will pay off when you’re baking the cookies and all that air in the dough will expand and create a soft cookie.
  • Chill the dough before cutting out shapes and baking. Chilled dough will be easier to work with, you’ll get nice clean lines around your cookies and they won’t expand and puff out too much when baking.
  • Don’t add too much flour into the cookie dough and don’t overmix the dough after adding the flour. Adding too much flour will result in cookies that are too dense and hard. Mixing the flour too long will also make the cookies dense.
  • Roll out the dough on parchment paper or even between two sheets of parchment paper. This will prevent you from using too much additional flour. I don’t use any additional flour to roll out the cookie dough at all.
  • Work with part of the dough at a time, so the rest of it stays chilled.
  • Don’t roll out the dough too thin. The thinner the cookies, the less soft they will be. I try to make the cookies about 1/2″ inch.
  • Save the scraps of cookie dough and roll out more cookies, but first, chill the dough until firm. Any time you use cookie dough that is too warm, the cookies will spread out more. Also, try to get as many shapes as you can from one rolling, placing the cookies cutters as close to the edges and to each other as possible. The more times that you re-roll the dough, the less tender the cookies become.
  • Don’t overbake the cookies. They should still look pale when you take them out of the oven. The edges will be set, the top of the cookies should be a matte finish, not melted and gooey, but still look soft and you might think they aren’t finished baking. In fact the softest cookies were completely pale, with no brown on the bottom or sides at all. The cookies will be much softer and more tender the less they are baked. For smaller cookies, bake them for 8-10 minutes in the preheated oven. Larger cookies take about 10-12 minutes. They will continue to bake even after you take them out of the oven since the baking sheet is still really hot. Allow them to cool off until warm before taking them off the baking sheet.

Baking powder in sugar cookies?

I tried making cookies both with baking powder and without and compared the texture of the cookies and the way they spread out and puffed out while baking.

In the batches with the baking powder, the cookies tended to spread out and puff out more. This is why I ended up using only 1/4 teaspoon. If you want extra insurance to make sure your cookies are tender, you can add the baking powder. However, in the cookies that were chilled perfectly in advance, baked while still cold and then NOT overbaked, my husband and I didn’t notice a difference in the softness of the cookies at all and the cookie shapes stayed more sharp and less puffed out. I personally don’t think they need any baking powder, but you make the choice. It will be a very minute difference either way.

How to Make Sour Cream Icing:

Sour Cream Icing tutorial

Use a whisk to combine all the ingredients in a large bowl. If you are intimidated by making icing, start by whisking the cream cheese and sour cream together until smooth, then slowly add the powdered sugar, a little bit at a time until you have mixed it all in and the icing has a smooth consistency.

If you mix all the ingredients at once, at first it may seem as if there is too much sugar and it won’t get incorporated, but take your time and it eventually will come together. You can use a mixer, in that case, definitely make sure to add the sugar in small parts otherwise you will have powdered sugar all over your kitchen.

Divide the icing into as many colors as you want to add and add your food coloring of choice.

Decorating the Cookies

Cool the cookies before icing. Most of the time, I simply let my children ice the cookies any which way they want to, but if you want to make the cookies as neat as possible, transfer the icing into pastry bags, cut out a small hole in the corner and pipe it out on the cookies. Go around the cookies first with the icing and then fill in after you traced the edges all around. This will keep them neat and will keep excess icing from dripping from the sides.

If you want to add sprinkles, add them while the icing is still runny so it adheres to it, otherwise it will roll off.

If you want to stack the cookies later, make sure the icing completely dries first, that takes hours, so I usually leave them overnight to dry and then stack. Otherwise, my boys just enjoy them right away.

Storing and Freezing Sugar Cookies

Store the baked and iced cookies at room temperature for up to a week.

The cookie dough freezes really well too. This is wonderful if you want to make the dough in advance and have on hand, while saving yourself the time of making the cookie dough, waiting for it to chill and cleanup too. I often like to make only half a batch with my children at a time and store the rest for another time.

Store the cookie dough up to a week in advance in the refrigerator or up to 3 months in the freezers. Make sure to wrap the cookie dough in multiple layers so they stay as fresh as possible, to prevent freezer burn or any aromas from getting absorbed.

The baked cookies can also be frozen. I recommend icing them after. Store the cookies in multiple layers of parchment paper, aluminum foil, freezer ziptop bags or airtight containers for 1-2 months. Thaw at room temperature, removing from the packaging and wrapping in a clean kitchen towel or paper towel, to keep from drying out and from any condensation making the cookies soggy.

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Soft Cut Out Sugar Cookies

  • Author: Olga’s Flavor Factory
  • Prep Time: 1 hour
  • Cook Time: 8-10 min
  • Total Time: 2 minute
  • Yield: 1520 cookies 1x

Description

Soft sugar cookies that are perfect to be used with your cookie cutters, no matter what the holiday or occasion. These cookies are tender and soft but keep their shape so well as they bake. The tangy sour cream icing pairs nicely with the buttery cookies and gives you and your kids the chance to become artists.


Scale

Ingredients

Cookie Dough

1 cup butter, room temperature

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1 egg, room temperature

12 teaspoons vanilla and/or almond extract, you can use both or 1 of each

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon baking powder, optional (read note in recipe description about baking powder)

1/4 teaspoon salt

Sour Cream Icing

1/3 cup sour cream, room temperature

2 oz cream cheese, room temperature

2 1/2 cup powdered/confectioner’s sugar

any food coloring that you want to use

sprinkles and other fun cookie decorations


Instructions

Cookie Dough: 

  • In a large bowl, using a stand mixer with a paddle attachment or a hand mixer, cream the butter and sugar until pale yellow and fluffy, about 5 minutes. 
  • Add the egg and the vanilla/almond extract. Mix until combined. 
  • Mix the flour, salt and baking powder, in a separate bowl to combine. 
  • Add half of the dry ingredients to the cookie dough mixture, slowly mixing to combine, starting at low speed and mix just until most of the flour is incorporated. Add the remaining dry ingredients and repeat, being careful not to overmix the dough. 
  • Use a rubber spatula to scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl and finish mixing the dough. 
  • Divide the dough in half and form them both into disc shaped. Wrap in parchment paper and chill at least for an hour. You can make the dough up to several days in advance and store in the refrigerator or freeze the dough up to 3 months in advance. 

Making and Baking the Cookies: 

  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. 
  • Line 2 rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper. 
  • Working with half of the dough at a time and keeping the other half in the refrigerator, roll out the cookie dough on parchment paper to prevent using any extra flour. Roll the dough to about 1/2″ thickness and cut out as many cookies as possible, placing the cookies cutters as close to the edges and to each other as possible to reduce how many time you re-roll the dough. Transfer the cookies to the prepared baking sheet.
  • Bake in the preheated oven for 8-10 minutes for small/medium sided cookies and 10-12 minutes for large cookies. 
  • Chill the dough until firm before re-rolling. I recommend baking the cookies one baking sheet at a time for the best results. If you already cut out the other cookies, store them in the refrigerator, if you are waiting for the oven to be free. The cookies should still be cold when placing them into the oven, otherwise they will spread and puff out more. 
  • You should have about 20-22 cookies that are small/medium in size and about 18 is you use large cookie cutters. 

Sour Cream Icing: 

  • In a large bowl, combine the sour cream and cream cheese. They should be really soft and easily whisk together smoothly. Add the powdered sugar in increments, until it is all incorporated and you have a smooth icing. 
  • Divide the icing into as many colors as you want to use and add the food coloring of your choice. 
  • Cool the cookies before icing them. Top with sprinkles while the icing is still wet. 
  • If you want to stack the cookies, let them dry completely first, which can take a few hours. 

Keywords: sugar cookies, soft sugar cookies, cut out cookies, soft cut out cookies, christmas cookies, sour cream icing

18 Comments

  • Barbara Snyder

    I have always stayed away from icing that requires sour cream, or cream cheese as I am afraid of it going bad if not refrigerated. Is this recipe ok on the cookies to not be refrigerated once applied to the cookies. Many thanks and love your site.

    • olgak7

      Since there is a significant amount of sugar in the recipe, the icing does not go bad. I have had the cookies out at room temperature for a few days and they are still just as fresh and delicious.
      If you are still concerned, please feel free to use another icing recipe that you are comfortable with.

  • Brenda

    Olga, I absolutely love this! Your boys are adorable! I have two sons who have grown up to be wonderful men, with beautiful wives. As I watch you interact with your sons, it brings back warm memories. The cookies look delicious and I might make some this year!

  • Inna

    Hi!! Do you have any suggestions for a substitute for sour cream? I guess I can try it first but I’m not a big fan of sour cream. I’ve never baked these kind of cookies so I’m a little scared to try. Can you really taste the sour cream in the icing?

    • olgak7

      Hi Inna.
      You could try other things, like butter or milk, but you would need to experiment with all the measurements yourself, since I don’t use that for these cookies.
      No, you can’t really taste the sour cream in the icing; there is so much powdered sugar in it. Using sour cream makes it less sweet than most other icings and the taste is really nice too, the tartness of the sour cream helps to keep the icing from being too cloyingly sweet. I think the consistency is better than butter, milk or other things.

  • Lilly

    I made these with my 3 year old son. I did a tiny amount of lemon juice to the frosting.
    The kids loved the cookies!
    I will make again!
    Thank you!

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