Halloween Ghost Sugar Cookies with Cream Cheese Frosting

Ghost Sugar Cookie

Yes, Halloween is over. But now is the time to run out and search for some ghost-shaped cookie cutters at the after-Halloween sales so you can make these cream cheese ghost sugar cookies next year!

As I told you yesterday, we did get to carve our pumpkins in time for Halloween even though we were in the middle of moving, but one thing I didn’t get done on time was the baking of my favorite Halloween cookies! Even though I knew that I probably wouldn’t get them done on time, I specifically set aside some baking supplies (including my special ghost cookie cutters) so that I could make these cookies after our house was packed up. I did manage to get the dough made yesterday, but they didn’t get cut and baked until this morning.

I love to bake cookies but I have to admit that rolled sugar cookies are my least favorite to make. I’m impatient so I hate the fact that the dough has to chill before you can roll it out. I also hate that I’m not fast enough at rolling and cutting so the dough gets soft and sticky before I manage to fill up a cookie sheet. Inevitably I end up with several misshapen cookies.

So why do I keep making these cookies year after year? Partly because my mom used to make them every year and I like to carry on the tradition. But mostly because they are my all-time favorite holiday cookie. They even beat out my favorite Christmas cookies!

The cookie recipe is pretty standard with one exception. Most sugar cookies contain only vanilla extract but this one uses vanilla and almond extract. It seems like a small difference but the almond extract makes these the best sugar cookies I’ve tasted. I’m not sure of the original recipe source but this is the sugar cookie recipe that my mom used for any holiday that required cookie cutters. The toppings are the only thing that vary from season to season and Halloween was the only time we would frost the cookies with sweetened cream cheese.

Although I did set aside some baking supplies, I did not keep my rolling pin. It’s just too heavy and I didn’t want to pay to ship it to myself in California. So, I made do with a wine bottle. It worked, but I definitely missed my rolling pin!

Cookie Cutters

These are some of the cookies that I managed not to ruin!

Unbaked Ghost Cookies

Ah, the best part…cream cheese frosting!

Frosting the Cookies

And you mustn’t forget the chocolate chip eyes.  Raisin eyes actually taste better on these cookies but I had some chocolate chips in the pantry that need to be used up before we leave.

Chocolate Chip Eyes

The only problem with frosting these cookies with cream cheese is that once they are frosted, you can’t stack them. The best way I’ve found to transport them is on large sheet pans.

Frosted Cookies

Basic Sugar Cookies

2 1/2 C. flour
1/2 t. baking soda
1 t. cream of tartar
1 C. butter, softened
1 1/2 C. powdered sugar
1 egg
1 t. vanilla
1/2 t. almond extract

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda and cream of tartar; set aside. In a separate bowl and using a mixer, cream together butter and powdered sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg, vanilla and almond extracts and beat well. Add flour mixture a little at a time, blending well after each addition until it is all incorporated. Divide dough in half and wrap each portion in plastic wrap or waxed paper. Refrigerate for at least one hour before rolling (several hours is best).

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 375 degrees. Remove one package of dough from fridge, divide that in half and roll out one portion at a time. Roll dough to 1/8 – 1/4 inch thickness. Cut into desired shapes and place cookies on an ungreased cookie sheet. Dough will soften quickly so work fast and always keep the extra dough in the fridge. Bake cookies for about 7 minutes or until just barely starting to color at the bottom. Let cool on wire racks.

To frost cookies: Blend together 8 oz. cream cheese with 3 cups of powdered sugar. Spread on cooled, baked cookies. Use chocolate chips or raisins for the ghost eyes. Orange food coloring can be added to the frosting if you want to make pumpkins instead of ghosts.

To paint cookies: mix small amounts of evaporated milk with desired food coloring. Paint unbaked cookies with small brushes then bake as usual. The colored evaporated milk doesn’t add flavor or sweetness, just color and shine.

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46 Comments
  1. bethany actually

    I will second the fact that sugar cookies made with almond and vanilla extracts have the usual sugar cookies beat, hands down. One of my friends makes fantastic sugar cookies, and when I demanded the recipe, that was the only ingredient that was different from the recipe I’d always used.

    Good luck with the moving and the waiting game. :-)

    4:23 pm  Nov 1st, 2007
  2. OmegaMom

    Hey! You’ve been nominated for best food blog in the 2007 Weblog Awards…

    4:41 pm  Nov 1st, 2007
  3. Ruby

    These turned out sooo cute! Looks like they were fun to make. :)

    4:53 pm  Nov 1st, 2007
  4. Deborah

    I’m going to try the almond extract in my cookies next time. That sounds really good!! I’m glad you were able to make them.

    5:44 pm  Nov 1st, 2007
  5. VeggieGirl

    how fun that this cookie has so much history for you!! not only is it festive for Halloween, but it’s a tradition in your family :0) Happy belated Halloween, Nicole!

    5:44 pm  Nov 1st, 2007
  6. Lydia

    Boo! Those are great! And you’re right, it’s never too late for sugar cookies.

    5:55 pm  Nov 1st, 2007
  7. Steff

    Wow! A friend sent me a link to the Egg Nog French toast and I instantly fell in love with your site! In fact, I made a modified version of your meatballs for dinner last night for my family, some of ate open faced meatballs on french bread and some had noodles with theirs! I have a loaf of french bread to use and a pound of meat ready – i just felt so resourceful and its all your fault! Thanks!!!

    7:13 pm  Nov 1st, 2007
  8. Curt

    Nicole, you know what part of this I like best!

    7:25 pm  Nov 1st, 2007
  9. The Secret Ingredient

    Adorable! I just turned in a magazine article I wrote about Christmas cookies, and almost all the bakers I interviewed for the story also used almond extract (link is on my blog—article will go online a month after it is published in Dec.). A great tip—-I guess that is what separates the best cookies from the average!
    I personally hate making cut-out sugar cookies—but my kids love decorating them, and they are their Uncle Brett’s absolute favorite kind of Christmas cookie—so they are a tradition in our house too. I’ll have to try the cute ghosts—but not today. My body is still on SUGAR OVERLOAD from last night. YUCK!

    7:28 pm  Nov 1st, 2007
  10. Nicole

    Bethany: Yep, it’s just a small change but makes such a big difference in the taste!

    OmegaMom: Yes, I saw that today and I’m pretty excited about it! I don’t know much about the awards but I’m against some pretty stiff competition in the food blog category!

    Ruby: Eh, they were kinda fun but kinda annoying too! The dough kept sticking to everything and quite a few cookies ripped while I was trying to get them from the counter to the cookie sheet!

    Deborah: The almond extract really makes a big difference, hope you like it!

    VeggieGirl: Happy belated Halloween to you!

    Lydia: Thanks!

    Steff: Welcome! I’m so glad that you’re enjoying the site and that you’re trying some recipes! I haven’t made the meatballs in a while…sounds good!

    Curt: I actually thought about you when I was frosting the cookies today!

    The Secret Ingredient: Can’t wait to read the article! I’m on sugar overload, too! Unfortunately we still have tons of Halloween candy left!

    8:07 pm  Nov 1st, 2007
  11. clumsy

    It’s never a bad time for a sugar cookie recipe! And with a little changes to that svelte figure—we’ve got snowmen!

    9:02 pm  Nov 1st, 2007
  12. Nicole

    clumsy: That is such a great idea! I know I have some snowman cookie cutters packed away somewhere, too!

    9:29 pm  Nov 1st, 2007
  13. Tara

    I bet I know the recipe’s original source! It’s almost identical to the Deluxe Sugar Cookies recipe in the Betty Crocker cookbook. (I have my mom’s old 1973 edition.) The only difference is that the Betty Crocker recipe calls for 1 teaspoon soda instead of 1/2 teaspoon. We make them every year and they’re wonderful! I love the cream cheese frosting idea.

    11:30 pm  Nov 1st, 2007
  14. Nicole

    Tara: You’re probably right! I think my mom’s Betty Crocker Cookbook was probably from the same year, too!

    6:50 am  Nov 2nd, 2007
  15. Julie

    Those really look wonderful! I’d gotten so used to seeing poured royal icing on sugar cookies that I forgot how much I like the look of hand-spread frosting. Yum! Thank you so much for sharing this recipe with us!

    7:35 am  Nov 2nd, 2007
  16. kickpleat

    i’m not such a fan of rolled sugar cookies, but i totally want to give these a try…for christmas most likely! your description sounds lovely and iced? oh my!

    7:57 am  Nov 2nd, 2007
  17. Nicole

    Julie: I like the ‘messy’ look of hand-spread frosting, too! For some reason, things that look homemade always seem to taste better than the professional looking ones :-)

    Kickpleat: They work great for Christmas. I usually decorate the Christmas sugar cookies with colored sugar sprinkles and red hot candies. But I’m now thinking that I might try some cream cheese frosted snowmen this year like The Clumsy Cook suggested :-)

    9:07 am  Nov 2nd, 2007
  18. Connie

    Oh, I love the cookie cutter with the plastic (or is it rubber?) top. Little chance of hurting the hands while cutting the dough.

    6:36 am  Nov 4th, 2007
  19. Nicole

    Connie: I love that one, too! It does have a rubber grip and I think it’s made by Wilton, but I can’t remember. The only problem is that it’s so big! Somehow it feels more satisfying to be able to cut out more cookies at once by using the smaller cutters. I guess it has something to do with the fact that I struggle so much rolling out the darn sugar cookie dough! But I did use the large one to make a few big ones (the very first photo was cut with that cookie cutter).

    7:10 am  Nov 4th, 2007
  20. Kathy

    Hey Nicole- Loved this post, mostly because I remember making these with your mom. The raisin vs. chocolate chip debate was usually settled by what was on hand. But I remember the almond extract flavor more on the Valentine’s Day cookies, isn’t that funny ? Maybe that is the first cookie she tried the almond extract on. I even remember her commenting on how good it was.

    4:24 pm  Nov 6th, 2007
  21. Christina

    Lovely looking sugar cookies! The frosting looks really light and fluffy, and I like the peaks and swirls.

    Question: What does cream of tartar do for sugar cookies? I notice that some recipes have it and some do not and I never figured out why. (Because I never looked… =D )

    8:18 pm  Nov 7th, 2007
  22. Connie

    Hi Nicole, I’m buying kitchen stuff next week for the holidays and I’ll be looking out for those “safe” cookie cutters. My daughters love baking too and it was them I was really thinking about when I saw yours. They’re 13 and 15 but they’re not the most careful people in the kitchen. Thanks. =)

    11:53 pm  Nov 7th, 2007
  23. Christine

    Just stumbled upon your site and love these cookies! This is going to be perfect for next Halloween. Thanks!

    8:34 am  Mar 28th, 2008
  24. Cassandra

    Thank you for the recipe! I can’t wait to make these cookies… I’ll probably make them for my Halloween party!

    10:30 am  Oct 29th, 2008
  25. Nicole

    Cassandra: I hope you enjoy them! :-)

    12:48 pm  Oct 29th, 2008
  26. Elizabeth

    Fantastic Recipe My Girl!! Much thanks!

    7:57 pm  Oct 30th, 2008
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  30. PawPawNan

    I just found your blog–sugar cookies sound yummy on this very fall day. :-)
    My trick for working with soft dough is to roll it out on parchment paper (I buy
    it fairly inexpensively in a bulk pack from a local food service supply store) and
    then chill the rolled out dough on a cookie sheet. Use a sheet with either no sides,
    or turn a sided one upside down. Then take out one sheet of dough at a time, cutting even intricate shapes is much easier, and quite a bit lower on the frustration
    scale. :-)

    6:43 am  Nov 3rd, 2008
  31. Gretchen

    Beautifully done blog entry. The photos are great and my mouth is watering! i wish I’d found this before Halloween. I will bookmark it for next year.

    2:18 pm  Nov 3rd, 2008
  32. Erik

    I LOVE frosted sugar cookies, but mine are always inconsistent – sometimes crispy, sometimes soft. How should these turn out? I like the idea of both extracts in the dough and I’ll give this recipe a shot myself – it’s very close to my mother’s recipe – which I have yet to duplicate properly.

    1:16 pm  Nov 6th, 2008
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  34. Debbie

    I have used this recipe for years and years. Great for all seasons! I was making them the other day and my grown daughter asked me if this was the same recipe I always used when my children were growing up. She remembered that I often times did not get the cookies baked because all the kids liked the dough so well!!!!! I discovered a quickie version. Rather than rolling them out and cutting with cookie cutters, form balls and flatten out with the bottom of a glass that has been dipped in water and then in granulated sugar. They come out like Lofthouse Cookies!!!!

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  36. Delecia

    My brother was born on Halloween and will be 70 years old this year, so I’ll have to make some for him since I’m his big sister.Would cutting them out on no-stick foil work so they wouldn’t come apart? Just a thought.

    2:46 pm  Mar 1st, 2009
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  38. KariBear

    I am going to have to give this recipe a try. My sister does something that you might find helpful with the rolling, she divides the dough in half as instructed and rolls each between two sheets of wax paper and chills for the hour, then peels off top layer (setting aside) and cuts out cookies. Then she re-rolls the dough and puts back in the fridge. After these are baked and pan is cooled a bit, she pulls out the SECOND batch of dough and does it again. By rotating it in the fridge, she is always working with chilled rolled dough and her cookies are perfect.

    11:15 pm  Aug 18th, 2009
  39. Allie

    Hi Nicole,

    I attempted to make a batch of these cookies and it was unsuccessful. My dough was very crumbly and unworkable. I checked back through, and I had all of the ingredients right. Do you know why this could have happened??

    Thanks! -Allie

    10:18 pm  Dec 19th, 2009
  40. Jenny

    I made these cookies, and they’re delicious…my only question is, doesn’t the cream cheese frosting need to be refrigerated? I don’t really want to refrigerate the iced cookies, but I don’t want anyone to get sick.

    8:06 pm  Sep 17th, 2010
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  43. anickh

    ive been making these cookies for years, like 10 years at least and never had a problem. theyre the best sugar cookie ever, so if u made these and they turned out bad, it means you did something wrong, cuz sorry, this recipe is full proof!!!!!! so sorry Allie, you did something wrong

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  46. Charlotte

    These are wonderful! I’m 78 years old and quit making sugar cut-out cookies when my children were young. I can’t imagine where the negative comments came from. I found absolutely nothing wrong with this recipe. I did find that working with smaller batches works much better. The dough does get soft rather quickly, so rolling smaller batches helps that problem. And rolling the dough on parchment paper on the cookies sheet …… genius!! I did have to move the cookies around some to give more room when baking, but so much easier to slide the cookies on the parchment rather than lifting from the counter to the cookie sheet and trying to keep the original shape.
    The flavor was good also. It’s still not my favorite thing to do in the kitchen, but will now try them again. Thanks for the recipe and all of the wonderful tips.

    12:29 pm  Oct 23rd, 2013
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