Make Ahead

Holiday Cut-Out Cookies

November 26, 2012
3 Ratings
Photo by James Ransom
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! - Amanda —Amanda Hesser

Test Kitchen Notes

“These cookies really do improve with age, so it’s a smart idea to make them at least 2 weeks before you want to eat them. This is also a healthy challenge. Be strong!” - Amanda —The Editors

  • Cook time 2 hours
  • Makes 80 cookies (depending on the cookie cutter size; you can halve or quarter the recipe)
  • 1 1/4 pounds unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 4 cups sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 8 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 egg white
  • Finely chopped walnuts or sliced almonds (optional)
  • Sanding sugar (optional)
  • Dried citron or candied cherries, finely chopped (optional)
In This Recipe
  1. A day before baking the cookies: In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment (or by hand, in a bowl with a wooden spoon), cream together the butter and sugar. Add the eggs one by one, mixing after each addition, then the vanilla. Gradually work in the flour until a dough forms. Wrap the dough in waxed paper or plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
  2. Heat the oven to 350° F. Whisk together the egg white and 1 tablespoon water in a small bowl. Cut the dough into quarters and keep three-quarters cold while working with the first quarter.
  3. Generously flour your work surface. Lay down the dough. Flour again. Roll the dough into a large circle, about 1/8-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 ungreased baking sheets. Brush with the egg wash and decorate with chopped nuts, sanding sugar, or diced citron -- whatever you like!
  4. Bake the cookies until they are lightly browned on the edges, 8 to 10 minutes -- I like to turn the baking sheet 180 degrees after 5 minutes to help them bake evenly. Transfer to a rack and let cool completely. (Repeat with the rest of the 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
  • Ashley Marie
    Ashley Marie
  • I_Fortuna
  • Richa Gupta
    Richa Gupta
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.

42 Reviews

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. :)
Author Comment
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.
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
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.
Author Comment
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?
Author Comment
Amanda H. April 13, 2014
Room temp.
Ella April 14, 2014
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?
Author Comment
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:
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!
Author Comment
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:
Richa G. December 6, 2013
Hi Amanda..I've never baked sugar cookies before and I want to surprise my family this year with decorated sugar cookies. Can I decorate these with Royal Icing in pretty colors as well?
Author Comment
Amanda H. December 6, 2013
Yes -- sure! They'll look great.
Sunnycovechef November 20, 2013
I can't wait to make these cookies, my mom made similar ones. I think the secret is in making them thin.
Author Comment
Amanda H. November 20, 2013
Totally agree! My mother was adamant about getting them thin -- and she rolled out the dough on cold marble so she could get them thin without warming up the dough.
chantalemarie December 11, 2013
These are really fantastic. Strait in to my little black binder where only the best recipes go. Thanks again. I like these so much, I suspect they will be in the cookie tin more often than Christmas. I've made the dough twice in the last month!
chantalemarie October 28, 2013
Thanks Amanda. Thanks for sharing this really great family recipe. I have tried a ton of sugar cookie recipes always wondering why they are so paltry. Thanks for all the great tips. I really love that these get better with age, thought that is hard to imagine. On my list this year for sure!
Author Comment
Amanda H. October 28, 2013
Thanks, and hope they turn out well for you!
IowaHeirlooms December 19, 2012
This is a great recipe, thank you. Perfect for holiday baking. Very forgiving dough (I'm the one who kept it in the fridge for a week before I got back to baking it.) Can be rolled quite thin, holds shape, crisp and sweet and very pretty with crushed nuts on top. I pressed the trimmings together and rolled them into a cylinder, chilled it again, and sliced into thin rounds for the last pan so I didn't have to waste a bit of dough. love it.
IowaHeirlooms December 18, 2012
oh dear--how long can the dough be kept before baking? this recipe looks great, I made a batch right away, put it in the fridge, and missed my window for baking the next day. It's been in the fridge for a week--can I still bake with it? many thanks
Author Comment
Amanda H. December 18, 2012
Thanks to all the butter and sugar, it keeps for a week or two, so I think you're all set.
IowaHeirlooms December 19, 2012
hooray and thank you. baking tomorrow!
Madame S. December 9, 2012
Do you age the cookies in fridge or on the counter? Can you freeze the finished cookie?
Author Comment
Amanda H. December 9, 2012
On the counter, in a tightly sealed container. My mother puts them in a large tin, lined with wax paper. I've never frozen them but I don't see why not. They're a firm cookie so they should hold up. Not sure how the sanding sugar would do, though.
Renée (. December 9, 2012
Can you provide an approximate baking time? You know - roughly how long should they be in the oven before I start peeking? :D
Author Comment
Amanda H. December 9, 2012
Whoops! Sorry about that -- just fixed it. If it's not showing up yet, the time is 8 to 10 minutes, and I turn the baking sheets halfway through to help them bake evenly. Also, the timing depends on how thinly you roll them. 1/8 inch will take 8 to 10 but any thicker can take a minute or two more. Keep an eye on them, they turn quickly!
Renée (. December 9, 2012
Als2317 December 6, 2012
How well does this dough freeze? I would like to make some this weekend, and then again in a week or two. Can't wait to try them! Thanks.
Author Comment
Amanda H. December 6, 2012
Well! The cookies in the photo above were made with dough that was previously frozen. Wrap the dough tightly in plastic wrap -- we did 2 layers -- then stick it in the freezer. I let it thaw overnight in the fridge.