This recipe is adapted from one that appears in an old Iowa church cookbook called World’s Best Sugar Cookies. Iowan church ladies are known to wax hyperbolic about plenty of things — recipes in these cookbooks for “green salad,” for instance, typically involve neon-hued Jello and no vegetables of any kind. But these cookies are the Real Deal.

These are the cookies I helped my mother decorate every Christmas while I was a kid, so they’re really the gold-standard by which I judge all other cut-out cookies. They are tender and flavorful, so unlike the many other sugar cookies I’ve sampled over the years, which by and large have been hard and dry, ultra-sweet or flour-flavored. They’re great fresh, but I actually like them even more after they’ve been sitting in an air-tight container for a day or two, the cookies softening just slightly with the icing’s moisture. Growing up, we always decorated these cookies with vanilla icing, but I’ve found that adding a little almond extract really complements the rich sweetness of the cookies.

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Vegan Sugar Cookies
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: a lot!
  • For the cookies:
  • 1 c powdered sugar
  • 1 c granulated sugar
  • 1 c vegan butter
  • 1 c flavorless vegetable oil (e.g. canola)
  • ¼ c applesauce
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 5 c flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp cream of tartar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • rolling pin and cookie cutters of your choice
  • ___________________
  • For the icing:
  • 3½ c powdered sugar
  • ¼ c plain, unsweetened plant milk
  • 1 Tbsp corn syrup or agave
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp almond extract
  • ½ tsp vegan butter
  • pinch of salt
  • food coloring, if desired
  • decorations, if desired (try shredded coconut, chocolate chips, chopped nuts, dried fruit pieces, and/or vegan sprinkles)
  1. First, make the cookies. In a large bowl, cream together sugars and vegan butter.
  2. Add oil and beat well.
  3. Add applesauce and vanilla and beat well.
  4. In a medium bowl, sift together flour, soda, tartar, and salt.
  5. Add dry ingredients to wet and mix just until a soft dough is formed.
  6. Chill dough in refrigerator for at least 1-2 hours, until firm. If you'd like, you can refrigerate it overnight.
  7. Once dough is firm, preheat oven to 350F.
  8. Scoop out a third of the dough and, with your hands, form it into a ball. Return remaining dough to refrigerator while you work.
  9. On a very lightly floured surface (a clean, smooth table or parchment paper will do), roll dough out until it's about ¼" in thickness. The cookies will puff up while they bake, but if you like particularly thick cookies, you can roll them out a little thicker, provided your cookie cutters will accommodate it; for crunchier cookies, roll them a bit thinner.
  10. Cut out cookies with cutters as desired, reserving scraps. Metal cookie cutters and simple, outline-only cookie cutters are easier to work with than cookie cutters with more refined details, but if you choose to use the latter kind, I strongly recommend flouring your cutter before cutting each cookie.
  11. Using a lightly-floured thin metal spatula, transfer cookies to an ungreased cookie sheet (or one lined with parchment paper).
  12. Repeat until all dough has been used up.
  13. Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until cookie bottoms are golden.
  14. Cool fully.
  15. In a shallow bowl, beat together icing ingredients until smooth.
  16. If you'd like to color your icing, divide it up into separate bowls and beat in food coloring to each bowl as desired.
  17. The icing should be thick enough that you can just dip the top of a cookie into it, gently use the side of the bowl to remove any excess, and then set it down right-side up without it dripping much. If it's not thick enough, just add a tablespoon or two of confectioner's sugar, and if it's too thick, just add a few drops of vegan milk at a time until it's the consistency you're after.
  18. You can leave them plain, add decorations while the icing is still wet, or wait until the icing has set and pipe on additional icing details as desired.
The dough will get quite soft as it warms up, and will be on the fragile side, but as you work, resist the urge to add large amounts of flour, as doing so will leave you with a dry, less flavorful cookie. Add only what you need to allow you to successfully cut out the cookies and transfer them to your baking sheets, and remember that you can always re-chill the dough as necessary to make it easier to work with.