Perfect Cream Cheese Sugar Cookies
I’ve been flying through sticks of butter testing new Christmas cookie recipes for you (a tough job, but someone needs to keep those cookie trays fresh!). Before I share them though, I wanted to kick off cookies’ biggest time of year with a treasured, classic recipe that I bake every year, Perfect Cream Cheese Sugar Cookies. Soft, tender, and surprisingly easy to make, these are THE ideal Christmas cutout cookie.
These melt in your mouth cream cheese sugar cookies have been my go-to roll out cookie dough since well before I was tall enough to preheat the oven. I first shared the recipe a few years ago, and they’ve become many of your favorite sugar cookie recipes too.
These chewy cream cheese sugar cookies are sturdy enough to pick up with your fingers or mail in a care package, but they remain magically soft up to a week after baking.
Not that they’ve ever lasted a full week around here, BUT in the event that you happen to have some hidden and are rationing them out, know you’ll be able to enjoy them over the course of a week or more (longer if you freeze).
Unlike many other roll out cookie dough recipes I’ve tried, this cream cheese cookie dough is easy and forgiving, so much so that little ones can easily help to make and decorate them. My three-year-old niece and I baked a batch of these sugar cookies together last year, and I can’t wait to be back home to make them with her again in a few weeks.
While I cannot 100% recall the origin of this recipe—I suspect it is loosely based on either a Pillsbury cream cheese sugar cookies recipe or a Kraft cream cheese sugar cookies recipe that someone in my family stuck haphazardly between the pages of one of our other cookbooks decades ago—it’s become a bit of a legend around here.
Even if you usually bypass the sugar cookies in favor of other options on the cookie tray, I am begging you to give these cream cheese sugar cookies a try. They are exceptional.
Making Perfect Cream Cheese Sugar Cookies
When you take a bite of these cookies, what you’ll taste is the most pleasing, buttery, bewitching, and un-boring sugar cookie you’ve ever had. While they don’t taste like cream cheese, it is the secret ingredient that makes this sugar cookie dough so easy to handle, and it adds a subtle tang to the cookies that balances the sweetness of the frosting.
The other two flavor-makers in this cream cheese sugar cookie recipe are lemon zest and almond extract. Both make the cookies multidimensional and exciting, even to those who (like me) usually opt for the chocolate options on the tray.
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 but—let’s address the reindeer in the room now—it contains some corn syrup.
I realize that corn syrup is a divisive ingredient, but I haven’t found an adequate substitute for it in this recipe yet.
Maple syrup is too runny. Honey creates a nice shine, but the frosting doesn’t set well and the honey throws off the flavor.
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?
Tips for The Best Cut-Out Sugar Cookies
- 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 and sip your hot chocolate, and in a few minutes, it will be good to go again.
- 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.
Tools to Make Cream Cheese Sugar Cookies
- Holiday cookie cutters. I love this set because it includes a gingerbread boy and a gingerbread girl.
- Cookie sheets
- Beater blade (a must for stand-mixer owners)
- Parchment paper, for rolling the dough
- Rolling pin
How to Store Cream Cheese Sugar Cookies
- An airtight container at room temperature is best. Once the cookies are baked, they will stay delightfully soft for up to 5 days and still taste great even after a week.
- Separate layers of frosted cookies with waxed paper or parchment paper.
How to Freeze Cream Cheese Sugar Cookies
- Unbaked, unshaped cookie dough can be frozen for up to 3 months. Let thaw overnight in the refrigerator, then roll, shape, and bake as directed.
- Baked cookies can be frozen for up to 1 month, frosted or unfrosted. Let the cookies cool to room temperature, arrange them in a single layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet, then place the baking sheet in the freezer until the cookies harden. Transfer the cookies to a ziptop bag and place the bag in your freezer. When ready to eat, remove as many or as few cookies from the bag as you like. Place in an airtight container and let thaw overnight in the refrigerator or at room temperature.
More Favorite Christmas Cookie Recipes
- Chocolate Ginger Molasses Cookies (my all-time favorite!)
- Mint Chocolate Chip Cookies (tastes like Christmas)
- Pumpkin Snickerdoodles (my sister + her gal pals’ favorite)
- Orange Cookies with Cranberry (Grandma’s recipe)
Soft Cream Cheese Sugar Cookies with Perfect Frosting
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
- Colored sugar
- Other 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 baked cream cheese sugar cookies in an airtight container at room temperature, separating the cookie layers with wax or parchment paper, for up to 4 days or freeze frosted or unfrosted for up to 2 months.
- Dough can be prepared through Step 3 and stored covered in the refrigerator for up to 1 day or frozen for up to 3 months. Let stand at room temperature until soft enough to scoop, then bake as directed (if frozen, thaw overnight in the refrigerator first).
- Shaped, unbaked cookies can be frozen for up to 3 months. To freeze: place the unbaked cookies on a parchment-lined baking sheet, freeze until hardened, then transfer to a ziptop bag. Bake directly from frozen, adding a minute or two to the baking time.
- If you want to make a monster batch of cookies, this recipe can be doubled.
Nutrition InformationAmount per serving (1 cookie (out of 3 dozen)) — Calories: 146, Fat: 6g, Saturated Fat: 3g, Cholesterol: 20mg, Sodium: 30mg, Carbohydrates: 22g, Sugar: 15g, Protein: 1g
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