The BEST Sugar Cookies | with Royal Icing

These classic sugar cookies with royal icing are perfect for decorating any time of year! Complete with foolproof tips, this recipe truly is the BEST!

The Perfect Sugar Cookie

Regardless of the season, baking and decorating sugar cookies is an unforgettable pastime. Bringing families together for decades, the perfect sugar cookie is a reason itself to celebrate! I have labored over this recipe, testing and re-testing to make sure that the fond memories I hope you create are enjoyed with delicious, scrumptious cookies, and decorated to the nines with my famous royal icing.

My family has been enjoying these recipes for years, and I am so thrilled to share them with all of you! Decorating cookies with royal icing is just so fun and creative, and perfect for big kids, little kids, and adults too! Now pick up your favorite holiday cookie cutters, and get your camera ready- it’s time for cookie making!

How to Make Sugar Cookies with Royal Icing

The best sugar cookies don’t actually have a ton of ingredients. In fact, while the ingredients matter a ton, it’s the process that really counts this time. These sugar cookies are easy to make with a few pro tips to help you out! I have thought of every last detail to help you re-create this recipe like a pro in your kitchen! I can’t wait to see your sugar cookies with royal icing decorations in such cute holiday cookie cutter shapes! Make sure you tag me on Instagram or comment below so I can see your works of art!

My recipe for royal icing is in the printable recipe below, but for more tips & tricks, and an awesome how-to video, click here for the full royal icing recipe!

What You’ll Need

Sugar Cookies

  • All-Purpose Flour: Measure the flour exactly. Do not pack the flour into the measuring cups. Instead, spoon the flour into the cup for more accurate measuring. When you pack it in you can get a ton of extra flour that will dry out the cookies.
  • Salted Butter: Use real butter, as this recipe will not work with margarine. Make sure the butter is softened to room temperature. The butter should sit out at room temp for 45 minutes to an hour before you’re ready to use it. Give it the fingertip test, by pressing down on the butter. If it leaves an indention, you are good to go. If the butter comes off onto your fingers, that means it’s too soft. Don’t soften your butter in the microwave as this can ruin the dough.
  • Egg: Let your egg come to room temperature before using it in the recipe. This will ensure that the ingredients combine easily in the dough.
  • Vanilla Extract
  • Granulated Sugar
  • Baking Powder

Royal Icing

  • Meringue Powder
  • Warm Water
  • Powdered Sugar
  • Vanilla Extract
  • Corn Syrup (Optional)

Note: Icing your cookies is totally optional, but if you want to see the super helpful how-to video for this icing recipe to decorate your sugar cookies and so many other treats, click here for my famous Royal Icing!

Easy Sugar Cookies Step-by-Step Guide

As always, more detailed instructions are in the printable recipe below, but here’s a quick overview of the steps to make these sugar cookies!

Make the Dough | Remember, it’s super important to make sure your butter and egg are at room temperature for this step! Also, be careful not to overmeasure any flour as this will dry out your cookies.

Roll out your dough | Knead the dough together, and use a little extra flour here if it’s too sticky. Cut the dough in half and place each one on top of a large sheet of parchment paper. Additionally, place a piece of plastic wrap over the top and begin to roll out using a rolling pin. This method will help prevent it from sticking. Remember, the more the dough is rolled, the more it will warm and become soft. Feel free to throw it in the fridge if it’s too soft.

Chill your dough | After you’ve rolled out your dough, chill it in the refrigerator for 20 minutes.

Cut out shapes | Remove from the fridge or freezer and cut desired shapes using a cookie cutter of choice.

Bake your dough | Place all of your beautiful shapes about 1 inch apart on a lined baking sheet and bake for 7-9 minutes! Let cool completely.

Decorate | Get your family together and decorate your sugar cookies with my Royal Icing recipe!

Tips for the Perfect Sugar Cookies

Making the Dough

  • Don’t overmix the dough. As soon as it begins to clump together into a dough, it is ready.
  • Don’t over knead the dough. This will make the cookies spread and not hold their shape. If you over-knead you will melt the butter and the dough will become too soft when baking.
  • Use parchment paper under the dough when rolling out. This will help with sticking. Additionally, add a piece of plastic wrap over the top of the dough to ensure no sticking to the rolling pin.
  • Re-roll the dough only once. As you roll it will begin to warm up and become too soft to work with.
  • Roll the dough evenly so you get the same size cookies throughout.
  • Chill the dough for 20 minutes in the fridge or 10 minutes in the freezer before cutting.

Shaping the Dough with Cookie Cutters

  • Dip the cookie cutters into flour so they won’t stick and make a mess if you choose not to chill the dough before cutting.

Baking the Cookies

  • Don’t Overbake. I always pull my cookies out of the oven at around 7 minutes. I watch the edges and take them out before they start turning golden-brown because I like my cookies to be a little softer and cake-like.
cut out sugar cookies on a sheet pan ready to bake

Step-by-Step Royal Icing with Meringue Powder

In just a few steps, you will have the most delicious Royal icing for sugar cookies, cakes, muffins, decorations, etc!

*Please note that these pictures below show a basic overview. For more detailed, printable instructions, scroll down to the recipe card below or click here for my royal icing how-to video!

royal icing dyed with gel food coloring

Royal Icing vs. Other Icing Recipes for Sugar Cookies

It’s all about the drips! Other icing recipes for sugar cookies are often made thinner and softer than royal icing and don’t set as hard, or take at least 24 hours to set, sometimes leaving you with drippy, messy frosting.

While royal icing does take a bit more patience, it holds up much better, and dries in just 1-2 hours! Ingredients like meringue powder help the royal icing harden to make your beautiful decorating stay put, which helps with the mess!

Because it hardens on the cookie, Royal icing is much easier to travel with too. So keep a small batch of sugar cookies for yourself, and put together a few tins for your neighbors and friends, without worrying about any mess or drips!

I have the most amazing royal icing recipe to decorate these cookies. It’s a keeper, and will totally come in handy for other baking recipes too!

Common Reader Questions

How long do sugar cookies last?

Sugar cookies will last up to two weeks if stored in an airtight container on the kitchen counter or pantry. You can also freeze in an airtight container for 6 months.

Can you freeze decorated cookies?

Yes, you can freeze sugar cookies decorated with royal icing. Simply place parchment paper between each layer of cookies in an airtight container or freezer-safe ziplock bag. Thaw on the counter on top of parchment paper until room temperature.

How long does cookie dough last in the fridge and freezer? How do you know if it’s bad?

Cookie dough will last up to 3-5 days in the fridge before cooking. You can wrap the dough in plastic wrap and freeze it for 5-6 months. Be sure to write the date on the wrap. You will know cookie dough has gone bad by observing the edges. If they are darker than the interior, it’s gone bad. It may also have a bad smell.

How to keep sharp edges with no spreading?

Make sure to incorporate the butter at room temperature and have accurate measurements for the other ingredients. Also, cooking the cookies at a higher temp such as 375F will allow them to set quicker. Also, no opening the oven and peeking. When you open the oven door, it will lose heat and affect the shape of the cookies.

How thick should the rolled dough be?

Most people say 1/4-3/8 of an inch. I like my cookies a little thicker so I usually go with 1/2 inch or 3/4. I find that they have a more “cake-like consistency” when thicker.

Can I change the flavor with different extracts?

Yes, you can use almond extract, lemon extract, or any of the flavors you would like. I would suggest less is more in this case as you don’t want the extract to overpower your batter!

The dough is sticky and/or crumbly. What can I do?

If the cookie dough becomes sticky or crumbly when mixing, there is an easy fix. Simply add in a little cornstarch. Start slowly by adding a teaspoon at a time and then combining. You only want to add this in if the dough is a little sticky, not a hot mess sticky.

snowflake sugar cookies baked and ready to be decorated with royal icing

Related Recipes

Royal Icing for Sugar Cookies (& More!)

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Sugar Cookies with Royal Icing


  • Author: Ashley McCrary
  • Prep Time: 15
  • Cook Time: 7-9
  • Total Time: 33 minute
  • Yield: 26 1/4 inch Cookies 1x

Description

These classic sugar cookies with royal icing are perfect for decorating any time of year! Complete with foolproof tips, this recipe truly is the BEST!


Ingredients

Scale

Sugar Cookies

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 1/2 sticks salted butter*, room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs*
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Royal Icing

  • 1/4 cup meringue powder*
  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon corn syrup* (Optional)

Instructions

Sugar Cookies

  1. Preheat oven to 375F. Sift together the flour and baking powder in a large bowl. Set aside. Place the room temperature butter and sugar in a large bowl and beat with standing or handheld mixing until light in color (Make sure not to overbeat because it will warm the butter and make it too soft.
  2. Add the eggs and vanilla extract and beat to combine. Turn the mixer to low speed and gradually add the flour mixture in, and beat until the mixture pulls away from the side of the bowl and turns into a dough.
  3. Knead the dough together, use a little extra flour here if it’s too sticky. Cut the dough in half and place each one on top of a large sheet of parchment paper. Additionally, place a piece of plastic wrap over the top and begin to roll out using a rolling pin. This method will help prevent it from sticking. Remember, the more the dough is rolled, the more it will warm and become soft. Feel free to add it back to the fridge if it’s too soft to help harden a bit. (If you don’t want to use this method, simply sprinkle the surface area you will be working on with flour and roll out the dough.
  4. Remove from the fridge or freezer and cut desired shapes using a cookie cutter of choice.
  5. Place each cookie at least 1-inch apart on a greased baking sheet, parchment, or silicone baking mat, and bake for 7 to 9 minutes ( I always remove at 7 minutes for a softer cookie) or until cookies are just beginning to turn brown around the edges.
  6. Let sit on baking sheet for 1 minute after removal from oven and then move to complete cooling on wire rack. Serve as is or ice as desired. Store in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

Royal Icing

  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer (using the whisk attachment) or large mixing bowl, beat together the meringue powder and warm water on medium-low speed until frothy, about 1 minute. 
  2. with the mixer on low speed, slowly add in confectioners’ sugar, corn syrup, and vanilla.
    Once fully incorporated, increase speed to medium speed and whip using the whisk until a glue-like consistency forms. Whip on medium-high speed for an additional 1 to 2 minutes to make stiff peaks for a thicker icing.
  3. At this point, this is the base icing and will be stiff. If the icing is too stiff, add more water, I recommend starting with 1 teaspoon at a time until desired consistency is reached. I also love using a spay bottle to thin the icing down.  If icing is too thin, add powdered sugar, just a little at a time, until desired consistency has been reached.
  4. Once desired consistencies are reached, add the white icing to a piping bag or place in bowls and color using gel food coloring. 

Consistency Types

  1. Stiff Consistency: This type of consistency is comparable to buttercream icing. It is used for leaves, detail designs, flowers and much more. This consistency will hold its shape. 
  2. Piping Consistency: This type of consistency is comparable to toothpaste. It is used outlining and lettering. This icing count is 25 seconds. 
  3. Flood Consistency: This type of consistency is comparable to honey or shampoo. It is used for for filling large areas. This icing count is 8-10 seconds.

Notes

  • I use two eggs but you can use one large egg for this recipe. I use two because it makes the cookies have a soft and cake-like texture. 
  • I use salted butter. However, if you are not a fan you can use unsalted butter and add 1/4 tsp salt to the ingredient list. 
  • This recipe is perfect as is. However, if you are not using Royal icing on top and want the cookies by themselves a touch sweeter, you can add an extra 1/4 cup sugar to the recipe. If you are using icing along with the cookies, you won’t want the cookies too sweet. For icing with cookies, keep recipe as 1 cup sugar. But if you want a sweeter cookie with no icing, change to 1 1/4 cup sugar.
  • The yield of this recipe will depend on the thickness of your dough and the size of cookie cutters. With 1/4 inch thick cookies, I can get 26 with the cookie cutters I use. 

Keywords: sugar cookies, sugar cookies with royal icing

Comments (3)

  • Just one egg, right? The instructions say, “eggs” and I got nervous!

    Reply
  • First time making homemade sugar cookies, it wouldn’t have been a success without this recipe! Thank you for sharing with us! Soft cookies and never burned

    Reply
    • Yay. So happy they were great. Thank you

      Reply

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