Ah…the sugar cookie. A beloved tradition that started as an English Biscuit and has traveled the ages to gain notoriety and varying trends.
When I first started my cookie journey, I spent hours scouring websites, tutorials, recipes, blogs, etc etc to find the perfect sugar cookie recipe. I didn’t think I was in for the information I found. I thought, “It’s just a sugar cookie, how hard is it to find a good recipe and make some cookies.” I mean I had been baking since I was little and was well versed in cupcakes, cakes, cookies…all things sweet. In all my time baking, I never really gave much heed to the science of baking, the temps of the oven, the surface I baked on, etc. But after much research, I began to realize that everything from the type of sugar, butter, and flour you use to the oven temp and pans you use all play a vital role in how custom sugar cookies come out. I also learned that what works for one person, won’t necessarily work for another – you have to find your own way to some degree.
I have gone through dozens of recipes and hundreds of cookie samples testing types of butter, sugar, flour, with or without baking powder, oven temps, parchment paper, silicone mats, and types of cookie sheets – not to mention all done in different times of weather (from hot to rainy – makes a difference). I have come to finally realize some basic elements of MY kitchen and MY environment that make a good cookie. But it took time and research.
Don’t let this scare you out of doing cookies for yourself! It is so worth it. I have found a wonderful way for me to bring joy to the lives of my customers all while giving myself a therapeutic outlet. Not to mention, my family didn’t mind all of the sampling and my customers have been very forgiving with all of my different recipes as I tried to find my own. Those who have been with me from the beginning know they taste different now (hopefully for the better-hahaha) than they did when I first started.
I want to encourage you to research, play, and have fun. Go on a sugar cookie adventure and try things out to suit what makes your cookie the best for you!
Ok, so even though everyone will have variants, I wanted to share you some basics to get you started. One thing I did learn (after scouring different recipes and even buying a few), all recipes have the basic elements: flour, sugar, butter, eggs, flavoring. Everything else is a playground, and to some degree so are even the basics.
Below I am going to give you a basic sugar cookie recipe – this is your starting point. From here you can play! Here are some things to keep in mind:
- Flour: the type of flour you use is important. I know its no fun, but honestly it makes a big difference. Some people found Cake Flour works best for them, I have kiddos that can’t have nitrates so I have to use organic flour and I have found that AP (all-purpose) flour works best for me. I have tried several different types and Bob’s Red Mill Organic AP flour is definitely my go to. Costco carries a great AP organic flour for a great price – so if you have access to that, take advantage of it. Believe or not, the type of flour you use can cause your cookies to spread, so try to use better quality flour. Plus, your customers will thank you for using only the best ingredients. People won’t mind paying a little more for quality.
- Butter: a game changer here. The higher the water content, the more your cookies will spread. You will want to use a good quality butter to keep your cookies with a nice tight shape. I have found that there is NO common butter that everyone uses. Some cookiers love Land O’Lakes and others hate it. Some use just the normal Costco or Sam’s Club sweet cream butter, yet, I found those make my cookies spread. It all depends on your environment and oven temps. SO, if your cookies are spreading – start by changing your butter out. I personally use Tillamook unsalted sweet cream butter. Salted or Unsalted is another personal preference. If you like to control the amount of salt you use in your recipes (which I do), go with unsalted. Also, softened or right from fridge makes a difference. I use room temp just because it blends better and you don’t get butter bleed or chunks of butter in your cookie. You want it to blend it together with the sugar in the most minimal amount of time because creaming together the sugar and butter for too long will cause too much crystallization and air and cause the cookies to rise and spread. So softer means less amount of mixing. But not too soft – it should just be soft enough to press your finger into but still get some hardness – about 30 minutes out of the fridge.
- Sugar: ok, the nitty gritty – literally! Sugar can vary and you can play with this as much as you want. You have powdered, granulated and brown! All can go into a sugar cookie and make a beautiful cookie. Some people mix these. My signature recipe includes both brown and granulated – but this changes the look of the dough. If your looking for a beautiful white, crisp dough and cooke (like the picture above) then you won’t want to use any brown sugar. Powdered sugar (also known as confectioners sugar) makes a more tender, crumbly and soft cookie. It is a gorgeously white canvas that will hold the cookie’s shape like nothing else. A true hero of sugar cookies, but if you don’t like a more shortbread type of cookie then you will want to steer away from PS. Granulated sugar will make a more chewy textured cookie with a crisp outside. Adding brown sugar will add more molasses to the cookie which will make it darker, but also softer. Play with these. Some cookies will combine granulated and powdered or granulated and brown. You will see the variants of color, texture and flavor when playing with these. Remember though that it takes 1.5 cups of powdered sugar to equal 1 cup of granulated, so the substitutions change a bit. I have subbed brown sugar for granulated equally without problems (when working in grams/weight).
- Oven Temps: one mantra I heard over and over again on my website cookie travels was GET TO KNOW YOUR OVEN. Wow accurate statement. This will change how your cookie spreads, bakes, browns, and tastes. Recipes range from 350 degrees to 400 degrees (f). I did a few batches of dough and just changed my oven temp 5 degrees each time to find the right temp for my oven. Of course the lower the temp, the longer the bake. The longer the bake, the more spread to the cookie. I bought an oven thermometer like everyone suggested, but honestly it didn’t help. I found that just seeing what my recipe did at different temps in my oven was the best way to see what temp to bake my cookies at. For me…it’s 365 for 12 minutes (depending on size and thickness of cookie that time could go up or down).
- Pans: ok…cookie sheets!!! Let me just say that I personally have found that cookies cook best on aluminum cookie sheets- plain and simple. You’re Welcome. I get mine from Amazon.
- Mats: parchment or silicone – totally a personal preference and the cookier gallery ranges on this depending on what everyone’s recipe is and how their ovens bake. My recipes love silicone mats and I use them like crazy for everything. I get mine on Amazon (Silpat or Generic work). Parchment is great and if you get the precut ones – huge time saver (Zenlogy is the best)! I just find that for me, they don’t cook as evenly on parchment because my oven is ANCIENT!
- Flavorings: this is where we get to have FUN!!! There are SO many flavors out there you can use instead of, or in addition to vanilla!!! Cookie Nip and Sweet Dough are two HUGE favorites! Also use HIGH quality flavorings. Do NOT use generic or imitation flavorings – your cookies will taste as such. Don’t go through all this time and effort to make a great cookie to then ruin it with cheap flavorings. Nielsen Massey and Rodelle vanilla area delicious. Also consider using vanilla bean paste – I use half paste and half liquid and I love it! The vanilla bean specks in the cookies are beautiful…but some people like having a crisp white surface for their cookie. Play around with these flavorings one for one. 1 tablespoon total flavoring for one batch is best – so see if you can divide it by two different ones. Some people do almond and vanilla, cookie nip and vanilla, vanilla bean paste and sweet dough, cinnamon roll and almond..I mean literally there is no end. There are so many flavorings out there – not just for vanilla (bourbon, Tahitian vanilla, Madagascar, etc.), but in all categories: peppermint, cinnamon roll, pumpkin spice, cream cheese, cookie nip, cake batter, cookie butter…I mean seriously!!!
- Extras: these can vary by tastes. I love to play around with adding raw honey, sour cream, cream cheese – all of these add enhanced flavor and softness to the cookie (so you aren’t getting the traditional crisp sugar cookie). I stay with about 50g of extra. Replace 1/2c of your flour with Dark Chocolate Dutch cocoa and then add a tablespoon of espresso for decadent chocolate sugar cookie. Then add some mint chips, or chocolate chips or candy canes – but remember these will make your dough harder to cut. You can take away an egg and add 30g of pumpkin puree with some pumpkin pie spice and pumpkin spice flavoring for a pumpkin spice cookie. Honestly, the sky is the limit.
Have I overwhelmed you? I hope not! It really is a fun adventure! Also, don’t get discouraged if you buy a recipe and it doesn’t work out…play with the things I have listed above. My signature recipe that I LOVE came from me buying a recipe, it not working out, me playing with it, and it becoming the best thing I have ever made (well besides the chocolate chip cookie dough cupcakes of course- also shared here).
I know in this day and age we live in, time is fragile and we don’t want to spend all of this time in the kitchen – but I also don’t want you to get discouraged if you are trying something out and it doesn’t work. Don’t give up. Spend an afternoon with the kids playing around with ingredients and letting them get sick off too many cookie samples. Memories made hahaha.
Ok…yes I am getting to the recipe. You will find this is the recipe you will find everywhere!! IT is the basic sugar cookie recipe. A great base and place to start.
Basic Sugar Cookie Recipe
- 1c. granulated sugar (or 1.5c confectioners sugar)
- 1c. (2 sticks) butter, softened
- 2 eggs
- 1 Tb. flavoring
- 3c. flour (start with 2.5 and add more as needed)
- 1/8c. Cornstarch (only use 1TB if using PS)
- pinch of salt
Cream together your sugar and and butter; add eggs and flavoring and mix till combined. Sift together flour, cornstarch (can omit if you wish – this helps with keeping the cookie moist longer and keeping them from spreading), and salt; mix until the dough mixes clean away from the sides. If it isn’t and the dough is still sticky, add more flour. Roll out onto cling wrap and chill for an hour (or keep in fridge overnight – if using confectioners sugar, chilling isn’t actually necessary. Just put in fridge for 5 minutes after cutting, before baking). Cut out cookies to desired shape and thickness (I prefer 3/8″ -but remember the thinner the cookie, the less time in oven and the crispier the cookie). Bake at 375 degrees (f) for 7-9 minutes (times and temp may vary).
4 thoughts on “An Adventure in Sugar Cookies: Featuring a Basic Vanilla Sugar Cookie Recipe”
Thank you so much for all the amazing tips on baking a sugar cookie! I agree with, how hard can it be to bake a SC? and the next thing I know, my cute elephant cookie looks like a blob due to spread. 😂 I’ve definitely recycled through a ton of free & purchased recipes and finally found my one through a mistake when baking. Go figure!
The best things come through our mistakes don’t they? Hahahah!!!! It makes it that much sweeter when you’ve been through all the mess of having things not work out to then working out!!! I love it!!! 👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻
I don’t know if you’ll see this but are the heart cookies pictured made with this all granulated sugar recipe or with some PS and if some powdered sugar, how much are you talking of substituting? I would like to try the recipe but I just want to know what “look” I am going for… if it’s supposed to look like the cookie pictured. Thank you. Thank you for sharing all this information behind it so we learn.
Hi there! Happy to answer. The cookies pictures are made with confectioners sugar (aka Powdered Sugar)… it’s 1.5c of powdered sugar (instead of 1c. Granulated) to get the cookies displayed. This will give the cookies a more shortbread texture than the granulated sugar. But due to the added cornstarch within the powdered sugar, they will maintain shape really well. If you are going for a more chewy texture use granulated sugar (and perhaps a bit of brown sugar: 3/4c granulated & 1/4c. Brown) and add some cornstarch to the flour mixture to get a more stable shape. I hope that helps 🙂