These super soft lemon sugar cookies have the best light and fluffy sugar cookie texture with a subtle brightness from fresh lemon zest and juice. They are easy to make – with no rolling or cutting required. Enjoy them as they are, or top them with lemon buttercream frosting for an extra special treat!
There’s something magical about lemon in baked goods. Whether it’s lemon scones, cake, poppy seed bread, or pancakes, lemon adds a brightness that’s unmatched in desserts. And in these soft sugar cookies? Well, it’s incredible. The lemon is just enough…subtle but definitely present, yet not overpowering.
The texture of these cookies is light and fluffy, and the buttery texture melts in your mouth with each and every bite. They do have a slightly chewy texture too… it’s just the best of all worlds. Enjoy them with a cup of tea with friends, over the holidays when you need a lighter dessert option, or whenever a lemon-dessert craving kicks in!
Drop Cookies – So Easy!
Technically these lemon sugar cookies are drop cookies because they don’t require any rolling or cutting out of the dough. You simply need to drop the dough and bake.
For this recipe, you will need to gently press the dough down with a sugar-dipped glass, but that’s it. They are not a traditional cut-out sugar cookie, but rather a simple anytime kind of cookie that’s quick and easy to make.
This recipe is based on my all-time favorite soft sugar cookie recipe. So it has a few unexpected ingredients in it, like powdered sugar and vegetable oil. Here’s what you’ll need for this recipe:
- Butter: use unsalted to control the amount of salt in the recipe, and be sure it’s properly softened to room temperature (around 68°F) to cream up properly.
- Granulated Sugar: the sugar base for these cookies.
- Powdered Sugar: using powdered sugar in these cookies helps them remain soft; if we had more granulated sugar, they’d crisp up more quickly, so powdered sugar it is for super soft cookies! It also helps with that soft, melt-in-your-mouth texture.
- Vegetable Oil: used to help keep the moisture in the cookies.
- Vanilla Extract: highly recommend using real vanilla extract for the best flavor.
- Egg: room temp so it incorporates fully.
- All-Purpose Flour: weigh it properly!
- Baking Soda: contributes to that light and fluffy texture.
- Cream of Tartar: a traditional ingredient in sugar cookies, it has a little tang and helps the cookie texture as it interacts with the baking soda.
- Salt: fine sea salt is my go-to
- Lemon zest and juice: we’re using both the lemon zest and freshly squeezed lemon juice in these cookies…both because they each add a ton of fresh lemon flavor, and why would we not use the zest when we have a lemon?! Please use fresh lemon for this recipe, you don’t want to use the jars of lemon jucie.
And if you really want more lemon flavor, use some lemon extract in place of half of the fresh juice. It’s quite a vibrant lemon flavor addition if you’re looking for more of a pow of lemon flavor.
How to Make Super Soft Lemon Sugar Cookies
This lemon sugar cookie recipe is so easy to make! It’s perfect all year round – from holiday Christmas cookies, to spring brunches, to summer get-togethers. There’s always a time and place for lemon sugar cookies! So, here are the easy recipe steps, starting with the most important:
- Rub the lemon zest and sugar together. Yes, put the zest and sugars in a bowl (you can do this in the bowl of the stand mixer for ease) and rub the two between your fingers until a sand-like mixture forms. This releases the oil from the zest, infusing the sugars with even more lemon flavor.
- Cream together butter and sugar (photo 1 and 2). This helps create a light and fluffy base for the cookies, so be sure to continue creaming until they’re fully combined and lighter in color. If you’re not sure, keep going, you’ll see the change as it comes together and becomes a pale color, and basically forms into a ball.
- Add vegetable oil, egg, vanilla extract, and lemon juice until combined (photo 3).
- Add the dry ingredients. I do recommend sifting the dry ingredients together before adding them to the wet ingredients to make sure they are fully incorporated (photo 4).
Chill The Dough
I do recommend chilling this dough to help the flavor develop and to help it set up in order to not spread too much during the baking process. Here’s my silver lining: you’ll be able to clean up the kitchen and once the cookies are done baking, all you’ll have to do is enjoy them!
Do you absolutely have to chill the dough? No, I’ve made them without chilling before, and while they spread slightly more than when chilled, it’s not a huge deal. This does depend on the temperature of your home though – my home is pretty cool, which means the dough isn’t too hot to begin with. If you are in a warm environment, please be sure to chill the dough!
Bake the Cookies
- Scoop the dough onto a cookie sheet, then press with a sugar-dipped glass. Gently press a flat-bottomed glass that has been dipped in sugar on top of each dollop of dough. Don’t press too hard, you’ll be able to feel once the dough is pressed to the right amount – don’t force it further.
- And bake! The key to soft cookies is slightly underbaking them. Bake these cookies until the edges are set and only ever so slightly turning golden…which you can’t really tell in these chocolate cookies. If the edges look like they’re beginning toturn golden brown, take them out. If you cook them too long, the edges will be crispy (which tastes fine, it’s just a different texture than what I’ve been describing).
- Let them cool on the pan for a couple of minutes before transferring to a wire rack. This gives them time to continue setting up before you move them, keeping them together. If they’re already pretty set from baking, do remove them immediately so they don’t overbake.
Use Room Temperature Ingredients
It’s especially important the butter is at room temperature for this recipe. Room temperature means enough that a fingerprint holds. Not too soft that it is close to melting, and not cold enough that it doesn’t like to budge.
Room temperature butter will cream best with the sugars to create this beautifully soft melt-in-your-mouth texture. If the butter is too cold, it will end up in small clumps and melt in odd ways as the cookies bake. You can even use a thermometer to take its temperature; around 68°F is ideal.
Weigh the Ingredients
…especially the flour! Too much flour and the cookies will be dry. Not enough, they will end up too thin. The best way to properly measure flour for baking is to weigh it out (this also saves on dishes – always a win). If you don’t have a kitchen scale, sift and lightly spoon the flour into a measuring cup, being careful to not pack it down. You want it light, fluffy, and not packed in.
Do Not Overbake
It’s worth repeating: bake the cookies until they are just set around the edges. This will keep the texture of the cookies soft while being slightly chewy.
How to Freeze Sugar Cookies
You can freeze either the baked cookies or the cookie dough for future baking.
To freeze baked cookies, simply let them cool completely, then store them in an airtight container in the freezer. You will likely want to wrap the cookies individually, then place them in an airtight container, for the best results.
To freeze the cookie dough, I like to use SouperCubes – they make freezing individual dough balls super easy. Otherwise, dollop the dough on a baking sheet and press down, freezing the pucks. Once they’re chilled through, transfer them to a storage bag. To bake, place the frozen dough directly in the oven and bake for an additional minute or two.
Lemon Buttercream Frosting
If you love lemon sugar cookies with icing, then you are more than welcome to add some lemon buttercream frosting on these sugar cookies. It is absolutely the most irresistible combination! It’s creamy, soft, and is the perfect addition to the cookies.
Remember, these are not cut-out sugar cookies that hold the shape of whatever cutout you use, and then frost. These are classic sugar cookies, cookies, similar to the Lofthouse-style frosted cookies you can find in the store.
These cookies are delicious on their own, but if you’d like to decorate them, you absolutely can! The buttercream frosting recipe I’ve included is soft and spreadable. It’s easy to make ahead of time, too. You can even freeze it so you have it on hand whenever you need it.
Once it’s made, simply spread buttercream frosting on cooled cookies, then add sprinkles or sanding sugar.
Feel free to use another variety of frosting, almond, vanilla bean, or even orange would be yummy!
Yes! You can make the dough up to two days in advance. You don’t need to make any additional changes, proceed with baking as directed when you’re ready.
Store the baked cookies in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 4 days.
These cookies will last for about 4-5 days, as long as they weren’t overbaked. If they really last that long anyway, they do tend to disappear quickly!
Yes, just bake them a few minutes longer for a crispier edge.
Soft Lemon Sugar Cookies
- 1 Tablespoon lemon zest, 2 lemons
- ½ cup granulated sugar, plus more for rolling
- ½ cup powdered sugar
- ½ cup unsalted butter, room temperature
- ½ cup vegetable oil
- 1 egg, room temperature
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 Tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
- ½ teaspoon cream of tartar
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- ¼ teaspoon fine salt
Lemon Buttercream Frosting (optional)
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- 1 lemon, zested
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
- Pinch fine salt, as needed
- In a small bowl (or your mixing bowl) rub together granulated sugar and 2 teaspoons lemon zest until a sand-like mixture forms. This releases the oil in the zest to infuse the lemon flavor throughout.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, add the lemon zest and sugar, powdered sugar, and butter. Cream together butter and sugars until pale in color and fully combined (like a paste). Add oil, eggs, vanilla extract, and lemon juice, mixing until combined.
- In a separate mixing bowl, sift together flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, and salt. Mix the combined dry ingredients into wet ingredients until just combined.
- Chill the dough for at least 30 minutes. This helps the cookies hold their shape; if the dough isn't too warm, you can bake them right away if you don't mind a little extra spread/thinner cookies, although the chill is recommended.
- 20 minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 350°F and line a sheet pan with parchment paper. Pour a small amount of granulated sugar into a small bowl for later.
- Dollop a scoop (#40 scoop) or 1 1/2 tablespoons of batter about 2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheet. Dampen a flat-bottomed glass with water, then dip in a small bowl of granulated sugar. Gently press each cookie dough ball with the bottom of the glass approximately halfway down, about 1/2 inch thick. Dip the glass back in the sugar between each cookie to recoat.
- Bake for 7-10 minutes, or until cookies are just beginning to barely turn golden brown around the edges. See notes about baking sheet type.
- Let the cookies cool for 1-2 minutes on the baking sheet until set up enough to transfer to a cooling rack. Store cooled cookies in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 4 days.
- Frosting: In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream butter until smooth. Add juice and vanilla extract to combine. Rub the zest with the powdered sugar for additional flavor (optional) then, in 1/2 cup increments, add the sugar to the butter, beating between each addition until smooth. Continue working until light and fluffy, approximately 2-3 minutes on medium speed. Spread on cooled cookies.
- Lemon Extract: replace half of the lemon juice with lemon extract for an even brighter lemon flavor.
- Baking Sheet: A light-colored (aluminum) sheet pan will require more cooking time than a darker-colored sheet pan. If using a darker-colored baking sheet, you will likely want to only bake the cookies for 7 minutes – no longer.
Disclaimer: The nutritional information provided for this recipe is only an estimate. The accuracy of the facts listed is not and cannot be guaranteed.