These easy sugar cookie bars are super soft thanks to cream cheese in the dough, and are topped with the best vanilla buttercream frosting.
When I was little, one of my very favorite holiday traditions was making cut-out sugar cookies with my mom. She would mix up the dough and then my sister and I would help roll it out and cut out all of the different shapes. I still remember all of those metal cookie cutters just like it was yesterday! Once they were baked and cooled, we got to decorate them with icing, sprinkles, and sparkling sugar. I would save the ones I was most proud of for Santa on Christmas Eve, naturally.
As I got older, my love of sugar cookies never faded. I went to college here in Pittsburgh and lived on campus, and while my dad got sick and passed away during the second semester of my freshman year, I have such fond memories of that fall semester. On a handful of occasions, he would stop by on his way home from work and we would grab dinner at one of the eateries on campus. Knowing how much I loved sugar cookies, my mom would usually send him with a package of my favorite sugar cookies from the bakery in the grocery store. I always equate sugar cookies with those visits, and I wish it’s a tradition we could have continued the entire time I was at school.
Fast forward almost (gulp) twenty years, and I still love sugar cookies, but unless it’s the holidays, I don’t need to bust out the cookie cutters. For a super quick and easy sugar cookie fix, I make these sugar cookie bars and slather them with my all-time favorite vanilla buttercream frosting. They are insanely soft and really quite perfect.
Cream Cheese vs Sour Cream
Let’s chat about this dough because it’s quite possibly the BEST sugar cookie dough I’ve ever made, and I’ve made countless sugar cookie recipes. Most of the recipes I’ve made have used just straight-up butter, with the exception of the recipe for copycat Lofthouse sugar cookies, which uses sour cream in the dough. Those are wonderful soft cookies, but the texture is most definitely different than what was achieved with these cookie bars. I’d say they are more soft cake-like, versus the fluffy texture in these bars.
I’ve recently seen quite a number of sugar cookie recipes using cream cheese in the dough, and after using it in some soft batch chocolate chip cookies that I loved, I decided to give it a try here. I wasn’t at all surprised to find that it works beautifully in sugar cookie dough – the flavor remains pretty neutral, but the resulting cookie bars are so super soft and almost fluffy, but not at all cake-like. Basically, they’re sugar cookie perfection.
Almond Extract vs Vanilla
A lot of sugar cookies use almond extract in addition to vanilla extract to flavor the cookies; I do not include it here, so you might be wondering if you should add it or not. I say it’s a total personal preference. For as much as I love actual almonds, I literally cannot stand (and might actually LOATHE) the flavor of almond extract. I do not enjoy a single thing that bears the flavor. Totally bizarre, right?!
Needless to say, these sugar cookie bars are made without almond extract, but if you feel like your sugar cookies absolutely need it, go ahead and add a little bit.
Can You Use This Recipe for Cut-Out Cookies?
I can’t give you my 100% guarantee because I haven’t done enough testing on it yet. I’m sure it would be just fine if you simply used a round cutter, but if you have a detailed cookie cutter, I’m not sure what the spread factor is just yet. I’m planning to fine tune a perfect cut-out sugar cookie recipe before the holidays, so stay tuned!
Have I totally convinced you to whip up these sugar cookie bars ASAP? I certainly had a lot to say about them, ha! Feel free to substitute your favorite frosting, and even give it a tint of color for holidays, graduations, gender reveals, etc.
If you’re a sugar cookie fanatic like me, you’re going to absolutely adore these bars!
Make the Cookie Bars: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9x13-inch baking pan or line with parchment paper; set aside.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt; set aside.
Using an electric mixer, cream together the butter and cream cheese on medium speed until smooth, about 1 minute. Add the sugar and continue to beat until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the egg and vanilla extract and beat to combine, about 1 minute. Reduce the mixer speed to low and gradually add the flour mixture, mixing only until barely combined. Use a rubber spatula to finish mixing, ensuring there are no pockets of flour remaining.
Using a spatula, spread the dough into an even layer in the prepared pan (the dough will be thick!). Bake until light golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes. Place the pan on a wire rack to cool completely before frosting.
Make the Vanilla Frosting: Using the wire whisk attachment of your stand mixer, whip the butter on medium-high speed for 5 minutes, stopping to scrape the bowl once or twice. Reduce the speed to low and gradually add the powdered sugar. Once all of the powdered sugar is incorporated, increase the speed to medium-high and add the vanilla, mixing until incorporated. Whip at medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes, scraping the bowl as needed.
Spread the frosting over the cookie bars and decorate with sprinkles, if desired. Cut the bars into squares and serve. The cookie bars should be kept in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days (you can store them in the refrigerator for up to 1 week).