How to Make Cut-Out Sugar Cookies
Versatile sugar cookie dough is like edible modeling clay. It can be simply rolled into balls and baked, like Snickerdoodles and Chewy Sugar Cookies — but when you want to take it further and cut sugar cookie into shapes, like The Best Rolled Sugar Cookies, these tips will help your sugar cut-out sugar cookies turn out beautifully every time.
How to Roll Out Sugar Cookie Dough
It can be challenging to keep cut-out sugar cookie shapes from losing their definition somewhere between rolling out the dough, cutting out the shapes, and transferring them to a baking sheet. Use these tips to roll the dough evenly, keep the dough from sticking, and to transfer cookies without getting stretched out.
1. Roll and Chill
- Set a 1½- to 2-cup portion of dough between two sheets of parchment paper. To keep the parchment from sliding, tape the bottom sheet to the counter, or lean in and use your body to pin both layers against the counter edge. Parchment keeps dough from sticking to your rolling pin and countertop without added flour. It also makes it easier to transport dough to the fridge for chilling.
- Using a rolling pin and rolling away from your body, roll dough out to an oblong shape no bigger than your cookie sheet, lifting and replacing the top sheet of parchment as needed to remove creases.
- As the dough approaches ideal thickness (a scant ¼ inch works well for most cookies, but some recipes call for thicker cookies), flank it with two wooden slats of equal thickness (paint stirrers work well) on top of the top parchment sheet, and roll pin over dough until pin edges rest on both slats. The goal is evenly thick dough — without thin spots that cause uneven baking and fractures.
- Slide parchment onto an unrimmed cookie sheet and chill the dough until very firm, at least 30 minutes, before cutting. Roll remaining dough in same manner and keep in the fridge until you are ready to cut it. Chilled dough cuts more precisely, clings less to cutters, and retains its shape better during baking.
2. Cut and Peel
- Transfer chilled dough to a work surface and peel off top parchment sheet. Now you're ready to cut out shapes.
- Cookie cutters come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. If you're new at cut-outs, stick with simple shapes until you get comfortable with them. Remember, the more elaborate the shape, the trickier it is to work with. Dip a cookie cutter in flour, set it on the dough, and press the cutter straight down with your palm, rocking your palm slightly to ensure you cut all the way through the dough. Lift the cutter straight up. Repeat, dipping the cutter in flour before each cut, working quickly so dough stays cold, and spacing cuts as you'd like cookies arranged on sheet, 1 to 2 inches apart.
- Here's the cool part: Instead of moving individual cut-outs with a spatula, peel excess dough away, leaving cut-outs on bottom parchment sheet.
- Slide parchment with cutouts onto the cookie sheet. Since you're not lifting individual shapes with a spatula, that means the cut-outs won't squish, stretch out, or tear on their way to the cookie sheet.
- Pat the excess dough scraps back into an oblong shape, then roll, chill, and cut again.
How to Bake Cut-Out Sugar Cookies
Bake your cut-out sugar cookies following recipe instructions, but it's always a good idea to keep an eye on the cookies in case your oven runs hotter or cooler. For best results, use an oven thermometer ($11; Amazon) instead of relying on your oven's built-in readout.
- After baking, slide each batch onto cooling racks, parchment paper and all. When the cookies have cooled and firmed up for a few minutes, you can slide the cookies off the parchment to finish cooling directly on the rack. Parchment paper can be reused for several batches of cookies.
- If you're baking in batches, cool your baking sheet before loading it with fresh cookie dough. For efficient production-line baking, consider using several baking sheets so one can be in the oven, one can be loaded up with the next batch of cookies, and one can be cooling off before being loaded up again.
Shapeless cookies? Try this fix: If your rolled sugar cookies puff too much as they bake (your stars look more like blobs), try adding a little flour to the dough before rolling, chilling, cutting, and baking. Excess moisture in the dough can over-activate the baking powder and cause excessive puffing.
Frosting and Icing Sugar Cookies
After you've cut out, baked, and completely cooled the cookies, the next step — and the most fun part — is to decorate them.
- Decorating cookies can be as simple as dusting them with powdered sugar.
- A simple glaze of confectioners' sugar and either milk or fruit juice is another easy way to decorate cookies. By adjusting the ratio of liquid to sugar, you can make this glaze as thick or as thin as you'd like.
- Buttercream frosting is soft and thick. It's certainly tasty but it does not dry to a hard finish, so it's not the best choice if you plan to stack the cookies.
- Royal icing dries to a hard, crunchy finish so designs and colors stay put.
More Cut-Out Cookie Ideas
You can make cut-out cookies from gingerbread and shortbread dough, too. Gingerbread dough tends to be soft and sticky, so you'll want to dust the top of the dough lightly with flour before rolling out. See 10 tips for baking the best gingerbread.
Shortbread dough is firmer and makes dense, buttery cut-outs.
Share the Love
You've baked and decorated all those sugar cookies, and now it's time to get them out in front of an appreciative audience. Get your like-minded baking friends together for a cookie exchange party, or maybe you'd like to mail cookies to out-of-town family and friends.