Baking the Perfect Sugar Cookie

*This is my basic sugar cookie recipe converted to grams.  For the original, standard American measurements, click here.

A good cookie base is an essential component of perfectly decorated sugar cookies. It takes a little practice, but with the right recipe and a few tips it’s very easy to bake perfect sugar cookies very time.

First of all, I would like to say, I am not an expert.  I haven’t been to a fancy pastry school or had any sort of formal training,  just a lot of trial, error, and experience.

LOTS and LOTS of experience.

Keep in mind, my way is not the only way, and maybe not even the best way, but it’s what I like and what works for me.  The purpose of this article is not to tell you what you should do, but rather give you an idea of what happens in my kitchen as a foundation to build upon so you can come up with a method that works well for you.

I begin every single cookie project with my favorite cookie recipe.  Not only is it quick and easy, it’s also a very forgiving recipe.  You can find the original, printable version of my recipe in standard US measurements  HERE.

Most people find this recipe easy and delicious. However, I have a handful of readers that don’t get the same results that I do, and a few others who are more comfortable weighing their ingredients.  So, for these readers, I’m posting my recipe by weight.  PLEASE go easy on me.  I am not at all comfortable with this method, but I am trying!

Perfect Sugar Cookie

Yield: 2 1/2 dozen medium-sized cookies

Perfect Sugar Cookie

Ingredients

  • 227 grams unsalted butter
  • 175 grams confectioner’s {icing} sugar
  • 1 egg {room temperature}
  • 1.5-3 teaspoons extract or emulsion {any flavor}
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 400-425 grams all-purpose flour

Instructions

  1. Cream together butter and sugar.
  2. Add eggs and extract and mix well.
  3. Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt, add to wet mixture little by little until well incorporated.
  4. Roll and cut cookies into desired shapes, dusting with flour as necessary.
  5. Bake cookies at 200 Celsius for 7-8 minutes until tops are appear dry rather than shiny. Do not brown.
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I think I did okay on the conversions, but these numbers may as well be in Greek for what they mean to me, so if I goofed, shoot me an email, I’ll get it fixed.  Please don’t call me stupid or leave me nasty comments.  It kinda puts a damper on my day.

As for me, I still measure like my Nanny did.  I call it the “old-lady method”.  Nanny kept cups in her flour, sugar, salt and baking powder bins and she never ever moved them.  Most of them weren’t even real measuring cups, she just knew what they were and what they did, and she got consistent results every time.  If you need a little more information on measuring, I suggest this article on properly measuring dry ingredients from My Baking Addiction.  It’s REALLY helpful and informative.

Of course, I use real measuring cups when I bake, but like Nanny, I never ever take them out of the bin that they belong in so my dough is pretty consistent.

Mixing the dough is pretty simple.  The most important thing is to mix ingredients in the proper order.  Begin by creaming together the butter and sugar, then add the egg {room temperature} and vanilla, then, after sifting together the flour, baking powder and salt, add it to the mixture little by little until a dough is formed.

Be sure the egg is room temperature and the butter is not over or under softened.  Usually I set it out two to three hours before baking and let it come to room temperature.  If you forget, no worries.  Chop the butter into small pieces and wait about 30 to 45 minutes.  It will be perfectly softened when you’re ready to bake.

Try to resist the urge to microwave it.  Nine times out of ten, you will end up with a butter puddle, and over-softened butter WILL affect your dough.  Once again, I’d like to send you to My Baking Addiction if you’d like to know more about perfectly softened butter.  I could write a novel, but there’s no need, because Jamie already has it well covered.

When the dough is mixed, it will be soft, but not sticky and will look like this.  I find that it firms up as it rests, so I often give it five or ten minutes before working with it..

For those of you who like to work ahead, I do not recommend refrigerating or freezing this dough.  I’ve tried it, and it completely changes the final product.  Fresh dough creates a fluffy, light, non-greasy cookie with minimal spread.  In my experience, when the dough is refrigerated for a long period of time, it is harder to work with and produces flatter, greasier cookies with significantly more spread than fresh dough.  I’ve also noticed that when chilled, the dough darkens  and becomes crumbly and the cookies have dry crackly tops when baked.

Rather than pre-making dough, I prefer to set aside a baking day, make two to four batches of dough and use it immediately.  This doesn’t mean I will hunt you down and kill you if you decide refrigeration works best.  Remember, your way is the best way for you!

While the dough is resting, I set up what I call my rolling station.  I gather all of the tools I need and set them up in the area where I will be working .  These are parchment lined baking sheets, an offset spatula, cookie cutters, a rolling pin, and flour for dusting my workspace and dough.  I prefer to roll my cookies on parchment paper, so I also have a sheet for rolling.

Beginning with a six to eight inch dough round, I lightly dust it with flour and begin rolling, turning the parchment 45 degrees at a time, until I have a 1/4 inch thick circle of dough.  After baking, will expand to 1/2 of an inch thick.

Have you ever wondered how to roll perfectly even sheets of dough?  It’s easier than you might think.  I use rolling pin rings, which are basically big rubber bands that fit on my rolling pin to create a perfect space between the surface and rolling pin.  I love them, but if these aren’t for you, there are many products on the market that will do the same thing, like Do’ Boards, the preferred tool of Cookie Crazie Pam.

If you don’t have the time or funds to pick up any of the tools above, don’t worry…you can also use square dowels.  They can be found at almost any hardware and craft store.  Just choose the thickness you prefer {I recommend 1/4 of an inch} place them on either side of the dough, and roll the pin over the dowels.

After the dough is rolled, cut out the desired shapes, as closely together as possible.  You can use cookie cutters, or plastic and paper templates and a paring knife.  Also, don’t be afraid to trim existing cutter shapes to make them work for the project at hand, or even piece together shapes from multiple cutters.  Add the scraps back to the dough and continue doing this until all of the dough has been used.

When the cookies are cut, use an offset spatula to transfer them to a parchment lined baking sheet.  I am pretty good at this, but if you don’t feel comfortable moving cookies once they’re cut, I suggest rolling them on parchment and transferring the entire sheet to a pan after removing the scraps.

If I happen to have extra dough, I use it to make minis or circle and square cookies to freeze.  They often come in handy later.

As the sheets are filled, bake the cookies.   Seven minutes at 400 degrees works best for me BUT, my oven and I are old friends.  Until you are comfortable with the recipe and your oven, I highly recommend buying an oven thermometer and sitting right by the door until you know what works best.  It may be five minutes, it may be seven minutes, it may even be eight.  The key to perfect cookies is to watch them until you know exactly what the end result is going to be.

Keep in mind to not open the oven a whole lot while baking them.  It will affect how they turn out.  Just peek in here in there to keep an eye on things.  It may take a few batches to get it right, but once you figure things out, the results will be pretty consistent..

Be sure not to over bake the cookies.  Some recipes are meant for a little color.  My recipe is meant to create a lighter, softer cookie.  If you’re looking for brown and crispy, this isn’t the recipe for you.

Most of the time, the end result is a smooth flat cookie that makes a wonderful base for decorating.  Every once in a blue moon the cookies have  crackly tops, but I think that is from adding a bit too much sugar or letting them sit too long before baking.  I don’t spend a lot of time worrying about it though, because they are usually hidden by icing.

Freshly baked, the cookies will be a bit fragile.  I always let them cool on the sheet for at least four hours, sometimes more before moving them into an airtight container.

I prefer waiting until they are a day or two old before decorating them to reduce the chance of oil from the cookie leaching into the icing and causing icing spots.

Once again, this is how I make perfect sugar cookies every time.  It works well for me, but  do encourage everyone to experiments and try what works for them.

Now, for some frequently asked questions about baking:

  1. How far in advance can you bake the cookies?  I bake the cookies up to a week ahead of time and store them in an airtight container until ready for use.
  2. Can your cookies be frozen?  Yes, they freeze well after baking.  They don’t need any special treatment.  I don’t even waste wax paper.  I just stack them in an airtight {Tupperware} container and pop them into the freezer.
  3. How long should the cookies thaw before decorating?  I have taken them out, put them on a cookie sheet and started decorating within fifteen minutes, but I am a procrastinator.  It’s probably wiser to pull the container out about an hour ahead of time, give them a bit to thaw and then start.  Either way, it’s not something to get too wound up about.
  4. Can you freeze decorated cookies? Hypothetically yes.  Do I do it?  Not so much.  I’ve done it TWICE and then never again.  It’s too nerve wracking for me.  Bad things can happen.  Long story short, if you do decide to freeze them, layer the cookies between sheets of waxed paper, and when you thawing DO NOT OPEN THE CONTAINER UNTIL THEY ARE COMPLETELY THAWED.  I could go on, but that’s a whole other post.
  5. How far ahead of time can you bake the cookies?  I would say a month or two, if you freeze them.  If not, about a week, maybe a little more.
  6. How long are the cookies good for after they are decorated?  Ideally,  I’d serve them within three to four days of decorating.  But this isn’t always possible.    The thing about cookies is that they have an amazing shelf life in most cases.  Think about the cookie aisle of your local grocery store.  I’m betting that fresh Vanilla Wafers and Oreos are to die for, but even if they are days or maybe even months old, they are still edible, and pretty darn good.  Same goes for decorated cookies.  Keep them in an airtight container, and they will last a LONG LONG time.
  7. I’ve always been told leaveners are the ENEMY  of cut out cookies.  Your recipe has a LOT.  Can I just leave it out?  Yes.  BUT, it will change the recipe.  I’ve done just about everything that can be done to my recipe.  The baking powder  contributes more to how the cookie rises than how it spreads.  If you leave it out, it will be a flatter, denser cookie.  You’ll also have to roll it to exactly the thickness you’d like it to be, because it will not rise much at all.
  8. Do I have to use confectioner’s sugar?  Won’t real sugar work? Again, you can do anything you like.  It’s always good to experiment.  But I’ve tried real sugar and it does not produce the same cookie.  They are thinner, and greasier, and spread a lot.
  9. I don’t like almond extract.  Do you have any other flavors of dough? Changing the dough is as easy as changing the flavor of the extract used.  You can use any flavor that suits your taste, just make sure to use the same amounts called for in the recipe.
  10. Why do you prefer to decorate “old” cookies? Cookies that have had a day or two to sit are less likely to leach oil into royal icing.
  11. I followed your recipe and it didn’t work.  What happened? This is one of those things I can’t help you with, unfortunately.  If you measured the ingredients, weigh them.  Otherwise, I’d have to be standing beside you to help.  There are so many variables, oven, climate, quality of ingredients, etc. that can affect the final product.  My best advice in this case is to try again, making sure that you added all of the ingredients and have not mis-measured.

This is how I make perfect sugar cookies time and time again.  I hope this helps you to make beautiful cookies too.  If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment.  I’ll do my best to answer them.

The most important thing of all is to keep baking and find what you like.Stay tuned for in-depth posts on decorating with royal icing, my favorite baking tools, storing and freezing cookies, and more. Have a wonderful weekend!

Happy baking!

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Comments

  1. 261
    Yessia Cordero says:

    Greetings from Costa Rica
    Thank you I love this recipe, I am new making cookies and I am having one small problem… the problem is the cookie spread out SO much that now they look like a baked blob! it loses completely the shape.
    I did the recipe just as it’s written! So what’s wrong?? Costa Rica, specially Orotina It’s a warm place, so, you think that interferes? I need to refrigerate the dough a little bit?
    Please HELP me I really want to try making pretty cookies like yours!!
    Thanks in advance :)

  2. 262
    APURVI SHARMA says:

    Hello and Namaste from India,
    Hope you are pink in health.
    I love your cookie designs and am an ardent fan of your FB page..
    I have tried your above Basic Sugar cookie recipe and it’s wonderful but here in India most people are vegetarians and don’t eat stuff with eggs too. Can I replace anything for the egg in your recipe??? We don’t even get good quality egg- replacer here. I have to order it online but again it’s meringue powder (egg whites again are a no-no)… Please help as my kid and her friends love cookies but I can’t lie to them about the eggs.. It’s not right on my part so I have stopped making these cookies for a while now. But looking at yours, I am tempted again.

    Also do you ship your cutters to India?

    Thanks & regards,
    Apurvi Sharma

    • 262.1
      Sweet Sugar Belle says:

      I do not know the answer to this question. I am very sorry. What cookie ingredients do you use in India?

  3. 263
    Mariane says:

    Olá, sou do Brasil! Encontrei seu site por acaso… estou louca para tentar e se Deus quiser, acertar sua receita! Tentarei fazer, depois aviso se deu certo! Obrigada, beijos.

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