I’m a firm believer that the best cookies are anything but firm. A soft, big, buttery, chewy cookie is the key to my heart, and these Soft and Chewy Lemon Sugar Cookies absolutely fit the bill. They’re made from scratch and bursting with tart lemony flavor from both lemon zest and real lemon juice!
As tends to be the case with all of my cookie recipes, this one has been a while in the works. That is to say that I’ve made about 20 batches of cookies in the testing process, eaten them all, cried to myself about how a girl cannot survive on cookies alone, and then continued to eat some more in the name of “recipe-testing”. I made flat lemon cookies. Puffy ones. Cakey ones. Lackluster ones. Crunchy ones. Just nearly perfect ones. Really perfect ones. And I just kept going for weeks on end until they were the greatest lemon cookies I could possibly imagine ever coming out of my kitchen— or any kitchen– and yes, I ate cookies from every batch. These are the sacrifices I make for you. (Truly, I’m such a martyr.)
Of course I shared some with friends throughout the process, both for feedback and to get some of the cookies out of my house, where my self-control is seemingly non-existent. And while I have a bit of a reputation ’round here for making awesome cookies (not to pat myself on the back too much), several of my friends proclaimed these to be the best cookies I’ve ever made. Or their favorite cookies they’ve ever had. Who would have thought that lemon sugar cookies could trump gooey, chewy chocolate chip, or dreamy, giant peanut butter cookies? I definitely didn’t.
The thing is, these Soft and Chewy Lemon Sugar Cookies may not be loaded up and oozing with crazy fillings, but they are intensely flavorful thanks to a combination of lemon zest and lemon juice, and their dense, chewy texture makes them a joy to sink your teeth into.
They’re the sort of cookie that you crave year-round. Their brightness makes them perfect for spring and summer holidays– you can bet I’m making another batch for Easter– but they’d be just as welcome at a Christmas cookie exchange, where their zippy tart flavor would be a great departure from the usual richness of chocolate-spiked desserts. Honestly, any excuse to make these is a good one. Any time, a good time.
TIPS FOR THE PERFECT LEMON COOKIES
Truly perfect lemon cookies, above all else, should be lemony, right? It seems pretty straight-forward, but there hundreds upon thousands of lemon cookies out there that are really lacking in the tartness department. Or even worse, they taste bitterly lemony and unbalanced, or perfectly lemony but the amount of lemon juice has messed with the consistency of the cookies. (Too much moisture will make cookies gummy and cake-like.)
So how do we get lemony-flavored cookies that are sweet, chewy, and perfectly baked?
- Ditch the lemon extract. Lemon extract and lemon juice are often thought of as being entirely interchangeable, but lemon extract has an oil or alcohol base and does not achieve the same tartness as you get with real lemon. If you want your cookies to truly taste lemony, go with the real thing.
- Use both lemon juice AND lemon zest. Fresh lemon juice adds signature lemon flavor to the dough, but too much will throw off your proportions. Adding the zest of the lemons as well means that you’re wasting less and getting more flavor without increasing the volume of wet ingredients.
- Use butter, not shortening. Many cookie recipes call for shortening or a mix of butter and shortening, but using butter only gives you more richness and– obviously– buttery flavor. Who doesn’t want a truly buttery lemon cookie?
- Use both white AND brown sugar. Obviously regular white granulated sugar adds sweetness to the cookies, but it also encourages the cookies to brown as the sugars caramelize, absorbs moisture in the dough, and encourages the cookies to spread from their ball shape as the sugar melts. Meanwhile, a bit of brown sugar creates a chewier, more deeply flavorful cookie thanks to the addition of molasses which is moist and slightly acidic.
- Don’t skip the cornstarch! It might seem like a strange addition, but cornstarch is my “secret ingredient” when it comes to making the perfect chewy cookies. Cornstarch helps to soften harsh proteins in the flour, making the cookies more tender in the end.
- Chill the dough. Chilling the dough accomplishes two things: It allows the dough ingredients to meld together and it also prevents the cookies from spreading too much and getting overly thin and crisp.
- Line your sheet pans with parchment paper. On the subject of preventing cookies from spreading too much, lining baking sheets with parchment paper is another way to help your cookies keep their shape. It also prevents the cookies from burning or sticking on the bottom and makes for easier clean up. You can also use a silicone baking mat instead!
- Roll the dough ball in extra sugar. Rolling the cookie dough in extra sugar means that that sweetness is the first thing that will hit your tongue when you take a bite. It also encourages the cookies to crinkle slightly and adds a more interesting texture to the final product.
- Take the cookies out of the oven BEFORE they look like they’re finished, and let them cool on the baking sheet. If you want your cookies to be ultra-dense and chewy, the best way is to take them out when they’re still light and fluffy and undercooked in the center and just lightly browned along the edges. If you let them cool on the baking sheet, the residual heat will continue to bake them and they will firm up just enough to the point where they’re solid but still incredibly soft. And then you can dig in.
If you’re the sort of person who likes to add extra ingredients to everything, I get that. I’m also that person. The original version is great, but if I can sneak some pantry ingredients into half of a batch of cookies, I’m sure gonna try. These Soft and Chewy Lemon Cookies are no exception. So here’s some add-in inspiration for you!
- Nuts. Macadamia nuts and almonds would both be great additions to these cookies! Just watch out if serving to a big group of people who might have allergies.
- White chocolate chips. I’m not big on regular milk or dark chocolate with lemon, but white chocolate pairs fantastically with tart lemon!
- Poppy seeds. Poppy seeds add a distinctive nutty flavor and slight crunch that is perfect for adding to lemon desserts.
- Berries. Berries such as blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries would make great add-ins, either in fresh or dried form. Coconut is also technically a berry, and a little shaved coconut would do well here!
- Fresh herbs. It might sound weird to add herbs to a cookie, but fresh basil, thyme, or mint would be delicious.
Have more ideas or suggestions? Let me know in the comments!
MORE OF MY FAVORITE COOKIE RECIPES
Soft and Chewy Lemon Sugar Cookies
- Total Time: 32 mins
- Yield: 24 cookies 1x
- 2 tablespoons lemon zest, from 2-3 lemons
- 1 cup granulated sugar, plus 1/2 cup more to roll
- 1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
- 1.5 sticks (12 tablespoons) butter, softened
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 large egg
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- Yellow food coloring (optional, as desired)
- 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 2 teaspoons cornstarch
- In a large bowl, whisk together the lemon zest, 1 cup of the granulated sugar, and light brown sugar until well-combined. Cream in the butter until fluffy. Whip in the vanilla extract, egg, lemon juice, and yellow food coloring, as desired. (I typically use about 10 to 12 drops.)
- In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder, and cornstarch. Add the dry mix to the wet ingredients and stir until fully combined, being careful not to over-mix. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour.
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Pour 1/2 cup granulated sugar on a small plate.
- Roll 2 tablespoons of dough into a ball and roll in granulated sugar. Place on baking sheet and repeat with remaining dough. Be sure to leave space surrounding the cookies for them to spread!
- Bake for about 10-14 minutes, rotating half-way through, or until the cookies have spread out and the edges are golden, but the centers of the cookies still look soft, puffy, and undercooked. Every oven is different, so I recommend starting with just one or two cookies on the tray to see what baking time works best for you!
- Let the cookies cool on the baking sheets until the cookies are firm enough to remove, about 15 minutes. Repeat with remaining batches, until all cookies are baked. Be sure not to let the trays cool completely before putting any more batches of cookie dough on them, as warm trays will cause the cookies to spread out too much.
- Prep Time: 20 mins
- Cook Time: 12 mins
These are so mouthwatering. Keeping aside the recipe, which obviously is standing out and is really well scripted, I’d say the pictures and the presentation deserves applause as well.
Morgan: Love your recipes and I’ve been a fan for a while. Love lemon cookies – one of my favs and these really look tasty! As a person of your background and experience, I’d like to ask your advice. What could I do to replace the white sugar? As a diabetic II, I’ve tried so many different kinds of ‘white sugar replacements’ that it’s not funny. The best one I’ve come across is Organic Stevia and was wondering if I could replace this for the white sugar in this lemon cookie recipe. I’m still having problems figuring out if I can replace Stevia in any recipe or in just a few. I realize this is all in a trial & error phase, but I just wanted to know what your thoughts would be on this?? I’m really having a hard time asking different chefs and bakers for help or advice on this subject matter, so I hope you don’t mind me reaching out to you. Maybe one day there will be someone out there that will create delicious recipes for ‘people like us’ – ha! In the meantime, I’m just thankful that I found Stevia – tastes pretty good and doesn’t raise my blood sugar! Thank you, Morgan, for listening!! Debra
Hi Debra! I have actually experimented with baking with sugar substitutes a lot in the past, though I imagine there are probably more options out today than there were back when I tried about 7-8 years ago. However, stevia is a hard one because it is significantly sweeter than sugar by volume, so you can’t swap them out one-for-one in recipes. I would be hesitant to just try swapping while using less as it will affect the texture of the dough. I’m going to look into it and see if there’s anything I find that might be a good solution! And if anyone reading this has any suggestions, please send them our way!
I have to make cookies for this weekend for a family gathering and came across this recipe. Looks great and I’m excited to try it!
Mary Bostow says
Thank you soooooo much for this recipe! These look delicious!! By the way OMG I love you pictures, your soooooo good at it!!!
I really like chewy cookies – the texture of soft cookies is incredible and makes me want to make more and more of them. Really like that you’ve added some lemony flavor here – definitely a hit!
Kelly Anthony says
I recently tested about 15 batches of chocolate chip cookies so I appreciate all the hard work behind your lemon sugar cookie. I can’t wait to make this perfected cookie.
Andrea Metlika says
These lemon cookies look amazing!
Oh yum! That texture looks absolutely wonderful! I love that you made so many batches until you had it just perfect.
We very much appreciate your work and effort! I cant wait to make these and thank you for mistakenly saying “ballin”. These cookies ARE ballin.
If I wanted to add blueberries or anything else as a mix in, at which stage in the prep would I add them in?
At the end of mixing the dough, gently fold them in before refrigerating 🙂
I made these yesterday and added blueberries and they were a HUGE hit! My husband who normally doesn’t like lemon is insisting that I make more of these! Best homemade cookies I ever made!!
Is there any way I can freeze the dough and save for later? I made a batch of these last night for my fiancé to take to work and his fire crew lost their minds! They were delicious. I’d like to have them frozen on hand for the sporadic craving. Thanks!
I haven’t tried freezing the dough for these exact cookies, but just this weekend I tested baking pre-made and frozen dough from my Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe. It worked really well, and I imagine it would for these too! I’d recommend doing up through step 4, popping the baking sheet into the freezer, and then transferring them to a freezer bag when they’re solid. Bake them for a few minutes longer than usual because they’ve been frozen. Hope that helps, Anna!
Hello! The cookies I made are not spreading enough, they are quite round. Would you have a guess why this is?
Veena Azmanov says
Love lemon as a flavor and definitely goes well with this cookie recipe. Love the chewy texture and the softness of the cookie too.
These are perfectly tart and lemony! My new favorite cookie for spring!
Like you, I love a soft sugar cookie. These are perfection with just the right amount of lemon. Brown sugar addition is genius!
The idea to roll these lemon cookies in extra sugar is genius!
Priya Lakshminarayan says
I am loving the sound of lemon flavored cookies! Looks delicious
Kelly Dickson says
I followed the recipe carefully but my cookies ended up being puffy, and did not not flatten out like your photo. Also they were not as chewy as I would have hoped. Would love any feedback on where I might have gone wrong. Used softened (room temp) butter and was careful not to mix the batter too much.
I don’t have cornstarch is there a substitute
Awful!! Looked and tasted nothing like this recipe shown! I did everything right. First catch I over baked. Then second came out better. Not the flavor or texture I was supposed to be like in the picture. So frustrating. I’ll try it again.. trial and error.. 🙂
Any suggestions? Thanks.
Hi Trac! I’m sorry to hear that. You’re not giving me much to go off of here though– can you give me some description of the cookies so we can figure out what went wrong? Were they very puffy when all was said and done? If so, I think they likely were still over-baked for your second batch, which would affect both the final look and flavor. Perhaps your oven runs a bit warmer, which is really common. Did you follow the advice in the recipe to test 2 cookies first to find your ideal bake time (and how long did you bake that second batch)? Also, did you use fresh lemon juice? I hope we can figure this out so your next go can turn out perfectly! 🙂
Gretchen Cole says
These are excellent! Chewy and delicious. I made as noted with the exception of substituting !/2 cup of flour with cornmeal (I like the taste and texture). This is a keeper!
Hi, these cookies look delicious!
I have tried your soft and chewy sugar cookies before (the ones without the lemon) and have gotten good results cutting the recipe in half. However, this recipe only has 1 egg so I was wondering if I could beat the egg and only add half of it in if I was trying to make a half batch? I just wanted some input, thanks!
I haven’t personally tried it but I would think that should work, Lily! If you do try it, please let me know how it goes!
I ended up doing it, and it worked great! I also had success only using the yolk, and wow, these cookies are amazing. Do you think this recipe will work will limes as well? (Even though the flavour will be a little different)
These are absolutely amazing. So delicious about to make a second batch .
Joni Graham says
Dang girlfriend, these are awesome! I am an “adder” like your self but restrained myself this time. Awesome, absolutely perfect. Easy and delicious. Changed nothing!
I don’t have any fresh lemons. Can I substitute the lemon zest with more lemon juice? Or can I leave out the zest?
Could I refrigerate over night?
This recipe looks absolutely delicious I’ve been looking all over for this. I have not made them yet but I am giving a 5 Star rating because I can already taste them!
I am a relative newcomer to Baking, but I’ve made plenty of cookies during my life. My only question is how far apart exactly should they be? Never having made a big sugar cookie, it would be helpful to have a sense of this. Thank you so much!
Oops a second question…Can I cover the mixing bowl and leave the mixed cookies in the refrigerator overnight?
Approximately how far apsrt should the cookie dough be put on the tray?