These Lofthouse inspired cookies are soft, chewy and full of BIG vanilla flavor. Our recipe for vanilla cookies is a simple and delicious friend and family favorite.
This old school cookie dough recipe is quick and easy to make with a handful of pantry staples and a fresh vanilla bean. The cookies are irresistibly tender and made even better with a fluffy, whipped, American buttercream. They're even better the next day!
Check out this post for step-by-step how-to photos, info on baking with fresh vanilla beans (where to get them and suitable substitutions!), tips for perfectly baked vanilla cookies and lots of decorating ideas for holidays and special occasions.
Ingredients for Vanilla Cookies & Frosting
This vanilla cookie recipe has all of your classic cookie dough staples - plus a boatload of vanilla! Here's what you'll need for the cookies AND their vanilla bean frosting:
How To Bake with Fresh Vanilla Beans (& Other Vanilla Flavoring Options!)
Who decided vanilla was plain, anyway? I mean, vanilla is the ovary of a tropical orchid. The flower must be hand pollinated when it blooms for just one day! The fruit, which we know as the vanilla bean, is typically harvested 7 - 8 months later. Then, vanilla beans undergo a curing process that takes up to an additional 5 months. After this process, high-quality vanilla beans can have over 200 aromatic compounds. No wonder it's one of our world's most expensive spices! Vanilla has always been one of my favorite flavors and it's what transforms these basic ingredients into such a special cookie.
Purchasing Fresh Vanilla Beans
Assuming you live in the United States, I recommend buying fresh vanilla beans online and having them delivered directly to your door! Purchasing vanilla beans in bulk is the best way to get a fair price on a high-quality product. Fresh vanilla is sometimes sold in grocery stores but, in my experience, the beans are generally overpriced, shriveled and brittle. Instead, choses to purchase from one of the several highly rated vanilla bean vendors online. They will generally have several options for vanilla beans from around the world each with their own unique set of flavors and nuances.
For this recipe (and for most baking recipes), I recommend purchasing Grade A vanilla beans (the highest quality rating). These beans should arrive darkly colored, wildly aromatic, have an oily residue on the pod and be soft and pliable. Store the beans upright in a tall mason jar, lightly bound with a piece of twine. Even in Colorado's extremely dry climate, I have had success keeping my vanilla beans fresh for over a year at a time. (If you have any leftover that become dry, the beans can be split and soaked in alcohol to make your own vanilla extract. They'll never go to waste!)
Splitting the Beans & Harvesting the Seeds
Baking with vanilla beans is easy and it's the best way to get loads of vanilla flavor in these soft sugar cookies. Here's how it's done:
- First, use a sharp paring knife to slice the vanilla bean in half lengthwise.
2. Once the bean is split, use the side of the knife to scrape the vanilla bean seeds off of the interior of the pod.
Baker's Journal: Don't throw away the leftover vanilla pods! Save the pods to flavor custards (like Vanilla Bean Ice Cream!), to make homemade vanilla extract or to dehydrate for your own vanilla bean powder!
Vanilla Bean Alternatives
Like I said, fresh vanilla beans are key to getting the best vanilla flavor in your baking recipes. However, I totally understand if you don't want to wait for a shipment of vanilla beans so that you can make this cookie recipe. Instead of fresh vanilla beans, you have a few options:
- Vanilla Powder - Vanilla powder is made from dehydrated vanilla bean pods that have been ground into powder. Sometimes, small amounts of sugar or anti-clumping agents are added, too. It is less expensive than vanilla beans and has more intense vanilla flavor than extract. For these cookies, I recommend using about ½ Tablespoon vanilla powder instead of half of a vanilla bean.
- Vanilla Bean Paste - Vanilla paste is similar to extract but is thicker and is swirled with real vanilla bean seeds! The flavor is more intense than a typical extract and will provide those beautiful vanilla bean specks throughout the cookie dough and frosting. It's a very convenient product to have on hand and is a great substitute for fresh vanilla bean. I recommend using ½ Tablespoon of vanilla paste in place of half of a fresh vanilla bean.
- Vanilla Extract - When all else fails, just go ahead and double the amount of vanilla extract in these cookies. A good quality vanilla extract should still provide great vanilla flavor in these cookies.
Baker's Journal: Vanilla is the star of this recipe and quality is important. For this reason, we do not recommend using clear vanilla extract or imitation vanilla flavoring.
How To Make & Bake These Cookies
Vanilla Cookie Dough
- First, start by sifting all of the dry ingredients into a medium bowl. Set the flour mixture aside.
2. Then, it is time to cream the butter and sugar together. We recommend using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, but you can also use a large bowl and a handheld electric mixer. Cream the butter and sugar on low to medium speed for 8 - 10 minutes.
Pro Tip: The KEY to soft, cake-like cookies is properly creaming the butter and sugar. Your end result should be pale, nearly white, light and fluffy.
3. Next add in one egg, vanilla extract and the vanilla bean seeds. Mix until fully incorporated.
4. Next add in sour cream. Mix until fully incorporated. You may need to use a rubber spatula to scrape the bottom of the bowl. Then add in your flour mixture. Do not over mix. Gently pulse the mixer on low speed until the flour has been incorporated into the dough.
5. You will have a sticky, soft dough. Cover the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for about 2 hours (or overnight) until chilled.
Shaping & Baking
When ready to bake, arrange your oven racks in the center third of your oven. preheat the oven to 325° Fahrenheit. Prepare two baking sheets with sheets of parchment paper or silicone mats.
6. Portion the cookie dough into 2 Tablespoon/ 1 inch balls. Arrange vanilla cookie dough balls on prepared baking sheets, leaving some room to allow spreading.
7. Bake cookies, rotating the pans halfway through, for about 12 - 15 minutes or until the centers are barely set and the bottoms are lightly golden. The cookies will be puffy when fresh from the oven. Allow them to cool on the baking sheet for about 5 minutes before transferring the cookies to a cooling rack to cool completely. Meanwhile, make the vanilla frosting.
Whipping Up the Fluffiest American Buttercream
Just like the cookies, the KEY to perfectly fluffy vanilla frosting in to cream the butter for 8 - 10 minutes! Trust me! This creates an airy whipped icing that is perfect for these delicious cookies.
- Start with just butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Cream the butter until pale and fluffy for 8 - 10 minutes. Then, add in vanilla, a pinch of salt and confectioners' sugar. Whip an additional 2 -3 minutes on medium-low speed.
The results are a light and fluffy vanilla American buttercream that isn't too sweet and speckled with flecks of real vanilla. Stir the vanilla frosting by hand, with a spoon or rubber spatula, to knock out some of the larger air bubbles.
2. Top each cookie with about 1 Tablespoon of vanilla frosting. Use an offset spatula to spread the icing over the cookie. Heating the spatula in warm water (and wiping it dry) can help to create smooth swirls in the icing.
Tips for Soft & Chewy Cookies
- Cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy! Don’t rush this step - properly creamed butter can take up to 8 - 10 minutes and should be voluminous and nearly white.
- Do not over mix the dough! Mix the cookie dough until the flour mixture is JUST incorporated.
- Chill the dough. This vanilla cookie dough is very soft and needs to be chilled completely to avoid spreading in the oven.
- Bake on a light colored cookie sheet. Lightly colored baking sheets will reflect more heat leaving lightly blonde cookie bottoms that are soft - not crunchy.
- Use a silicone mat. Silicone mats further insulate the heat retained from the baking tray and help to keep cookies soft. (These are great to use in place of parchment paper - especially if all of your cookie sheets are dark!)
- Do not over bake! These soft vanilla cookies are best blonde - not golden. Bake these cookies until the batter is matte and the edges are ever so slightly darkening. Remember that the cookies will continue to bake for a few minutes on the hot tray outside of the oven.
Making Ahead, Freezing the Dough & Storing the Leftovers
These chewy vanilla bean cookies can be made ahead of time and saved for tomorrow or frozen and baked whenever the mood strikes!
Storing Cookie Dough
- Refrigerator - This vanilla sugar cookie dough can be made up to 3 days ahead of time and stored in the refrigerator until ready to scoop and bake. Make sure the dough is tightly wrapped to avoid drying out and/or oxidation.
- Freezer - Frozen cookie dough can last for 2 - 3 months! We recommend rolling the dough into lightly flattened 1-inch balls before freezing. Cookies can be baked from frozen but will require a few extra minutes in the oven.
Storing Baked Cookies
- Room Temperature - Baked and frosted cookies can be stored in an airtight container on the countertop for 2 - 3 days. Storing the cookies with the frosting on them makes them even softer the next day.
Decorating for Special Occasions
Even though they are simple - these vanilla cookies are perfect for personalizing for special occasions and can be enjoyed all year round. Add a few drops of food coloring to the icing to tint it any shade you please. (Natural food colorings like butterfly pea tea, saffron or hibiscus can make for lovely colors too!) Pink and blue frostings can be great for baby showers while yellows and other pastels are pretty for Springtime holidays, like Easter or Mother’s Day.
Sprinkles are another fun option to bring extra cheer to this easy recipe. Check out how red and green sprinkles transform this delicious recipe into the perfect Christmas cookie. Other types of sprinkles can spruce these cookies up for birthday parties, holidays or just for fun!
Frosted Vanilla Cookies
- 1 Stand Mixer with the Paddle Attachment (or Electric Mixer)
- 1 Cookie Scoop Optional
- 1 Small Offset Spatula
- 2½ Cups all-purpose flour
- 1 Tablespoon corn starch
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon fine kosher salt*
- ½ Cup unsalted butter (1 stick) softened to room temperature
- 1 Cup granulated sugar
- 1 large egg room temperature
- ½ Grade A vanilla bean split and seeded; OR ½ Tablespoon vanilla powder, vanilla paste or pure vanilla extract
- 1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
- ½ Cup full-fat sour cream
- ½ Cup unsalted butter (1 stick) softened to room temperature
- ½ Grade A vanilla bean split and seeded; OR ½ Tablespoon vanilla powder, vanilla paste or extra vanilla extract
- 1 Cup powdered sugar
- 1 pinch fine kosher salt* optional
- Sprinkles optional, as desired
- Gather, measure and prepare the Vanilla Cookies ingredients as listed. For the most consistent results, we recommend using metric weight measurements whenever possible.
- In a medium mixing bowl, sift flour, cornstarch, baking powder, baking soda and salt together. Set aside.
- In the bowl of stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or a large mixing bowl with an electric mixer), cream butter and sugar together for 8 - 10 minutes or until pale, white and fluffy. Add in egg, vanilla bean and vanilla extract. Mix until thoroughly combined, scraping the bowl as necessary.
- Add in sour cream and mix to combine. Add in flour mixture and pulse the mixer on low speed (or stir by hand) until flour mixture is just incorporated and you have a soft dough. Cover and chill for 2 hours, or overnight.
- Arrange two racks in the center third of the oven and preheat to 325° Fahrenheit (About 160° celsius). Prepare two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats.
- Scoop cookie dough into 2 Tablespoon/1 inch balls (30 grams). Arrange balls of cookie dough on baking sheets to allow space for spreading. Bake cookies for 12 - 16 minutes or until the centers are barely set and bottoms are lightly golden. Cool cookies on the baking sheet for 5 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack to cool completely. Once cooled, top with frosting and enjoy!
- In the bowl of stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or a large mixing bowl with an electric mixer), cream butter for 8 - 10 minutes or until pale, white and fluffy.
- Add in vanilla bean, salt and powdered sugar and mix on medium speed for 3 - 4 minutes. Use a rubber spatula or back of a spoon to stir by hand and knock out any large air bubbles.
- Top each vanilla cookie with about 1 Tablespoon of vanilla frosting and use an offset spatula to spread frosting on the cookies. Top with sprinkles, if using. Enjoy!
*Unless otherwise noted, foodworthfeed recipes are developed using Diamond Crystal brand kosher salt. If using iodized or table salt, reduce quantities by about half.