Frosted Sugar Cookie Bars

These soft sugar cookie bars were one of the most popular recipes this week on The New York Times’ website. They described them as “worth the hype” and, with their cheerful frosting and sprinkles, as “happiness in a 9-by-13 pan.” 🙂

Thanks to cream cheese in the dough, they are soft and tender- similar to Lofthouse cookies, my daughter’s favorite cookie. I made them to celebrate the release of my daughter’s middle school musical. Despite the limitations caused by Covid, the school was able to successfully stage their annual musical in a movie format instead of live performances- great. She had a lot of fun participating in the show.

This recipe was adapted from American Girl Cookies, via The New York Times, contributed by Margaux Laskey. I baked the dough in a rimmed sheet pan and used Meyer lemon juice in the frosting. I love bar desserts! They would be a crowd-pleaser served for Valentine’s Day, a birthday, or just as a special treat.

Yield: 20 cookies

For the Cookie Base:

  • 1 cup/225 grams unsalted butter (2 sticks), at room temperature, plus more for greasing the pan
  • 2 3/4 cups/350 grams all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 (8 ounce/225 gram) package cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups/300 grams granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • lemon zest, optional (or Meyer lemon zest)

For the Frosting:

  • 6 tablespoons/85 grams unsalted butter (3/4 stick), at room temperature
  • 2 cups/245 grams confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 tablespoon milk or heavy cream, plus more as needed (I used whole milk)
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice, plus more as needed (I used Meyer lemon juice)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, plus more as needed
  • 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • a drop or two of gel food coloring, optional
  • assorted sprinkles, for decorating, optional

To Make the Cookie Base:

  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees, preferably on convection.
  2. Lightly butter (or coat with cooking oil spray) a 9-by-13-inch baking pan or rimmed sheet 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.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour and salt.
  4. 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.
  5. Add the granulated sugar and beat until smooth, about 1 minute.
  6. Add the egg, vanilla, and lemon zest, if using, and beat on low speed until well combined, about 1 minute.
  7. 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.
  8. Using a spatula, scrape the dough into the prepared baking pan. Using damp fingers or a greased offset spatula, spread the dough into an even layer.
  9. 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 overbake! The bars should be quite moist, and almost slightly underbaked in the middle.)
  10. 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.

To Make the Frosting:

  1. Place the 6 tablespoons of softened butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat the butter on medium speed until creamy, about 1 minute.
  2. Add 1 cup confectioners’ sugar, beating on low speed until fully combined, then repeat with remaining 1 cup confectioners’ sugar.
  3. 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.
  4. Using a spatula, spread the frosting on top, then decorate with sprinkles, if using. Cut into 20 bars and serve.

Note: I stored the leftover cookies in the refrigerator and we actually preferred them chilled.

Soft Sugar Cookies with Raspberry Buttercream Frosting

My daughter is mildly obsessed with the grocery store version of these cookies. I was always hesitant to make them because I thought that they required shortening or margarine in order to keep their soft texture. This version uses a combination of butter and cream cheese to create the soft-baked, cakey texture.

I loved the color and taste from the freeze dried raspberries in the frosting. The resulting color was pretty and fun. 🙂

This recipe was adapted from The New York Times, contributed by Eric Kim. I used a stand mixer and reduced the size of the cookies. They would be very festive as a Valentine’s Day treat. ❤

Yield: about 26 cookies

For the Cookies:

  • 1/2 cup/115 grams unsalted butter (1 stick), at room temperature
  • 3 ounces/85 grams cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1 cup/200 grams granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 2 1/4 cups/285 grams cake flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • sprinkles, for garnish

For the Frosting:

  • 1 cup/30 grams freeze-dried raspberries, finely ground in a food processor or spice grinder (I used Trader Joe’s)
  • 1 cup/225 grams unsalted butter (2 sticks), at room temperature
  • 2 cups/245 grams confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Pinch of kosher salt

Make the Cookie Dough:

  1. In a large bowl, using a spoon, cream the butter, cream cheese, sugar and salt until smooth and fluffy. (I used a stand mixer with the paddle attachment and mixed on low-speed.)
  2. Add the eggs and vanilla extract, and whisk to incorporate some air and to dissolve the sugar crystals, about 1 minute. (I mixed the batter in a stand mixer with the paddle attachment on low-speed.)
  3. Stir in the flour and baking powder until just incorporated.
  4. Using two spoons or a cookie scoop, ration out 1 1/2-tablespoon/25 to 30-gram rounds onto a plastic wrap-lined baking sheet, tray, or container. Cover with another sheet of plastic wrap.
  5. Place the rationed dough in the freezer for 15 to 20 minutes until the dough is no longer sticky and easier to handle.
  6. Heat oven to 350 degrees, preferably on convection, and line two rimmed sheet pans with parchment paper.

While the dough chills, Make the Frosting:

  1. Finely grind the freeze dried raspberries in a food processor or spice grinder.
  2. In a fine-mesh sieve set over a medium bowl, sift the ground raspberries, using a spoon to help pass them through, until most of the ruby-red powder is in the bowl and most of the seeds are left behind in the sieve. (Discard the seeds.)
  3. To the sifted dried raspberries, add the 1 cup butter, confectioners’ sugar, vanilla extract and salt and, with an electric hand mixer or stand mixer, mix on low-speed until the butter absorbs the sugar.
  4. Turn the speed up to high and beat until the frosting doubles in size, about 2 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula to ensure all the ingredients are incorporated.
  5. Transfer the frosting to a small container, cover tightly, and set aside. (You should have about 2 cups of frosting.)

To Bake the Cookies and Decorate:

  1. Remove the dough from the freezer.
  2. Line two rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper.
  3. Roll the chilled dough into even balls and flatten them slightly with your fingers so they’re about 2 inches wide and 1 inch high. Place on the prepared baking sheets. (You should get about 12 to 13 cookies per sheet pan.)
  4. Bake the cookies for 9 to 15 minutes, rotating the pans and switching racks halfway through, or until they no longer look wet on top, are still light in color and spring back to the touch. They will puff up and crack slightly.
  5. Let cool completely on the sheet pan. (They will continue to cook as they sit.)
  6. Using a butter knife or offset spatula, frost each cooled cookie with the raspberry frosting and adorn with the sprinkles.

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