Sugar Cut-Out Tips






For a long time, sugar cookies were my nemesis. I loved how they looked, but didn’t really love to make them, because I always had trouble getting the right consistency in my dough. The following tips may help you reach sugar cookie nirvana:

  • Softened/room temperature butter should be the texture of ice cream, not peanut butter. It should hold some of its shape, but not be too soft.
  • Flour incorporation takes a few minutes. The dough will go through a crumb-like stage and then change to a more cohesive dough that pulls away from the side of the mixer. When it pulls away, it’s done.
  • If your dough is too crumbly, even after a few minutes of mixing, go ahead and add another teaspoon of vanilla extract or water. Take care not to add too much water; your dough needs to be stiff enough to roll out, so if you end up adding more liquid (or your butter was really, really soft) add another tablespoon of flour to help stabilize the dough.
  • Place your dough in large  Ziploc bags or between sheets of waxed paper and roll it slightly before chilling.
  • Chill your dough for about 30 minutes; I’ve found that this gives enough time to make rolling easier, but isn’t so long that your dough is hard.
  • Remove your dough from the fridge and let it sit out for a few minutes before you roll it.
  • If you have trouble with breakage when transferring your cut cookies to the baking sheet, keep the cookie cutter in place once you’ve cut your shape, then slide an offset spatula beneath the cookie and move the whole thing, cutter and all, to the baking sheet and then remove the cutter.
  • Chill your cut-outs for 5-10 minutes before baking.
  • Different shapes = different baking times, so bake one shape at a time. For example, if you’re baking moons and stars, bake all of the moons on one sheet and all of the stars on another to ensure even baking.

Turkey Sugar Cut-Outs






Several Thanksgivings ago, in our tiny kitchen in DC, I made sugar cut-outs in the shape of turkeys, pumpkins, maple leaves, and acorns. Rolling out sugar cookie dough in a galley-style kitchen is next to impossible, but the little dining table we had in our living room worked very well. Decorating sugar cookies is a fun endeavor, and because I had colored sugar that year, I decided to embellish the turkeys so that both toms and hens were on the platter.

When the cookies arrived at Aunt Liz’s house, they were a big hit. My cousin-in-law, Robb, first called the turkeys “anatomically correct,” but we later agreed that “gender specific” was a more appropriate term. Either way, I now make these turkeys every year.


  • 1 recipe sugar cut-outs
  • 1 recipe Zella’s icing
  • Brown gel food coloring
  • Miniature chocolate chips, for turkey eyes
  • Colored sugar sprinkles, for tom feathers


Bake and cool sugar cut-outs.

Prepare icing; add enough brown food coloring to reach your desired turkey color.

Frost turkeys with a small offset spatula or butter knife, using a swirling motion to make feather patterns.

Press a miniature chocolate chip onto each turkey for the eye.

For the toms: starting on the outside of the feather end, use a teaspoon to sprinkle on a generous amount of colored sugar; repeat with two additional colors. Gently press the sugar into the icing with your finger, then lift the cookie and shake off any excess.

Allow icing to set before storing; store between sheets of parchment or waxed paper.

Sugar Cut-Outs






Several Thanksgivings ago, I delighted my family with an array of pumpkins, acorns, and what my cousins Barb and Robb called anatomically correct turkeys.  In truth, the turkeys weren’t quite anatomically correct, but rather decked out with sprinkles and colored sugar to make them look as festive as real toms do.

Since St. Patrick’s Day is this Saturday, and I’m baking up a storm for Mike’s Masonic lodge meeting tomorrow night, I decided to do some shamrock cut-outs.  You could easily sprinkle these with green sugar, but I iced them with the almond-vanilla frosting recipe that was passed down to me by my grandmother, Zella.  For the icing recipe, check out Zella’s Icing.


  • ½ cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla


Stir together flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl; set aside.

Cream together butter and sugar until fluffy.

Add egg and beat well.

Add vanilla and about half the flour mixture, beating until combined; beat in remaining flour.

Note: if your dough is too crumbly, you can add just a bit of water or another ¼ teaspoon of vanilla.

Divide dough in half and knead each just slightly until dough sticks together.  Form each half into a disc and wrap in plastic.

Refrigerate until just barely firm, about 20-30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Roll dough to 1/8 inch thickness and cut into desired shapes.

Bake for 8-10 minutes, until just golden.

Cool on a wire rack.