I’ve mutilated so many wannabe gingerbread men and Christmas tree cookies that I should be blacklisted from every bakery aisle at this point. My repeated years of failures convinced me that you must need fancy, expensive (and super secret) tools, or some kind of pastry chef degree to make perfectly shaped, perfectly baked, perfectly frosted sugar cookies. By the time I hit my 30s I decided I didn’t have time to waste on crappy cut-outs, so I tossed my cookie dreams.
But then…last year my then almost 3-year-old asked if we could make Christmas cookies and if she could add the sprinkles, and I knew it was time to get back in the game. Only this time, I decided, my stars would have all five points (not three points and two nubs), and the hearts would look like hearts – not wrinkled blobs. This time, I’d get it right.
With my almost 3-year-old sous chef (are there sous chefs for pastry
chefs dunces?) at my side and Google at my disposal, we finally cracked the code for perfect cut-out sugar cookies – and it’s easier than you might think!
How to Prepare & Bake Perfect Cut Out Sugar Cookies
- Mix your dough according to your recipe. I used The Best Rolled Sugar Cookies recipe from AllRecipes.com, but I added a little more sugar than the recipe called for, did 2 teaspoons of vanilla per batch, and added 1/2 teaspoon of almond extract.
- Roll your dough out on a sheet of parchment paper. I used parchment paper versus rolling out on a floured surface like most cut out cookie recipes suggest because I think the extra flour makes the cookie taste drier (I do, however lightly flour my rolling pin), and I always have trouble with my cookies still sticking to the surface and getting mutilated when I try to lift them to put them on the baking sheet. Parchment paper is key! You can buy it by the roll where you find cling wrap and aluminum foil, or you can buy reusable parchment paper (which is what I’m using in the photos above) which works great, and wipes clean for repeated use.
- Put your cookie cutters to work and start stamping that dough. (Reminder: You are still working with the slab of dough as it sits on the parchment paper.) Don’t get too close to any edges of your dough were it may be thinner or cracking, but don’t be shy about the cut outs getting up close and personal with each other. Getting the most cookie cut outs from your rolled out slab of dough will save yourself time and elbow grease as you go.
- Use your fingers (freshly washed kid fingers work great for this step!) and peel away the dough from around your cookie shapes. (Be sure to keep this excess dough because you will be forming it into a ball again and re-rolling it out for more cookies, repeating until all of your dough has been used.)
- Once your cut outs are free, you can carefully lift and reposition them with your fingers. Your sugar cookies shouldn’t puff up or expand too much in the oven so you don’t need a whole lot of room between them, but you do want some.
- Slide your sheet of parchment paper and cut out cookie dough right onto a cookie sheet, and bake your cookies in the oven as directed by your recipe. The recipe I used said to bake the cookies for 6-8 minutes, but I tend to roll my cookies on the thin side so I pulled them out at 5 minutes and they were perfect.
- Once baked, slide the parchment paper and cookies off of the cookie sheet and on to a cooling rack. Allow cookies to cool completely before frosting.
As you’ve likely gathered from my intro, I’m not a baking expert by any stretch. I’d much rather be chopping vegetables or cooking something that calls for a splash of wine while I drink the rest of the bottle, so baking really isn’t my thing. I only mention it because if baking is your thing, you’ll likely cringe at this next part, but here’s how I do it…
For starters, you do need to get yourself some frosting tips. I bought this cookie decorating set and honestly, it’s more than I need. Apparently it can do amazing things like frost individual leaves on the Christmas tree shapes and turn my gingerbread boy into a man with an almost life-like beard, but I’ve got a 3-year-old, 3 jobs, and a to-do list 3 miles long.
Ain’t nobody got time for that.
The only two tips I’ve used over the last two years is the #5 circle tip and the #3 circle tip. Look for those and you’re golden.
Next, it’s also nice to have those little frosting bag thingies. Some came with my kit and they’re great and I feel like a superstar when I use them…but they’re not necessary. Any old plastic baggie works equally as great. Simply snip a small section of the bottom corner of the bag off with a scissors – enough to fit your tip into, but not so much that it will go all the way through. About halfway through is good. If the tip fits too far into the opening you run the risk of it busting out all the way through once you apply pressure and squeeze your frosting out. (You don’t want to be that mom swearing in front of her kid and sprinkles – trust me on this.)
How to Frost Perfect Cut Out Sugar Cookies
- Mix your frosting according to your recipe. I used the Healthier Sugar Cookie Icing recipe from AllRecipes.com (I like that it doesn’t call for corn syrup), only I used whole milk because that’s what I had on hand, and I added 1/2 teaspoon of almond extract. I like this icing because it dries hard and shiny and keeps your frosting colors staying bright. The recipe calls for 2 teaspoons of milk to start, but you WILL need to add more milk that that – don’t be alarmed! I didn’t keep track of how much milk I added, but the key is to add it a little bit by a little bit (about 1/2 teaspoon at a time) until its the consistency that you need. For your first step in sugar cookie frosting perfection, you’ll want to mix your frosting so that its the consistency of toothpaste. Maybe even a little thicker. It needs to be thick enough that it will keep it shape when you squirt it from the tip and into a fine line, but not so thick that it’s too hard to squeeze, or it gets clumpy, broken, or crackled when it leaves the bag.
- Mix in any food coloring you’d like and spoon your thick frosting into your frosting bag loaded with the #5 circle tip. Squeeze it all down to the tip corner of the bag and twist the upper portion of your bag to prevent any frosting from coming back up as you squeeze. Carefully outline just inside the edges of your sugar cookie. Do this for all of the sugar cookies that you’d like to be the color of the frosting that you’re currently working with, ensuring that you leave enough frosting of that color in your bowl to also fill each of those cookies.
- Once all of your cookies are outlined with that color, squeeze all of the excess frosting from your bag back into your original frosting bowl. Add a little bit more milk (about 1/2 to 1 teaspoon) to your leftover frosting to thin it. At this point you want the frosting to be smooth and ribbony – about the consistency of wall paint or syrup.
- Using a small spatula, apply some frosting to the inside of your sugar cookie outline, gently using the spatula to fill the frosting out to the edges. The outline you previously made acts like a dam, and the thinned-out frosting simply fills it all in. The end result is a perfectly frosted sugar cookie!
- If you’d like to add sprinkles do that right away. If you’re interested in adding additional frosting lines (like I did for my snowflake sugar cookies) wait for the base frosting to dry a bit.
For these Christmas tree frosted cookie cut-outs, Kate and I used large circle sprinkles to look like ornaments:
Use white toothpaste-consistency frosting and the #3 circle tip to add decorative lines to your sugar cookie cut outs, like I did with these snowflake cookies. A little snowflake sprinkle in the center adds the perfect touch!
Did you ever imagine it could be this easy?! No pastry chef required, no expensive tools needed!
These cookies look beautiful, taste delicious, and they’re guaranteed to garner ooh’s and ahhh’s at your upcoming holiday party. They’re the perfect Christmas cookies I’d always dreamed of making, and I’m very pleased with my wine-guzzling self to know that I now can. Perfect is perfectly fine, but I have to admit…my favorite cookies of the batch are the ones like these, decorated by my now almost four-year-old daughter Kate in what she calls her “Sprinkle Store”:
Happy eating, everyone!
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Applying sprinkles to cookies inside of a large bowl is genius! I always end up with sprinkles all over my kitchen….which makes me not want to let the kids help. We will be baking this week and I’m going to try this!
Thanks Jennifer! I hope your kids have as much fun with their “Sprinkle Store” as Kate did!
Does the frosting harden up a little? I have been looking for a good cookie frosting recipe. I hate when the frosting stays too soft and then they all mush together. Just a lil OCD. Ha ha. The cookies look both pretty and yummy!
Great question, Liz! This icing dries hard and shiny and the frosting colors stay bright. Once they’re dried/set you can stack them on top of each other without any damage (I do a sheet of waxed paper in between).
Great! Thank you for doing all the recipe testing leg work, you’re the best!
My pleasure, Liz! Let me know how your cookies turn out – I hope you love them!
They look beautiful! I you want super crisp star points, pop the tray of cut outs in the freezer for a few minutes. This will re-harden the butter before they go in the oven.
If you want super hard frosting (the kind that crunches when you bite it), use royal icing. That is the cement of icings, and it is what pastry chefs use on gingerbread houses. It uses raw eggs, but you can find pasteurized egg whites by the cartons. http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/alton-brown/royal-icing-recipe/index.html
Such great tips, Anne Marie – thanks girl!
Parchment paper is key! I learned that the hard way making gingerbread cookies a few years ago. Thanks for the sprinkles tip. Gotta give that one a try.
So true, Heidi! I’ve learned in recent years that parchment paper is one of my best friends in the kitchen. Love it.
Beautiful cookies! Thanks for all the tips and recipes. Did you use all natural food coloring? I used India Tree all natural food coloring and sprinkles (from Whole Foods) for Easter cookie decorating this past spring and they worked great, and I felt good about them being healthier than regular artificial food dye. Just a thought if you haven’t tried their products before. Here are our cookies: http://instagram.com/p/XfpfeEDU2U/#
Thank you so much for the tip, Katie! Your cookies look delicious!
Those look so yummy! I don’t have time for cookies this year, but maybe next year…
Thanks Kate! I hope you find these tips helpful when you decide to give them a try!
Kate, your cookies look really great! I’m the opposite… I’d rather bake up a storm, and feel just “eh” about cooking. But I was surprised you used food coloring for your icing. I know you are as passionate as I am about natural, whole foods, so you’re aware of how toxic artificial colors are. Maybe try some natural coloring next time? The interwebs are full of alternatives. Happy baking!
SUCH a great point, Vanessa. I pretty much buy all organic at this point but didn’t even think about that damn food coloring (which has been in my cupboard for years – another warning sign!) until days after our cookies had been made. I rarely bake, so it honestly wasn’t even on my radar. Another commentor mentioned some all natural options at Whole Foods and we’ll definitely give those a try for our next cookie adventure!
Hey! You mentioned you used a little more sugar than the original recipe. How much is a little more?
Thanks! Hoping to try this recipe this weekend.
I just tossed some extra in there without really measuring, but I’d say it was probably 1/4 of cup. Have fun baking this weekend! I’d love to hear how your cookies turn out, Kerry!
How I wish I had read this before last Friday!!!! I baked cookies (as we do every year) with my granddaughter and mine are always totally out of shape!!!! They look great until I pick them up to put on the cookie sheet. I can’t wait to try your parchment paper trick! THANK YOU SO MUCH!!!! My granddaughter will be thrilled too.
My pleasure, Cheryl! I’m sure the cookies you and your granddaughter made still taste great. The fun is most certainly in the process!
The parchment paper is an awesome tip! I was about to give up on these darn cookies looking all weird shaped from trying to lift them from the cutting board to the tray. There is hope yet! Thank you for sharing this all important tip!
My pleasure Melonie! I hope you find it as helpful as I have. Happy baking!