For More Complex Sugar Cookies, Experiment With More Than Just Vanilla Extract

Sugar cookies are a simple and classic baked good, but their name can be a little misleading as most versions could just as accurately be described as vanilla cookies. Lightly crispy and tender, a good sugar cookie is a testament to the power of butter, flour, and its namesake ingredient, but they would be pretty one-note without some vanilla extract. The world's second most expensive spice brings most of the actual flavor, with just a few teaspoons of vanilla able to imbue stacks of cookies with a depth beyond the basic sweetness of white sugar. The thing is, even with the amazing flavor of vanilla, sugar cookies can be so much more. Vanilla has a floral depth all its own, but its taste is still heavily sweet and marshmallowy. Vanilla blends with sugar instead of contrasting it or standing out. For flavors that stand out, you need to turn to other extracts.

Some of the most evocative cookie memories of my childhood involve simple Italian drop cookies flavored with anise or almond, rather than vanilla-flavored sugar cookies. The licorice taste of anise can be off-putting for some but, when masked in sugar cookies, it adds a bitterness and spice that brings balance instead of doubling down on sweetness. Almond extract adds an extra dimension of nutty flavor that creates a more subtle and complex cookie. And that's just the beginning of what the wide world of extracts can offer sugar cookies.

Extracts can add a wide variety of flavors and depth to sugar cookies

Anise and almond sugar cookies have both remained in my rotation as I've grown to make sugar cookies of my own, but I've also become a fan of what a little citrus flavor can do. Coming from the same oils that are in citrus zest, lemon or orange extract aren't very sour, yet they still add brightness and an undertone of acidity that make sugar cookies pop. If citrus in cookies doesn't work for you, mint extract is another great way to lighten up the flavor. For the more experimentally-minded, floral extracts, like lavender and rose, can give sugar cookies a surprising complexity. Just be sure to use a light hand so the floral extract doesn't overpower the other flavors.

The big thing that makes extracts so great for mixing up your sugar cookies is that it's so easy to combine them. You can keep the lovely flavor of vanilla in the mix and still incorporate some almond; or maybe even some coffee extract for a vanilla latte twist. Rum and coconut extracts can be combined to add tropical flair. The only rule to follow is to test out your extracts in small doses. Between ½ a teaspoon and a full teaspoon is usually enough to add noticeable flavor to a recipe that uses two cups of flour. Beyond that, don't let anything stop you from upgrading your sugar cookies with fun and unique extracts.