Welcome to The Storied Recipe!
My podcast guest Seth Greenberg was raised in one of New York City's most iconic bakeries.
He’s sharing a classic recipe that their clients have enjoyed for decades: Easy No-chill, No-spread Decorated Sugar Cookies. As you make these cookies, I invite you to listen to his episode Lessons from an Iconic NYC Bakery.
For the best sugar cookie, how about a recipe that's been perfected over 50 years and sold to high end clients on Madison Avenue in NYC? This is the original, old-fashioned Sugar Cookie Recipe straight from Seth Greenberg, a second generation professional baker.
When making hundreds of these a day, efficiency and perfection are essential. That's why these easy sugar cookies require no chill time and will not spread during baking, making them perfect for decorating.
The best part about this vintage sugar cookie recipe? You can even decorate BEFORE you bake. Let's get started!
Table of Contents (Jump To Section)
What To Expect (Flavor & Texture)
- Because the recipe omits baking soda or baking powder, these cookies will not spread.
- Expect a buttery, crumbly sugar cookie. It will be slightly softer in the middle with crisp edges.
- Without leavening, the tops will also be smooth and flat instead of puffy. The edges will be neat. On occasion, you may get a few bubbles on top. I've explained how to eliminate those in the "Roll, Cut and Bake Like a Pro" section below.
Seth's Best Tips for Perfect Sugar Cookies
Weigh Your Ingredients
- One measuring cup can hold significantly more or less flour, depending on how much the flour has settled and how tightly you pack the measuring cup
- With too much flour, your dough will be crumbly and dry and your cookies will be tough.
- To avoid this, always weigh your flour. In fact, Seth refused to even give the recipe in cups! (However, I provided measurements for those who don't have a kitchen scale.)
Mix Until Sugar is Fully Dissolved
- Seth is absolutely insistent on this point. Whether you use a stand mixer or hand mixer to cream the butter and sugar, you must mix until the sugar is completely dissolved.
- This can take a long time, at least compared to the 30 seconds I like to spend. 😉 Seth suggests letting the mixer do it's thing on high speed for 6 minutes before checking. It may take as long as 12 minutes
- When you rub a bit of the creamed mixture between your fingers, you shouldn't be able to feel any granules of sugar.
Sift Your Flour (After Weighing)
- This sounds like an extra step, I know. However, since you've got 6-12 minutes to spare while the butter and sugar cream (at least, if you're using a stand mixer), sifting won't add additional time to the process and will result in a much softer texture.
- If you don't weigh your flour, sift first, then gently spoon the sifted flour into a measuring cup.
Go easy with the paddle attachment after adding the flour mixture.
- Once you've added the flour, you do not want to beat the dough either very long or very hard. To do so will develop the gluten in the flour, resulting in a tougher cookie.
- Instead, mix the flour mixture into the creamed butter/sugar mixture on low speed.
- Alternatively, you can even mix the flour in by hand with a wooden spoon.
- You will knead the sugar cookie dough very briefly to do the final incorporating of dry ingredients
Super Quick & Easy Ways to Decorate Before Baking
With these ideas, it's quicker to make beautiful sugar cookies from scratch than to drive to the store!
- Brush the cut-out cookies with butter, then sprinkle on sanding sugar
- For a more rustic, natural look, brush with butter and sprinkle on Muscovado sugar
- Add a few drops of food coloring to the cookie dough before rolling and baking
An elegant decoration
You will need to do this after baking, but it's super quick!
- Melt chocolate in a bowl deep enough to dip into. Dip half the cooled cookies into chocolate. Place on a cooling rack and let the excess drip off onto parchment paper
With more time (and motivation) to decorate
- Royal icing is the most refined and versatile way to decorate cookies. Piping is time consuming but OH, so fun!!! For an amazing royal icing recipe and expert tips, check out this post from the astonishingly skilled, talented, and generous Chels at Sugared Sentiments
- Buttercream frosting doesn't give you the same control as royal icing, but it still provides endless color and decorating options, especially when combined with all the fun sprinkles, jimmies, dragees. Use a spoon, knife, or spatula for a simple, creamy finish or piping bags and tips.
Beyond Basic Flavors
Add any of these before rolling and baking!
- Lemon zest
- Orange zest
- Almond extract (substitute for the vanilla, start with 1 teaspoon)
- Pumpkin Pie Spice (start with 1 teaspoon)
- Vanilla bean paste (for a more vanilla-y flavor and those elegant vanilla seed specks)
Roll, Cut, and Bake Like a Pro
Rolling Tips for Flat, Consistent Cookies and Easy Transfer
- Roll your dough on parchment paper (or a silicone mat). This serves a couple of purposes. First, you'll need less flour than when rolling on a hard surface. Second, and more importantly, if the dough starts to stick, you can always pick up the parchment paper and sort of flip the cookie into your hand. You never want to be peeling soft dough off a hard surface.
- Lay dowels (I just use two wooden rulers) of equal heights on either side of your dough. This way, as you roll, the rolling pin will eventually roll along the dowels. There will be no lumps in your dough and it will be perfectly flat
- Sprinkle a little flour on the parchment paper. Put a little more in your hand and rub it all over the rolling pin.
- Roll from the center -> out. Place your rolling pin in the center of the dough and push for one firm but gentle roll away from you. Place the rolling pin back in the center and pull for one firm but gentle roll towards yourself. At this point, the dough will be almost perfectly rolled. If you need to roll any remaining edges or lumps, start again from the center and roll toward that lump. I can always roll my dough in under 5 strokes.
Tips for Cutting Out Cookies
- The more you roll your dough, the tougher it will get. Therefore, you want to cut as many cookies from each batch of rolled dough as possible. Start cutting from the edges and strategize as you go.
- This IS a no chill recipe and I do not put it in the refrigerator before rolling! However, if it's very, very hot in your kitchen, or you've worked the dough so many times it feels a little oozy, or if you're taking a very long time, simply shape the dough into a disc about 1" high, wrap it in saran wrap, and pop it in the fridge for a few minutes
- Every cookie cutter has a sharp side and a dull side. Check and make sure you're using the sharp side.
- Sometimes you have to give the cutter a little wiggle to make sure all the edges cut cleanly away from the rest of the dough
- Can dip cookie cutters in a little flour if they're sticking to the dough
- If you like a softer cookie, roll these a little thicker (about ⅜ of an inch) and slightly reduce the time in the oven.
- For crispier cookies, roll a little thinner and slightly increase the bake time. (Of course, ovens vary, so I always suggest setting a time for a few minutes earlier than any recipe suggests the first time you make it. Check in and go from there. You can always cook longer next time!)
- The cookies are done with there is a very light golden edge.
- If you have any bubbles on the cookies, you have two options. Cover with parchment paper, then either smooth the top of the affected cookies with an offset spatula or gently place a baking try over the entire tray of cookies.
All About Butter
- You must use real butter for this recipe. Anything else will make the cookies spread. (Also, the flavor will be greatly diminished!)
- Seth strongly recommends a high quality butter. He recommends butter from a local dairy or Kerrigold from Costco. Frankly, I don't use a particularly high quality butter and these turn out fine. But it is true that a grocery story brand will have more moisture, which will make the cookies a little less soft and crumbly.
- The Great Unsalted vs Salted Debate. Personally, I think it's much ado about nothing and there's a little bit of foodie snobbery involved. 😉 If you want to better control the salt, use unsalted butter. Or use salted butter and omit the salt from the recipe. Or, use salted and add the salt - that's what I do!
- You will be mixing for 6-12 minutes time, so the butter doesn't need to be super soft before you begin. In fact, if it is too soft, the cookies will be more difficult to roll and will spread a little in the oven.
- At the same time, the butter should not be frozen brick solid. Even if it is, just cut the stick into cubes. As it mixes, it will warm up - it may just take a little longer.
Two Quick Notes on Flour & Sugar
- For European readers, all purpose flour = plain flour
- Seth suggests evaporated cane juice over plain white sugar. I'll admit to using the latter 😉
Making Ahead, Freezing, or Storing
- Can chill sugar cookie dough up to 3 days in the fridge. To store the entire quantity of dough in this recipe, separate it into 3 basically equal parts. Form into 3 flattened discs about 1" high. Wrap each very tightly in saran wrap.
- You can easily freeze this dough! Follow the instructions for chilling the dough, then put the tightly wrapped discs into a freezer bag.
- Once baked, these sugar cookies freeze beautifully for up to 6 weeks. However, the sanding sugar may not adhere as well once defrosted. So I suggest storing them undecorated.
- You can also store the cookies at room temperature. As always, use an airtight container (or freezer bags) and leave on the counter or in your pantry up to 3 days.
Why is my dough dry and crumbly?
Most likely one of 3 possibilities:
- You didn't cream butter and sugar long enough
- Too much flour (did you weigh it?)
- You may have left out an egg by mistake
If you've already mixed up the dough, the solution is just to gently knead it a little longer, chill it before rolling, and take your time as you go. Next time, you can address the core issue.
What's the difference between Shortbread and a Sugar Cookie?
In short (like what I did there?): Shortbread's star is shortening while the sugar cookie's star is sugar. Shortbread has a very specific ratio of 2x the shortening (usually butter) to sugar.
Shortbread is a traditional Scottish recipe. From Wikipedia: Shortbread is so named because of its crumbly texture (from an old meaning of the word "short", as opposed to "long", or stretchy).
Recipe Contributor: Seth Greenberg
Seth Greenberg came on the podcast to share stories about Seth’s father, who started a bakery in New York City soon after World War II. For 50 years, William and Seth provided the community with desserts for all their cherished occasions.
A delightful, nostalgic episode full of warm memories, life lessons, history, laughs, and baking tips.
Listen to Seth's Episode on The Storied Recipe Podcast:
Lessons from an Iconic NYC Bakery with Seth Greenberg