How to Make the Best Holiday Sugar Cookies

Birthdays have cake, and it’s not Thanksgiving without pumpkin pie, but only Christmas has a signature dessert with seemingly infinite variations. Whether artfully decorated or just dusted with sugar, shaped with precision or kind of blobby, holiday sugar cookies put a smile on every face. This recipe will produce perfectly crisp, buttery cookies to serve as the canvas for your decorating prowess, or to hand off to the kids for a cookie decorating party. They’re sure to be a hit in a cookie exchange, but they’re so tasty, you may just want to keep them all to yourself. Happy Holidays … and happy baking!

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Servings: 2 to 4 dozen, depending on size


For the cookies:

1 ½ c. unsalted butter, softened

1 ½ c. granulated sugar

3 tbsp. cream cheese, softened

1 large egg

2 large egg yolks

1 tsp. vanilla extract

½ tsp. almond extract

1 tsp. kosher salt

3 ½ cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting

½ tsp. baking powder

2 tsp. cream of tartar

For the royal icing:

4 c. powdered sugar

½ tsp. kosher salt

1 tsp. vanilla extract

¼ c. pasteurized egg white

Gel food coloring of your choice

Sprinkles or other toppings if desired

Water, as needed


  1. To make cookie dough: In a large bowl, cream together the butter, sugar, and cream cheese with an electric hand mixer on high speed for about 5 minutes, until mixture is fluffy and the sugar is mostly dissolved. Scrape down the bowl as needed to evenly beat the mixture.

  2. Add the egg, egg yolks, vanilla, and almond extract and mix well, scraping down the sides of the bowl throughout.

  3. Add the salt, then sift the flour, baking powder, and cream of tartar into the bowl and fold to incorporate some of the flour. Then beat on low speed, just until incorporated and the dough comes together.

  4. Shape the dough into a flat disc and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours, or up to 1-2 days.

  5. When ready to bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 350˚F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

  6. Remove the dough from the fridge and let sit at room temperature for a few minutes to soften slightly.

  7. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the cookie dough with a rolling pin to ¼-inch thick.

  8. Dip cookie cutters of your choice in some extra flour and cut out shapes from the dough. Gather any excess dough into a ball and chill in the fridge to firm, then re-roll and cut out more cookies. Place the cookies on the prepared baking sheet and chill for at least 20 minutes to ensure they hold their shapes.

  9. Bake the cookies for 10-12 minutes, or until the edges just barely start to turn golden brown. Cool completely on a wire rack before decorating with royal icing or frosting.

  10. To make the royal icing: Sift the powdered sugar into a large bowl and add the salt. On one side of the bowl, add the vanilla and pasteurized egg white. (Note: Do not substitute raw egg.)

  11. Beginning in the area where you added the liquids, whisk the powdered sugar into the liquids, gathering a bit more as you go along until all the powdered sugar is incorporated. Add food coloring, if desired, and whisk to incorporate. You can divide the icing into smaller bowls to make more than one color. At this point, the icing should be a good consistency for piping borders. If you’d like the frosting to be looser to flood or dip your cookies, add a few tablespoons of water, 1 tbsp. at a time, until it reaches desired consistency.

  12. Decorate the cookies as desired.

  13. Enjoy!

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