Sugar Cookie Decorating

February 12th, 2013 posted by Susie Tilton

This is the one time a year that people are most likely to take out all the stops in their holiday baking. For many that means big messes and bigger headaches. As an accomplished sugar cookie baker, I have some great tips to make it more fun than hassle. Ideally, bake your cookies on a different day than you will decorate them. Sugar cookies freeze beautifully but will also do fine sealed on the counter. Whether you use a mix, a prepared dough or from scratch, there are a few things to remember. Cookies made with butter will get crispier than cookies made with shortening or margarine. They also tend to spread less which is important if your cookie cutter has detail. Make sure your dough is well chilled, and roll only a small portion at a time. Flouring your rolling surface and dusting the dough will keep it from sticking. Roll the dough as evenly as possible, there are baking bands for rolling pins that keep your dough at a constant thickness. For more even baking make one sheet of just trees, another of stockings etc. If the cookies are the same size they will cook more evenly. I bake on the lower rack of the oven for half of the recommended time and then switch to the upper rack for the last half. Baking the cookies on a silicone lining or parchment paper ensures that nothing will stick. When the cookies are browned along the edges, remove from oven and let them cool on a rack. Do not try to move the cookies from the pan when they are hot. After they are cool to the touch, finish cooling on a rack and don’t stack them until they are completely cool. Do not reuse the baking sheet until it too has cooled off, you don’t want those cookies to spread before they start baking. If you are decorating on baking day, wash, dry and put away all the baking equipment. It is much easier to take on the decorating when the kitchen isn’t a mess! So you have stacks of cooled cookies, now what? Your choices are these. A basic frosting that you can spread on the cookies and then sprinkle them with an assortment of decorations. This is the easy way. They will taste great, the kids will enjoy it, but maybe you are ready for a bit more of a challenge. For a more professional decorated cookie, you need to start with a batch of royal icing. I suggest using meringue powder instead of egg whites. This is the icing that dries hard, and I keep the icing covered with a very damp dish towel as it dries out quickly. Figure out how many colors you need, and keep it simple. Generally red, green, white and perhaps brown if you have reindeer. Save the brown for last. Mix a little red and green in small bowls that can be covered when not in use. I recommend gel or paste food coloring over the liquid. You will get deeper colors and use less. I use disposable decorating bags and a simple piping tip, #1 or #2 depending on the size of the cookies. You will also see coupler tips available, these allow you to change tips on each bag of icing, a good investment. I use large cups to open the bags over and fill with the icing, not all of it, just enough for the piping and make sure you cover what isn’t being used. You want it to be smooth but not runny. If it is too dry it will not stick to the cookie, too runny and it won’t make a good border. It takes a little practice to recognize the right consistency. The bags will be used to outline your cookies. Start and stop squeezing with your tip down on the cookie to keep it neater. I usually outline all the green and move on to the next color etc. Keep the top of your decorating bag twisted tight so the icing comes out only from the bottom! When you are done piping the border, put a damp paper towel in the bottom of the cup and put the bag in to keep it ready for the detail work. When your borders are dry, you can flood them. You will need to thin out the icing a bit, I use only a few tablespoons at a time and mix it well until it is thin but not watery. You want to be able to dribble small amounts within the borders and have it spread smooth. It is easier to thin small amounts, but try not to beat it too hard or there will be little air bubbles in the finished icing. You can certainly sprinkle colored sugar or jimmies on the icing or use tweezers to place decorations on the cookies. Once the flooded icing starts to set up, you can go back to the icing bags and pipe names, dots, stripes and other details on your cookies. Leftover colored icing can be mixed together as the base for black or brown icing. This cuts down on the waste and you will use less black or brown coloring to get the deeper colors. You will need to let the cookies air dry for a few hours at least before you stack them. They can be frozen, as long as they are not exposed to high humidity when they thaw. They will keep sealed at room temperature for a few weeks. Here is a small list of the items you need to buy at a specialty store to decorate the cookies: Meringue Powder Disposable decorating bags A few couplers Piping tips #1 and #2 will be good ones to start with Gel or paste food coloring Here are a few basic recipes for sugar cookies and royal icing.

Basic Sugar Cookies

(2 dozen) 2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temp 2 cups sugar 2 eggs 2 teaspoons vanilla 4 cups all purpose flour 1/2 teaspoon salt 1 teaspoon baking powder Cream sugar and butter until smooth and fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla and mix well. Slowly add dry ingredients and mix until thoroughly blended. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and flatten to a disc. Chill at least one hour. Can also be frozen at this point. Thaw before continuing. Roll out small chunks of dough at a time on a well floured surface. Bake at 325F for a total of 8-12 minutes. Watch the edges, when they start to brown, they are done. Move cookies sheets from front to back and top to bottom in oven half way through. Cool on the sheets before moving cookies to a rack to finish cooling.

Royal Icing

3 T Meringue Powder 1 pound confectioner’s sugar (have more on hand in case of runny icing) 1/2 cup warm water (give or take on the amount) 1/2 teaspoon of clear vanilla extract (optional) In the bowl of a mixer, beat meringue powder and half of the sugar. Add the water a little at a time and beat until smooth, adding more water as you go. If you are using a stand mixer, do not over beat to marshmallow consistency, keep the icing more of a flowing consistency. Keep covered when not using. Unused icing can be kept at room temperature sealed for about 3 days. It does take a little practice to master the sugar cookies, but they are great for every holiday and collecting cookie cutters is a great hobby! Your friends and family will be happy to eat all of your mistakes and it is a great tradition to pass on.

Susie Tilton (17 Posts)


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Cindy Rowe
Cindy Rowe (7 Posts)

Cindy Rowe is the owner/editor of Crazylou Creations blog. On the blog, you will find a little bit of crazy, and a whole lot of fun! As a FT working mother, she still finds time to create crafts, play around in the kitchen, plan parties and exercise. You'll find all of this and more on her blog!


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