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Easy Cut-Out Sugar Cookies with Icing

Cook Time:
10 mins
Prep Time:
30 mins
about 40 cookies

Chef notes

There are so many moments that make the holiday season a special time of year. From gathering with loved ones, decorating the house and trimming the tree, to baking up a storm, the holidays are ripe with tradition. One of our favorite moments is decorating sugar cookies with our friends and family. While you could use store-bought cookies, it’s so much fun (and tastier!) to do it yourself. 

This cookie dough comes together quickly, but make sure you plan accordingly to let the dough chill in the refrigerator. There's a fine line between having dough that’s easy to roll out and dough that’s too warm  — if it’s the latter,  it’ll spread too much in the oven. These cookies can be made up to 10 days in advance, making your cookie decorating party a breeze to set up. 

Decorating sugar cookies requires two types of icing — one to create a sturdy border that outlines the cookie, and one to flood the cookie (which simply means to cover it) with icing. The only difference between them is how much milk you add to thin the consistency. While white icing is classic, experiment with  food coloring to tint the icing. 

Technique Tip: To cut down on time, you can freeze the dough for 30 minutes rather than chilling it in the refrigerator for hours. 

Swap Option: For flavored sugar cookies, experiment with extracts like peppermint, almond or even lemon. For a sweeter flavor and fluffier consistency, decorate with buttercream frosting instead of icing. 


For the Sugar Cookies
  • 3 sticks (1½ cups) unsalted butter, at cool room temperature
  • cups granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4-1/2 teaspoon almond extract (optional)
  • cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt (optional)
For the Border Icing
  • 1 cup powdered sugar, sifted, plus more as needed
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1-2 tablespoons water or milk
  • food coloring, if desired
For the Flood Icing
  • 1 cup powdered sugar, sifted, plus more as needed
  • 2-3 tablespoons water or milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • food coloring, if desired
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For the Sugar Cookies:


In a large bowl, use an electric mixer to beat the butter and sugar on medium-high speed until well-combined and smooth, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs, vanilla and almond extract, if using, and beat until combined. On low speed, slowly add in the flour, baking powder and salt, and beat until incorporated.


Divide the dough into 2 equal portions. Place one dough portion between 2 sheets of parchment and roll out to 1/4-inch thick. Repeat with the remaining portion of dough. Place the 2 sheets of dough on a baking sheet and chill for at least 1 hour or up to 1 day.


While the dough chills, preheat the oven to 350 F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.


Remove the dough from the fridge and cut into shapes with a cookie cutter, re-rolling any scraps and cutting more shapes. Transfer the shapes to the prepared baking sheets. If the dough is too warm, freeze for 15 minutes or until firm.


Bake for 10 minutes, or until the cookies are set and begin to brown. Let the cookies cool for 5 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely. Baked sugar cookies can be frozen in an airtight container for up to one month before icing.

For the Border Icing:


In a small bowl, add the powdered sugar, pure vanilla extract and water or milk and whisk to combine. Add the food coloring, if using, a few drops at a time, until colored to your liking. The mixture should be very thick but still pourable. Add more powdered sugar as needed.


Transfer the border icing to a squeeze bottle using a funnel. You can also scoop into a pastry bag fitted with a small plain tip. Before icing any cookies, practice on a piece of parchment paper to get the feel of the icing.


Holding the bottle or bag tip directly over one cookie, begin tracing an outline of the cookie, squeezing gently and using both hands, if needed, to maintain consistent pressure. Allow the icing to dry slightly before continuing with the flood icing.

For the Flood Icing:


In a small bowl, add the powdered sugar, pure vanilla extract and water or milk and whisk to combine. Add the food coloring, if using, a few drops at a time, until colored to your liking. The mixture should still be pretty thick, but will drizzle more freely than the border icing. If needed, add additional water or milk to loosen until the consistency is pourable. Pour the flood icing into a squeeze bottle or into a pastry bag fitted with a small plain tip.


Prepare as many batches and colors of flood icing as you need to decorate your cookies.


Begin filling the interior of the border drawn on each cookie with the flood icing, being careful not to add too much that it overflows the border icing. Use either the nose of the bottle or a small toothpick to push the icing evenly over the cookie and up against the corners.


Place the iced cookie on a cooling rack to dry for 24 hours. The cookies are dry when the surface is completely smooth, dry and resists smudging when touched. Store the finished cookies between sheets of parchment paper in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 10 days.