If the perfect dessert exists, it's here in this 8-inch pan of sugar cookie bars! A thick sugar cookie crust topped with cream cheese frosting and decorated with Valentine's Day hearts is the easiest, most memorable dessert. You can change out the heart decorations for any holiday, too!
What would you do if you were in a grocery store and overheard a woman asking where the cream cheese is, and as she picked up a tub of whipped cream cheese, she then explained that she was planning on making a cheesecake?
Would you chime in to say that whipped cream cheese isn't the best for making a cheesecake? Would you circle the store while you tried to decide what to do? Am I the only weird one who is upset by this?
I understand why she finds it confusing--it's more common to see a tub of whipped cream cheese. It's in the fridge at work, and it's what you see at the bagel shop. It is not interchangeable, however! Please don't make my oreo cheesecake cupcakes with whipped cream cheese!
I've wondered how her cheesecake turned out more than a few times over the past few days, and decided the only way I could apologize to her was to make her a dessert that used whipped cream cheese, like these sugar cookie bars with whipped cream cheese frosting.
There's a super small chance she reads this site, right? I just hope she isn't so discouraged by her cheesecake flop that she gives up baking altogether. My wish is that she somehow knows there's hope left for her baking skills.
How to Make Sugar Cookie Bars
First, we're going to pack sugar cookie dough in a single layer in a 8-inch square pan. This can be a metal, ceramic or glass pan. After the dough bakes, we're going to let it cool and top it with an ethereal whipped cream frosting. The Valentine's Day heart candies on top are perfect for this time of year, but I have also used red and green M&Ms to make my Christmas Sugar Cookie Bars. Yes, it's the same recipe!
The ingredients are super simple, and I bet you already have them in your pantry and fridge!
- Butter. The base of every good sugar cookie is high-quality unsalted butter. I like to bake with European-style butter because it has a slightly higher fat percentage, but any stick of butter will work here. We need one stick for the sugar cookie bar base and another half-stick for the frosting.
- Sugar. One-half cup of white granulated sugar.
- Egg. One large egg. Don't you love when my small batch desserts use the entire egg?
- Vanilla. The flavor of vanilla really shines in sugar cookie bars, so use real vanilla extract, Bourbon vanilla is my favorite.
- Flour. One and three-quarter cup all-purpose flour that you fluff, spoon into the measuring cup and level off with a knife.
- Baking Powder. One-half teaspoon of baking powder to help them rise in the oven.
- Salt. A small amount of salt is crucial here to balance the super sweet cookie base and super sweet whipped cream cheese frosting.
- Whipped Cream Cheese. Yes, we're baking with whipped cream cheese, even though I said it's very rare to bake with this product. It's perfect in this smooth, creamy cream cheese frosting.
- Powdered Sugar. For lightly sweetening the frosting. Don't forget any kind of sprinkles or candy decorations that you want to add on top.
- Begin by preheating your oven to 350-degrees F, and lining an 8-inch square pan with parchment paper in both directions.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer (you can also use a regular hand mixer here), add the one stick of softened butter, and beat on medium speed until creamy, about 30 seconds.
- Continue to beat while streaming in ¾ cup of granulated sugar. Beat until fluffy, about 1 minutes.
- Next, add the egg and vanilla, and beat just to combine.
- Turn the mixer off, and evenly sprinkle the flour, baking powder and salt on top of the batter.
- Turn the mixer back on low, and beat just to incorporate the dry ingredients. Do not over-mix.
- Scoop the batter into the baking pan, and use your fingers to press it into a flat even layer. Bake for 20 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out mostly clean with only a few crumbs. It is important to let the sugar cookie bars cool completely before frosting them, or the frosting will melt and slide right off!
- Finally, make the frosting once the bars are cool: Beat together the softened butter and cream cheese in a bowl with a hand mixer for 1 minute, until fluffy. Add the vanilla and beat to combine. Turn the mixer to low and add the powdered sugar one-half cup at a time while continuing to mix. If it seems to thick, you can add a splash of milk.
- Frost the bars, decorate with candy sprinkles and serve.
When sugar cookie dough is too crumbly, it's probably because your butter wasn't soft enough. The best way to fix this is add a very small splash of milk (1-2 teaspoons) and stir it into the dough. You can also gather the dough in your hands and use the heat of your hands to melt the butter gently and help is hold together.
Yes, you can freeze these bars, but I recommend freezing them without the frosting. Make the frosting just before serving, because the whipped cream cheese will separate once frozen and defrosted.
Valentine's Day 2017 also happens to be the official release date of my next cookbook: Sweet and Simple: Desserts for Two! We have a lot of things planned in the next few weeks, so get ready!
- ½ cup unsalted butter, softened
- ¾ cup granulated sugar
- 1 large egg
- 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 ¾ cup all-purpose flour
- ½ teaspoon baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon salt
For the frosting:
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
- 3 ounces whipped cream cheese (about ½ cup)
- ¾ teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 cups powdered sugar
- candy hearts or sprinkles, for decorating
- Preheat the oven to 350, and line a 8x8" pan one-way with parchment paper.
- In the bowl of a mini stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, make the cookies: add the softened butter and beat on medium-high speed for about 30 seconds, to fluff it up. Slowly pour in the granulated sugar while continuing to beat.
- Next, add the egg and vanilla extract, and beat to combine.
- Turn off the stand mixer, and sprinkle the flour, baking powder and salt evenly on top.
- Turn the mixer back on LOW and beat to incorporate the dry ingredients.
- Scoop the batter into the baking pan, and press it flat with your fingers.
- Bake for 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted comes out mostly clean with only a few crumbs. Let cool completely.
- In a clean mini stand mixer bowl, make the frosting: beat together the softened butter and cream cheese for 1 minute, until fluffy. Add the vanilla and beat to combine.
- Turn the mixer to low and add the powdered sugar one-half cup at a time while continuing to mix.
- Add a splash of milk if you think it needs to be thinner.
- Spread the frosting over the cooled cookie, decorate with candy, and then slice to serve.
Butter: The base of every good sugar cookie is high-quality unsalted butter. I like to bake with European-style butter because it has a slightly higher fat percentage, but any stick of butter will work here. We need one stick for the sugar cookie bar base and another half-stick for the frosting.
Salt: A small amount of salt is crucial here to balance the super sweet base.
Whipped Cream Cheese: Yes, we're baking with whipped cream cheese, even though I said it's very rare to bake with this product. It's perfect in this smooth, creamy cream cheese frosting.
Storage: These bars must be refrigerated because of the cream cheese in the frosting. They keep in the fridge for up to 5 days. They can also be frozen (without frosting) for up to 3 months. Defrost in the fridge, make the frosting and serve.
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 431Total Fat: 20gSaturated Fat: 12gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 7gCholesterol: 71mgSodium: 127mgCarbohydrates: 61gFiber: 1gSugar: 42gProtein: 4g