How to Make Butter Cookies Perfect Every Time

Every editorial product is independently selected, though we may be compensated or receive an affiliate commission if you buy something through our links.

Learn the basics and perfect the art of making the best-ever butter cookies with this step-by-step guide.

Swirled, piped, twisted, sliced or pressed. No matter their shape, few cookies are as classic and nostalgic as traditional butter cookies. If you’re like us, then you probably have fond childhood memories of quietly sneaking one of these buttery, crisp cookies from their tin. Now that you’re all grown up, it’s time for you to master this delicious and easy recipe.

Keep reading to learn how to make butter cookies like a pro!

What Is a Butter Cookie?

Butter cookies are unleavened cookies made primarily of butter, sugar and flour. The most basic butter cookie recipe has no added flavoring, but the baker can easily add flavors to the dough. Vanilla, almond, orange and coconut extracts are some common flavors added. (Here are our favorite vanilla extracts.)

Beyond flavor versatility, the ratios of the three core ingredients used to make butter cookies yield a soft, malleable dough that can easily be piped into a wide range of shapes using either a pastry bag or a cookie press.

With essentially limitless flavor and shape combinations, butter cookies are a classic recipe enjoyed by people around the world. Their crisp, sturdy texture allows these cookies to be stored easily and travel well, making them the perfect choice for gifting to friends and family in holiday tins.

Butter Cookies vs. Sugar Cookies vs. Shortbread Cookies

Butter cookies, sugar cookies, shortbread cookies—aren’t they all the same? The short answer is no. The long answer requires a bit more explanation—you can read all about the differences between shortbread, butter cookies and sugar cookies. But to summarize, the baking temperatures, along with the ratios of butter, sugar and flour, are all slightly different in each of these recipes, which results in their own unique tastes and textures.

The Key Ingredients

Butter

It shouldn’t be a surprise to read that good butter is perhaps the most important ingredient in outstanding butter cookies. When baking this recipe, choose a high-quality butter for best results and flavor. Look for butter with a lower water content (we like Kerrygold), which will give your cookies a flakier and more tender crumb.

Additionally, you should opt for unsalted butter rather than salted butter. The amount of salt used in butter varies from brand to brand, so selecting unsalted butter lets you control the amount of salt in the recipe. For butter cookies, you don’t want to overdo the salt. Too much salt will take away from all the great butter flavor.

Flavorings and Extracts

If you choose to add any flavoring to your butter cookies, use a high-quality product. In our recipe, we’re using a premium pure vanilla extract. In some recipes, you can get away with using imitation vanilla extract. However, because butter cookies are so simple, their flavor will only be as good as the quality of the ingredients that you use.

How to Make Homemade Butter Cookies

Ingredients

Cookies

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg, room temperature
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Frosting

  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 4 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons 2% milk
  • Food coloring, optional

Tools You’ll Need

  • Choose a quality nonstick baking sheet like this one perfected in the Taste of Home Test Kitchen. The embossed design increases airflow and ensures even baking.
  • Butter cookies are often extruded using a cookie press. We especially love this cookie press by Wilton for its ergonomic handle and 12 different discs.
  • Before decorating, you’ll want to cool your butter cookies completely. Stack wire cooling racks if you’re short on counter space.

Directions

Step 1: Mix wet ingredients

In a large bowl, cream together the softened butter and sugar until light and fluffy; 2-3 minutes. Next, beat in the egg and vanilla extract until combined.

Test Kitchen tip: The temperature of your butter matters. Butter that is too cold will yield either a lumpy, less uniform dough or a dough that is tough and overworked. Likewise, using melted butter will also cause butter cookies to be tough and lose the melt-in-your-mouth texture you’re striving for.

Step 2: Mix dry ingredients

Mix dry ingredients how to make butter cookiesLauren Habermehl for Taste of Home

In another bowl, whisk flour, baking powder and salt. Then, gradually beat the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until fully incorporated.

Test Kitchen tip: If your kitchen runs warm, we recommend chilling your dough for 1 to 2 hours in the refrigerator after mixing, before shaping or extruding with a cookie press. This will prevent the cookies from spreading while baking.

Step 3: Shape

shaping dough into a long log how to make butter cookiesLauren Habermehl for Taste of Home

Using a cookie press fitted with a heart disc (or shape of your choice), extrude the dough onto an ungreased cookie sheet at least 1-inch apart.

heart-pressed cookies on baking sheet how to make butter cookiesLauren Habermehl for Taste of Home

Step 4: Bake

heart-pressed cookies on baking sheet how to make butter cookiesLauren Habermehl for Taste of Home

Bake in a preheated 375°F oven until the cookies are set, but not brown; about 6-8 minutes. Remove promptly and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely before decorating.

Step 5: Prepare icing

In a medium bowl, beat butter, confectioners’ sugar, vanilla and enough milk to reach a spreadable consistency. The icing should be smooth and free of lumps. Next, tint the icing with food coloring, if desired. You can divide the icing into a few smaller bowls if you want multiple colors. Here are the types of food coloring we recommend for icing.

Step 6: Decorate

Use a small knife or piping bag to decorate the cookies with icing. how to make butter cookiesLauren Habermehl for Taste of Home

Use a small knife or piping bag to decorate the cookies with icing. Keep reading for decoration ideas!

How to Decorate Butter Cookies

Decorate Butter Cookies how to make butter cookiesLauren Habermehl for Taste of Home

While butter cookies are delicious straight from the oven, they can also be decorated in so many different ways. Here are a few of our favorite decorating ideas.

Prior to Baking

  • Mix a few drops of gel food coloring into the prepared dough
  • Top with colorful sprinkles
  • Roll in turbinado sugar
  • Press a single maraschino cherry into the center of each unbaked cookie

After Baking

  • Spread or pipe with creamy frosting
  • Dip in milk, dark or white chocolate
  • Drizzle with caramel
  • Dust with powdered sugar or cocoa powder
  • Add sprinkles to the top of frosting or melted chocolate

Now that you know the basics, get inspired with this collection of our best butter cookie recipes.

1 / 14

Popular Videos

Lauren Habermehl
Lauren Habermehl is a recipe developer, food photographer and creator of the blog, Frydae. She is a prolific quoter of FRIENDS, lover of weekend DIY projects and procrastinating fitness enthusiast who enjoys exploring the Milwaukee-area with her husband, daughter and ugly mutt named Tyson Doodles.