Sugar Cookie Bars: A holiday necessity

These most recent bars were baked for 38 minutes and I think I should have taken them out at 36 minutes because the outer edges were still delicious but slightly more crumbly than the recipe calls for (the photos at the bottom of this post show the correct, more dense texture you’re aiming for.) In this batch I used 1/2 vanilla and 1/2 almond for the bars (instead of just vanilla). And 3/4 vanilla, 1/4 almond in the frosting (still using lemon as well) and they’re my favorite flavored Sugar Cookie Bars yet!

These bars were not created by me but they are officially a favorite on rotation for holidays… and I had to share.

The first time I made this recipe was for Valentine’s Day because Baby E and I like to make desserts for my family and put them in cute little holiday boxes and then drive around delivering them. They were such a big hit — like I got multiple requests for the recipe — that I decided to make them again for Thanksgiving. And last week I made them again for my grandma’s 88th birthday! They are RICH, and sweet, and even a bit tart. Delicious!

The first time I made them I reduced the sugar in the bars — not the frosting — by 1/4 cup, but made the rest of the recipe exactly as listed. The second time I put a bit less powdered sugar in the frosting, but I also added almond extract to both the bars and the frosting. They turned out great — and very rich — both times, and show that you could easily reduce the sweetness and add different flavors such as peppermint, orange, or maybe even poppyseed.  That being said, as noted in many reviews, the cook time seemed a little off and I had to bake for an additional 10-15 minutes each time.

I originally found this recipe in NYT Cooking by Margaux Laskey and she adapted them from American Girl Cookies. The recipe was free at that time, but in early December they went from a free recipe to a paid recipe (probably because the NYT knows how many people saved them and are OBSESSED.) That being said, at the time of writing this post, it is back to being free BUT I’m including the recipe below in case that changes again… believe me you never want to lose access to this recipe! However, if you already have a NYT Cooking subscription and/or you want to check if it’s still free when you go to actually make the Sugar Cookie Bars, I encourage you to check out this link because it’s always fun to read the nearly 5k, 5 star reviews and each person’s fun suggestions.


Yield:20 bars (One 9-by-13 pan)
  • 1 cup/225 grams unsalted butter (2 sticks), at room temperature, plus more for greasing the pan
  • 2 ¾ cups/350 grams all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 (8-ounce/225-gram) package cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1 ½ cups/300 grams granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 6 tablespoons/85 grams unsalted butter (¾ stick), at room temperature
  • 2 cups/245 grams confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 tablespoon milk or heavy cream, plus more as needed
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice, plus more as needed
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, plus more as needed
  • ¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
  • A drop or two of gel food coloring (optional)
  • Assorted sprinkles, for decorating (optional)


Step 1

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly butter a 9-by-13-inch baking pan. Line the pan with parchment paper, running it up the two long sides of the pan and letting it extend past the rim by about 2 inches.

Step 2

Make the bars: In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour and salt. In a large bowl with an electric mixer, or in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter and cream cheese on medium speed until well blended, about 1 minute. Add the granulated sugar and beat until smooth, about 1 minute. Add the egg and vanilla and beat on low speed until well combined, about 1 minute. Turn off the mixer and scrape down the bowl with a rubber spatula. Gradually add the flour mixture, mixing on low speed just until blended, about 1 minute.

Step 3

Using a spatula, scrape the dough into the prepared baking pan and spread it into an even layer. Bake just until the edges are starting to turn light golden brown, and a toothpick inserted in the middle has moist crumbs, 20 to 25 minutes. (Do not over bake! The bars should be quite moist, and almost slightly underbaked in the middle.) Remove the pan from the oven and set it on a wire rack. Let cool completely. When fully cooled, remove the bars from the pan using the overhanging parchment paper.

Step 4

Make the frosting: Place the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat the butter on medium speed until creamy, about 1 minute. Add 1 cup confectioners’ sugar, beating on low speed until fully combined, then repeat with remaining 1 cup confectioners’ sugar. Add the 1 tablespoon milk or heavy cream, 1 teaspoon lemon juice, the vanilla, salt and food coloring, if using, and beat on medium speed until the frosting is light and fluffy, scraping down the sides halfway through, about 4 minutes. Add more milk if needed to thin out the mixture. Add lemon juice and vanilla to taste.

Step 5

Using a spatula, spread the frosting on top, then decorate with sprinkles, if using. Cut into 20 bars and serve.

Make these bars immediately to wow at holiday get togethers, and let me know what you think!

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