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Growing up, we always made decorated cutout sugar cookies. The kitchen would be a mess from all the sprinkles, sanding sugars, candy, and frosting used by my sister and me. Honestly, after Christmas, the cutout cookies were usually the variety that had the most remaining. As fun as they were to decorate, they really didn’t have much flavor. The cookie itself was more of a vehicle for whatever we piled on top.
These are a better cutout cookie and I find myself craving these, even without the decor on top. The texture is soft and almost melts in your mouth with incredible flavor. Decorate them however you wish or leave them plain. They’re just that good!
The ingredients that make these the best cookies
- Butter imparts a great underlying flavor. And as always, the better the butter, the richer the flavor. Use unsalted butter to control the amount of salt in the recipe.
- Cream cheese, a little of which goes a long way. The cream cheese plays a crucial role in creating the perfect texture with just a hint of tanginess to offset the sweetness.
- Vanilla extract is often viewed as a standard prerequisite, but in these cookies, it’s a consciously-added ingredient. Make sure to use real extract for a clean vanilla flavor.
- Almond extract gives the cookies that “it” factor that people fall in love with. Since almond extract can be strong, adding it with the vanilla helps to balance out the almond. Think of this as a slight wedding cake flavor vibe.
- Orange zest and orange juice play with the almond and add a hint of citrus that feels very festive. This is what truly helps make these cookies taste as good as they look.
Why use royal icing?
The classic choice for frosting is royal icing. As opposed to heavy buttercreams, royal icing offers just a thin layer of sweetness. It also provides the best way to decorate in more intricate patterns.
The trick with royal icing is to give oneself some grace if it has not been worked with before. Consistency is key in creating the correct ratio that pipes easily and dries quickly. When mixed correctly, the icing should be thick and pour out like a ribbon, retaining some viscosity. Humidity and temperature make a huge difference and may need adjustments to make it just right.
Watch how to make these sugar cookies
Christmas Sugar Cookies
For the cookies
- 1 cup butter room temperature
- 2 oz cream cheese room temperature
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 large egg
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- ½ tsp almond extract
- 2 tsp orange zest
- 1 ½ tbsp orange juice
- 3 cups flour
- 1 ½ tsp baking powder
- ½ tsp salt
For the royal icing
- 3 oz egg whites (about 3 egg whites)
- 4 cups powdered sugar
- ½ tsp vanilla powder (or vanilla extract)
For the cookies
- In an electric mixer, cream the butter and cream cheese until smooth, 1-2 minutes. Add the sugar and cream until light and fluffy, 3-4 minutes. Mix in the egg, orange zest, orange juice, vanilla, and almond extract. Add the flour, baking powder, and salt. Mix well and scrape the bowl to ensure everything is incorporated.1 cup butter, 2 oz cream cheese, 1 cup sugar, 1 large egg, 1 tsp vanilla extract, ½ tsp almond extract, 2 tsp orange zest, 1 ½ tbsp orange juice, 3 cups flour, 1 ½ tsp baking powder, ½ tsp salt
- Wrap the dough tightly in plastic wrap. Chill for at least 30 minutes or overnight. The dough may also be frozen for up to one month.
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- Once well chilled, roll out dough on a lightly floured surface to ¼- to ½-inch thick and cut with desired cookie cutters. Place on parchment-lined baking sheets. Place in the preheated oven and bake until slightly puffed and just beginning to turn golden, 10-14 minutes.
- Once baked, remove from the oven and cool on baking sheets for 5 minutes. Transfer to cooling racks and cool completely. Frost with favorite icing or try royal icing (instructions below).
For the royal icing
- Mix the egg whites, 3 ½ cups powdered sugar, and vanilla powder together until smooth. Add the remaining ½ cup of powdered sugar until the frosting is thick and like a ribbon when pouring out.3 oz egg whites (about 3 egg whites), 4 cups powdered sugar, ½ tsp vanilla powder (or vanilla extract)
- Separate into bowls and color with food coloring.
- Use pastry bags or a plastic cookie decorating bottle to decorate the cookies.