Decorating Sugar Cookies
Successful cookie baking is an achievement in itself, but isn’t it more fulfilling when you have ornamentally decorated the cookies that you have baked so they look as good as they taste? If you’ve ever seen beautifully iced sugar cookies with delicate swirls, sparkly sugars, and other designs, you may be a bit intimidated—how do they get it to look so good? Icing and decorating sugar cookies may take a little practice, but it’s not that difficult to get the hang of it and create an impressive tray of cookies for any occasion—holidays, birthdays, or just a Saturday afternoon snack.
Decorating baked cookies can be done in many different ways. There are just so many ways that baked sugar cookies can be decorated. To help you out, here are some of the tips and guidelines that you can opt to follow on how to decorate sugar cookies.
Some people like to add a touch of color and additional flavor to the cookie with frosting. The frosting is a thick, creamy consistency that gets smeared onto the cookie with a spatula or piped on with a baker’s bag for more precision. Frosting stays soft, so you can’t really stack the cookies if you frost them. They’re best reserved for really big cookies. Buttercream (heavy cream whipped until it passes the ‘whipped cream’ stage but before it completely breaks down into butter) is the most popular type of frosting.
If you’re frosting your cookies, you only really need to make one plain base frosting, or just buy regular vanilla frosting. You can divide your batch, add flavors such as mint, chocolate, or almond, and use food colorings to tint the frosting to your desired color.
Icing is made with pasteurized raw egg whites and confectioner’s sugar to make a thickened liquid. Icing is much thinner than frosting, and the big difference is that it ‘sets’ and hardens so it won’t smear. You can actually stack, box or bag the cookies once the icing sets, so you don’t have to worry about space. It’s piped on with baker bags and decorative tips, which can produce some very beautiful and artistic results.
You can use and layer different colors to ‘paint’ your cookies and give them real style. Just let one color set before starting with another.
After you frost or ice your cookies, before the icing sets, you can top it with additional decorations:
- Sprinkle chopped nuts on the cookies, or put one large nut—such as almond—on top.
- Raisins add a bit of chewy, natural sweetness to the cookie. If you prefer, try other dried fruits, such as dried cranberries.
- Colored, shimmery sugars give a beautiful finished, sparkly look when you sprinkle them lightly over ice cream. For me, no winter holiday cookies are complete without it, because it reminds me of snow and ice.
- Licorice string can be used to line a cookie or to make distinguishing features, such as smiles on gingerbread men.
- Chocolate chips are great for adding a bit of chocolate, and other kinds of decorative elements—such as buttons or eyes on a snowman cookie.
- Sprinkles are festive, especially for parties and birthdays.
- Edible pearls are stunning—they look like real pearls and come in a variety of colors, but they’re made of sugar and totally edible. They give a cookie quite an elegant look.
Cookie Icing Tips
- Divide up your icing into different bowls and tint them to the desired color. Blend well so you don’t get any streaks.
- Distribute your icing into different baker’s bags. Use fine tips if you’re planning to write with them or make details, and use broader tips if you’re planning to use that color to fill in large areas
- Put out a tumbler cup for each baker bag—that way when you’re not using that bag, you can set it in the cup, and if it leaks it will leak into the cup.
- Put your cookies on a big baking tray when you’re ready to decorate. That way, if some icing dribbles off the cookie or some sprinkles miss the mark, all the mess will be in the tray. Just move the finished cookies to a plate, and dump the mess when you’re done.
- Keep some clean skewers nearby to pop any air bubbles or scrape away any mistakes.
- Trace the area you want to fill in with an outline first, then fill it in.
- Let one color dry or ‘set’ before you start using another color. That will keep from them smearing and blending.
There’s no “right” or “wrong” way to decorate a cookie—just get creative! Practice makes perfect.