roll-out sugar cookie comparison

You know those people who decorate sugar cookies so beautifully it’s hard to believe those works are art are edible? Yeah, I am not one of them. I haven’t made sugar cookies in months, and you know why? It’s a pain in the butt, and the results of my decorating are never up to my standards.

You know what’s even more of a pain in the butt? Making five different recipes! On the other hand, if I’m going to go through the trouble of mixing, rolling, baking, and decorating cookies, I want to be sure I’m using the best recipe I can, and it’s hard to know that without making a bunch and comparing. So that’s what I did.

I asked around to see what recipes people recommended and settled on this one from Annie’s Eats, this one from Ashlee’s Year in the Kitchen, this one from Martha Stewart, and the version I’ve been using for the last year or so, an adaptation of this one. (That’s only four recipes and I said I made five – I messed one up and had to remake it.) Because it’s easy to adapt the flavorings to personal preference, I used the same amount of vanilla, almond extract, and lemon zest in each recipe.

What I’m looking for in a sugar cookie is full flavor – some are bland – and tenderness without being too delicate. It needs to hold its shape of course, although I’m not opposed to a slight puff in the oven. I think a few flecks of lemon zest give sugar cookies a more balanced flavor without making them noticeably lemony. I am not particularly interested in recipes that do not require an overnight rest, as they tend to require too much flour, resulting in a bland, tough cookie. This actually makes sugar cookies a convenient comparison post because I could divide the tasks into separate days – making the dough, rolling it out, baking it, and decorating the cookies.

I thought all of the recipes were equally easy to mix up and roll out. I thought they all held their shape adequately during baking, although Ashlee’s cookies puffed a bit more than the others, while Annie’s were on the other extreme, retaining perfectly straight sides in the oven.

After tasting, the two favorite recipes were mine and Ashlee’s. The cookies from my recipe (the gorillas) were described as soft, chewy and flavorful. Ashlee’s (the tigers) were puffy, fluffy, and soft – tasters like the texture better but there was a slight preference for the flavor of my recipe.

Annie’s cookies (the elephants) were soft, although not chewy, but they were powdery and not as flavorful. Because this recipe uses only powdered sugar with no granulated sugar, the powdery texture is not a surprise. I’m sure this all relates to how well they hold their shape during baking as well, in addition to the lack of any chemical leavener. The universal least favorite was Martha Stewart’s recipe (the hippos), which was too hard, too chewy, and too dense, perhaps because it uses less butter than any of the others.


(I would just like to clarify that Dave outlined the hippo and gorilla. I was happy for his help, and I think he might even have had a little bit of fun.)

Which will I choose in the future? Oh, who knows. Probably my recipe, because it’s a classic sugar cookie recipe. There are no tricks up its sleeve; it just happens to have just the right ratio of ingredients. And for the record, the one thing that all of my tasters agreed on after I made them compare the cookies pre-frosting was that buttercream makes sugar cookies that much better.

One year ago: Lemon Cream Cheese Bars
Two years ago: Raspberry Bars (these are wonderful)

Printer Friendly Recipe
Roll-out Sugar Cookies

2½ cups (12 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 egg
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon almond extract
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup (7 ounces) granulated sugar
¼ teaspoon lemon zest

1. In a medium bowl, mix the flour and baking powder. In a one-cup measuring cup, lightly beat the egg with the extracts.

2. In the bowl of a standing mixer (or in a large bowl with a handheld mixer), beat the butter and salt on medium speed until smooth. With the mixer running, gradually pour in the sugar; add the lemon zest. Beat on medium until fluffy, about 1 minute. With the mixer running, pour in the egg mixture and continue beating until incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the mixer bowl. With the mixer on low, gradually add the flour and mix just until evenly blended.

3. Lightly knead the dough to form a ball, press it into a disk 1-inch thick, and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 2 hours or overnight.

4. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Adjust a rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 375F. If you’ve chilled the dough overnight, it’ll need to sit at room temperature for half an hour or so to soften slightly. On a very lightly floured sheet of wax paper with a sheet of plastic wrap on top of the dough, roll the dough out to ¼-inch thick. Cut cookies using a floured cookie cutter. Re-roll scraps, always using as little flour as necessary.

5. Bake the cookies, one sheet at a time, for 5-9 minutes, until they no longer look wet on top. The baking time will depend on the size of the cookies you’ve cut. You don’t want the bottoms to be browned, except for maybe just a bit on the edges. Let the cookies rest for a couple minutes on the sheets before transferring them to cooling racks to finish cooling. Decorate as desired.


(The snakes are a mixture of the last dough scraps from all five recipes.)

Printer Friendly Recipe
Ashlee’s Famous Sugar Cookies (rewritten from Ashlee’s Year in the Kitchen)

For my comparison, I used the same amount of vanilla, almond extract, and lemon zest for each recipe. This was significantly less lemon zest than Ashlee’s recipe calls for. A full tablespoon will give the cookies a distinct lemon flavor.

Ashlee indicates that the dough can be rolled and cut right after mixing, but I have my doubts. I chilled overnight just for convenience, but it was a very soft dough, and I think it would be difficult to cut and transfer cookies while the dough is room temperature.

24 tablespoons (3 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1½ cups (10.5 ounces) granulated sugar
½ cup (2 ounces) powdered sugar
4 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
½ teaspoon almond extract
1 tablespoon lemon zest
5 cups (24 ounces) all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt

1. Adjust a rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 400F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.

2. In the bowl of a standing mixer (or in a large bowl with a handheld mixer), beat the butter and sugars on medium speed for 5 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing until each is incorporated before adding the next. Add the extracts and lemon zest and beat for 10 seconds. Add the baking powder and salt and beat until combined. With the mixer on low, add the flour 1 cup at a time, mixing for 15 seconds between each addition.

3. Wrapped tightly in plastic wrap, the dough can be refrigerated for up to a week, or it can be rolled and cut right away (see note). Roll out to a thickness of ¼-inch and use a floured cookie cutter to cut desired shapes.

4. Bake on the prepared sheet for about 7 minutes, until light golden brown on the bottom edges.

Printer Friendly Recipe
Ella’s White Sugar Cookies (rewritten from Annie’s Eats)

16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup (4 ounces) powdered sugar
1 egg, beaten
1½ teaspoon almond extract
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon salt
2½ cups (12 ounces) all-purpose flour

1. In the bowl of a standing mixer (or in a large bowl with a handheld mixer), beat the butter on medium speed until smooth. Add the powdered sugar and continue mixing until evenly blended. With the mixer running, pour in the egg, extracts, and salt and continue beating until incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the mixer bowl. With the mixer on low, gradually at the flour and mix just until evenly blended.

2. Refrigerate for 2 hours or overnight.

3. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Adjust a rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 375F.

4. Roll to ¼-inch thickness on a well-floured surface. Cut with floured cookie cutters. Place on prepared cookie sheets. Bake at 375°F for 8-10 minutes. Cookies should not brown. Transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

Printer Friendly Recipe
Sugar Cookie Cutouts (from Martha Stewart)

4 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1. Sift flour, baking powder, and salt into a bowl.

2. Put butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on medium speed until pale and fluffy. Mix in eggs and vanilla. Reduce speed to low. Gradually mix in flour mixture. Divide dough into quarters; flatten each quarter into a disk. Wrap each in plastic. Refrigerate until firm, at least 1 hour or overnight.

3. Preheat oven to 325 degrees with racks in upper and lower thirds. Let one disk of dough stand at room temperature just until soft enough to roll, about 10 minutes. Roll out dough between two pieces of plastic wrap to ¼-inch thickness. Remove top layer of plastic wrap. Cut out cookies with a 4-to-5-inch cookie cutter. Transfer cookie dough on plastic wrap to a baking sheet. Transfer baking sheet to freezer, and freeze until very firm, about 15 minutes. Remove baking sheet from freezer, and transfer shapes to baking sheets lined with nonstick baking mats. Roll out scraps, and repeat. Repeat with remaining disk of dough.

4. Bake, switching positions of sheets and rotating halfway through, until edges turn golden, 15 to 18 minutes. Let cool on sheets on wire racks.

And – this is what happens when you add baking soda to your sugar cookies instead of baking powder.  They puff and turn yellow.   The tiger is the recipe made correctly, with baking powder; the giraffe has baking soda.

Comments

  1. Great post! I’ve never found a sugar cookie recipe that I really like. All the ones I’ve tried were too bland or hard so I’m always on the lookout for a recipe that doesn’t suck. I’ll definitely be trying out the ones that rated the best. Thanks for putting them all in one post!

  2. Yeaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa! Another comparison!! I love your comparisons, Bridget. I’m not a major sugar cookie lover (with the exception of Lofthouse cookies), but you never know when I’ll need to make some of these. Now I know which recipe to use. Thanks!

  3. I cannot wait until J gets old enough to help me in the kitchen! I loved making sugar cookies when I was young and I know he will too! Thanks for the comparison – I am definitely taking notes =)

  4. Hmm, Dave’s decorating skills… :)
    Great post, Bridget! I actually prefer mine sweet, chewy and on the firm side. Just don’t like powdery, shortbready ones. I like royal icing on them too :)

  5. I love to see a good comparison post! I am always searching for a better sugar cookie recipe, but the best way to do it is side-by-side like you did. Thanks for this post!

  6. Making a batch of sugar cookies takes a lot of work, I can’t believe you made 4 (well, 5 really!) Thanks for chosing mine as one to compare :) I love your comparison posts, it’s so helpful when baking, and now when people post “what sugar cookie recipe should I use” we can direct them to this so they can find exactly what they’re looking for. Great job!

  7. I love this, and all of that work you did!! Its great to see the comparisons, and yours and Ashlee’s definitely sound the best! Now you have so many cookies to munch through =)

  8. Thanks for the comparison, B. I think so many people look for different qualities in their cookies…it is good to know the attributes of each recipe you listed.

  9. What a great post!! THANK YOU! I agree, sugar cookies are such a pain – they are SO much work and I’m never overly impressed with the actual cookie part when they’re done. I’ve made your sugar cookie recipe in the past – but I gave them away and didn’t try them! I’ve tried a couple since then and haven’t been impressed. I’m going to have to try yours again so I can taste them since they were the favorite! THANKS again! :)

  10. I am so so so happy you did this. I seriously made 4 different recipes before trying ashlees a couple of easters ago and haven’t looked back since. But I certainly could not quantify the differences and you did it so beautifully! Also, I have to say, the animal cutters make this post so.much.fun!! One of my favorite blog posts ever b/c of it. :)

  11. I’ve tried two or three of the ones you’ve compared, but never at the same time, so it’s nice to know which one is the best!

  12. Thank you SO MUCH for this post! I need to make some more sugar cookies next week for an event and was undecided on which recipe to use. Now I think I’ll make yours!

  13. bridget says:

    themilkmanswife – My current recipe is slightly different from my previous one. The most important difference is a decrease in the amount of flour, which makes the cookies more tender and more flavorful. A pinch of lemon zest and drop of almond extract gives them more complexity as well.

  14. I love your experiments and comparisons! I never make sugar cookies because a) they are so much work and b) I never have found a recipe that I love. You’re really cutting all the work out for me here

  15. Wow, Bridget! This was lots and lots of work. As usual, fantastic job!

  16. I am not a decorator either… In fact I would just “decorate” by dipping my cookies into melted chocolate and that would be the end of it! So I understand your issue.
    Thank you for trying out the recipes and giving us comparisons. This is very helpful!

  17. Loved this post…I’m a first time commenter but have been reading for awhile now. Your recipe comparisons are so helpful!

    I’m looking to audition sugar cookie recipes as well for an upcoming baby shower. Have you tried Dorie’s recipe?

  18. Thanks so much for this post! I’ve only tried one sugar cookie recipe, and it was a softer, crumblier one that was still very tasty. I’ve been wanting to try different ones, though, and there are so many – with everyone claiming to have found the perfect one – that I never have picked one.

    P.S. Love the animal shapes – so cute!

  19. God bless you for making all of those cookies. There is an older lady that I know from my hometown that always makes sugar cookies that everyone LOVES, and recently I asked for her recipe. You know what it was? Flour, butter, and confectioner’s sugar. That’s it. And she proclaimed that her secret was to roll them out on a surface dusted with confectioner’s sugar, and NOT flour (she insists that it dries them out).

    I made them for Valentine’s day, and eh, they were decent, although my husband thought that (obviously) they didn’t have much complexity to them.

    All of that to say that I really am looking forward to using your recipe because, really, it sounds much better. :)

  20. great comparison! I’m attaching the link to my mom’s famous sugar cookie recipe, I have yet to find one that beats it! :) …just in case you feel the need to try recipe #6

    http://www.thesweetslife.com/2009/11/moms-famous-sugar-cookies.html

  21. bridget says:

    Jean – I made Dorie’s Grandma’s All-Occasion Sugar Cookies with Tuesdays with Dorie last year. They were good, but a little crisper than I prefer.

  22. I love how you decorate the cookies. I never do that. I am intimidated.

    I am having a giveaway, if you are interested in cookware.

    http://sweetsav.blogspot.com/2010/03/paula-deen-skillets-yes-giveaway.html

  23. Another fabulous comparison! I will go with your advice and try your sugar cookie recipe when I need to bake my next batch. Thanks!

  24. I always enjoy your comparison posts! I still haven’t found a sugar cookie recipe I’m 100% happy with, so I’ll have to try one of these!

  25. Awesome comparison! LOVE it, those cookies look great. I have one I use and LOVE (the Famous sugar cookies) but really want to try your take on them!

  26. bridget says:

    bakingblonde – My recipe is really similar to yours – I basically just reduced the flour and tweaked the flavorings.

  27. Christina says:

    I love your comparisons! I’ve been making Ashlee’s recipe for the past 1.5 years now. I love the taste and texture. I had some trouble w/them puffing the first time, but I wrote her about it.

    Which buttercream recipe do you use for frosting the cookies?

  28. Wow, thanks for baking all of these cookies and reporting back Bridget! I’m far too lazy to bake and compare so many cookies so I’m incredibly grateful that you’re not :) I’ve tried Annie’s recipe but none of the others you tried so I’ll definitely turn to one of those next time!

  29. Thanks for the great post — I always love reading the recipe comparisons!

  30. another wonderful comparison post! i’m really glad to hear your results because i always wonder about my sugar cookie recipe- so i think i’ll switch to yours. I love vanilla, almond, lemon (or orange) flavor in my sugar cookies too!

  31. Have you tried Alton Brown’s sugar cookie recipe? Recently I made fleur de lis sugar cookies for a superbowl party in New Orleans (Who Dat Baby!) for snacking on in between cocktails. What? Yeah, like that makes sense…and requested my dear friend’s fabulous recipe from cookies she made during Christmastime. She gave me her Alton recipe, which I excitedly made and it couldn’t have been easier. They were great! Alas, I am still looking for an easy Royal Icing Recipe (that was a disaster). I may try your sugar cookie recipe to compare the two!

  32. bridget says:

    Mimi – I haven’t tried Alton Brown’s recipe, but I just looked at it on the FN site, and it looks really similar to my favorite! I have a couple extra flavorings in mine, a little less baking powder, no milk, and what I think is probably the most important change – less flour.

    Royal icing isn’t my favorite thing to work with, but I’ve found a lot of useful tips on this post at Annie’s Eats.

  33. I think I’m going to make one of those cookies today! They look pretty good. Do you have the recipe for the buttercream you used on your blog?

  34. bridget says:

    Adriana – The buttercream I used is the Easy Vanilla Buttercream in this post.

  35. Can’t believe you did a sugar cookie comparison! I’m going right to your recipe to give it a try!

  36. they sound good ill try em

  37. :) sounds and looks SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO good

  38. What an awesome undertaking! I’m going to make your recipe of the sugar cookies this weekend :)

  39. Your sugar cookies look delicious! I bet they taste goood too!
    I decorated some cookies on the first episode of my kid’s show, TEA TIME WITH TAYLA ~ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qC5yOd7HT8E

    I look forward to reading more from your food blog! Keep up the good work :-)

    – Tayla

  40. Have you tried the cut out cookies that have sour cream in it or cream cheese or buttermilk if so let me know which one would be the best to go with. I am looking for firm cut out cookie that remains soft but firm with good flavor and texture. Thank you and have a wonderful day

  41. Brianna says:

    Thank you for taking the time to do this sugar cookie comparison. I really appreciate it! :)
    I fine that your cookie recipe is indeed the best of the four recipes. It is soft and chewy (although it could have been a tad chewier) as well as flavourful. Most of all, it stays soft even after it cools. Fabulous recipe. Thanks for sharing! :D

  42. Thank you so much for the amazing recipe. I still come back to this post every holiday when I need some yummy sugar cookies for the kids to decorate.

  43. Hi Bridget! Great post! May I please have your permission to pin a link to this post on my Pinterest board, titled “The Art of Cookie Decorating” found here..http://www.pinterest.com/dorana1/the-art-of-cookie-decorating/ Thanks!

  44. Dana – Sure, go ahead.

  45. Thank you!!

  46. For your recipe, can i omit the almond extract and the lemon zest? If i can would i have to use more vanilla than the recipe calls for? how did you measure the flour? did you scoop it or spoon the flour into the measuring cup? how much cookies were you able to make?

  47. also what was the size of the gorilla cookie cutter? im am very sorry for asking so many questions.

  48. Tia – You can omit the almond extract and lemon zest, and there’s no need to increase the vanilla. I measured the flour by weight. The number of cookies will vary widely based on how big the cookie cutters are. The gorilla cutter is about 3 inches tall and 3 inches wide at its tallest and widest points.

Speak Your Mind

*