Best Sugar Cookie Bake Off

Best Sugar Cookie Bake Off // The Pancake Princess

Looking for the best sugar cookie recipe around? Me too. My memories of cookie baking include tons of time: getting out the heavy KitchenAid mixer, waiting for the dough to chill, rolling out mounds of dough, then cutting out and painstakingly decorating each cookie. Friends, if we’re going to put in the effort for sugar cookies, we better make sure the payoff is amazing! And in this bake off, we found a bunch of different kinds: crisp and flaky, soft and chewy, pillowy and cakey, bronzed and crunchy–in other words, something for everyone!

Best Sugar Cookie Bake Off // The Pancake Princess

Methodology

All cookies were baked the day off, with the exception of cookies from The Kitchn since the icing required 24 hours to harden. Every dough was chilled overnight except for In Katrina’s Kitchen (which didn’t require chilling).  Each cookie was paired with the suggested frosting in each recipe (if none was specified, the cookie was served unfrosted. Approximately 28 friends tasted and ranked the cookies for the below scores.

Results

Each taster ranked each cookie on an overall scale from 1-10 (including cookie and frosting), then just the cookie, then just the frosting, and then answered the question “would you want to eat this again?”

sugarcookies

Top 3 Cookies: King Arthur Flour, America’s Test Kitchen, In Katrina’s Kitchen
Interestingly, for the top three cookie-only scores, the rankings were shaken up a little: ATK surged up to replace Serious Eats, likely due to the divisive inclusion of coconut oil in the Serious Eats cookie dough (see more below).

Top 3 Frostings: Serious Eats, In Katrina’s Kitchen, King Arthur Flour
These top frostings include two thicker, buttercream-style icings and one very thin glaze. I think it’s notable that people preferred the Serious Eats Perfect Royal Icing over In Katrina’s Kitchen easy shortening-based frosting–I was a little surprised that people could actually distinguish the flavor in the more complex Serious Eats icing. Read on below for more!

Overall Analysis

I will try to keep this short and sweet, but I just wanted to note that the more bake offs I do, the more I realize the scoring margin between the top cookies is very small. I think the top 3 recipes are all very strong; the “best” recipe simply depends on your preference.

Just a few tips I picked up:

  • Measuring your dough thickness is really important! I realized my concept of 1/4″ cookie is wayyyyy thinner than reality. 1/4″ thick cookie is relatively thick, yielding a soft, storebought-style cookie whereas 1/8″ thick dough will yield a pretty thin, crispy cookie. When recipes specify how thick to roll the dough, pay attention for optimal results.
  • Rolling out dough between parchment paper/silpats (instead of using a flour counter) is GREAT for minimizing mess! And it can work for any dough, as long as you use chilled dough while it’s cold and work quickly.
  • I loved this cookie decorating tutorial! Sweetapolita’s royal icing worked like a dream for this.

Best Sugar Cookie Bake Off // The Pancake Princess

First Place: King Arthur Flour: This was the only recipe to use powdered sugar and an egg yolk instead of granulated sugar and whole eggs. It also notably called for salted butter PLUS additional salt (plus Fiori di Sicilia flavoring, though I used a mixture of almond and vanilla extract instead). All of these unique features paid off in a thin, crisp cookie with lightly browned edges, a slightly crumbly, shortbread-like texture and a buttery depth of flavor highlighted by salt. These cookies were a huge hit even with people who professed to love soft, thick sugar cookies. They are quite thin, which perfectly matched the delicate drizzle of glaze recommended with the cookie. These were hands-down my favorite thin, crispy-style sugar cookie–I would definitely make these again.
Make these if: you love thin, crispy sugar cookies–and even if you think you love soft sugar cookies because the flavor is so good. They require 2 hours chilling time but are worth it.

Best Sugar Cookie Bake Off // The Pancake Princess

Second Place: Serious Eats: This cookie incorporates refined coconut oil into the dough for a pale cookie perfect for decorating that won’t dry out as quickly as a cookie made solely from butter. Even though Stella Parks notes that refined coconut oil doesn’t carry as much coconut flavor, some tasters immediately picked up on the coconut, which caused a divisive reaction–some loved it and some despised it. However, a lot of tasters loved the crackly, almost crunchy-soft texture of the frosting and the notes of almond. I personally found this combination very sweet and almost too rich. I probably wouldn’t make this sugar cookie again simply because I don’t keep refined coconut oil on hand and because encountering someone who hates coconut seems pretty likely based on my small sample size (FYI: the flavor only deepens as the cookie ages). Also, the frosting was one of the most labor-intensive and only my personal second or third favorite frosting.
Make this if: you want a very rich, sweet, moderately thick cookie and/or you’re feeding coconut lovers.

Best Sugar Cookie Bake Off // The Pancake Princess

Third place: In Katrina’s Kitchen: This recipe was the #1 result every single time I googled “best sugar cookie” and for good reason–these cookies are simple to throw together and require no chilling. They’re very reminiscent of the fluffy Lofthouse cookies that you can buy in grocery stores–which again divided tasters down the middle–to me, they were perfectly soft and melt-in-your-mouth delicious. To others, they were “too soft,” “floury” or “chalky.” These were hands-down my favorite soft-style cookie, and many others agreed. The shortening-based frosting is pretty sweet, but crisps up beautifully and veritably melts in your mouth–a perfect pairing with the soft cookie. This recipe is essentially the classic sugar cookie formula that is duplicated all over the internet (very similar recipes at Bake at 350, Alton Brown, Glorious Treats and more!).
Make this if: you love soft, thick sugar cookies and especially if you are short on time!

Best Sugar Cookie Bake Off // The Pancake Princess

Sally’s Baking Addiction: This thin, buttery cookie won many tasters over with a great texture that was crunchy on the edges and soft in the middle and subtle notes of almond and vanilla. However, the true flavor of the cookie was hard to detect through the overpowering sweetness of the frosting for most tasters. Overall, this was a very solid cookie, but I would probably pair it with the glaze from America’s Test Kitchen or King Arthur Flour next time.
Make this if: you love thin, buttery sugar cookies with very sweet frosting. I personally would make King Arthur Flour’s cookies first over these, but they are both good!

Best Sugar Cookie Bake Off // The Pancake Princess

The Kitchn: These cookies blew everyone away with their gorgeous lemony flavor. Soft and perfumed with lemon with a gorgeous glaze that crackles when you bite into it, these cookies were stunners. The only complaints: the cookies were too soft for some and the glaze was a pain in the butt to apply. The glaze also tends to sink into the cookie and will look less pretty after Day 2 (but no less delicious!). Lemon lovers should definitely try this cookie.
Make this if: you love lemon, softer but not cakey cookies and a light glaze.

Best Sugar Cookie Bake Off // The Pancake Princess

America’s Test Kitchen: Visually, these cookies were very similar to the King Arthur Flour cookies. This recipe uses a reverse creaming method and a small amount of cream cheese for perfectly flat cookies and an easily workable dough. The rolling out technique called for two large sheets of parchment paper (I used silpats) instead of using the typical flour on the counter method that I’m used to. Rolling out the cold dough sans flour took a little getting used to, but I’m now a convert (so much less mess!). Tasters praised the crunchy, crisp texture and buttery flavor, but some noted the glaze was a little too sweet. This was my favorite glaze aesthetically–whenever I’m making a glaze and have cream cheese on hand, I will make this again.
Make this if: you have cream cheese on hand, but I wouldn’t go out of your way–I think King Arthur Flour’s recipe is similar but superior.

Best Sugar Cookie Bake Off // The Pancake Princess

Sweetapolita: I had high hopes for this cookie since I’ve made several recipes successfully from Rosie’s gorgeous blog in the past. This recipe is almost identical to In Katrina’s Kitchen except that it omits baking powder (a key ingredient that can cause spread), includes a tiny amount of lemon extract, and requires chilling–a pretty time-consuming chilling process that calls for chilling the dough after rolling out and then freezing prior to baking. Like America’s Test Kitchen, the recipe also calls for rolling the cookies out between parchment, so the amount of flour in the cookies is perfectly controlled. Unfortunately, even though these cookies were beautiful and held their shape perfectly, they were rather hard and lacking in flavor (I did bake them for 14-16 minutes instead of 12-14 minutes to get the proper color which could have contributed to the tougher texture). I’m still bewildered how different these cookies turned out compared to In Katrina’s Kitchen’s recipe. The shiny royal icing tasted like “marshmallows” according to one taster but was dubbed too sweet and hard by others and probably contributed to the hard overall texture.
I would not make the cookies again, but the royal icing was very fun to play with. If you don’t have a royal icing recipe that you love already, this may be worth a try.

Best Sugar Cookie Bake Off // The Pancake Princess

All Recipes: This recipe stood out for its relatively high ratio of eggs compared to the typical recipe. However, it unfortunately turned out a slightly puffy cookie that didn’t hold its shape as perfectly as some that was a vaguely cakey, a little dry with a very plain flavor profile. “It reminds me of cornbread without the butteriness,” commented one taster. Overall, I think one taster summed it up best when she called it “unremarkable.” Compared to the other cookies, nothing about this cookie stood out.
I would not make this again.

Best Sugar Cookie Bake Off // The Pancake Princess

Maureen’s Sugar Cookies: This is the recipe I grew up making with my family, given to us by a dear neighbor. Upon Googling, I found that this recipe is actually pretty close to the classic Crisco sugar cookie recipe (except that Maureen’s uses an extra egg, 1 teaspoon of cream of tartar, no milk, 1 teaspoon of vanilla and 1 teaspoon baking soda instead of baking powder). Interestingly, we always chilled our dough for 3 hours, but the Crisco recipe doesn’t call for any chilling. We always rolled our cookies fairly thin–more like 1/8″ compared to the cakier 1/4″  that the Crisco recommends–for thin, crisp cookies with a faint savory flavor that most people couldn’t identify. People loved the light texture and good crunch but while some noted a good depth of flavor, many complained that it wasn’t sweet enough, almost biscuit-like. I still think this cookie is pretty darn tasty, but will probably rotate in some new recipes in the future.
Make this if: you like cookies that are thin, crispy, and not too sweet. 

Best Sugar Cookie Bake Off // The Pancake Princess

Farschman Cut Outs: I found this recipe while googling “sugar cookie bake offs”–this recipe won the grand prize in a Culinary Arts student baking competition among 35 other cookies. Topped with a standard buttercream, this was called a “perfect sugar cookie” by one judge. However, this cookie had a relatively low percentage of butter and was accordingly fairly cakey and fluffy with a puffiness that didn’t hold a cookie cutter shape that well. The buttercream didn’t add much flavor; overall, even though I love cakey things, I probably wouldn’t make this cookie again since it’s doesn’t fit what I look for in a sugar cookie. Some loved the softness, but others found it too cakey and scone-like, and a bit bland.
I wouldn’t make this again unless I knew someone who wanted a scone disguised as a cookie. Sorry!

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14 thoughts on “Best Sugar Cookie Bake Off

  1. Sara @ Cake Over Steak

    You are blowing me away with all these bake-offs! Girl, where are you finding the time?! I’m seriously stunned that you try these all in the same day. I also love how you have “28 friends” who help you eat these things. Reminds me so much of my crew of about 30 who willingly eat at 10 different pizza places with me in one day for my Feast of St. Pizza. Friends who do this kind of thing are the best. Can’t wait to see what your next bake-off is!

    Reply
  2. Erika

    I’m cracking up at my icing job for the Serious Eats cookies. In Katrina’s Kitchen were my favorite and they definitely reminded me of Lofthouse! That’s probably why I liked them!

    Reply
  3. cynthia

    It would not be an exaggeration to say that I live for your bake-offs. Love love love this latest installment and am so excited to try the soft sugar cookie (LOFTHOUSE! yes give me all that delicious chalkiness) and the KAF one. I don’t know how you do them all, but THANK YOU for these!!! They’re pretty much a public service.

    Reply
    1. erika Post author

      Awwww Cynthia!! I live for your kind comments 😉 Haha LOVE IT–if I’ve learned one thing from this bake off it’s basically that I need to make 2 cookies each season now: the Lofthouse ones and the crispy KAF ones. So glad you agree!! <33333

      Reply
  4. Teri Giese

    You are without a doubt my FAVORITE person on earth!!I have been baking for well over 35 years.My husband of 25 years is VERY picky on 2 things:fudge,(HAS to be gritty,thus I have to do EVERYTHING wrong😩);and sugar cookies.I have followed your reviews and EVERY time,you are spot on.I have all the recipes and follow all the blogs you listed.Now,I KNOW which darn cookie to make!!Many Thanks!!!

    Reply
    1. erika Post author

      Teri!!! Thank you for your SUPER kind comment! This made my day!! Hope you were able to nail your/your husband’s favorites sugar cookies this season–happy holidays!

      Reply

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