How to Make Those Iconic, Soft, Grocery-Store Sugar Cookies at Home

A nostalgic favorite, these pillowy frosted sugar cookies are the easiest way to impress this holiday season.

You know and love them: super-soft, pale sugar cookies crowned with a thick layer of buttercream frosting. The plastic clamshells are a staple of grocery store bakeries everywhere, and a nostalgic childhood favorite for many. At their best, they're soft, cakey, and they practically melt in your mouth; but at their worst — they're dry, chalky, and flavorless disappointments. Luckily, they happen to be one of the easiest holiday cookies to make at home, and they'll taste better than the store-bought ones ever have. Baker and decorator Liz Shim has all the tips and tricks to make yours look as good as they taste. Here's a breakdown of her process.

Make the Cookies

Liz loves this super simple recipe for Soft Sugar Cookies because it comes together in one bowl and doesn't require any fancy equipment. To create the best possible texture in your cookies, be sure to start with all your ingredients being at room temperature — including the butter and eggs. Thoroughly creaming the butter and sugar until light in color and fluffy helps ensure your cookies bake up nice and airy, then adding eggs one at a time creates a uniform mixture. Sift your dry ingredients directly into the bowl — it will save you time and dishes! Finally, try not to overmix the batter or you risk the cookies baking up tough and rubbery; stop beating when a little flour remains on the side of the bowl, and mix it in by hand with a rubber spatula. Using an ice cream scoop creates perfectly uniform cookies. A short trip in the oven and you have buttery, soft sugar cookies, but they wouldn't be complete without a buttercream finish.

Decorating the Cookies

To take these cookies from good to great, frost them with a classic buttercream frosting like this Quick and Almost-Professional Buttercream Icing. Once the cookies are completely cooled, use a butter knife or small offset spatula to put a small dollop of frosting on the top of each cookie. Pick up the cookie with one hand and use the back of the knife or spatula to push and swoop the frosting towards the edges with the other, turning the cookie as you go. Finally holding the knife or spatula still, spin the cookie to "swoop" the frosting into a swirl in the center of the cookie. Add your favorite holiday sprinkles for an easy, festive finish.

How to Create Holiday Designs

With a few extra steps, you can easily pipe the frosting into festive holiday designs that are sure to impress. Start by dividing your frosting into small bowls and add food coloring to create a few different colors of frosting in a holiday color palette. Once you have your frosting colors, add them to small zip top bags and snip a small opening in one corner of each bag. Push all the frosting towards that corner then twist the bag several times above the frosting to seal it off. Hold it between your thumb and index finger to maintain pressure then wrap the extra, empty part of the bag around your thumb so it doesn't dip into the cookie while you're decorating. To keep your hand steady while you pipe the frosting, rest your elbow on the work surface and move your whole arm slowly, rather than your hand. Hover slightly over the cookies rather than frosting directly onto the surface of the cookie; this way, the frosting can naturally fall into straighter lines.

  • For a Christmas tree, pipe a triangle outline before filling it in and adding sprinkle "ornaments" and a star sprinkle on top.
  • For a holiday wreath, pipe a ring of overlapping circles around the cookie. Add a bow by piping a figure-eight and then drawing two lines diagonally down in a different color frosting. Finally, add some more sprinkles for decoration.
  • To make a snowflake, pipe three straight lines that cross in the middle, then pipe V-shaped lines on each line near the edge. If they're not perfect, don't stress: Every snowflake is unique! Add some white nonpareils to create the perfect snowy look.
  • For a gift box, pipe a square then fill it in before grabbing another color of frosting for the bow. Draw a figure-eight on top of the box and then drag it straight down the square. Add another line across the box to create a cross shape and complete your gift box.

You can even combine them into a Christmas scene by piping a tree and a few small gifts together on one cookie. Be creative, believe in yourself, and don't stress if they're not pristine: They will certainly taste delicious and your family and friends will love them!

This holiday season, step your sugar cookie game up with these tips and tricks for your best batch yet.


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