Cut Out Cookies That Hold Their Shape (3 Secrets To Prevent Sugar Cookies From Spreading)

This recipe for easy cut out cookies that hold their shape is an easy way to make rolled sugar cookies…even if you’re not a baker. And they’re super tasty!

how to make cut out cookies that hold their shape

If you know me, you know I love a good party theme.

And I’ve always loved the idea of decorated sugar cookies cut into shapes that go with that party theme (or holiday decor).

But I’m not much of a baker.

So I haven’t made cut out cookies since I was a kid (many, many years ago!)

I don’t know what came over me this year, but I decided to give them a try.

Which is when I realized they can be harder than they look.

I ran into a number of problems with traditional sugar cookie recipes that caused the cookie-making process to be more frustrating than fun:

  • You have to remember to take the butter and eggs out of the fridge ahead of time (maybe it’s just me…but I always forget to do this!)
  • Rolling out cold cookie dough is really hard to do
  • Once the dough has warmed up enough to roll out more easily, it’s a pain because it sticks to everything
  • Getting the cut out cookies on to the cookie sheet is just as frustrating because it’s hard to separate out the cookie shapes without messing them up
  • Then you bake them and they come out as big blobs that look nothing like the shape you were trying to make
  • It is also really hard to get them baked all the way through without over-cooking the tops.

Then I found an awesome Cook’s Illustrated sugar cookie recipe (which you can read HERE if you’re a member) and (with a couple of modifications) finally came up with a process that solves all of these issues. It’s my new favorite easy sugar cookie recipe!

Even better? Unlike some sugar cookie recipes, these are really tasty! Almost like shortbread. But lighter and not quite as buttery.

And they’re soft, so you don’t have to worry to worry about breaking a tooth when you bite into one 🙂

Easy and tasty? That makes this the world’s best sugar cookie recipe in my books!

What You Need To Make Homemade Cut Out Cookies

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sugar cookies ingredients

Ingredients

  • 1 egg
  • flavoring: vanilla extract, almond extract – The almond extract is optional but it does add more flavor to the cookies. You can swap it out for pretty much any kind of extract you want depending on what you want your cookies to taste like.
  • baking supplies: flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt
  • dairy: cold unsalted butter

Supplies

  • measuring cups and spoons
  • 2 mixing bowls
  • mixing spoon
  • food processor
  • rolling pin
  • parchment paper – a life saver for preventing the dough from sticking!
  • tray or cookie sheet – for storing the rolled-out dough in the refrigerator
  • cookie sheet – for baking the cookies, rimless cookie sheets work best. But if you don’t have one, you can use regular cookie sheets. See our tip below to find out how.
  • thin spatula – I find this cake decorating spatula works best.
  • wire cooling racks

How To Make Cut Out Cookies That Hold Their Shape

Mix The Cookie Dough

The wet ingredients

In a small bowl, beat 1 egg, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, 1/4 teaspoon almond extract and 3/4 teaspoon salt until well combined.

The flour combination

In another bowl, whisk together 2 1/2 cups flour, 1/4 teaspoon baking powder and 1/4 teaspoon baking soda.

This is where the recipe gets interesting.

Instead of creaming room-temperature butter and sugar together in a mixer (like most sugar cookie recipes) , we are going to use cold butter and a food processor.

Secret #1: Starting with cold butter is the first step to making sugar cookies that don’t puff up too much (and lose their shape).

Cut up 2 sticks (1 cup) of butter into 1/2 inch chunks.

The sugar in the food processor

To start, add 1 cup of sugar to the food processor. Process for 30 seconds. This creates a super-fine sugar that cuts down on the graininess of the cookies.

The butter and sugar mixed in the food processor

Then add the chunks of cold butter and process until they form a smooth paste (about 30 seconds).

The wet ingredients mixed with the butter in the food processor

Add in the egg mixture and process until combined, about 10 seconds.

The flour mixed with the butter in the food processor

Finally, add in the flour mixture and process until all of the flour is incorporated into the dough, about 30 seconds. It will probably be somewhat crumbly.

Cookie dough being kneaded

Turn out the dough onto your counter and knead it gently for a few seconds until it is smooth.

How To Roll Out The Cookie Dough

Two balls of cookie dough

Cut the dough in half and make 2 balls out of it. It’s much easier to roll out in smaller batches.

Put down a large sheet of parchment paper.

Place one of the balls of dough in the middle.

Cover with another large sheet of parchment paper.

Sugar cookie dough being rolled out  between parchment paper

Flatten the ball of dough (inside the parchment paper) with your hands.

Then use a rolling pin to roll it out until it is an even thickness of about 1/8 inch. This is so much easier when both sides of the cookie dough are covered with parchment paper…there’s no sticking!

You can make them thicker than 1/8″ if you want like them that way. But you will get a lot fewer cookies and they will take longer to bake.

Place the rolled-out dough (with the parchment paper still covering it on both sides) onto a large cookie sheet or tray.

Repeat the parchment paper and rolling process with the other ball of dough.

Stack it on top of the first sheet of cookie dough.

Chill them in the refrigerator for about 1 1/2 hours, or freeze for 30 minutes.

If you aren’t ready to make your cookies right away, cover the rolled out dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 5 days.

The refrigeration part of the recipe is a very important step you don’t want to skip.

Secret #2: Cooling the dough before you bake it is the second step in keeping it from spreading out too much in the oven. Which will help the cut out cookies hold their shape.

Make The Cut Outs

When the cookie dough is stiff, pull the first rolled sheet out of the refrigerator (leaving the other one in) and place it on a cutting board.

Parchment paper being taken off chilled, rolled-out cookie dough

Peel off the top layer of parchment paper.

Cookies being cut out

Use cookie cutters to make the shapes you want in the dough.

If you are decorating with sugar or sprinkles (but not icing), go ahead and put those on now.

Return this layer to the refrigerator.

Chilling it again for a few minutes will make it easier to separate them from the parchment paper while keeping their shape.

Repeat this cut out process with the second layer of cookie dough.

Bake The Sugar Cookies

Pre-heat the oven to 300℉.

Place the oven rack in the bottom third of the oven. This will let the cookies brown a little on the bottom while leaving the tops white.

Then get out your cookie sheet.

To make sure the cookies bake evenly, rimless cookie sheets work best. If you do not have any rimless ones, turn your cookie sheet over and use the bottom.

Secret #3: Cover the cookie sheet with a layer of parchment paper. This prevents the cookies from getting too brown on the bottom and also keeps them from spreading.

Spatula separating cookies from the parchment paper

Once the dough is chilled again (it should be stiff), run a metal spatula under the cookies to separate them from the parchment paper.

Cut out cookies on a cookie sheet

Place the cut outs on the parchment-covered cookie sheet so they are about 1/2″ apart. Since our cookies aren’t going to spread, they don’t need to be very far apart!

Bake them for 14 to 18 minutes turning the cookie sheet around half way at the half way point.

Only cook one rack of cookies at a time. Stacking them causes uneven heating…some of your cookies will be too brown and some may be undercooked.

When the cookies are done (they should be slightly brown on the bottom but still white on top), remove them from the oven.

Let them sit on the cookie sheet for about 5 minutes before moving them to wire racks to cool completely.

Be careful when you are moving them. They are very soft when they are warm and break easily.

Roll Out The Rest Of The Dough

Repeat the rolling, cooling and cooking process with the left over cookie dough to make more cookies.

Try not to repeat this too many times, since the extra rolling will make the cookies tougher.

When To Decorate Sugar Cookies

If you are planning on icing your cookies with any kind of frosting (I like this Royal Icing recipe), do that after the cookies have been baked and completely cooled.

If they are even a little bit warm, the icing will melt and your cookie decorations won’t turn out like you want it to. It can also cause the butter in the cookies to bleed through your icing, which changes the color.

Sugar and sprinkles (without icing) should be put on the cookies before they go in the oven.

What If My Sugar Cookie Dough Is Too Dry Or Too Sticky?

I have never had either of these problems when making sugar cookies with this recipe. But just in case you do…

If the cookie dough is too dry and won’t stick together in a ball, try adding a little more vanilla extract. You shouldn’t need too much, so be careful with how much you add.

If your dough is too sticky, add in a little extra flour, 1 Tablespoon at a time. Again be careful because it doesn’t usually take much to get to the right consistency.

How Long Are Sugar Cookies Good For?

Sugar cookies will last for about a week in an air tight container at room temperature.

Or you can freeze them for up to 3 months.

Other Sugar Cookie Recipes You Might Like

cut out cookies that hold their shape

Cut Out Cookies That Hold Their Shape

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 45 minutes
Cooling Time: 2 hours
Total Time: 3 hours
Course: Dessert
Cuisine: American
Servings: 24 2-inch cookies
Author: Wanda Simone
This recipe for rolled sugar cookies is an easy way to make tasty cut out cookies that hold their shape. Every time!

Ingredients

  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ¼ teaspoon almond extract
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • ¼ teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted cold butter

Equipment

  • measuring cups and spoons
  • 2 mixing bowls
  • mixing spoons
  • food processor
  • parchment paper
  • rolling pin
  • tray or cookie sheet – for storing rolled-out dough in the refrigerator
  • cookie sheet – for baking
  • metal spatula
  • wire cooling racks

Instructions

Make The Cookie Dough

  • In a small bowl, beat the egg, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, ¼ teaspoon almond extract and ¾ teaspoon salt until combined.
  • In another bowl, whisk together 2½ cups flour, ¼ teaspoon baking powder and ¼ teaspoon baking soda.
  • Cut 1 cup (2 sticks) of butter into ½ inch chunks.
  • Add 1 cup sugar to the food processor. Process for 30 seconds.
  • Then add in the chunks of cold butter and process until it forms a smooth paste (about 30 seconds).
  • Pour in the egg mixture and process until combined, about 10 seconds.
  • Finally, add in the flour mixture and process until all of the flour is incorporated into the dough, about 30 seconds.
  • Turn out the dough onto the counter and knead it gently for a few seconds until it is smooth.

Roll Out The Dough

  • Cut the dough in half and make 2 balls out of it.
  • Put down a large sheet of parchment paper.
  • Place one of the balls of dough in the middle.
  • Cover it with another large sheet of parchment paper.
  • Flatten the ball of dough (inside the parchment paper) with your hands.
  • Then use a rolling pin to roll it out until it is an even thickness of about 1/8″.
  • Place the rolled-out dough (with the parchment paper still covering it both sides) onto a large cookie sheet or tray.
  • Repeat the parchment paper and rolling process with the other ball of dough.
  • Stack it on top of the first sheet of cookie dough.
  • Chill them in the refrigerator for 1½ hours, or freeze for 30 minutes.

Cut Out The Cookies

  • When the cookie dough is stiff, pull the first sheet out of the refrigerator (leaving the other one in) and place it on a cutting board.
  • Remove the top layer of parchment paper. Leave the bottom layer of parchment paper as it is.
  • Use cookie cutters to make the shapes you want in your dough.
  • If you are using sugar or sprinkles (but not icing) as decorations, go ahead and put those on now.
  • Return this layer to the refrigerator.
  • Repeat the process with the second layer.

Bake The Cookies

  • Pre-heat the oven to 300°F.
  • Place the oven rack in the bottom third of the oven.
  • Cover a cookie sheet with a layer of parchment paper.
  • Once the dough is chilled again (it should be stiff), run a metal spatula under the cookies to separate them from the parchment paper.
  • Place them on the parchment-covered cookie sheet about ½ inch apart.
  • Bake them for 12 to 16 minutes turning them once at the half way point. The cookies are done when they are slightly brown on the bottom but still white on top.
  • Remove the cookies from the oven and let them sit on the cookie sheet for about 5 minutes before moving them to wire racks to cool completely.
  • Repeat the rolling, cooling and cooking process with the left-over cookie dough to make more cookies.

Notes

  • Using a food processor to combine the ingredients is faster than using a mixer and doesn’t require taking the butter out of the refrigerator in advance.
  • When adding the flour to the mixture, only process as much as is necessary to combine the ingredients. Otherwise, the cookies will turn out too hard.
  • Similarly, don’t roll the dough too much as that will also cause the cookies to be tough.
  • If the dough is too crumbly, add a little bit more vanilla extract.
  • If the dough is too sticky, add more flour 1 Tablespoon at a time.
  • Placing the cookie dough between two sheets of parchment paper before rolling it out will prevent the dough from sticking to the rolling pin.
  • Chilling the dough a second time before removing the cut-out cookies from the bottom layer of parchment paper keeps the shapes in tact while they are moved to the cookie sheet.
  • Baking chilled cookie-dough on parchment paper is what keeps the cookies from spreading in the oven so they hold their shape.
  • Rimless cookie sheets provide the best even baking. If you don’t have one, turn over a regular cookie sheet and use the bottom.
  • Positioning the oven rack in the bottom third of the oven lets the cookies get a little brown on the bottom without browning the top.

How To Store Sugar Cookies

  • Sugar cookies can be stored in an air tight container at room temperature for up to a week.
  • Or they can be frozen for up to 3 months.
Tried this recipe?Mention @EntertainingDiva or tag #entertainingdiva!

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