Perfect Cream Cheese Sugar Cookies
I am solidly convinced that holiday cookie exchanges were invented precisely because committing to one single cookie for the entire holiday season (let alone the entirety of a holiday afternoon) is impossible. Maybe the Grinch could manage it, but certainly not this self-professed Christmas-cookie lover. Yesterday, I shared my favorite Christmas cookie recipe, and today I’m following up with YOUR favorite. These Perfect Cream Cheese Sugar Cookies are the most popular cookie recipe on my site. If you are looking for the perfect cut-out cookie to bake this year, this is the one!
The beauty of the vast array of holiday cookie recipes is that everyone can find their ideal cookie companion. Fellow chocolate lovers, be sure to try the Chocolate Ginger Molasses Cookies I shared yesterday (my fave). Mint lovers, you’ll flip for these Andes Mint Cookies. Traditionalists, don’t miss these Candy Cane Snowball Cookies, my twist on Mexican wedding cookies. Old-fashioned cookie lovers, you MUST make my grandma’s Orange Cookies with Cranberries and Orange Frosting.
I think I’m going to need a bigger cookie tray.
Not matter your Christmas-cookie style, I’ve found that this perfect, easy-to-handle, and melt-in-your-mouth-soft cut-out sugar cookie recipe pleases every palate. As a member of the chocolate-cookie clan, I usually bypass cut-out sugar cookies in favor of other options, but these cream cheese sugar cookies are an exception.
The combination of the cream cheese, almond extract, and lemon zest makes these sugar cookies taste special, and a bit of almond extract in the frosting enhances their flavor too.
Cream cheese is the secret ingredient that makes this sugar cookie dough ultra easy to handle (even kids can make these cut-out cookies!), and it adds a subtle tang to the cookies that balances the sweetness of the frosting. If you are a fan of soft cookies, you’ll love this recipe too. They are pillowy and tender, even days after they are baked. Honestly, the hardest part about this cream cheese cookie recipe is choosing which shape to eat first!
The other half of these cream cheese cookies is the frosting. I consider it a crime against cut-out-cookie kind to take a perfectly soft sugar cookie and deck it with a frosting that hardens into a brittle sheet, which is why I love this particular frosting recipe so much. It’s glossy, sets up beautifully, and remains pleasantly soft beneath its shiny exterior.
In all flavor and texture categories, this frosting recipe is perfect…and—let’s address the reindeer in the room now—it contains some corn syrup. Corn syrup is a divisive ingredient, but unfortunately, I haven’t found an adequate substitute. Maple syrup is too runny, and although honey creates a similar shine, the frosting doesn’t set well, and the honey throws off the flavor too. Can we each agree to eat a frosted cream cheese sugar cookie, ignore the you-know-what, and say we do this once a year?
I have two key tips for guaranteed cut-out sugar cookie success:
1) Chill Out: Keeping roll-out cookie dough cold is critical for easy handling. If there is any portion of the dough you aren’t working with immediately, keep it in the refrigerator until you are ready to roll and cut. If at any point the dough becomes too sticky to handle, simply pop it back into the refrigerator, sip your hot chocolate (or hot buttered bourbon), and in a few minutes, it will be good to go again.
2) Lay Flat: Why is it that we roll cut-out cookie dough (and pie crust for that matter) into a big ball prior to chilling it then go to all the trouble to roll it flat again afterwards when it’s cold and inflexible? If you will be using the cookie dough within a few hours, instead of patting it into a ball to chill it, roll it out between two pieces of parchment paper and place it in the refrigerator in its rolled-out state. Then, once the dough has chilled, there’s no need to re-roll. Simply place it on your counter in its nicely flattened shape, remove the top sheet of parchment, and cut away.
I think I’ll start with the mitten. Or the snowflake. Or the sparkly star…
Tools I used to make this recipe:
- Wilton 18-Piece Holiday Cookie Cutters. I love that they include a gingerbread boy and a gingerbread girl.
- USA Pan Cookie Sheets
- Beater Blade (a must for stand-mixer owners)
- Parchment paper, for rolling the dough
- Simple rolling pin
Soft Cream Cheese Sugar Cookies with Perfect Frosting
Soft baked cream cheese sugar cookies. This is the best cut-out sugar cookie recipe you will ever try! Soft, easy to make, and fun to decorate.
Yield: 2-3 dozen sugar cookies, depending upon size
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 2 hours, 45 minutes (includes chill time)
For the Cream Cheese Sugar Cookies:
- 1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 large egg, at room temperature
- 2 ounces reduced-fat cream cheese, at room temperature (do not use fat free)
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
For the Frosting:
- 3 cups powdered sugar
- 3-4 tablespoons milk
- 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
- 3/4 teaspoon almond extract
- Food coloring, as desired
- Sprinkles, colored sugar, or other cookie decorations, as desired
- In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Scrape down the bowl, then add the egg and beat until fully incorporated, about 30 seconds. Add the cream cheese and beat for 1 minute, scrape down the bowl once more, then beat in the vanilla extract, almond extract, and lemon zest until incorporated, about 30 seconds.
- In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. With the mixer running on low speed, slowly add the dry ingredients to the butter-sugar mixture, mixing just until fully incorporated and a soft dough is formed.
- Divide the dough into quarters. If using the dough within 24 hours, roll each quarter to a 1/4-inch thickness in between two sheets of parchment paper (alternatively, you can store the dough in a ball or disk and roll out when ready to cut and bake). Be careful not to roll the dough any thinner or the cookies will not be as soft. Keeping the dough flat, transfer it to the refrigerator and chill for at least 1 hour or overnight. Repeat with the remaining dough (it is fine to stack the dough “flats” on top of each other to save space). If you will not be using the dough within 24 hours, divide the dough in half, pat each into a disk, then wrap each disk tightly in plastic and freeze in a ziptop bag for up to 1 month. Let thaw in the refrigerator overnight, then proceed with the recipe as directed.
- When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and line baking sheets with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Remove one of dough flats from the refrigerator. (If you stored the dough in a ball or disk, roll it to a 1/4-inch thickness now, between two layers of parchment paper.) Remove the top layer of parchment paper, then with cookie cutters, slice the cookies into desired shapes. Transfer to the prepared baking sheet. Repeat with remaining dough.
- Bake the cookies for 9-11 minutes, until barely lightly golden brown and the edges are dry. The cookies will look slightly underbaked. Let cool completely.
- To make the frosting: In a small bowl, stir together the powdered sugar and 3 tablespoons milk as best as you can (the frosting will be very solid at this point). Beat in the corn syrup and almond extract until the frosting is smooth and glossy. If the frosting seems too thick, add more milk, one teaspoon at a time, until you reach your desired consistency. If making colored frosting, add a few drops of food coloring until you reach your desired color intensity. Frost and decorate the cookies as desired. Let the frosting set for a few minutes, then enjoy!
- Store leftover cream cheese sugar cookies in an airtight container at room temperature, separating the cookie layers with wax or parchment paper.
- If you want to make a monster batch of cookies, this recipe can be doubled.
Cookie recipe adapted from The Kitchn// All images and text © /Well Plated.
Serving Size: 1 cookie (out of 3 dozen)
- Amount Per Serving:
- Calories: 146
- Total Fat: 6g
- Saturated Fat: 3g
- Cholesterol: 20mg
- Sodium: 30mg
- Carbohydrates: 22g
- Fiber: 0g
- Sugar: 15g
- Protein: 1g