My Recipe Box

Vanilla Cut-Out Cookies


Yields about 3 dozen 2-inch cut-out cookies

  • by from Fine Cooking
    Issue 120

These classic holiday cookies can be cut into any size and shape, and you can change the flavor of the dough with one of the variations below. Then decorate them with either Royal Icing (pictured) or Basic Glaze, and add whatever sprinkles or dragées you like. Have fun with them! This recipe is easily doubled.

New! Use the Holiday Cookie Recipe Maker to customize your Christmas cookies with your favorite flavors, icings, and decorative toppings.

  • 9 oz. (2 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour; more as needed
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. table salt
  • 6 oz. (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature
  • 1-1/2 tsp. pure vanilla paste or vanilla extract
For flavor variations, the vanilla amount may vary

Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl.

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a large mixing bowl with a hand-held electric mixer), beat the butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes. Scrape down the bowl and beater with a rubber spatula as needed.

Add the egg and vanilla and continue to mix until well blended, about 1 minute. Reduce the speed to low, add the flour mixture, and mix until well blended, about 1 minute more.

Divide the dough into thirds and form each piece into a 5-inch square. Wrap in plastic and chill until firm, about 30 minutes. Using a rolling pin, roll a dough square between 2 pieces of parchment to about 1/8 inch thick and 11 inches square. Slide the dough and parchment onto a cookie sheet and refrigerate; repeat with the remaining dough, stacking the squares sandwiched in parchment on top of each other on a single cookie sheet, and refrigerate until very firm, about 45 minutes.

Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and heat the oven to 350°F. Line 2 or more cookie sheets with parchment or nonstick baking liners.

Working with one square of dough at a time, remove the top piece of parchment and cut out shapes with a floured cookie cutter. Arrange them about 1 inch apart on the prepared sheets. Freeze until very firm, about 20 minutes.

Bake two sheets at a time, rotating and switching their positions halfway through, until the edges and bottoms of the cookies are golden (or darker brown for chocolate cookies), about 11 minutes. Meanwhile, press the dough scraps together, re-roll, chill, and cut more shapes; freeze. Repeat until all of the dough is used. Let the cookies cool on their sheets on wire racks for about 5 minutes and then transfer to the racks to cool completely.

Serve, decorate, or freeze the cookies.

Make Ahead Tips

You can refrigerate the rolled-out dough, wrapped well in plastic, for up to 3 days or freeze for up to 1 month. Thaw at room temperature for 10 to 15 minutes before cutting out shapes.

Baked, undecorated cookies can be frozen in an airtight container for up to 1 month; thaw in the refrigerator before decorating.

Decorated cookies can be kept at room temperature for up to 3 days.


Coffee Dough: Dissolve 1 Tbs. instant espresso or coffee granules in the vanilla paste or extract before adding with the egg.

Almond Dough: Reduce the vanilla paste or extract to 1 tsp. Add 1/2 tsp. pure almond extract and 1/3 cup ( 1-1/2  oz.) finely chopped toasted slivered almonds with the egg.

Chocolate Dough: Reduce the flour to 6-3/4  oz. ( 1-1/2  cups) and add 2 oz. (1/2  cup) unsweetened natural cocoa powder, sifted if lumpy, to the flour mixture. Increase the sugar to 1-1/4 cups.

Lemon Dough: Reduce the vanilla paste or extract to 1 tsp. Add  1-1/2  Tbs. finely grated lemon zest with the egg.

Mint Dough: Reduce the vanilla paste or extract to 1 tsp. Add 1/4 tsp. peppermint extract with the egg.

Orange Dough: Reduce the vanilla paste or extract to 1 tsp. Add 2 Tbs. finely grated orange zest with the egg.

Spice Dough: Add 1-3/4  tsp. ground cinnamon, 3/4 tsp. ground ginger, 1/8 tsp. ground nutmeg, and a pinch of finely ground black pepper to the flour mixture. Use vanilla as directed.

nutrition information (per serving):
Calories (kcal): 80, Fat (kcal): 4, Fat Calories (g): 35, Saturated Fat (g): 2.5, Protein (g): 1, Monounsaturated Fat (g): 1, Carbohydrates (mg): 11, Polyunsaturated Fat (mg): 0, Sodium (g): 40, Cholesterol (g): 15, Fiber (g): 0,

Photo: Scott Phillips

I have tried so many roll out cookies and these are by far the best tasting. The dough was frustrating the first time, but there are some tricks. Use flour with a 10-12% protein content. I don't freeze the dough at all. I refrigerate for two-three hours after mixing. Then roll between two sheets of plastic wraps; remove the top plastic wrap and replace with parchment then flip (too difficult to roll between parchment). Place dough, now on parchment in fridge to chill ten minutes before cutting. Since they are on parchment, just remove trim pieces and bake without trying to move the unbaked cut outs. So worth it as these are delicious in their own right.

I accidentally made this recipe instead of the Sugar Cookies by Melissa Murphy. This recipe is sticky and difficult. The Murphy recipe is so easy to work with and the taste is great.

Made these today with my daughter. I decided to refrigerate the dough in disks first. After 30 minutes rolled and cut into shapes and then put them on parchment lined pans. I then put them in the freezer for 20 minutes then baked them. They turned out great! We are decorating them as needed so will freeze some and decorate some tomorrow. Very nice tasting cookie.

Sadly this is recipe is not a keeper. I made the original cookies and the spicy variant. The dough comes out very sticky no matter how long it is refrigerated and they are not tasty enough compensate for the difficulty.

I am in the process of baking these now. Great flavour! I was expecting more of shortbread but these are like the best sugar cookie ever (not made with lard) buttery and rich tasting. I made snowflakes so a light tracing of icing won't overwhelm their flavour. This recipe is a keeper.

they were great! Try eating them 10-15 minutes after they come out of the oven ;)

I made these with orange zest; pressed an almond or walnut in the top of the cookie. These are fabulous; my DH calls them a 'sophisticated' cookie. Totally agree.

I found this dough not particularly difficult to deal with-- certainly much better than the last (and I mean last) time I made gingerbread men. Just make sure to have a cookie-sheet sized space cleared in your freezer-- the chilling does make all the difference. The cookies themselves come out buttery and rich, nicely crisp right out of the oven.

I like this recipe. I am always on the hunt for the best cut out recipe. This one comes pretty close. Good Vanilla or good Vanilla Paste is key as well as GOOD unsalted butter, (the very best you can afford.)These are your key ingredients. I do agree with other reviews, the dough can be a bit sticky. The dough really isn't chilling any longer than most cut out recipes call for, you are just using the time differently. I found rolling the dough between plastic wrap works much better than parchment paper and not rolling it as thin as suggested, makes it easier to work with. When ready to cut out, flip the dough onto your parchment paper, cut out your designs and gently remove the scraps from around your cut outs, slide the parchment paper with the cookies in place as they were cut. onto a cookie sheet and pop the sheet into the freezer for 10 mins or until ready to bake. This makes the cut outs much easier to handle and arrange on your prepared cooking sheet.

This was not a success at my kitchen. The dough was way too soft and impossible to roll and cut out. It was ridiculous to have to chill it between every step of rolling and cutting. I tried freezing it and that got me through the project, but this recipe is NOT a keeper.

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