Rollout sugar cookie tips: simple hints for guaranteed success

If there’s one time of year you feel absolutely obliged to make decorated cutout cookies, it’s now. It’s time to break out the rolling pin and cookie cutters, brush up on rollout sugar cookie tips and recipes, and hunker down for some old-fashioned fun — or irritation, take your pick.

I confess to being a Grinch about cookie decorating. Too much margin for error. Too little return on investment — I mean, face it, decorated cutout cookies are seldom the tastiest cookie on the gift plate. Give me a soft, fudgy Coal Cookie or sweet/spicy Gingersnap any day; I’ll leave Rudolph, complete with his red-iced nose, for someone else to nibble on.

Still, each year I find myself facing some holiday occasion that absolutely requires “pretty” cookies. So I dutifully click to my favorite Holiday Butter Cookies recipe, get out the gear, and put on a happy face.

And once I actually make the cookies, I inevitably remember — hey, they’re not THAT tough. Especially when you’ve got a bunch of handy tips and shortcuts up your sleeve. (Speaking of: click to our Holiday Table for all kinds of handy holiday tips.)

These simple rollout sugar cookie tips will help you produce your best holiday cookies ever. Click To Tweet

Rollout Sugar Cookie Tips via @kingarthurflour

First, know your dough

Dough made without leavening will hold its shape better than dough using baking powder or baking soda. To a lesser extent, this is also true for dough made with shortening instead of butter. For intricate cutouts, choose an unleavened, shortening-based dough.

Rollout Sugar Cookie Tips via @kingarthurflour

Shape dough into a rectangle before chilling

Most recipes will tell you to shape the dough into a disk, wrap, and place in the fridge to chill. Unless you’re planning to cut out simple rounds, rolling dough into a rectangle rather than a circle often yields more usable “real estate.” Start with a rectangular slab rather than a round disk, and you’re halfway there.

Rollout Sugar Cookie Tips via @kingarthurflour

Decide on cookie thickness ahead of time

Plan ahead. Dough rolled 1/4″ thick will produce sturdy cookies, best for crumble-free transportation and kids’ decorating. Dough rolled 1/8″ thick will produce more fragile, delicate cookies — and a greater number of cookies from each batch of dough.

Rollout Sugar Cookie Tips via @kingarthurflour

Roll dough between sheets of parchment or waxed paper

Rather than roll dough on a floured surface, roll it between sheets of non-stick parchment or waxed paper. Adding extra flour to dough as a result of rolling can make cookies tough. And cutout cookies release easily from paper when you move them to the baking sheet, preserving their shape.

Rollout Sugar Cookie Tips via @kingarthurflour

Cut efficiently

The more cutouts you can get out of each piece of rolled dough, the fewer times you’ll need to re-roll the scraps and cut again.

Rollout Sugar Cookie Tips via @kingarthurflour

Create more usable real estate as you go

Make cookie cutting more efficient by mending jagged holes or uneven edges in your rolled dough whenever possible. A simple “push and press” after cutting a cookie can make it possible to cut another cookie where none existed before.

Rollout Sugar Cookie Tips via @kingarthurflour

Break out your small spatulas and spreaders

You’ll most likely be working with 2″ to 3″ cookies. A nylon spreader or other small spatula is invaluable for moving cookies from rolling surface to baking sheet.

Rollout Sugar Cookie Tips via @kingarthurflour

Rollout Sugar Cookie Tips via @kingarthurflour

Preserve the shape of thin cookies

It can be a challenge to move cookies cut from thin-rolled dough without distorting their shape. Cut thin cookies on a sheet of parchment, leaving more space between them than usual. Then peel off the dough scraps in between the cookies, leaving the cookies right on the parchment. Pick up the parchment with cookies and place it right onto the baking sheet, then pop into the oven.

Rollout Sugar Cookie Tips via @kingarthurflour

So you’ve baked your cookies — now what? (These are actually a bit over-baked, though I prefer to think of them as caramelized, for the sake of my ego.)

Rollout Sugar Cookie Tips via @kingarthurflour

Make icing

I highly recommend this Simple Cookie Glaze, which spreads/flows nicely to cover your cookies’ surface, then dries hard and shiny — a plus if you enjoy using a food-safe marker for decorating or writing messages.

Rollout Sugar Cookie Tips via @kingarthurflour

Ice and decorate your cookies

Use your favorite tools and techniques: a knife, spreader, icing bag … Here’s how I ice and decorate cookies:

• Dip in icing, scraping off any excess
• Let icing flow and settle just a bit, to make sure cookie is sufficiently covered
• Dip in decorating sugar
Place on parchment to set

Rollout Sugar Cookie Tips via @kingarthurflour

Rollout sugar cookie tips to the rescue!

Pretty simple, right?

For LOTS more inspiration and instruction, check out our complete guide to cookie decorating. And for some very special piping techniques, see our blog post, cookie decorating techniques: easy steps for standout cookies.

If you have favorite cookie and icing recipes that work for you, use them; no need to reinvent the wheel. But if you’re still looking, try our Holiday Butter Cookies recipe, which makes a light, crisp-yet-sturdy cookie, perfect for icing (and delicious to boot). Our Simple Cookie Glaze is the ideal accompaniment.

PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel grew up in New England, graduated from Brown University, and was a Maine journalist before joining King Arthur Flour in 1990. PJ bakes and writes from her home on Cape Cod, where she enjoys beach-walking, her husband, two dogs, and really good food!

comments

  1. John H

    Thanks for this. I learned cookie-making from my mother in the dark ages (1950’s – 60’s) before rolling and then baking on parchment was a common/feasible practice in home kitchens. She insisted that, when you were going to need to reform and reroll scraps, ‘flouring your surface and rolling pin’ with confectioners (10X) sugar rather than flour would keep the reworked dough more tender. I’ve been following that advise for decades, but I’m curious about a professional’s opinion of that and whether ‘science’ has any contribution to make on that.

    Reply
    1. Susan Reid

      Hi, John. Your mom was correct; sugar adds tenderness to cookies; it also aids spread, since it acts like a liquid while it’s melted during baking. Flour makes cookies drier and harder; the finely ground sugar and little bit of cornstarch in confectioners’ sugar is a better choice (although a little bit stickier to clean). Susan.

  2. Karlen Keto

    All the gingerbread house recipes call for baking soda and/or baking soda to get the perfect construction grade pieces. So, should I try for the perfect retaining shape by omitting these leavening agents?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Karlen, even our Construction Gingerbread recipe contains a small amount of baking soda because it helps fill out any imperfections and makes the pieces come to life. (Don’t worry, it the shapes still hold their form.) We recommend giving it a try if you haven’t already; on the other hand, it doesn’t hurt to try leaving out the leavening to see if you like the textural results better. Good luck! Kye@KAF

  3. Kathleen Sullivan

    Your post reminds me of a quest that I would love to see KAF take up. The back story is that I have been baking sugar cookies since I was 16 and knew nothing of these things, using a recipe that was handed out in my 7th grade Home Ec class. I rolled them out super thin – 1/8 inch would be fat for these cookies – because what did I know? They were a hit – delicate and flavored with lemon extract, not butter – so I kept making them. Of course they were difficult to work with. About thirty years ago, I found the only working surface that has been consistently successful: a very heavy canvas baking cloth, turned double thickness at each end, into which grommets are affixed, with four detachable plastic suction feet to hold it in place. It is called the “Stayput Pastry Cloth” from a company called Pantry PROducts out of Fort Collins, CO. The company does not exist any longer, and my pastry cloth is showing signs of wear after all these years. Thus we come to the quest. Could KAF possibly track down the product or the patent, with the goal of having it reproduced? I don’t think I’m the only baker who would appreciate its usefulness.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Kathleen, we’re intrigued by your high regards of the pastry cloth. We’ve shared your request to see this product or a similar one offered by us with our Merchandising Team to consider as a future product option. Thanks for thinking of us, and we hope you continue to bake your deliciously thin cookies! Kye@KAF

    2. AnneMarie

      I HAD one of those. When it finally gave up the ghost I simply replaced it with a piece of canvas duck cloth from the fabric store. I allow it to hang over the edge of the counter and just leaning against it holds it in place for any working/rolling of doughs. I just flour it up, rub it in and go. I rarely wash it. just give it a shake and fold it up for next time. (I shake out the excess flour on the back deck railing)

    3. Nancy A Saenz

      Kathleen,

      I used this type of pastry cloth before and a fabric rolling pin cover and it worked out great. I had shown my daughter how this helped and used a floured metal spatula
      to slide under the cookie to transfer it onto a baking sheet.

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Ginger, this recipe for Light Spice Holiday Cookies calls for both butter and shortening, but you can use all shortening if you like. It also calls for a small amount of baking powder, which makes the cookies puff slightly without spreading. You’re welcome to leave it out if you want to see what a cookie with no leavening is like–it’s almost more like a sweet cracker. Have fun experimenting! Kye@KAF

  4. Ginger

    I am also looking for a good cookie that a lactose free do u happen to have one
    Thank you sorry I didn’t think to include this in prior comment

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi again Ginger,
      We have a full selection of dairy-free cookie recipes for you to choose from. Just click here to begin browsing. Happy baking! Kye@KAF

  5. Karen Wolfinger

    The best friend I have found when making cut outs is my freezer. I freeze the dough after rolling and before cutting, and freeze again as the dough softens while cutting. trimmings of frozen dough are so much easier to remove, and cut cookies move so much more easily when they are frozen.

    Reply
  6. Charlotte

    1 – instead of wax paper or parchment, I’ve rolled cookie dough, biscuits, pie crust, etc, between 2 layers of plastic wrap for decades – just lift & reapply the plastic wrap every few rolls – for sticky dough, it works sooooo much better!!
    2 – I knit & found quickly about the same time (probably the same cream wafers recipe I make frequently) that the way to get the perfect depth all the way across is to lay a 12″ or longer knitting needle on each side of the dough & roll (if you can’t pop off the knitting needle end, it needs to lay off the rolling surface) Pick the knitting needle that matches the depth you want – eg
    US size 3 or 4 (decimal 1/8” = 0.125 = metric 3.175)
    US size 10 or 10 ½ (decimal ¼” = 0.25 = metric 6.35

    Perfect every time:)

    Reply
    1. Nancy A Saenz

      Charlotte,
      what a neat idea using knitting needles to gauge depth of dough. Thank you so much for sharing.

  7. Leah

    PJ,

    I’d agree that sugar cookies may not be the most delicious ones on the plate, but the “pretty factor” goes a long way, especially during the holidays. Of course, it can be difficult to get some folks to eat those (oh they’re too pretty to eat) cookies!! Love the tips; they are always good to be reminded of every now and then.

    Reply
    1. Nancy A Saenz

      Leah,
      you may have heard of this but sometimes people make pretty cookies to hang on the tree using firmer icing then decorator icing to draw with. I am not sure how dogs, cats or even young children are kept from eating those cookies off the tree:)

  8. Linda Thompson

    I love these cookies at Christmas. I make lime, lemon and tangerine sugar with the zest, let it dry and throw in the food processor. The zest looks like little jewels on the cookies and adds a citrus flavor. You could also use the sugar in coffee or tea.

    Reply
  9. Margy

    I learned to roll sugar cookies from my grandmother many years ago, but have tweaked my system over the years. We make what we always called “1-2-3-4” cookies: 1lb butter, 2c sugar, 3 eggs and 4 (approx)cups of flour, vanilla,. a little salt, and a bit of cinnamon (grandma never measured anything!), chilled overnight. I use a mixture of flour and confectioner’s sugar to roll them on my KAF rolling mat. They have to be rolled out thin enough to see the KAF logo through the dough. Sprinkle with colored sugar, then into the oven for about 5-6 minutes. We just cut out circles, because they fit perfectly into a Pringles can, and that prevents a lot of breakage since these cookies are fragile. You can usually get 2 rollings out of a piece of dough. The third rolling out is just cut with a pizza wheel and baked…these are the snacking cookies to keep people from eating all of them before Christmas!

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Margy, sounds like you’ve got your cookie production system down pat. Love the sizing for Pringles cans; great idea! And thanks for sharing your 1-2-3-4 recipes, I’ll have to try that sometime. Happy holidays! PJH

  10. Nancy A Saenz

    There are many great ideas here I appreciate the sharing. Love the idea of rolling dough out onto parchment paper that is used on cookie sheets anyway. But I have rolled out cookie dough onto my counter top that is bacteria, heat and mostly scratch resistant. The marble rolling pin I have used I put in the freezer first to chill along with my stainless steel mixing bowl and have noticed this prevents sticking. Rolling the dough outward from center point then lifting also I found prevents dough sticking to the rolling pin. I made sour cream cut out cookies and candy cane cookies for the holidays but do not recommend using unrefined coconut oil for the shortening as my candy cane cookies spread more- maybe should have added more flour and less leavening to compensate? Living on a higher elevation I had to add an extra T of flour and 75% of the baking soda called for (i.e. say 3/4 tsp. for a recipe requesting 1 tsp. otherwise I take and eyeball whats requested so a little less if recipe calls for 3/4 tsp.) plus cook at a little higher temperature using less time. I did this for the roll out sour cream cookies which worked out great. Also funny how the idea of using cooking spray inside cookie cutters from lady in the Pam cooking spray commercial really worked:) Though this is a late entry I just found this site, it will come in handy when I do my valentine roll out cookies.

    Reply
  11. Shelley

    I used your sugar cookie mix WOW! So good, easy, and rolled like silk. Next batch I used one that I had on hand, not yours. What a total mess. I will order more than 1 next time. Thanks so much…..

    Reply

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