This sugar cookie recipe makes soft & chewy cut out cookies that keep their shape and are healthier than most. Plus a simple icing that’s just sweet enough! Use this great recipe, along with other favorites like Candy Cane Cookies and Peanut Butter Oatmeal Cookies for your favorite cookie decorating party or all year long!
Decorating sugar cookies at Christmas wasn’t a tradition in my family growing up.
My step-mom though, started this tradition with my own kids when they were barely old enough to walk.
My step-mom now lives with Jesus, so it’s up to me to carry on her tradition of decorating cookies at the holidays with the kids.
Why Make Healthier Sugar Cookies?
My stepmom’s sugar cookie recipe wasn’t the healthiest. So I set out to create a healthy sugar cookie that I won’t feel guilty for making or letting my kids (or myself!) eat all year long.
I’ve been experimenting with baking with natural sweeteners ever since we quit white sugar a few years ago. You can consistently substitute honey and/or maple syrup for sugar in most quick bread and muffin recipes, or in recipes that don’t require a rise, like in brownies. Some of my favorite naturally sweetened recipes are my peanut butter chocolate chip muffins, zucchini bread muffins, black bean brownies, and white bean blondies.
Cookies and cakes work differently though because of the needed wet to dry ratio. Your cookies won’t hold shape and your cakes won’t rise if the ratio is off. I’m not saying it’s impossible to achieve, but it makes for a finicky dough to work with. These cookies
My goal was to make a healthy sugar cookie using common sense. Substituting with healthier options and using less of the stuff that gives cookies a bad name in the first place.
Perfect Easy Sugar Cookie Requirements
I tested several different sugar cookie recipes in order to find the one that met important criteria:
- Easy. The recipe has to be easy. Complex recipes aren’t happening in this season. I’m all about easy recipes!
- Fast. I know some sugar cookie recipes call for overnight chilling. I promise that if I had to make the dough YESTERDAY, cookies aren’t happening.
- Short. Some sugar cookie recipes have a VERY long list of ingredients. The basic essentials of any cookie recipe are flour, sugar, eggs, butter, vanilla, and salt… if the ingredient list is any longer than that, then I’m looking for a different recipe.
- Easy to Work With. We’re rolling and decorating, remember? The dough needs to be relatively easy to work with, for both myself AND the kids.
- Delicious. Just because we’re making a healthy sugar cookie, doesn’t mean we have to sacrifice taste. What’s the point of going through all the trouble of making and decorating cookies, if no one wants to eat them because they taste bad?
Healthier Sugar Cookie Recipe Ingredients
After testing several batches of sugar cookie dough, I think I’ve created a healthy sugar cookie recipe that meets all of that criteria above, and turned out great. My kids have been begging for a cookie in their lunch box AND as an afternoon snack…
And I’m not ashamed to say that I had sugar cookies for lunch the day I took all these pictures!
Here are some of the ingredients you need for light and fluffy cookies:
- Flour. I tested this recipe using 100% all-purpose, 100% whole wheat and every combination in between. My favorite, and what I suggest using, is 100% all-purpose flour (I like this brand).
- Sugar. When I choose to use sugar in recipes, I like to use Turbinado sugar. According to this article, Turbinado sugar is less processed than traditional white sugar. And still tastes great!
- Butter. I couldn’t think of a way to make cookies without butter. Butter has its benefits too!
- Vanilla Extract. Classic sugar cookies need a touch of vanilla to give them their flavor. You can make a bottle of homemade vanilla extract or use one of these vanilla substitutes.
- Eggs. There are ways to substitute eggs in a lot of recipes, but this chewy cookie recipe needs regular eggs.
For the icing you need:
- Powdered Sugar. Did you know you can make your own powdered sugar? Use this tutorial!
- Vanilla Extract. Vanilla, of course, is used to give the icing the classic sugar cookie flavor!
- Whole Milk. I would say you can substitute other types of milk, but you won’t get the same consistency as whole milk. Keep that in mind if you don’t have whole milk on hand.
Tips for using less sugar in chewy sugar cookies
We’re all on different points in our real food journey. My family has drastically reduced the amount of sugar we consume. But you might not be at the same point. And that’s ok! Baby steps!
If you are making strides to reduce sugar, here are some guidelines:
- If you’re used to very sweet sugar cookies, I suggest making a batch with ½ cup of sugar. Ice and decorate as you normally do. These will be sweet for sure, and I promise you won’t notice the reduced sugar.
- If you’re used to baking with less sugar, I suggest keeping the 1/3 cup sugar. This alone will make a delicious sugar cookie that is just barely sweet. You can decorate if you want, but you will certainly notice the higher level of sweetness if you use a lot of icing or a super sweet icing.
- If you’re used to eating less sweet foods AND you want to decorate the cookie, I suggest reducing the sugar to ¼ cup. You’ll end up baking a cookie whose sweetness comes mainly from the icing, which you can control even more to adjust the level of sweetness.
How to Make Homemade Icing
Our own family tradition wouldn’t be complete without decorating the cookie, so I included a very simple icing that lets you ice without adding too much sweetness.
My icing recipe below is similar to royal icing, except that I didn’t use egg whites in any form. In royal icing, egg whites make the icing a pretty glossy shine. Since I’m not entering a decorating contest with my cookies (nor do I keep powdered egg whites in my pantry), I created a very simple icing recipe.
This particular icing recipe is thick enough to pipe, but you can easily create a smooth surface by using a knife. I prefer wetting my finger and smearing the icing on the cookie.
There’s enough icing to put a very thin layer of icing on one full batch of cookies with this icing recipe.
For us, it’s the perfect balance of sweet and healthy.
Supplies for making classic sugar cookies
Something else I’ve learned over the years is that kitchen tools make cooking EASY. And enjoyable. I don’t own a lot of tools, but what I do own, I often use and love. For this recipe, in particular, I used:
- KitchenAid Mixer (plus here’s a post on 30+ Creative Ways to Use a KitchenAid Mixer)
- Parchment Paper (buy what you need now, then watch for sales after the holidays and stock up for the year!)
- Plastic Wrap
- Silpat Mats (You can bake on these too, but they’re great for rolling out dough and keeping the counters clean.)
- Cookie Cutters (I have a few sets, but I used this set for these sugar cookies)
- Large Cookie Sheet (I used to have several smaller ones, but have invested in a few larger ones over the years instead.)
- Cooling Rack (I use these for cooling cookies of course, but also when flash-freezing foods and need to stack cookie sheets on top of each other!)
One more quick tip – if you want these cookies to resemble those thick sugar cookies you can get at the grocery store bakery, roll them out to 1/4” thick. These will make a deliciously chewy and AMAZING cookie.
If you want them a bit thinner, aim for 3/8” thick.
Happy cookie making!
More Easy Cookie Recipes:
- Healthier Peanut Butter Oatmeal Cookies
- Dark Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies
- Easy Candy Cane Cookies
- Pumpkin Cookies with Cream Cheese Frosting
- Healthy Chocolate Chip Cookies
- ⅓ cup granulated sugar (I used Turbinado)
- 8 Tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1 egg
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 1 ½ cups flour (I used all-purpose)
- ⅛ tsp salt
- ½ tsp + ⅛ tsp baking powder
- 1 cup powdered sugar
- ½ tsp vanilla
- pinch salt
- 3-4 tsp whole milk
- In a bowl of a stand mixer OR using a large bowl with a hand mixer, cream the sugar and butter until it is very light in color, about 5-10 minutes.
- Add the egg and vanilla and mix until well combined.
- Add 1 cup of the flour, the salt and baking powder and turn on low. Add the remaining flour and mix until the dough is no longer crumbly and starts to stick together, possibly cleaning the sides of the bowl.
- Wrap in a piece of plastic wrap and place in the fridge for 30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375F and line a large cookie sheet with a piece of parchment paper.
- When the dough is chilled, lightly flour a Silpat mat (or your working surface) and place your dough on top of the flours, sliding it around slightly in the flour so that the underside is lightly coated. Take the same plastic wrap that it was wrapped in, unroll it and place it on top.
- Using a rolling pin, roll out the dough to either ¼" thick for thicker, chewy, bakery-style cookies OR roll it out to ⅜” thick for classic sugar cookies.
- Use the cookie cutters to cut your desired shapes. Place the shapes on the cookie sheet, leaving 1” of space between each cookie.
- Knead the scraps together and repeat the previous two steps until all the dough has been cut.
- Bake the cookies for 7 minutes. Rotate the pan and bake for 1-2 minutes more, just until the edges are barely golden brown. They might seem underbaked, but they’re not!
- When they’re done, remove the cookies from the oven and let them cool on a cooling rack for 5 minutes. Carefully move the cookies from the pan to the cooling rack to cool completely before icing.
- Combine the powdered sugar, vanilla, salt and 3 tsp of whole milk in a small bowl.
- Use your arm muscles to whisk very well until the icing is smooth and makes thick ribbons when you hold the whisk up from the bowl.
- Add the last teaspoon of milk if the icing is too thick.
- Either pipe the icing onto the cookies, use a butter knife to spread the icing or use a wet finger to smooth the icing over the cookies.
- Let the cookies dry at room temperate for at least 2 hours before stacking.
- Store cookies in a container with a lid for up to one week.