My recipe for frosted holiday cookies, they are soft, tender, and keep their shape if you want to decorate them! The dough is easy to work with so it's the perfect cookie project to do with kids. Make them ahead and keep them frozen to eat or decorate later.
I can't believe I hadn't shared these soft sugar cookies since this is the recipe I used to decorate growing up. That's quite a long time, several decades, lol.
At the time they were not the usual cut-out cookies, but my grandmother made them and we decorated them every year while she was, at the same time, busy with the most laborious plum pudding ever, another heritage recipe.
Why this recipe works
- Easy to make. This is the first reason because holiday baking is an effort, and we want tested recipes that work!
- Kids. They love decorating cookies, let me tell you. And this is a foolproof recipe.
- Make-ahead. You can freeze the dough round, the already cut-out but unbaked cookies, or the baked cookies.
- Frosting. You can, in theory, use almost any frosting or glaze you want. Here, I give you a simple dyed cream cheese frosting, but you can also use a powdered sugar icing like I do with the Pistachio Butter Cookies, another holiday recipe.
This is a recipe that uses everyday ingredients. But, as it usually happens with this type of simple recipe, the better the ingredients the better the cookies.
- Sour cream: use the full fat, regular kind for best results.
- Butter: use unsalted and the best brand you can afford.
- Flour: I like how they turn out both with all-purpose and cake flour.
- Flavorings: vanilla paste is my favorite and a few drops (literally) of pure almond extract.
This is a one-bowl recipe that comes together in a few minutes. Then there's some refrigeration time, which is necessary to be able to roll the dough and bake those tender and soft cookies we're after.
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Sometimes we want to frost a cookie, rustic style, and call it a day. I'm not into decorating much, but love to use cream cheese frosting in different colors for these cookies.
Then add drops of gel food dye and that's it, colored frosting!
This is one of my favorite projects to make with kids (image below) and that calls for simple colorful frostings and sprinkles.
They can, and do, spend hours smearing spoonfuls of frosting and topping it with everything lol! A great way to spend the holiday season, especially for places where it's very cold.
Frequently asked questions
Sour cream adds a lot of moisture to baked goods. In the case of these cookies, it makes them soft and chewy.
It acts together with an acidic ingredient (sour cream in the case of this recipe) and makes the cookies rise, and also makes them chewy.
Using parchment paper and cold dough always works for me. Sometimes I pop the pan with the cut-outs in the freezer for five minutes before baking. The very cold dough will bake around the edges before the butter completely melts and spreads too much.
Several ingredients can be added to achieve this: citrus zest, extracts (we use vanilla and almond), or ground spices.
My top tips
- Room temperature: make sure the ingredients are at room temperature as specified in the recipe. It does make a difference in how well they integrate.
- Mixing: after the flour is added the best way to mix is with a spatula. The more you mix the tougher the cookies will be. If making a very large batch you can use the paddle attachment in the stand mixer, but make sure you just mix everything until there are no flour spots. Don't over mix it!
- Refrigeration: it's important to have a chilled dough before rolling. I sometimes put it for 10 minutes in the freezer (after it has been in the fridge according to the recipe) before rolling it out. You don't want the dough to start softening too much while you cut out the shapes.
- Variations: add a different extract, citrus zest, or even a ground spice you love for a different cookie.
Other recipes you might like:
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For the cookies:
- ¾ cup (150g) granulated sugar
- ½ cup (115g) butter, at room temperature
- ½ cup (120g) sour cream, at room temperature
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract or paste
- Few drops of pure almond extract
- 1 egg, at room temperature
- 2 ½ cups (350g) all-purpose or cake flour
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
For the frosting:
- 8oz (225g) regular cream cheese, at room temperature
- ½ cup (110g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 3 ½ to 4 cups powdered sugar (you might need to add more to achieve the thick consistency needed)
- ½ teaspoon of vanilla extract (you might want to use clear vanilla so it doesn't make the white opaque, see Notes below)
- Different colors of food dyes (see Notes below)
For the cookies:
- In a large bowl, beat butter and sour cream.
- Add sugar and mix until well combined. I do everything by hand but you can use an electric mixer.
- Add vanilla, almond extract and egg. Mix very well.
- Add, sifting, flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda.
- Using a spatula, Integrate very well. I recommend not using a beater at this point to avoid over working the flour which results in tougher cookies.
- It must be a smooth and non-sticky dough.
- Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour or up to 1 day. At this point it can be frozen for a month, well wrapped.
- I recommend putting it in the freezer (in addition to the refrigerator) for 15 minutes before rolling it.
- Turn the oven to 350°F/180°C.
- Line baking sheets with parchment paper.
- Work with half the amount of dough at a time and keep the rest wrapped and refrigerated in the meantime.
- Lightly flour the counter and rolling pin and roll the dough about ¼ inch thick.
- Cut out cookies in the desired shapes and put on the prepared cookie sheets.
- Bake for 10-12 minutes, until dry, puffy, and barely colored.
- Let cool completely on a wire rack before decorating.
For the frosting:
- In a bowl beat cream cheese with butter until very creamy and no lumps remain.
- Gradually add sugar and vanilla until you have a thick, very creamy consistency, good enough to spread. You might need more sugar, up to a half-cup or so.
- Divide among bowls depending on the number of different colors you want to make.
- Add a drop of food coloring at a time, mix, and see if the color it's what you like. I like to leave one white and sometimes add white coloring to make it a brighter white.
- It keeps well in the refrigerator for a few weeks. Beat again before using to attain a creamy consistency.
Food coloring: I love to use gels, such as the Wilton Icing Colors, gel-based food color because they integrate easily and the colors are vibrant. Also, Bright White soft gel paste for achieving a shinier white color.
Vanilla: if you want to have white as one of the frosting colors, I suggest you use clear vanilla instead of the regular dark one. Keep in mind that it's artificially flavored. I like Wilton's Imitation Clear vanilla extract.
Room temperature: make sure the ingredients are at room temperature as specified in the recipe. It does make a difference in how well they integrate.
Mixing: after the flour is added the best way to mix is with a spatula. The more you mix the tougher the cookies will be. If making a very large batch you can use the paddle attachment in the stand mixer, but make sure you just mix everything until there are no flour spots. Don't over mix it!
Refrigeration: it's important to have chilled dough before rolling. I sometimes put it for 10 minutes in the freezer (after it has been in the fridge according to the recipe) before rolling it out. You don't want the dough to start softening too much while you cut out the shapes.
Variations: add a different extract, citrus zest, or even a ground spice you love for a different cookie.
- Prep Time: 90
- Cook Time: 10
- Category: Cookies
- Method: Baking
- Cuisine: American
Keywords: soft sugar cookies, sour cream cookies