Sugar cookie bars are sweet and delicious, thanks to a thick layer of buttercream frosting. The frosting and the sprinkles can be matched to any festivity you have planned!
Why you’ll love it: The bars are easy to make and fun to decorate.
How long it takes: 1 hour
Equipment you’ll need: mixer, bowl, 9 x 13 pan
Servings: 24, depending on how you cut them
Clearly I’m obsessed with vanilla: vanilla bean whipped cream cheese, vanilla buttercream frosting, almond vanilla granola, vanilla bean whipped butter, homemade vanilla pudding, homemade vanilla ice cream — vanilla, vanilla, vanilla!
I know I’m not alone in my obsession with vanilla. Vanilla is a baker’s friend because it adds a sweet warm flavor to almost any baked good, from cookies to muffins. Vanilla is also a popular scent for candles, air fresheners, and body care products.
I just love seeing those little specks of vanilla in whatever I’m eating. It’s pretty much a promise that whatever you’re about to put into your mouth is going to taste great.
So, what about these cookie bars? The buttery sugar cookie base is flavored with vanilla bean paste, but I don’t stop there. The rich creamy frosting layer is also richly enhanced by more vanilla bean paste. These soft and chewy dessert bars have enough vanilla goodness to please everyone!
What is Vanilla Bean Paste?
Vanilla bean paste is a sweetened combination of vanilla extract and vanilla beans. The consistency is somewhat like honey, more of a syrup than a paste, and there are visible vanilla bean flecks.
Vanilla bean paste comes in tubes or plastic jars. It’s usually sold in the baking aisle by the other vanilla products.
Reasons To Love These Cookie Bars
- Easy to make: Bar cookies require less time and effort to bake than individual batches of cookies. The ingredient list is short and basic: flour, powdered sugar, butter, and so on. And vanilla, of course!
- Fun and festive: These sweet treats can be customized to fit any occasion, from birthdays to Christmas to Halloween. Classic white with pearly sprinkles is perfect for bridal showers, green frosting with red sprinkles for Christmas, orange frosting with chocolate jimmies for Halloween, and so on. All it takes is a squeeze of gel food coloring and colored sprinkles.
- Crowd-pleasing: Everyone loves these sweet treats! Cookie bars are basically a giant frosted vanilla cookie.
What You’ll Need
- Butter: Always use unsalted (sweet) butter for baking. You’ll need a cup of butter for the bars and an additional ⅓ cup for the frosting. That’s slightly less 3 sticks of butter.
- Powdered Sugar (Confectioner’s Sugar): Both the cookie base and the frosting are made with finely ground powdered sugar instead of granulated sugar for the smoothest texture and consistency.
- All-Purpose Flour: I usually use unbleached flour because it isn’t processed as much. Bleached flour is lighter in color and is perfectly acceptable.
- Vanilla Bean Paste: See the note above for more information about vanilla bean paste. If you prefer, you can substitute pure vanilla extract or scrapings of a vanilla bean, on a 1:1 basis (see Nielsen Massey, retailer of vanilla products).
- Eggs: Only the yolks are used for the cookie bars; refrigerate the whites for another use.
- Milk or Cream: A couple of tablespoons are needed to give the frosting a smooth spreadable consistency.
- Gel Food Coloring, Sprinkles: If you’d like to decorate the cookies, be sure to have these items on hand. It’s optional; the cookies are wonderful unadorned as well.
How To Make Sugar Cookie Bars
Vanilla bean cookie bars consist of two layers: a vanilla cookie base that is baked and cooled, and a thick buttercream frosting layer. (Of course, if you prefer, you can make a no frosting sugar cookie bar.)
Begin by preheating the oven and prepping the pan. Spray a 9 x 13 inch pan lightly with nonstick spray, then line the pan with parchment paper, leaving an overhang. Lightly spray the paper-lined pan again.
Cream the butter, powdered sugar, and vanilla using a hand mixer on medium speed. The mixture should be fluffy and light colored. Add the egg yolks; beat again until combined.
Add the flour and salt; beat or stir just until the flour is incorporated into the cookie dough.
Put the dough into the prepared pan. Spread it out evenly to the edges, using your fingertips.
Bake for 20 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and set it on a cooling rack. Let the bottom layer cool completely before frosting.
Combine the frosting ingredients. Using a hand mixer, beat the mixture until it’s light and fluffy. Tint with gel food coloring as desired. Be careful, a little bit goes a long way! Spread the frosting evenly on the cooled cookie base.
Add sprinkles immediately. If you wait, the frosting will harden slightly on top and the sprinkles won’t stick. Chill the bars in the freezer or refrigerator before cutting into squares.
To cut the bars, lift them out of the pan, using the parchment paper handles. Use a sharp knife to cut the bars into even squares.
Tips For Success
- Soften the butter: Take the butter out of the refrigerator at least an hour ahead of time to soften. Ice cold butter won’t blend well with the other ingredients. If you forget to soften the butter ahead of time, microwave it at very low power (10%) in one minute increments until it’s soft enough, but not melted.
- Measure the flour correctly: Always use a flour scoop or large spoon to fill the measuring cup. Level the cup using a straight edge (such as a butter knife) to remove the excess. Don’t use the measuring cup to scoop the flour out of the storage container or shake the cup to level the flour.
- Don’t overbake the bars: Knowing when cookie bars are done can be a little trickier than normal cookies. You don’t want to overbake a cookie bar because they harden as they cool. How do you know when cookie bars are done? Check to see if they are set in the middle (firm, not gooey) and golden brown around the edges.
- Cool the cookie base completely before frosting it: This is really important! If you put the frosting on while the cookie base is still warm, the frosting will melt and turn into a gooey mess! It’s not pretty.
The ingredients are basically the same but the ratio differs.
Sugar cookies have higher proportion of flour than shortbread, and less butter. Cut-out cookies are sugar cookies. Try my recipe for sugar cookies!
A shortbread cookie contains less sugar but has more butter, and is very tender. The dough is often rolled into a log and cut into slices to bake. Try my one of my slice and bake cookies (I have more than 10 recipes!).
Should you refrigerate cookie bars? The buttercream frosting can soften and even melt a bit if your kitchen is very warm. The bars will keep at room temperature but I definitely recommend refrigeration for longer storage. They’ll keep for up to a week in a resealable container.
Freezing: Sugar cookie bars can be frozen for up to 3 months in an airtight container. They are a fairly sturdy cookie which makes them ideal for longer storage. Put parchment paper or waxed paper between the layers if you stack them.
- ⅓ cup unsalted butter, softened
- 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste (see note)
- 2 tablespoons milk or cream
- 3 cups powdered sugar
- gel food coloring (optional)
- sprinkles (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Prepare a 9×13 inch pan by spraying it lightly with baking spray, lining with parchment paper and spraying again.
- Add butter, sugar and vanilla bean (or paste) to large mixing bowl. Cream together using a electric hand mixer, on medium speed. Add egg yolks and mix well. Add the flour and salt; mix just until a dough forms.
- Press the dough evenly into the bottom of the prepared pan.
- Bake for 20 minutes or until firm and no longer shiny on top. Remove and let cool completely on a wire rack.
- Meanwhile, combine all of the frosting ingredients in medium mixing bowl; whip until fluffy. Tint with gel food coloring if desired.
- Spread the frosting over the cooled cookie base and immediately top with sprinkles.
- Chill in the freezer for at least 30 minutes before slicing into bars and serving.
- The frosting can be tinted with gel food coloring, or left as is. Decorate with desired sprinkles or jimmies.
- Substitute for vanilla bean paste: You can use pure vanilla extract or add the seeds scraped from one vanilla bean as a substitute, on a 1:1 basis (1 tablespoon vanilla bean paste=1 tablespoon vanilla extract=1 vanilla bean).
This website provides approximate nutrition information for convenience and as a courtesy only. Nutrition data is gathered primarily from the USDA Food Composition Database, whenever available, or otherwise other online calculators.