Soft Sugar Cookies

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Are you looking for a festive treat? These soft sugar cookies with sweet buttercream frosting and colorful sprinkles are a hit during the holidays.

soft sugar cookies with frosting and sprinkles
Table of Contents
  1. Use two types of fat
  2. Soften the fat, but not too much!
  3. Cream the fat and sugar
  4. Ingredients to thicken the texture
  5. Use two chemical leavening agents
  6. Cornstarch makes cookies softer
  7. Flour selection
  8. Mix then chill the dough
  9. Rolling and shaping
  10. Baking tips
  11. Frost the cookies
  12. FAQ
  13. Soft Sugar Cookies Recipe

I made a few ingredient swaps to my classic sugar cookie recipe in order to achieve a soft, cakey texture. They are perfect to enjoy as-is, but for the holidays they make an excellent blank canvas to add buttercream frosting and decorative toppings.

This version is inspired by those Lofthouse cookies that are always prominently displayed at the market during the holidays. However, I have a few enhancements that make these taste so much better. Ingredient selection is key to nailing just the right light and fluffy consistency.

ingredients to make cookies

Use two types of fat

For a delicious cookie with minimal spread, use both butter and margarine. Butter has a subtly sweet flavor that is tastier than margarine alone. Plus, the milk solids lightly brown for more depth. It also contains moisture whereas margarine does not. There is between 13 to 18% water, which creates steam during baking that softens the texture.

Margarine is made from hydrogenated vegetable oil, typically palm oil with a high melting point. This type of solid fat helps with lift and gives a domed shape while limiting the spread. If you want to skip the margarine, you can go with all butter, but the results may not be as thick. Most vegetable shortening is no longer made with trans fats from the hydrogenation process, so make sure to read labels.

Recipe Resources

Soften the fat, but not too much!

For a cake-like texture, whip pockets of air into the fats to soften the structure. The fat crystals trap the air the best between 64 to 67ºF (17 to 19ºC), just below room temperature. Too warm or melted, the cookies will spread more and be chewier. I recommend leaving the fats on the counter for about an hour, but there are various ways to soften butter and margarine.

Cream the fat and sugar

I use powdered sugar because the granules are so tiny that they dissolve quickly on the tongue. However, you’ll have less lingering sweetness and no crisp edges compared to granulated sugar. This recipe is not overly sweet like most cookies. Don’t worry, the additional frosting slathered on top will balance the taste, so it doesn’t overwhelm the palate with sugar from both components.

Use the paddle attachment on a stand mixer or the beaters on a handheld mixer to aerate the cookie dough. Creaming the softened fats with powdered sugar will create a fluffy mixture with lots of tiny air pockets. You don’t want to overwhip, or it will warm up too much and slightly deflate. The process only takes about 2 minutes at moderate speed.

Ingredients to thicken the texture

Egg whites and yolks help thicken and leaven the cookies. Use them at room temperature to make it easier to combine with the creamed butter and sugar. Doing so also prevents the butter from clumping up from using cold ingredients.

Sour cream provides extra tenderness. It contains no less than 18% milkfat for richness. It also has lactic and citric acid, enhancing the sweetness and improving the vanilla and almond flavor. Most importantly, it provides acidity to activate the baking soda, which results in more bubbles being generated for a taller, domed cookie.

cookie dough in a stand mixer bowl

Use two chemical leavening agents

Lofthouse Cookies are very thick. They don’t have a short textured crumble, instead, they are more cake-like and soft throughout. To help mimic this texture, I use baking soda and baking powder. These ingredients give the dough two chances to form gas bubbles that create hollow pockets in the cookie during baking.

Don’t add too much, or it can overproduce bubbles and cause the cookies to spread.

Cornstarch makes cookies softer

Cornstarch is a very finely ground corn endosperm made of starch and protein. It also helps with thickening and reduces spread. Cornstarch interferes with gluten-bonding so that the cookies become more soft and tender instead of dense and crisp.

Powdered sugar also contains cornstarch as an anti-caking agent to wick up moisture and keep it dry. Therefore, I add only 1 tablespoon of cornstarch to the dough.

Flour selection

A critical ingredient to determining the cookie’s structure is the type of flour. I use cake flour similar to Lofthouse. It’s low in protein (6 to 8%), which means less gluten formation. It’s milled extremely fine and typically bleached for better absorption of moisture and fat, keeping the cookie tender over time. As the name eludes, you’ll get a cake-like experience.

I tested all-purpose flour at 10 to 13% protein but they did not rise as much due to a more robust gluten network which made it harder for the dough to lift and puff up. You can use all-purpose flour if it’s all you have, but that is better for crisp classic cut-out cookies, not a soft-baked style.

cookie dough with circle cut outs

Mix then chill the dough

Add the flour mixture to the creamed butter mixture, then combine at low speed. This process gently hydrates the flour without over mixing. The goal is to minimize gluten formation while still getting a rollable consistency.

You’ll notice that the dough is a little tackier than normal. This is good! More moisture creates more steam for lift. Chill the dough for at least an hour in the refrigerator to give the flour, sugars, and starches time to hydrate. Afterward, the surface will be dry, but it should still be soft enough to easily roll out and cut.

Rolling and shaping

Make sure to flour the board and both sides of the cookie dough with cake flour to prevent sticking. The dough will be pliable but it’s higher in moisture, so it will be softer to work with. Lofthouse cookies are about 3-inches wide and ½-inch tall. Roll out to a ¼-inch thickness, and they will almost double in height after baking.

I find this recipe spreads about ¼-inch, so I chose a cutter that is slightly smaller than the target diameter. A 2 ½ to 2 ¾-inch round cutter works great. You can use different cookie cutter shapes but avoid highly detailed cutters as the design won’t be as sharp on the edges.

cookies rising on a baking sheet

Baking tips

Bake the cookies on a parchment paper-lined sheet pan. It’s safe to place them about 1 to 2 inches apart. They don’t spread too much. The dough will be soft, so work quickly to transfer them to the pan when still cool. Bake at 375ºF (191ºC).

Bake only until the surface sets. It won’t turn golden brown and crisp. Only about 8 minutes are needed. Immediately transfer the cookies to a cooling rack to stop the cooking process. The longer you leave them on the hot tray, the harder the bottoms will become.

Frost the cookies

After thoroughly cooling the cookies, I use my go-to sugar cookie frosting recipe to spread on top. It’s just a simple combination of whipped butter, powdered sugar, vanilla for flavor, and milk. You can adjust the consistency to be thick or thin with liquid.

To color the frosting, I prefer concentrated gel colors to achieve a vibrant hue. It also uses less water than food coloring dyes like the ones for easter eggs, so it doesn’t dilute the consistency of the topping. Pink is a classic appearance, but the fun part is that you can easily switch it up like making them green for Christmas. Of course, don’t forget to top with sprinkles, sanding sugar, or jimmies.

lofthouse cookie with pink frosting

FAQ

Why are they called Lofthouse cookies?

This type of soft cookie was created by Lofthouse Bakery Products in 1994, which still sells various wholesale baked goods to supermarkets and merchandisers in the United States. They are known for their soft texture and festive decorations. This cookie style is now often referred to as “lofthouse” when making them from scratch.

How do you keep sugar cookies soft?

1. Add more moisture to the dough by using cake flour with lower protein, or using superfine or powdered sugar texture. 2. After baking, immediately take them off of the hot baking sheet. 3. Store in an airtight container to retain moisture, or add in a slice of bread with them. Seriously, the cookies will draw out the bread’s moisture.

What does adding cornstarch to cookies do?

Cornstarch is a thickening agent, which reduces the amount of spread. It also reduces gluten formation for a more soft and crumbly crumb.

cookie with a bite taken out of it

Sift the dry ingredients

The dry ingredients like cake flour, leavening agents, and cornstarch are very fine. To make sure everything gets evenly incorporated and clumps removed, sift them together. This technique also aerates the flour for a lighter dough that bakes up less dense.

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Soft Sugar Cookies

This soft sugar cookies recipe has a sweet buttercream frosting and colorful sprinkles, they are a huge hit during the holidays!
Pin Print Review
3.67 from 9 votes
Prep Time1 hr 30 mins
Cook Time16 mins
Total Time1 hr 46 mins
Servings 22 cookies
Course Dessert
Cuisine American

Ingredients

Cookies

  • 2 ¾ cups cake flour
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ cup unsalted butter, softened to 64 to 67ºF (18 to 19ºC)
  • ¼ cup margarine, softened to 65 to 64ºF (18 to 19ºC)
  • 1 ¼ cup powdered sugar
  • 1 large egg, room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon almond extract
  • ¼ cup sour cream, room temperature

Frosting

  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened to 64 to 67ºF (17 to 19ºC)
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 3 tablespoons milk, divided
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • pink gel color, optional for coloring

Instructions 

Sugar Cookies

  • In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, cornstarch, baking powder, and baking soda. Add the salt, whisk to combine. Set aside.
  • In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, add the softened butter and powdered sugar. Pulse until the sugar is just incorporated. Increase speed to medium-low (setting 4), mix until light and fluffy, 2 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula.
  • Add the room temperature egg, vanilla extract, and almond extract. Mix on medium-high speed (setting 6) until combined, 20 to 30 seconds. Add sour cream and mix on until combined, 10 seconds. Scrape down the paddle, side, and bottom of the bowl.
  • Add the flour mixture to the mixer. Pulse on and off 8 times. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Mix on low speed (setting 2) until the dough just comes together, 10 to 15 seconds. Do not overmix. Use a spatula to give a final mix. The dough will have a slightly tacky consistency. It will get drier once chilled.
  • Refrigerate in the bowl uncovered, for at least 1 hour or freeze for 45 minutes. After that time if not baking right away, place the dough in a resealable plastic bag for up to 5 days, or frozen for up to 1 month. Defrost before using.
  • Line two baking sheets with parchment paper, then set aside. Set the oven rack to the middle position. Heat to 375ºF (191ºC).
  • Generously dust the work surface, top and bottom of the dough, and rolling pin with cake flour. Use more as needed as the dough is slightly sticky and soft. Roll to slightly thicker than 1/4-inch.
  • Working quickly, use a 2 ½ to 2 ¾-inch round cookie cutter to create circles. Dip the cutter into a bowl of flour to prevent sticking. Transfer the pieces to the parchment paper-lined sheet pans, about 1 to 2-inches apart. Any extra dough scraps can be rerolled out 1 more time. If needed, chill before rolling.
  • Working one tray at a time, bake until the surface is dry and pale in color, and bottoms are very lightly golden brown, about 8 to 9 minutes.
  • Immediately transfer to the wire rack after removing from the oven. Completely cool the cookies before decorating, about 30 minutes. Bake the remaining cookies.

Frosting (1 ½ cups)

  • In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix the softened butter on medium-high speed (setting 8) until smooth, about 30 seconds. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
  • Add the powdered sugar, 2 tablespoons of milk, and vanilla extract. Mix on the lowest speed (stir setting) until combined, 15 seconds. Mix on medium-high speed (setting 8) until fluffy, 2 minutes. Scrape down the bowl halfway through mixing.
  • Add 1 tablespoon of milk, mix on medium-high speed (setting 8) until smooth and fluffy, 15 to 30 seconds.
    For a thinner frosting: add an additional 1 teaspoon of milk, mix on medium-high speed for 15 seconds. Add more milk until the desired consistency is reached.
    For a thicker frosting: add in 1 tablespoon of powdered sugar, mix on medium-high speed (setting 8) until smooth, about 15 seconds. Add more powdered sugar until the desired consistency is reached.
  • Use the frosting as is, or add gel coloring or food coloring and mix on slow speed (setting 2) until combined. I use 8 to 10 drops of pink gel coloring. Use immediately or cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate if not used right away.

Notes

  • Properly weigh the flour: Use a digital scale for the most accurate results. Alternatively, dip the measuring cup into the flour, then sweep off the excess flour. This makes for a denser measurement, but don’t pack the flour in the cup.
  • Using Only Butter: You can use all butter, but note that the cookies will not be as tall.
  • Make-ahead: The dough can be mixed and stored in the refrigerator for up to 5 days, or 1 month frozen. Unbaked cut-out cookies can be covered and refrigerated for up to 5 days, or frozen for 2 weeks.
  • Storing Cookies: Store undecorated cookies in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 to 7 days, or freeze for up to 3 months. For decorated cookies, allow drying for about 1 hour then store in an airtight container in a cool dry place for up to 3 days, refrigerated for 1 week, or frozen for 3 months.
  • Storing Frosting: Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Leave on the countertop until spreadable, just under room temperature, about 1 hour. Stir before using.

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Nutrition Facts
Soft Sugar Cookies
Amount Per Serving
Calories 219 Calories from Fat 72
% Daily Value*
Fat 8g12%
Saturated Fat 4g20%
Trans Fat 1g
Polyunsaturated Fat 1g
Monounsaturated Fat 3g
Cholesterol 15mg5%
Sodium 107mg4%
Potassium 35mg1%
Carbohydrates 35g12%
Fiber 1g4%
Sugar 23g26%
Protein 2g4%
Vitamin A 272IU5%
Vitamin C 1mg1%
Calcium 14mg1%
Iron 1mg6%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.

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Jessica Gavin

I'm a culinary school graduate, cookbook author, and a mom who loves croissants! My passion is creating recipes and sharing the science behind cooking to help you gain confidence in the kitchen.

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2 Comments Leave a comment or review

  1. Baeli says

    These are so good! If you follow just what she says and read the little tips she gives they will turn out perfect! I’ve eaten 3 already! 😆

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