There are hundreds, maybe thousands of recipes for sugar cookies on the Internet, believe me, I know. That said, I confidently offer up my Vanilla Orange Sugar Cookies as some of the best that you will ever try. I've baked thousands (yes, thousands) of these cookies over the years in countless shapes and sizes for who knows how many people? And do you know what? They have never let me down. Never. I guess you could say these sugar cookies are kind of like my baking BFF.
Why are these the best sugar cookies?
When I claim that a recipe is "the best" with confidence, that requires a bit of supporting evidence, don't you think? Here is why your sweet tooth will give these cookies top honors.
I wrote the book on them (literally)!
One of my three cookbooks is completely dedicated to the art of decorating cookies, featuring 100 designs and step-by-step photos. I lived and breathed sugar cookies for almost a year in order to develop and test and edit each shape, and these cookies were the common denominator in every single one.
Unique and memorable flavor
While most sugar cookie recipes have a standard buttery vanilla flavor, these cookies have orange zest added to them, giving them a flavor reminiscent of a Creamsicle, a favorite childhood treat. When paired with my lemony royal icing recipe, you get the perfect combination of sweet and tart with just a little hint of salt.
These sugar cookies hold their shape!
This easy recipe comes together in minutes, since there are only 7 ingredients. Noticeably missing from those ingredients is any baking powder or baking soda. This helps to create baked sugar cookies that are flatter on top (ideal for decorating) and that hold their shape as opposed to expanding.
Video tutorial: See my easy Vanilla Orange Sugar Cookies recipe in action!
Ingredients and special equipment
- All-purpose flour: To make these cookies gluten-free, simply substitute your favorite gluten-free flour blend for the all-purpose flour.
- Kosher salt: Substitute fine sea salt.
- Unsalted butter: Butter should be softened to room temperature before added to the mixer to ensure that it is evenly incorporated into the dough.
- Granulated sugar
- Eggs: Use large eggs at room temperature. To quickly bring cold eggs to room temperature, submerge them in warm water for a few minutes.
- Orange zest: Orange zest adds a great distinctive and fresh orange flavor to these cookies. Lemon zest may be substituted, or you can leave it out altogether. I highly recommend a grater/zester such as a Microplane for this ingredient. I use mine all the time for cooking and baking.
- Pure vanilla extract: Since vanilla is one of the key ingredients in this recipe, try to avoid using imitation vanilla. Pure vanilla extract yields a more authentic vanilla flavor.
- Rolling pin: Any standard rolling pin works well for rolling out cookie dough. My favorite version is a thin tapered pin, also known as a French rolling pin, as I've found that it's easiest to work with and store.
Step by step photos and instructions
- In a medium bowl, whisk together flour and salt.
- In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat sugar and butter on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in egg, egg yolk, orange zest and vanilla until well combined.
3. With the mixer on low speed, gradually add flour mixture to the bowl, mixing until combined.
4. Turn the dough out onto a work surface and divide into three equal pieces. Shape each piece into a flat disk. Wrap each disk tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour, until cold, or up to 3 days.
5. Preheat your oven to 350 °F, placing racks in upper and lower thirds. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
6. On a highly lightly work surface, roll out one disk of dough to a thickness of ¼ inch (.5 cm). Using a cookie cutter, cut out shapes and carefully transfer them to the 2 prepared cookie sheets, spacing shaped about 1 inch (2.5 cm) apart. Reroll scraps as necessary. Repeat the process with more dough until both cookie sheets are full.
7. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, switching positions of cookie sheets halfway through, until cookies are set and lightly browned. Let cookies cool on cookie sheets for 10 minutes, then carefully transfer cookies to wire racks to cool completely before decorating.
Sugar cookies: Frequently asked questions
If the cookie dough is too warm when you place it on the baking sheet, the cookies may spread too much before they have a chance to set. Make sure you chill the dough in the refrigerator for at least an hour. before rolling it out and cutting shapes. If you want to ensure that the dough is not too warm after cutting it into shapes, chill the baking sheet for 15 minutes before placing it in the oven.
Storing sugar cookies properly is essential to keep them fresh and maintain their flavor and texture. Before storing, make sure your sugar cookies have completely cooled. Warm cookies can become soggy due to the trapped moisture.
Use Airtight Containers: These containers help prevent exposure to air, which can cause the cookies to become stale.
Layer with Parchment or Wax Paper: Layering cookies between parchment or waked paper prevents them from sticking together.
Temperature: Cookies can be stored at room temperature for up to a week. But if you live in a humid climate, it's best to store them in the refrigerator.
Freezing: Sugar cookies can last for several months if stored in the freezer. When ready to eat, thaw them at room temperature. To freeze, wrap cookies individually or in small batches in plastic wrap, place them in an airtight container and freeze.
Yes! Sugar cookie dough can be kept in the freezer for up to 3 months, stored correctly. Divide the dough into two or three disks and wrap them tightly in plastic
Place the wrapped disks in the freezer. When you are ready to use the dough, simply remove the dough from the freezer and let it thaw in the refrigerator for a few hours or overnight. Once thawed, you can roll out the dough, cut it into shapes, and bake according to the recipe's instructions.
Great question! Check out my recipe post and guide for making an easy and reliable Royal Icing Recipe for Decorated Cookies. It's been my go-to for years, playing a big role in the thousands of cookies that I have decorated.
Ready to decorate? Here are some of my favorite decorated sugar cookie designs:
- 4th of July Cookies
- Hocus Pocus Party Cookies
- The BEST Football Cookies
- Spinning Pinwheel Cookies
- Beautiful Butterfly Cookies
Tried this recipe and loved it? Take a photo and tag me on Instagram or give it a review!
Vanilla Orange Sugar Cookies
- 1 stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or a handheld electric mixer
- 1 Rolling Pin
- 1 microplane or zester
- 4¾ cups all-purpose flour
- ¾ teaspoon kosher salt
- 1½ cup granulated sugar
- 2 cups unsalted butter, room temperature
- 2 large eggs
- Zest from one large orange
- 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
- In a medium bowl, whisk together flour and salt.
- In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat sugar and butter on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in eggs, orange zest and vanilla until well combined.
- With the mixer on low speed, gradually add flour mixture to the bowl, mixing until combined.
- Turn the dough out onto a work surface and divide into three equal pieces. Shape each piece into a flat disk. Wrap each disk tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour, until cold, or up to 3 days.
- Preheat your oven to 350 °F, placing racks in upper and lower thirds. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
- On a lightly floured work surface, roll out one disk of dough to a thickness of ¼ inch (.5 cm). Using a cookie cutter, cut out shapes and carefully transfer them to the 2 prepared cookie sheets, spacing shaped about 1 inch (2.5 cm) apart. Reroll scraps as necessary. Repeat the process with more dough until both cookie sheets are full.
- Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, switching positions of cookie sheets halfway through, until cookies are set and lightly browned. Let cookies cool on cookie sheets for 10 minutes, then carefully transfer cookies to wire racks to cool completely before decorating.
- If you don't have a stand mixer, you can use a handheld electric mixer for Step 2, but use a wooden spoon to mix the dough in Step 3, as the dough becomes thick and might damage the motor of your handheld mixer.
- When working with one disk of dough, keep the other disks in the refrigerator until ready to use. Chilled dough retains its shape better.
- If you have 4 cookie sheets, it's easier to bake these cookies using 4 sheets instead of 2. When the first batch of cookies is baking, you can roll and cut shapes for the second batch so that they are ready to bake as soon as the first batch is done.
- This recipe will make anywhere from 30 to 60 cookies, depending on the size and shape of your cutter. Larger (4-5") sizes will be closer to 30 cookies.