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Holiday Cut-Out Butter Cookies

4.5 stars based on 25 votes

holiday cut-out butter cookies

I usually think of cut-out cookies as something to admire, rather than eat. They’re typically not that good and, I don’t know about you, but if I’m going to have some cookies, I want them to be worth it! But this recipe from King Arthur Flour is different. The cookies are buttery and tender-crisp with a thin layer of glaze that adds just the right amount of sweetness. They’re as delicious as they are pretty — but even more than that, they’re a dream to make. The dough is easy to work with and tough enough to stand up to rolling, cutting and re-rolling. Trust me, I had a group of four girls over at my house last weekend; they worked this dough to death and the cookies still came out tender and delicious. Finally, the cut dough holds its shape perfectly when baked — no puffing or spreading — so go ahead and break out all those ornate cookie cutters. It’s time to bake some cookies!

ingredients

Begin by combining the confectioners’ sugar, butter, egg yolk, salt, and almond extract in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.

cookie-dough-1

Beat until smooth.

cookie-dough-2

Add the flour.

cookie-dough-3

Mix on low speed until well combined. The mixture will seem dry at first, but don’t worry, it will come together.

cookie-dough-4

Scrape the dough onto a work surface (if it’s sticky, dust very lightly with flour).

cookie-dough-5

Divide the dough into 2 discs, then wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

cookie-dough-6

When you’re ready to bake, remove the dough from the refrigerator, and let it soften for about 30 minutes. Work it with your hands for a minute or so, until it feels soft and pliable enough to roll. Be careful not to overwork it; it should still feel cold.

cookie-dough-7

Sprinkle your work surface lightly with flour. Lightly sprinkle the top of the dough and rolling pin as well. Working with one piece of dough at a time, roll to 1/8″ – 3/16″ thick. Use cookie cutters to cut shapes, then use a thin metal spatula to lift the dough off of the counter and onto parchment-lined baking sheets (they can be close together; they don’t spread). Re-roll and cut the dough scraps. 

cutting-cookies

Bake the cookies in a preheated 350°F oven for 10 to 14 minutes, until they’re set and barely browned around the edges. Note that the cook time will vary depending on the thickness and size of the cookies. Very small cookies might be done in 8 minutes.

baked-cookies

While the cookies cool, make the icing.

frosting-1

Combine the sugar, milk, and corn syrup. Stir with a spoon to make a thick but spreadable icing.

frosting-2

If the glaze is too thin, add additional sifted confectioners’ sugar. If too thick, dribble in additional milk 1/2 teaspoon at a time. Using a small spoon, dollop the icing on the center of the cookies and use the spoon and/or your finger to spread it all the way to the edges. Sprinkle with colored sugar or other sugar decorations while the icing is still wet.

just-frosted-cookies

Allow the icing to harden before storing the cookies.

ready-to-serve

Holiday Cut-Out Butter Cookies

Servings: About 5 dozen 2-inch cookies
Prep Time: 30 Minutes
Cook Time: 10 Minutes
Total Time: 40 Minutes, plus 2 hours to chill the dough

Ingredients

For the Cookies

  • 1-1/4 cups Confectioners' sugar
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 2-3/4 cups all purpose flour, spooned into measuring cup and leveled-off with knife

For the Icing

  • 2-1/4 cups Confectioners' sugar
  • 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 2 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon milk
  • Food coloring and sugar decorations, optional

Instructions

  1. Combine the confectioners' sugar, butter, egg yolk, salt, and almond extract in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat until smooth. Add the flour and mix on low speed until well combined. The mixture will seem dry and crumbly at first, but don't worry -- it will come together. Scrape the dough onto a work surface (if it's sticky, dust very lightly with flour). Shape into a ball and cut in half; form 2 discs, then wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight.
  2. When you're ready to bake, remove the dough from the refrigerator; let it soften on the countertop for 20-30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
  3. Work the dough with your hands for a minute or so, until it feels soft and pliable enough to roll. Be careful not to overwork it; it should still feel cold. Sprinkle your work surface lightly with flour. Lightly sprinkle the top of the dough and the rolling pin with flour as well. Working with one piece of dough at a time, roll to 1/8" - 3/16" thick, sprinkling more flour over and under the dough as needed so that it doesn't stick. Use cookie cutters to cut shapes. Use a thin metal spatula to lift the cut dough off of the counter and onto the prepared baking sheets (they can be close together; they don't spread). Re-roll and cut the dough scraps, dusting more flour as necessary so the dough doesn't stick. Bake for 10 to 14 minutes, until they're set and barely browned around the edges. (Note that the cook time will vary depending on the thickness and size of the cookies. And mini cookies might be done in as little as 8 minutes.)
  4. While the cookies cool, make the icing. Combine the sugar, milk, and corn syrup in a medium bowl. Stir with a spoon to make a thick but spreadable icing. If the glaze is too thin, add additional confectioners’ sugar. If it's too thick, dribble in additional milk 1/2 teaspoon at a time. (You'll know the consistency is right when a ribbon of glaze dribbled from the spoon will sit atop the glaze in the bowl briefly, before settling and disappearing. Be careful not to make it too thin, or it will drip right off the cookies and make a sticky mess.)
  5. Using a small spoon, dollop the icing on the center of the cookies and use a spoon, knife, toothpick or your finger to spread it all the way to the edges. Sprinkle with colored sugar or other sugar decorations while the icing is still wet. Allow the icing to harden before storing the cookies.
  6. Note: The cookies are best eaten within a day or two, when they are perfectly tender and crisp. They'll keep much longer stored in an airtight container, but they'll soften up.

Nutrition Information

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  • Serving size: 1 cookie
  • Calories: 82
  • Fat: 4g
  • Saturated fat: 2g
  • Carbohydrates: 12g
  • Sugar: 7g
  • Fiber: 0g
  • Protein: 1g
  • Sodium: 2mg
  • Cholesterol: 12mg

Reviews & Comments

  • 5 stars

    I really should have written to you before, but being a grandmother of 4 under the age of 3…..well, I don’t have the free time as much. ANYWAY, I have now made these cookies for special occasions 5 times since reading about it in December/16. I have tried so many cookie cut outs, including my sister-in-laws (who claims to have the best from her farm raised mother…) and these, well, I’ve given the recipe out at least 4 times per occasion are really the best! People are shocked at how good these are…not just pretty to look at! You gave me confidence to bake cookies again. AND…I have since used many other recipes and have not been disappointed!! Thank you for making me a better cook!!!!!!

    - bonnie on April 27, 2017 Reply
  • What is the difference between salted butter and unsalted butter when baking cookies?

    - Kitty on March 19, 2017 Reply
    • Hi Kitty, While it varies by brand, most salted butter has approximately 1/4 tsp. salt per stick, so you can reduce the added salt in the recipe as needed.

      - Jenn on March 20, 2017 Reply
  • 5 stars

    These are absolutely delicious! Follow the instructions just as written and they come out perfectly. The almond extract makes them magical. This is my new go to Christmas and any other holiday cookie recipe. I received tons of compliments on how delicious they were at Christmas. I tell everybody your website’s wonderful recipes!

    - Pauline on March 2, 2017 Reply
  • 5 stars

    I made these cookies for the first time last January kind of in remembrance of my mother who had just passed away. She absolutely loved cut out cookies. She would have loved these. It’s almost Valentines’s Day, so this year when I make them I will make them heart shaped! Thank you for a very easy and delicious recipe. I refrigerate my cookie dough overnight and the dough is very easy to work with and the flavor just really builds in your mouth. When you’re done with one it’s so good you have to have another! Thank you for another recipe that makes me look like an awesome baker!

    - Karen T on February 12, 2017 Reply
  • Hi Jen,

    I made this cookie last year and it turned out great. However, my cookie dough was very crumbly this year and I had to add a couple tbsp of water. Could it be because I didn’t mix the dough long enough? I was afraid over mixing it so I stopped when it resembled a pie mixture.

    - Lu on December 29, 2016 Reply
    • Hi Lu, Yes, you need to mix it more — this dough can handle it.

      - Jenn on December 29, 2016 Reply
  • 1 stars

    I am a very experienced baker however also found your recipe yielded a dry mess. I returned to mixer and added butter to make a workable dough. Dryness perhaps more a function of relative humidity rather than elevation since our relative humidity is much lower than that of eastern seaboard, flour therefore much drier. Wouldn’t bother making again.

    - Johanne on December 26, 2016 Reply
  • 5 stars

    Baked these months ago for a friend’s birthday, they absolutely LOVED it and ate an entire box (yes, a box!) of them in a few hours.These were so so good. I had a fair share of the cookies as well! I am currently trying the recipe again, and I am baking my last batch of cookies. I bet my family will love this for Christmas as well! 🙂

    - Candy on December 23, 2016 Reply
  • Hi Jennifer can I use my cookie press with this recipe? Thanks!
    Yvonne

    - Yvonne M. on December 13, 2016 Reply
    • Hi Yvonne, I’ve never used a cookie press so I can’t be sure, but I think it should work. I’d love to hear how they turn out!

      - Jenn on December 14, 2016 Reply
  • 2 stars

    This was a really difficult dough to work with. I refrigerated overnight and the dough disks were hard as a rock. It took over an hour to become workable. The taste was okay; tasted more like a sweet cracker than a cookie. These were way too much work for such a mediocre result.

    - Kathleen Tatarek-VanPeursem on December 12, 2016 Reply
    • So sorry you didn’t like them, Kathleen. Did you ice them? They are intentionally not too sweet to compensate for the sweet icing.

      - Jenn on December 12, 2016 Reply
    • Looking through the reviews, I see someone else at high altitude had problems as well. I think that may be the issue. I’m in Denver and have always encountered baking problems. Love the website though! I’ve had much success with other recipes I’ve found here. Thanks for sharing.

      - Kathleen Tatarek-VanPeursem on December 12, 2016 Reply
  • I don’t have a stand mixer. Can I use a hand mixer?

    - Candi on December 11, 2016 Reply
    • Yes, that should work Candi. Hope you enjoy!

      - Jenn on December 12, 2016 Reply
  • Hello. I’m wondering what alternatives you’d suggest in replace of corn syrup? Would golden syrup be OK? Thanks

    - Nicole on December 4, 2016 Reply
    • Hi Nicole, I wouldn’t recommend golden syrup here. You could omit the corn syrup; the cookies just won’t be shiny — you’ll also need to add a bit more milk to get the icing the right consistency. Another alternative is using an icing like this one.

      - Jenn on December 5, 2016 Reply
  • Hi!

    I would like to include these in my holiday cookie tray, so I want to prepare these in advance. Do you think the cookies can be baked and frozen (without icing) up to a week before? Thanks!

    - Liza on December 4, 2016 Reply
    • Yes, I think they freeze nicely!

      - Jenn on December 5, 2016 Reply
  • 5 stars

    I love this recipie it comes together easy and the result is perfect!! Love ❤️ your recipies and always trust they are going to turn out!

    - Maria on December 1, 2016 Reply
  • Wondering if you have a suggestion for a gluten free version and a substitute for the Almond extract?

    Thank you for your help!

    - lisa on November 24, 2016 Reply
    • Hi Lisa, While I haven’t tried it, I think you could use a gluten-free flour here like this one. And you can just use more vanilla extract in place of the almond.

      - Jenn on November 25, 2016 Reply
  • Can you leave the dough in the fridge overnight? How long will it keep?

    - D on November 21, 2016 Reply
    • Yes, it’s great to refrigerate it overnight and would be good for up to 3 to 4 days in the fridge.

      - Jenn on November 22, 2016 Reply
  • 5 stars

    Made these to send hearts to my two far away children. Shipped perfectly, slightly soft. They absolutely loved the salty buttery flavor with the sweet frosting on top. Am making a second batch since it was such a home run! Thanks Jen!!

    - Irene on February 19, 2016 Reply
  • 5 stars

    I made these cookies with my 8-year-old daughter for her class Valentine’s Day party. We used heart-shaped cookie cutters and colored the icing pink. I wish I could post a photo here…they were so adorable and the kids (and teacher!) loved them.

    - Erika on February 15, 2016 Reply
  • 1 stars

    I made the dough exactly as the recipe says last night. It seemed really dry. Took it out today, let it sit for 30 minutes and when I went to knead it it turned into a nasty crumbly mess. Total loss. I live at 8500′ – could that have contributed to the dryness? I didn’t see any high altitude modifications.

    - Jen McLaughlin on February 10, 2016 Reply
    • Hmmm, not certain, but perhaps the dryness is due to your baking at a higher elevation. Check out these tips for high elevation baking. For this recipe, you could try adding an extra egg yolk to the batter for a little more liquid.

      - Jenn on February 10, 2016 Reply
    • 1 stars

      I had the same problem! Followed the directions but still ended up with a crumbly mess and the mixture never came together. Don’t want to just throw it out but no idea how to salvage it. I live in OH so no elevation problems here. I usually love the recipes from this site but this one didn’t work.

      - Angela on February 15, 2016 Reply
      • So sorry you had trouble with the dough being crumbly, Angela. It’s possible you inadvertently added too much flour — did you use the spoon and level method to measure? It really does make a big difference. Also, it’s important to knead the dough a bit first to warm it up, otherwise it’s hard to roll.

        - Jenn on February 15, 2016 Reply
  • 5 stars

    Great recipe! This is now going to be my go to sugar cookie recipe. As promised it did not spread during baking, which is always a big problem with other recipes I’ve tried (including one I recently PAID for from a site!). Wondering if I could add cocoa powder to make a chocolate version, and if so, how much would you recommend? Thanks!!!

    - Cheryl B on February 2, 2016 Reply
  • 5 stars

    I also have been looking for the perfect cut out cookie and this is it by far! These were heavenly with the icing! The secret to Jen’s recipes are the detailed instructions she includes–that’s what makes all her recipes work so well.

    - Liza on December 29, 2015 Reply
  • 5 stars

    Thanks for another great recipe!! I didn’t have almond extract, so I used 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract after reading your comments. Also, I always dust my counter with powdered sugar when rolling, (just a personal preference.) These will definitely replace the sugar cookies I usually make for Christmas. Everyone loved them, and my family had fun decorating them as well:)

    - Talicia on December 24, 2015 Reply
  • Hi Jen! I want to make these cookies and sprinkle some decorators sugar. Would they be too sweet with that and the icing? If yes, can I just add the sugar before baking? Sorry total cookie novice. Thanks!

    - Yvonne on December 23, 2015 Reply
    • Hi Yvonne, The cookies themselves aren’t all that sweet, so it’s fine to add the icing and some sugar — will be pretty 🙂

      - Jenn on December 23, 2015 Reply
  • 5 stars

    These cookies are wonderful. In fact, I am going to have to make another batch for decorating because we have been “tasting” them since they were out of the oven this morning.

    - Lu on December 23, 2015 Reply
  • So, I just made this dough and snuck a little taste before I put it in the fridge to chill….it seeemed really salty to me, but I did the 3/4 tsp salt just like the recipe called for.. Will it not be as salty for the finished/cooked product?
    Thanks!!

    - jamie on December 21, 2015 Reply
    • Hi Jamie, There’s a sweet glaze that goes on top of the cookies and that helps to balance out the flavors. Hope you enjoy!

      - Jenn on December 21, 2015 Reply
  • Hi Jenn! About to make these – should that butter be softened?

    - Amy on December 20, 2015 Reply
    • Yes! Thanks for catching that, Amy. It’s been corrected 🙂

      - Jenn on December 20, 2015 Reply
  • 5 stars

    Husband loved them!

    - Julie on December 19, 2015 Reply
  • Hi Jen,

    Can I use this icing recipe for decorating gingerbread house? I am trying to find an alternative for raw egg white royal icing. Do you have any suggestions?

    - Lu on December 19, 2015 Reply
    • Hi Lu, Yes, I think it would work well for a gingerbread house. Fun!

      - Jenn on December 19, 2015 Reply
  • 5 stars

    Thanks for this recipe, just the best biscuits I think I’ve ever made! The ingredients are simple, but make the dough so silky and soft, and super fast to cook. I’ve made a few of your recipes and they always come out really well, thank you from the UK!

    - Rebecca on December 15, 2015 Reply
  • My dough was crumbly during the entire rolling and cookie cutting process. I was able to make cookies with it, but it was much harder to work with than your description led me to believe. The flattened dough had a cracked appearance and did not look smooth like you dough in your photo. What could I have done wrong? Thanks!

    - Carina on December 14, 2015 Reply
    • Hi Carina, It sounds like your dough was either too dry or too cold. Did you use the spoon and level method to measure the flour? Did you work the dough with your hands before rolling to make sure it was supple enough to roll?

      - Jenn on December 15, 2015 Reply
      • Thanks for the quick reply! I did use the spoon and level method, but I still must have ended up with too much flour. I’m pretty confident I worked the dough well enough before hand, because the dough was no longer cold even though you said that it should have been. The good news is the cookies still tasted great so I’m going to give this another try. Thanks again!

        - Carina on December 15, 2015 Reply
        • Okay, lmk how they turn out 🙂

          - Jenn on December 16, 2015 Reply
  • 5 stars

    Very easy recipe, but does take some time , so plan for it. Very light crisp cookie. Thank you.

    - Susie on December 14, 2015 Reply
  • Can these be frozen after baked but before iced?

    - Katie Yeadon on December 14, 2015 Reply
    • Yes Katie, that shouldn’t be a problem. I hope you enjoy them!

      - Jenn on December 14, 2015 Reply
    • 5 stars

      These cookies are fabulous, but should be eaten fresh (they do last a few days). I placed some of them in the freezer, but when we ate the ones I had frozen, we all felt that they had acquired a bitter taste; my sense is that the almond extract had somehow reacted badly to the freezing process. What do you think, Jenn? However, fresh they are fabulous, and the icing recipe also perfect!

      - Ilaria Marchesi on February 5, 2016 Reply
      • Hi Ilaria, I’ve never had that experience with almond extract!

        - Jenn on February 7, 2016 Reply
  • 5 stars

    Jenn you never miss with a recipe! You have great taste and I haven’t made a recipe of yours that was unsavory! I have to say again thanks to my sister-in-law for finding you!

    - Vita on December 12, 2015 Reply
  • Can i substitute vanilla extract for the almond extract.

    - Eileen on December 11, 2015 Reply
    • Hi Eileen, Yes definitely — use 2 teaspoons vanilla.

      - Jenn on December 12, 2015 Reply
  • how if I don’t have corn syrup? nice recipe, my kids will love it

    - mala on December 11, 2015 Reply
    • That’s fine Mala but your cookies won’t be shiny — you’ll also need to add a bit more milk to get the icing the right consistency.

      - Jenn on December 12, 2015 Reply
      • 5 stars

        hi Jen, I just had a chance to try this and they are a keeper. What a great recipe, without so many ingredients, u can still pull out these buttery and crisp cookies. Thanks for sharing.

        - mala on March 15, 2016 Reply
  • 5 stars

    Fantastic recipe!

    - Sonia Chevere on December 11, 2015 Reply
  • 5 stars

    Growing up in Vermont near KAF, this has been our family’s cut out cookie recipe forever. We were not allowed to ice our cookies, but there’s a lot you can do with sprinkles, sugars, etc. It’s heaven with eggnog, hot tea, hot chocolate, cold milk…. really anything, all year round.
    Deborah

    - Deborah on December 11, 2015 Reply
  • These are beautiful and sound delicious. I’d like to try them without the icing too. Do you think the cookie is sweet enough on its own? Not as pretty but those would be for me!

    - Renee B on December 10, 2015 Reply
    • Yes Renee, I think they are sweet enough to enjoy them without icing. Enjoy!

      - Jenn on December 11, 2015 Reply
  • 5 stars

    Beautiful cookies! Shortbread and butter cookies are my favorites. These would be great with a hot cup of tea.

    - Stephanie on December 10, 2015 Reply
  • I can’t wait to try these this weekend with my 6 yr old girls. We are bringing cookies to the teachers next Thursday and what a great alternative to the ones everyone else will be bringing.

    Is it possible to add flavoring or color gel to the icing or mix? I thought lemon might be good but I don’t want to mess anything up. Thanks!!

    - Jenna on December 10, 2015 Reply
    • Yes Jenna, You could add some color gel or flavoring to the icing mixture. I hope your girls enjoy making them!

      - Jenn on December 10, 2015 Reply
  • Can’t wait to try these! How much salt do we use?

    - Kris on December 10, 2015 Reply
    • The recipe calls for 3/4 tsp. salt.

      - Jenn on December 10, 2015 Reply
  • 5 stars

    I agree with you–this recipe is the best! A few years ago, I went on an exhaustive hunt for the best cut out cookie recipe. After many, many so-so recipes, I discovered this on the back of the tag for a cookie cutter that I’d bought from KAF. I made it, swooned, and have never looked back! The best.

    - K. on December 10, 2015 Reply
  • OMG! It’s like you are reading my mind. My family have been watching the British Baking Show and I thought the way they make biscuits is very interesting. I have spent days looking all over for a good cut out cookie recipe. We will try your recipe this weekend!

    - Lu on December 9, 2015 Reply

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