These lemon sugar cookies are soft, but not delicate, with the perfect lemon flavor. It’s strong enough that no one will doubt that these are lemon cookies, but not enough to make you pucker and squint! 🍋
The simple yellow icing lends a nice touch and can be made with more lemon juice, or just water. If you tint the icing yellow, everyone will assume it tastes like lemon anyway!
How to make these cutout lemon sugar cookies
This cookie dough is prepared in a single mixing bowl. Simply combine the dry ingredients (flour, cornstarch, baking powder, salt) with the sugar and zest, and whisk it to combine well. You’ll want to make sure you break up any clumps of zest.
Then, add the softened butter, egg, vanilla, and lemon juice, and mix to combine. The dough will come together with the spoon, but you may have to knead in the last few bits of dry ingredients.
What should the cookie dough feel like?
The cookie dough that this recipe makes, like in our original recipe for Lofthouse-style gluten free sugar cookies, is very thick. It’s not so stiff that it’s difficult to roll out with a rolling pin, but it’s thick enough that you will likely have to knead those last little bits of dry ingredients into the dough.
If any of your ingredient amounts are off at all, you’ll know when you roll out the dough and cut shapes. The shapes will cut easily as they should but the edges of the dough won’t be sharp and blunt.
If you find that’s the case, all is not lost! Just add more all purpose gluten free flour by the half-teaspoonful and knead it into the dough until you reach the proper consistency. You won’t ruin the dough by rolling it multiple times.
How to roll out cookie dough perfectly every time
You shouldn’t need to flour the surface or flour the dough to roll it out into a rectangle about 1/3-inch thick. It should roll easily.
If the dough is sticking to your rolling pin as you roll, the dough needs a bit more flour to even it out. Just add a half to a full-teaspoon of all purpose gluten free flour to the dough, and knead it in. Then, try rolling it out again.
If you’d prefer, you can place the dough between two sheets of unbleached parchment paper and roll it out that way. The parchment paper has a tendency to wrinkle, though, which can wrinkle the cookie dough.
If you aren’t sure if your dough is an even thickness everywhere, run the palms of your hands gently over the top of the dough. You’ll feel any thicker spots, and you can go over them with the rolling pin.
Then, cut out shapes with a cookie cutter with sharp edges, and pull the surrounding dough away from the cutouts. Transfer the rounds to prepared baking sheets, then gather and reroll the dough. Repeat until you don’t have enough dough for even one last cutout.
Fresh lemons are the key
Where I live in NY, fresh lemons are in peak season where I live from November through March. That hardly seems to matter though, as they’re available in grocery stores year-round.
It might just be my imagination, but I feel like lemons are at their best in the summertime. And that’s when I turn to recipes like these lemon sugar cookies and our gluten free lemon bars.
You might be tempted to buy those squeeze bottles of “fresh” lemon juice (how can it be fresh when you didn’t squeeze it from a lemon yourself?), but I find that the juice is much more acidic. At the same time, the lemon flavor is less pronounced.
Fresh lemons will keep in the refrigerator for at least 2 weeks. And even if your fresh lemon isn’t as bright and shiny as the day you bought it, squeeze it and you’ll still likely get some good tasting lemon juice.
Can you prepare the lemon juice ahead of time?
Of course, lemon juice will have the most flavor and taste its best right after it’s squeezed. But if you have lemons that are on their way out, don’t waste them!
Using a Microplane or other fine grater, collect as much of the zest as you can (without including any of the bitter white pith). Then, juice the lemons, place the liquid in an ice cube tray, and freeze until ready to thaw and use for baking.
The zest can even be stored in the refrigerator or freezer for later use, too, but it’s really best when used soon after it’s been grated.
Ingredients and substitutions
Dairy-free: I think you should be able to replace the butter in the cookies with Melt brand vegan butter. The edges of the cookies aren’t quite as blunt and clean as they are when you make the recipe exactly as written, but the recipe should still work.
Otherwise, you can try using Spectrum brand nonhydrogenated vegetable shortening in place of butter. It doesn’t have the moisture that butter has, though, so you might have to cut back on the lemon juice to make the cookie dough the proper consistency.
Egg-free: There is only one egg in the cookie recipe, so you should be able to replace it with a “chia egg” (1 tablespoon ground white chia seeds + 1 tablespoon lukewarm water, mixed and allowed to gel).
However, you can’t avoid the flecks of color that inevitable in even ground white chia seeds, but that’s a mild aesthetic issue.
Corn-free: You can replace the cornstarch with potato starch or arrowroot. Potato starch tends to clump even more than cornstarch, so be sure to break up any lumps.
If you are already using an all purpose gluten free flour blend that is high in starch, like Cup4Cup, replace the 1/4 cup of cornstarch called for in the recipe with an equal amount more of your all purpose gluten free flour blend.