The ZXD Recipe Collection

Best Cut-Out Sugar Cookies

I’ve been hosting a holiday cookie-decorating party with my closest friends for over a decade and this is my go-to recipe for cut-out sugar cookies. The lemon zest is the star! ❡ Our tradition is to bake 12 dozen cut-out sugar cookies, set up an over-the top decorating station with icing snd sprinkles galore, order Indian food, pop bottles of wine, and decorate! The night is always capped with a viewing of “Love Actually” — which is the inspiration for the event’s name: The 10th Annual Love Actually Cookie Party.


  • 3 cups unsalted butter, softened at room temperature for 1 hour
  • 6 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 3 cups granulated sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 2 teaspoons lemon zest
  • 9 cups flour
  • 4½ teaspoons baking powder
  • 1½ teaspoons salt


  1. Set butter out on counter to bring it to room temperature. If you are short on time, do not melt it in the microwave. Cut it into small pieces on a cutting board and let it come to temperature for 15–20 minutes.
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a large bowl, using a hand mixer), cream the butter and cream cheese with the sugar. Beat for several minutes, or until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg, vanilla and almond extracts, and lemon zest.
  3. Mix the flour, baking powder, and salt in a separate bowl then gradually add to the butter and sugar mixture until fully incorporated and a soft dough is formed. This will require a large, deep bowl, as the recipe makes a substantial amount of dough.
  4. At this point the dough can, and should be, chilled or frozen. If making cookies in the near future, divide the dough into 2 balls and roll each out to ¼ to ⅛-inch thickness between large pieces of parchment paper. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour. Or freeze the dough balls, wrapped in plastic wrap and a freezer bag, for up to 1 month. To thaw, leave in the refrigerator overnight then proceed with the recipe.
  5. To bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 350°F and prepare baking sheets by lining them with parchment or a Silpat. Cut cookies out of the rolled dough and place on the prepared baking sheets. Leave all excess dough in the refrigerator between rollouts to keep dough cool, or pop dough in freezer if it becomes too malleable.
  6. Bake cookies for 8 to 12 minutes, depending on thickness. Let cool for 5 minutes on the cookie sheet, then remove to a wire rack. Test the first batch to get the perfect cook time — cookies should just start to get golden on the edges.
  7. Allow cookies to cool for at least 5 minutes before removing them from the cookie sheet. Fragile cutouts tend to break when still warm. Cool cookies completely before icing or decorating, and store in a tightly covered container when done. Royal icing makes for great decorating, but be warned that they will need plenty of drying time on racks.