13 Ways To Upgrade Sugar Cookies

Who in the world doesn't love a good sugar cookie? We know some of you out there probably don't, and if we're being real, we don't quite understand it. With their fluffy, sweet, vanilla-esque, non-offensive flavor, sugar cookies tend to appeal to people of all backgrounds and ages. With that said, we'll be the first to admit that after sampling traditional sugar cookies time after time, things can quickly get a bit drab. That's why we thought it might be fun to research some of the best ways people have found to upgrade these babies to make the standard sugar cookie into something truly marvelous.

So, what was our approach to finding these delicious upgrades? Consulting home chef recipes, reading reviews, and, of course, drawing from our own personal experiences have helped us discover the ingredients that could ultimately give sugar cookies a much-appreciated face lift. With that said, let's dive into the 13 best ways to upgrade sugar cookies for your next cookie-tasting expedition!

1. Cream of tartar

Cream of tartar may or may not be something you already have stocked in your kitchen pantry, but in case you're unfamiliar with it, we'd like to introduce it to you. Cream of tartar is used for a myriad of purposes, but when it comes to baking sugar cookies, this is the ultimate ingredient for achieving the right texture, taste, and color.

One of the ways cream of tartar benefits sugar cookies is by preventing them from browning so much in the oven. This can be helpful as the white color of sugar cookies is what often lends them so perfectly to the purpose of decorating. Besides affecting color, cream of tartar also improves the texture of the cookies, as the compound keeps sugar from crystallizing, thus staving away a hard or crispy cookie and keeping it soft.

Last but not least, cream of tartar boosts the flavor of sugar cookies. It brings about a tangy element that can complement the sweetness of the cookies quite well, especially if you've chosen to essence them with warming spices, like cinnamon (more on that later). All in all, cream of tartar is a great ingredient to keep in your sugar cookie repertoire; don't be surprised if you come across several sugar cookie recipes that already include it!

2. Herbs

Herbs in sugar cookies? Weird, right? We thought so too when we initially heard about it, but honestly, placing a few herbs in sugar cookies isn't such a bad idea. There are several ways to go about doing so, and most bakers tend to blend the flavor of these herbs with other ingredients (such as lemon, cranberry, or brown butter) to help balance the sharpness and produce a flavor that's unique.

Take lemon thyme sugar cookies, for example. Making this type of sugar cookie is a breeze since you're basically essencing your favorite cookie recipe with a bit of lemon zest, lemon extract, and fresh thyme to produce a unique flavor without needing to go too far out of your comfort zone. Other great herbs to use include sage and rosemary, as both are muted enough not to overpower your cookies, which can sometimes make them too bitter or potent to enjoy.

We get that adding herbs to sugar cookies isn't commonplace, and yes, it's quite strange, but we think it's something worth trying out on a day when you don't have anything better to do. Give it a go, and see what you think!

3. Brown butter

We've already talked about the benefits of cream of tartar and how it prevents sugar cookies from browning, but if you aren't in need of stark white sugar cookies, using brown butter might be worth a try. Brown butter produces a slightly different flavor in sugar cookies that can serve as a welcome change to what you may be used to whipping up with this traditional treat. Adding browned butter to your sugar cookie dough is pretty easy, although it will require a few extra steps in the beginning to get the butter ready to use.

To prepare brown butter, simply add the butter you'd normally use in sugar cookies to a warm skillet and gently whisk over medium heat. As the butter cooks, you'll notice foam and a pleasing aroma starting to form along with a beautiful brown hue. At this point, you can remove the brown butter from the stovetop to cool it before using it. From there, you'll simply follow the rest of your brown butter sugar cookie recipe, which will often involve chilling the dough to help your cookies keep their shape.

Once baked, brown butter sugar cookies will render a toasty sweet flavor you'll likely fall in love with. It isn't traditional, but it sure is delicious.

4. Cream cheese

Adding cream cheese to sugar cookies can be accomplished in a variety of ways, and each way is scrumptious in its own right. The rich and decadent taste of cream cheese pairs beautifully with the light sweetness of sugar cookies, making for an exciting upgrade worthy of trying the next time you're in the mood for baking.

To use cream cheese in sugar cookies, you have several options. The first is to incorporate your cream cheese into the sugar cookie dough. We don't often see recipes utilizing cream cheese this way, but when we do, they usually garner stellar reviews. Another way is to add cream cheese to your iced topping, or, though messy, you could make a cream cheese filling for your sugar cookies for a different yet very delicious spin on traditional sugar cookie fare.

Note that each of these methods will require different steps, and it isn't advised that you use cream cheese in whatever sugar cookie recipe you've always used. Instead, try to find a recipe already incorporating cream cheese in the cookie the way you want to so that your dry-to-wet ingredient ratio and fat ratio aren't thrown off.

5. Sour cream

Be careful when adding this ingredient to your sugar cookies because it may or may not render the results you want. Like with so many other cookie types, people differ in terms of what is expected to make up a truly delicious sugar cookie. Some cookie connoisseurs may find themselves feuding over which type, taste, and texture of sugar cookie is actually best.

When it comes to adding sour cream to sugar cookie dough, know that the results will produce something other than what is considered traditional. You'll end up with a cakey and puffy cookie that may be more akin to a cookie biscuit than a classic sugar cookie. Additionally, you may find that adding sour cream to cookie dough may make the cookies less sweet, meaning that adding frosting as an extra layer of sweetness is typically ideal.

So, why is adding sour cream to cookie dough even worth trying at all? If you're a person who loves thicker and denser cookies that aren't as sweet, then you'll probably enjoy sour cream sugar cookies. We've seen bakers who hate sugar cookies love sour cream sugar cookies because of the difference in taste and texture they yield. Still, if you're a sugar cookie traditionalist, this variation may or may not be for you; thus, when adding sour cream, it's best to use caution.

6. Citrus

You'd be surprised at how well citrus works in sugar cookies. But if you think about it, it totally makes sense. The light and fluffy nature of sugar cookies lends itself perfectly to bright and tangy citrus flavors that lift the taste of traditional cookies without being too much in terms of potency.

Though you could technically use any citrus flavor to essence your sugar cookies, we often find that orange and lemon work best. To use these flavors in your sugar cookies, you'll usually impart the taste of the fruit of your choice by adding a bit of the juice along with the zest to optimize the flavor. Some recipes also call for rolling sugar cookie dough in lemon sugar before baking to further amplify all those wonderfully bright citrusy tastes. You can also infuse the flavors of your citrus into your icing for an exciting final finishing touch.

We don't know about you, but the taste of sugar cookies and citrus sounds downright amazing. We think this is one of our favorite upgrades yet.

7. White chocolate

White chocolate is often something we associate with the holiday season, and indeed, it is great for infusing into winter treats. The thing is, white chocolate also works as an amazing upgrade for plain sugar cookies, as doing so gives the cookies a more decadent flavor that is much different from the typical savor of traditional sugar cookies.

Adding white chocolate to sugar cookies can be as easy as throwing in a handful of white chocolate chips or even incorporating thin shavings of white chocolate into the sugar cookie dough itself. Moreover, you could use white chocolate frosting for your cookies to give them a rich taste and an elegant iced touch. Either way you use it, white chocolate isn't a fussy ingredient that requires you to alter your traditional sugar cookie dough recipe. Just toss it in and cook as usual for an elevated flavor. Also, try throwing in a handful of dried cranberries with your white chocolate once ... you might just end up with an amazing sweet-and-sour duo your taste buds will continuously crave.

8. Chocolate chips

Aren't chocolate chip cookies just sugar cookies with chocolate chips in them? Not hardly. Actually, the two taste quite different, mostly due to certain ingredients, such as brown sugar in chocolate chip cookies, that render a flavor much deeper than standard sugar cookies. Thus, adding chocolate chips to your sugar cookies will yield a taste that is distinctly unique from what's considered traditional.

Now, while we would say that it's perfectly fine to toss chocolate chips into plain ole sugar cookie dough and bake away, we realize that adding chocolate chips to regular sugar cookie dough might be sugar overload. And while we want cookies to be sweet, cloyingly sweet isn't quite what we're going for. For the recipes we've found using chocolate chips in sugar cookie dough, the amount of sugar used per cup of flour was less than what's in traditional sugar cookies. Thus, when it comes to the sugar in your original sugar cookie recipe, you may need to scale back when adding chocolate chips to the mix.

All in all, this is certainly an eclectic addition to sugar cookies, but we think it's different enough from chocolate chips to make it worth a mention.

9. Peppermint

We know, we know. This upgrade definitely has a Christmas-y vibe to it, but we think peppermint is such a great addition to sugar cookies that you could technically savor it any time of the year. Adding peppermint to sugar cookies is easy, but like so many other ideas on this list, you'll want to be careful about how you include it.

When using peppermint extract, you should be careful not to add too much. Doing so may render your sugar cookies too potent and make them unenjoyable to eat. Even so, you should be fine adding a smidge (and we do mean a smidge) of it to your standard sugar cookie recipe for a basic peppermint flavor that isn't too robust.

If, on the other hand, you plan to use ingredients like crushed peppermint to your cookies, you'll want to follow a recipe that already includes peppermint, as the sugar in the candy may make your traditional cookie dough recipe too sweet. Some of the peppermint sugar cookie recipes we've found out there sound incredibly enticing, blending together the likes of crushed candy canes with cream cheese frosting and even a dash of peppermint for an oh-so-exciting first bite. Yes, it's Christmas-y, but seriously, we'd eat these every day of the year and not think twice about it.

10. Cranberry

We hinted at this earlier, but adding cranberries to your sugar cookies is an upgrade that might sound a little odd at first, but it truly is an addition too good to pass up. Because cranberries are tart, they often meld well with sugary yet rich and mellow flavors to help balance everything out. White chocolate works well for this purpose, as does cream cheese, so throwing in a handful of cranberries to sugar cookie recipes that call for either of these ingredients is likely to be a smart move.

The other great thing about adding cranberries to sugar cookies is that it gives them a slightly festive appeal without much effort. You don't have to worry about whether or not your cranberries are in or out of season if you use them dried, and their deep red hue can work to give your sugar cookies a cheerful vibe that makes them perfect for serving during the holidays.

11. Pumpkin

Putting pumpkin in sugar cookies sounds like a fabulous idea to us, though we have to admit we never thought of doing so before. Still, the delicate, sweet, and vanilla backdrop of sugar cookies certainly does seem to lend itself to unique, distinct autumnal flavors, with pumpkin practically becoming a no-brainer when you really think about it.

We've taken a look at a few pumpkin sugar cookie recipes, and honestly, they make our mouths water! They're chock full of deliciousness from cinnamon, vanilla extract, butter, sugar, and, of course, the star of the show, pureed pumpkin. What makes this upgrade even better is that you don't necessarily have to go through the hassle of baking up a fresh pumpkin -– you can simply grab a can of pureed pumpkin off the store shelf and have it on hand for whenever you need it.

Again, we know this is likely going to be a treat most fitting for fall, but that shouldn't stop you from making these whenever the heck you want. Plus, they're ridiculously easy to whip up, assuming you get your hands on the right recipe. Just be sure not to add pumpkin puree to a previously existing sugar cookie dough; otherwise, the pumpkin may change the flavor and texture and not turn out quite as you had hoped.

12. Almonds

Almond may not sound like a very appealing upgrade to sugar cookies, but believe us, adding almond extract to your cookies –- along with a few thinly sliced almonds for topping -– is a wonderfully easy way to change the traditional flavor of sugar cookies without overdoing it.

So, how's it done? According to the recipes we've found, simply add the almond extract in much the same way you'd add vanilla extract to a cookie recipe. Almond extract can be added to both the sugar cookie dough and the sugar cookie frosting, though it's important to watch your measurements in recipes closely in order not to use too much. What you'll be left with is the distinctly sweet flavor of almond that's different enough to be noticeable but not quite so different that it throws people off. We think it's an upgrade worth trying –- hope you like it!

13. Cinnamon

Among the most humble additions out of the many sugar cookie upgrade options on this list, adding cinnamon to your sugar cookies is a mighty way to boost the flavor and give your cookies that subtle difference that your taste buds will go crazy for.

Now, if you're anything like us, you're probably thinking, "Isn't a cinnamon sugar cookie basically the same as a snickerdoodle?" Yes and no. In one sense, you could totally add cinnamon to a standard sugar cookie recipe and yield delicious results. In this way, the cookie isn't technically a snickerdoodle cookie; it's only a sugar cookie with a little cinnamon added in. In contrast, snickerdoodles are usually trademarked by their tangy flavor, which is most often achieved with the use of cream of tartar. The snickerdoodle dough is also rolled in cinnamon sugar before baking, making it only slightly different from a traditional sugar cookie with a sprinkle of cinnamon.

Hey, we realize that snickerdoodles and cinnamon sugar cookies are pretty close in nature, especially if you've already followed our advice for putting cream of tartar in your sugar cookie recipe. Still, the point is that adding cinnamon to that sugar cookie dough gives it a hint of something else that leads to irresistibly delicious flavor –- it may be similar to snickerdoodle flavor, but hey, why not?


In an effort to provide you with the very best ways to boost sugar cookie dough, we have consulted home chefs, have checked ratings, and have even drawn from our own experiences to curate an amazing list of sugar cookie upgrades you're bound to love. We hope we enjoy these recommendations as much as we do. Cheers!