Bake

Holiday Cut-Out Cookies

October 28, 2021
4
12 Ratings
Photo by James Ransom
  • Prep time 10 minutes
  • Cook time 2 hours
  • makes 40 cookies (depending on the cookie cutter size; you can halve or quarter the recipe)
Author Notes

This is my mother’s recipe. She’s a stickler for details, which plays to her advantage when it comes to baking. Her cut-out cookies are always the thinnest and prettiest and have the most restrained amount of decoration. Contrary to the plump and pale versions you often see, cut-out cookies should be very thin with browned edges, so they’re crisp and nutty!

This recipe was re-tested and revised in January 2022, based on helpful feedback from the community. We hope you give these a try again and let us know how it goes!Amanda Hesser

Test Kitchen Notes

There's no better time to make cookies into fun, festive shapes than the holidays. Keep in mind that this recipe makes a lot of dough, so much so that you can make up to 80 cookies, depending on how you shape them, of course. But we say the more cookies, the better! It's definitely an ideal time to host a cookie decorating party, but you can halve or quarter the recipe if you don't anticipate on making this many cookies. Yes, the recipe calls for 1¼ pounds of butter as well as 4 cups of sugar and 8 cups of all-purpose flour. With pantry ingredients and lots of optional add-ins, you'll soon discover that this will become your go-to sugar cookie recipe. And what better way to use up all those baking ingredients you have lying around?

One of the keys to these cookies is making sure that they're very thin, so about ⅛ inch thick, when you're rolling out the dough. This results in the best texture by far and will make cutting and shaping them easier. The best part is that you can make these cookies well ahead of time. Amanda, the developer, made them for the holidays, then stored them in a container with a tight-fitting lid, and was then able to eat the cookies for Easter, four months later, and they were still as good as the day she made them. Pretty amazing, right? So go ahead and bake and shape as many cookies as your sweet-lovin' heart desires. —The Editors

Watch This Recipe
Holiday Cut-Out Cookies
Ingredients
  • 3 sticks (1 1/2 cups) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
  • Finely chopped walnuts or sliced almonds (optional)
  • Sanding sugar (optional)
  • Dried citron or candied cherries, finely chopped (optional)
In This Recipe
Directions
  1. A day before baking the cookies: In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or by hand, in a large bowl with a wooden spoon), mix the butter and sugar until smooth and creamy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs one by one, mixing until incorporated after each addition, then mix in the vanilla and salt. Gradually work in the flour and mix just until incorporated; avoid overmixing. Divide the dough into halves and shape each dough into a disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
  2. Heat the oven to 350°F. In a small bowl, add some cold water. Take out one disc of dough.
  3. Generously flour your work surface. Turn out the dough, then flour again. Roll the dough about ⅛ inch thick—and no thicker! Use cookie cutters to cut into shapes. It helps to dip the cutters into flour between every 2 cookies; this will prevent sticking. Place the cookies on parchment-lined baking sheets about 1 inch apart. Brush with a bit of water and decorate with chopped nuts, sanding sugar, or diced citron, whatever you like!
  4. Bake the cookies for 8 to 10 minutes, until lightly browned on the edges; I like to turn the baking sheet 180 degrees after 5 minutes to help them bake evenly. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool. Repeat with the remaining dough. Place the cookies in a tin or storage container with a tight lid and let age 1 to 2 weeks to bring out the flavor. (I have eaten them at Easter, 4 months later, and they were still delicious.)

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Renee Foster
    Renee Foster
  • Wiser
    Wiser
  • Ashley Marie
    Ashley Marie
  • I_Fortuna
    I_Fortuna
  • Amanda Hesser
    Amanda Hesser
Amanda Hesser

Recipe by: Amanda Hesser

Before starting Food52 with Merrill, I was a food writer and editor at the New York Times. I've written several books, including "Cooking for Mr. Latte" and "The Essential New York Times Cookbook." I played myself in "Julie & Julia" -- hope you didn't blink, or you may have missed the scene! I live in Brooklyn with my husband, Tad, and twins, Walker and Addison.

55 Reviews

karentw February 4, 2022
I made these to take to a family holiday meal before Christmas and everyone loved them. My sister especially liked them and requested them for her seventieth birthday party this weekend. I am not a great bake, these were just so easy to make and decorate and so delicious. Thank you for sharing!!
 
Exitzer0 January 27, 2022
I have been looking for 10 years for the yummiest sugar cut out cookie recipe and finally found it!! Love love love
 
YoolingDuck January 9, 2022
Happy 2022, Amanda! Two questions on tips that weren't addressed in your recipe:
1) Can parchment paper be used, or do the cookies absolutely have to go on bare pans?
2) Does the dough need to remain cold the whole time? Since the recipe makes a very large batch, do the cutouts waiting in line to be put into the oven need to be refrigerated? Or, perhaps the unrolled dough can be cut into quarters and pulled out of the fridge one quarter at a time and rolled, cut out, baked?
Thank you so much for your help!
 
Amanda H. January 9, 2022
Hi YoolingDuck!
1. Yes -- parchment can definitely be used. That's how I do it.
2. I think the cookies turn out best -- and the dough is easiest to work with -- when the dough is kept cool. I usually do exactly what you're suggesting: cut the dough into quarters and pull out of the fridge one quarter at a time.
 
Kate December 24, 2021
I made half recipe and had nothing but problems. So disappointed! I divided this recipe in half followed the steps exactly and what a flop. The cookies would not come off the cookie sheet without tearing. The egg wash was icky even after baking, the dough was hard to work with, terrible time getting shapes to stay together, the cookies were not crisp but tough and I don't know how to describe the flavor other than sad. I was so excited to try this but never again. I'll find my old recipe.
 
Shaunna R. December 22, 2021
I wanted to love these, and they did turn out very pretty, but the flavor is just way too sweet. I almost went with salted butter instead of using the unsalted specified in the recipe, and I wish I had followed my instincts. Without any salt in these cookies, the flavor is just cloying. I wanted to give them as gifts, but now that's not going to happen. Too bad. I might try again next year with salted.
 
Amanda H. December 22, 2021
Hi Shaunna, sorry you had a bad experience with these. One suggestion is to put them in a container for a couple of days because the flavors meld better, and you get more of the nutty flavor of the butter. Might be worth a try!
 
Maryk December 20, 2021
Followed recipe perfectly, best sugar cookies ever!
 
Amanda H. December 25, 2021
Glad they worked out well!
 
Joanne December 20, 2021
I was so happy to find this recipe! I remember helping my mother make them at Christmas time years ago. I quartered this recipe, as it makes a lot, and still came out with a large tin of cookies. I added the zest of an orange and used 1 tsp of vanilla. I beat the egg wash to a soft peak with a little powdered sugar to brush on the cookies. The citron I used to decorate some of the cookies seemed a little hard after baking, but thankfully softened by the next day. My Christmas tree cut outs were simply decorated with sprinkles and a quartered maraschino cherry at the top. Some of them had chopped nuts too. These were fun to do and delicious. Many thanks and happy holidays!
 
Amanda H. December 25, 2021
Thanks for giving it a try and thanks for the orange zest, vanilla, and decorating tips!
 
Kate December 1, 2021
THANK YOU for this cookie recipe! I can never find super thin cookies anymore especially for the holidays. I made cookies this way for years then lost my recipe! Now I can make them again!
 
Jenniwon January 3, 2021
Are you from PA? Because this recipe is just like the Pennsylvania Dutch Sand Tarts I grew up with. Much prefer this style of sugar cookie over the chewy kind. :)
 
Amanda H. January 3, 2021
I am from PA! But I'm not familiar with the sand tarts. I'm going to ask my mom about them.
 
LittleMissMuffin December 27, 2021
My mom is from PA and has always called this type of cookie a "sand tart"....
 
Renee F. January 8, 2017
One of the best sugar cookies I've ever tasted - they really hold up pretty well when travelling. I only had pistachios on hand so crushed those and pressed them into the cookies. That turned out to be amazing! Not only was the color festive but the salty richness of the pistachios really added to the cookie. I did find them to be a little hard after cooling. Perhaps I'll use a little less flour next time or do my best to handle the dough less.
 
Wiser December 6, 2016
By the way, speaking of religious tradition, the lamb shoulder above in the featured recipe may have been ritually slaughtered by a Muslim and prayed over by an imam invoking Mohammad. I say this because my site has the research to prove that certain slaughterhouses are accommodating "halal methods of slaughter" without the public knowing. Muslims have a right to halal. Non-Muslims have a right to know what they're buying but there is no halal labeling law to date. We take a friendly approach to this situation.
 
Kim W. October 23, 2018
This comment has nothing to do with the cookie recipe.
 
Wiser December 6, 2016
The War On Christmas exists. Right here. The shapes are biblical: the Star of Bethlehem seen by shepherds; the Christmas Tree is a tradition. Why not call them Christmas Cookies? Are you deliberately trying to alienate believers? You can't neutralize Christmas as much as you would like to.
 
BBmore December 7, 2016
To those who've served our country in war, your appropriation of the word to describe a situation of semantics that annoys you is truly the most offensive thing here.
 
mnist January 8, 2017
Would you be offended to know I made "Christmas cookies" with my grand daughter's Jewish friend? Without wanting to add fuel to your outrage fire, I have to tell you we called them "holiday cookies"
 
Kim W. October 23, 2018
The term holiday cookies encompasses all of the winter holidays. The photography used for the recipe appears to have found inspiration from not only Christmas but Winter solstice itself.

That being said, this is an awesome basic recipe. The cookies definitely improve with age & are sturdy enough for inclusion in a cookie box being shipped.
 
Heidi H. December 5, 2016
Heidi
The most delicious sugar cookies I have ever had. The only problem is that the cookies didn't keep andy shape. jWhat did I do wrong?
 
mnist November 2, 2016
I've been making rolled sugar cookies since I was a child. Based on the photo and the comments and the fact that I prefer crisp cookies, I thought I'd give this recipe a try. Here's what I discovered:
`this makes a huge batch of dough. Start with 1/4 recipe to see if you like it. If you don't like it, you'll be stuck with food you don't want.
`use simple cookie cutters as seen in the photo. Detailed cutters will not work well or tear due to the very soft dough - even if it's fresh from the fridge
`the butter content makes it very difficult to work with. Very.
`the cookies are awful the first week. The second week they are hard and unappealing. They never tasted good - the flavor was cloying and unpleasant.
`my omnivorous husband wouldn't eat them.
`This recipe wasn't for me. I threw all of it away. Me! the person who hates to waste food!
 
gigikate November 30, 2015
Have you ever tried adding lemon zest/oil to this recipe? I'm wondering if it would work well and if it would store the same.
 
Amanda H. November 30, 2015
I haven't but I wish I'd thought to do this myself! I love lemon scented cookies and I'm sure it would work and preserve well.
 
Rama September 27, 2015
Loved it!
 
Ella April 13, 2014
Do you store these at room temp or in the fridge?
 
Amanda H. April 13, 2014
Room temp.
 
Ella April 14, 2014
Thanks!
 
Ashley M. December 23, 2013
LOVE LOVE LOVE. We made these with mini star/snowflake/Christmas tree/gingerbread men cookie cutters, brushed some of them with egg white and water and others with egg yolk and water, then sprinkled with either large sugar pieces or Christmas sprinkles or nothing at all and they were all gorgeous! The mini ones just look so good as adorable fillers for your cookie bags/boxes for neighbors and friends.
 
Barb December 14, 2013
Does it matter if I use salted butter?
Barb
 
Amanda H. December 14, 2013
It's so funny that you ask this because I was just at the grocery store 10 minutes ago, buying butter for this recipe and wondering the SAME THING! I actually bought both so I could do the dough half salted/half unsalted, just to be safe. So I don't know the answer yet but I will tell you that the "secret" to these Secret Cookies is using salted butter: http://food52.com/recipes/165-secret-cookies
 
I_Fortuna December 11, 2013
I, too, have been looking for a new cut out cookie recipe. These are beautiful! I will be using sugar free Swerve powdered sugar for the royal icing since we are diabetic as are our neighbors. I was so glad I found it because I was looking all over for a sugar free icing. These cookies look like they will hold up well. I would like to use this recipe for Springerle cookies, will it work for them? Thanks for this recipe!
 
Amanda H. December 11, 2013
I'm not sure the dough will be stiff enough to hold the springerle shapes but it's worth trying -- also I have a springerle recipe on the site here: http://food52.com/recipes/8413-helen-getz-s-springerles