A classic sugar cookie recipe taken up a notch with lemon, these EASY Lemon Sugar Cookies are great for summer! Full of fresh flavor and perfectly sweet!
Lemon Sugar Cookie Recipe
Sugar cookies are probably the most iconic cookie only behind chocolate chip. And just like chocolate chip, they have many different variations.
Lemon sugar cookies are what most consider to be “old fashioned”. They are made with butter and create a fluffy mound of soft cookie instead with a crunchy sugar outside.
I made these with lemon flavor instead of vanilla. It is a fun way to mix up the usual. They pair perfectly with tea or coffee. Or just because… Almond is another one of my favorite ways to switch them up.
Lemon Sugar Cookies Ingredients
- Unsalted butter– I like using unsalted butter because then I have control over how much salt I add later, but if you do use salted butter, omit the additional fine sea salt.
- Sugar– these are lemon sugar cookies, they need sugar!
- Eggs– eggs add lift, but make sure to beat them before adding them to batter. This will reduce the over time the cookie dough is being mixed. Over mixing is the most common reason for dry cookies.
- Lemon extract– you have also use almond or vanilla.
- Lemon zest– optional but adds loads of lemony flavor and fun little specks to the dough. You can also add dried lemon that comes in the spice aisle.
- Cream of tartar– see my whole diatribe on how this IS mandatory for the lemon sugar cookies recipe below.
- Baking soda– leavening agent, yes, you need it.
- Fine sea salt– I don’t suggest using table salt or iodized salt, it tastes metallic. Also don’t sub out for coarse salt, it won’t have the same effect or spread as evenly due to larger crystals.
- Flour- provides structure and is the glue that keeps your cookies together!
Lemon Sugar Cookies Recipe
Cream butter first to whip it up good, then add sugar. You want to minimize the amount of time actually spend mixing together ingredients to prevent dry cookies. The more mixing = the more air is introduced into the cookie dough to dry them out.
Add eggs, lemon extract and lemon zest.
Sift together cream of tartar, baking soda, fine sea salt and flour. If you don’t have a sifter, whisk the dry ingredients together. This helps to evenly distribute these ingredients through the lemon sugar cookies dough and break up any large clumps. Don’t skip this step!
I like to use plastic wrap for chilling because it takes up less space in the fridge and also keeps the cookie dough moist. If you flatten it into a disc shape, it will chill faster.
I also like to use insulated cookie sheets for baking. This allow hot air to circulate around the whole cookie and makes it less likely for them to burn.
Never use cooking spray or grease for cookies, as it usually burns too. Instead, use a piece of parchment paper (NOT WAX PAPER). This also makes for easy clean up!
Roll the lemon sugar cookies in sugar and then bake. Most people leave their cookies in too long. The trick is to take them out right before they look fully cooked. They will have a few cracks, but the cracks will look shiny and raw. TAKE THEM OUT NOW!
Cool on the baking sheet for 2-3 minutes, but then transfer to a cooling rack. If you leave them on the hot cookie sheet, they will continue to cook. I’ve actually burned the bottom of cookies by making this mistake. Don’t be me.
Lemon is what makes these different from regular sugar cookies, but you have several choices on how to get that flavor.
Bottled Lemon Extract- Swap lemon extract for vanilla in the cookie dough. This is the easiest way to get the most intense flavor in your cookies. It is my preferred method.
Fresh Lemon Juice- Fresh lemon juice is another good way to get lemon flavor, but isn’t as concentrated at lemon extract so you’ll need to add double or even triple depending on the intensity of your lemon.
This means you might also have to compensate by adding a scant tablespoon more flour.
Do not use bottled lemon juice. This is far muted from fresh or extract and will probably be unrecognizable in the finished lemon sugar cookies.
Lemon Zest– Lemon zest can be used with vanilla or lemon extract or fresh lemon juice. It can also be omitted if you don’t have any lemons on hand. One teaspoon is all you need to add cheery little flecks of flavor bomb into each cookie. Or use the dried version.
Cream of Tartar
Yes, you need it. I know what you are asking in your head… do I really need cream of tartar and the answer is YES.
Cream of tartar is what makes these lemon sugar cookies different from other sugar cookies. It is a byproduct of wine making and considered to be an acid.
It is most commonly known for helping to stabilize egg whites in meringue, but it is used for other baking purposes too, like in snickerdoodle cookies.
Because it is an acid, it has a little tang to it. The acid also helps them be more chewy instead of super soft and moist. Cream of tartar prevents the sugar from crystalizing and therefore it melts and gets crunchy. Crunchy outside, chewy inside. YES!
Mind blown, I know!
Butter or Shortening
Cookies made with butter have the tendency to spread more while cookies made with shortening are more apt to hold their shape and bake slightly up instead of out.
This is why shortening is the preferred fat for sugar cookie cutouts but anything you roll in a ball and want to spread into a perfect, moundy circle, is best with butter.
Butter also adds more flavor to cookies. You can use butter flavored shortening to try and get the flavor without the spread.
Using half butter and half shortening is also an acceptable substitution. When you can sub one for the other really depends on the recipe.
Most cookies that use butter will need to have some refrigeration time to let the butter reharden a little before cooking. If the butter is too soft, the cookies will be super thin and crispy. However, if that is what you after, then skip the chill time.
Storage & Freezing Lemon Sugar Cookies
Allow to cool fully before storing or freezing. I use airtight plastic bags and keep them at room temperature for up to 5 days.
I also like to microwave them for 5-10 seconds to remelt the butter a little.
Lemon sugar cookies are also freezer friendly. Package them in an airtight bag and they will stay good for up to 6 months. You can take out just one and it will thaw on the counter in about 30 minutes.
You can also make these into homemade cookie butter.
More cookie recipes:
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Lemon Sugar Cookies
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or a large mixing bowl with an electric hand mixer, beat butter until soft shiny and light in color.
- Add sugar and beat until combined.
- Add eggs, lemon extract and lemon zest.
- Sift together cream of tartar, baking soda, fine sea salt and flour.
- In 3 batches, add dry ingredients to wet ingredients.
- Turn into a piece of plastic wrap and chill for 1 hour, but up to 24 hours. Using plastic wrap ensures the dough won’t dry out.
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees and line an insulated baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Roll dough into 1 1/2 inch balls and then dip and roll in sugar (and lemon zest, if desired).
- Place 2 inches apart on baking sheet.
- Bake for 10 minutes, or until just cracking. You should be able to see shiny dough inside the cracks, which means the cookies are done.
- Allow to cool for 2-3 minutes on the cookie sheet and then carefully transfer to a cooling rack.
- If you’ve tried this recipe, come back and let us know how it was!