The Best Tips & Tricks for Decorating Perfect Sugar Cookies

This was my third year (as of 2020) making and decorating perfect sugar cookies, and they came out even more AMAZING than I expected! I was so proud of all the texture I was able to add when it came to decorating sugar cookies.

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If you’re trying to achieve that Pinterest-worthy decorated sugar cookie, then this is the blog post for you! I’ll be going over seven tips for decorating sugar cookies for beginners.

Tips & Tricks for Making Cookies

Plate of sugar cookies with green icing background and a white squiggle tree design on top. White mug with black letter B next to the plate of cookies. Sign behind the cookies and mug. Decorating Perfect Sugar Cookies | Sincerely Yasmin

First things first. Your designs won’t look good if your base isn’t providing a good surface. Just like you would prime your walls or exfoliate your lips before adding paint or lipstick, then you want to make sure your cookie surfaces are as smooth and as even as possible. Here’s a few tips to make that happen!

1. Weigh your ingredients

It’s so important to weigh your ingredients instead of just using measuring cups. Using a food scale and weighing your ingredients is more important for some ingredients over others but it’s still a great habit to develop.

For example, did you know that a cup of flour is not consistently the same amount as if you weighed the flour? If you heavily pack the measuring cup one time but then only loosely add flour the next time, then that’s going to impact the way your cookies come out. Getting a food scale is the best way to immediately improve your recipes and consistency.

What if your recipe doesn’t provide weight measurements, only measuring cup amounts? In that case, I like to use the measuring cup amount as a starting point. After putting a bowl on top of the food scale and taring the scale, I will pour the measuring cup amount into the bowl and note the weight of the ingredient on the recipe. If I like the way the cookies come out, then I have the weight amount to use next time (and to keep that consistency going)!

Want more info about this? Check out the The Barefoot Baker’s blog post.

Pink, green, white sugar cookies with winter holiday designs, like a white snowflake | Decorating Perfect Sugar Cookies | Decorating Sugar Cookies for Beginners | Sincerely Yasmin

2. Don’t over knead the dough

Do NOT mindlessly knead your dough! Maybe it’s just me, but there is something so calming about kneading out the dough…but do not get sucked into that calmness! It is deceitful! Okay, so I’m kinda joking but you definitely want to knead just enough to combine your ingredients and NO MORE. Why? There’s a couple of reasons.

First, the more you knead your dough, the more you develop gluten which can mean a tougher cookie. While this is unavoidable when re-rolling scraps, its best to keep your kneading to a minimum as much as possible.

Second, the more you touch the dough, the warmer the dough gets due to the transfer of heat from your hands. This can lead to uneven surfaces on your cookie and to spreading in the oven!

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P.S. If you have trouble rolling out even surfaces, these rolling pin rings are lifesavers! My sugar cookie surfaces improved so much after I used these.

If you notice your cookies getting warm and oily looking then keep reading…

3. Be chill

While we can’t decrease our body temperature while working with cookies, we can take steps to keep our cookies as cold as possible.

While cutting out cookies, keep the dough amount you are working with small, and leave the rest in the fridge until you are ready for the next batch. If you start noticing nail or thumbprints in your cookies while removing them from the cookie cutter, then it’s time to let the dough chill a bit. The dough will also start looking a little shinier or oilier as it gets warmer.

The transfer of heat from your hands also leads to the dough spreading in the oven, which means you miss out on those sharp cookie edges! Again, this is a simple fix. Once you have cut out your cookies, lay them on parchment paper on your cookie sheet and let them chill in the fridge for about five or ten minutes before putting them in the (preheated) oven.

Related Post: Kitchen Tools You Need When Decorating Sugar Cookies

Decorating Sugar Cookies | Decorating Sugar Cookies for Beginners| Tips & Tricks for Decorating Sugar Cookies | Sincerely Yasmin

The Icing

Now that we’ve made sure our cookie surfaces have been primed and prepped, we are ready to decorate our sugar cookies!

1. Figure out your flooding level

My designs started looking a lot better once I figured out how to used the flooding and outline method. It’s not hard to understand how it works but bringing the icing to a consistency that you can work with is a little harder.

Have no idea what all this talk about ‘flooding’ and ‘consistency’ is about? Start here with info from Bearfoot Baker. I also found it helpful to learn about the ingredients of royal icing because using eggs in your icing can bring about some safety questions when you are storing the icing.

Once you figure out what flooding level you are comfortable with, take a few minutes to find a few simple designs to practice. Here’s my Pinterest board with some cute but simple holiday designs to help you get started practicing your sugar cookie decorating.

While this next recommendation is definitely not necessary, I think it’s seriously taken my sugar cookies and icing to the next level: If you’re making anything more than a single batch of cookies, a stand mixer is a must. I could not imagine mixing the cookie dough with a hand mixer or trying to get the consistency of icing correctly with just a hand mixer.

I have the Artisan series KitchenAid Stand Mixer and it’s been perfect for making several batches of sugar cookies and icing.

I have the color Aqua Sky but only because I didn’t know Lavender Cream existed!

Related Post: Kitchen Tools You Need When Decorating Sugar Cookies

2. Choose the right tip size

So it sounds inappropriate, but I promise we are still talking about sugar cookies and royal icing!

Depending on your design and the look you are going for, I highly recommend starting off with the two thinnest tip sizes, #2 and #3. Although it sucks to flood the cookie design with these tip sizes, it’s so much easier to write and add designs than with a thicker tip. Of course, play around with various tip sizes to get the best look for your design but don’t overlook those smaller tips!

*P.S. If you love switching tips for different kinds of decorating, having multiple decorating bags plus these couplers means you can work more efficiently!

I’m not a big fan of switching tips or having bags with different flooding levels when decorating sugar cookies. That’s why I love using the thin tips because I can go straight into decorating without switching anything around. HOWEVER, if you find it helpful to switch tips for your style and the design you are going for then, by all means, DO IT.

Here’s an article and video about icing cookies that I found very helpful when I was first starting out.

Related Post: Kitchen Tools You Need When Decorating Sugar Cookies

Decorating Sugar Cookies | Decorating Sugar Cookies for Beginners| Tips & Tricks for Decorating Sugar Cookies | Sincerely Yasmin

3. Have some toothpicks nearby

Toothpicks are LIFESAVERS when you are decorating sugar cookies! They are great for popping any bubbles, or for fixing any design flaws. They also come in handy for clearing up any tip blockage! This doesn’t happen often with the thicker tips, but the narrower/thinner tips definitely get icing blockage a lot easier.

If you’re using a thicker flooding consistency, then having toothpicks nearby will also help to spread out some of that royal icing when decorating sugar cookies.

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This set is from Wilton if you like marbling your cookies, or want to clean-up your cookie and icing edges.

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This set includes similar pick tools plus brushes and a small turntable so you can work on your cookies in all directions!

4. Go slowly

Light a candle, get your headphones, find a podcast or playlist, and get ready to do calming exercises because decorating sugar cookies is a marathon not a sprint!

Here’s the thing: if you try to go as quickly as possible, your designs will look like the equivalent of a blurry picture. One of the hardest things for me to learn was that I could not whip these up in one day (I mean, maybe I could but I wouldn’t be sleeping).

In fact, I usually make sugar cookies over a span of two days, minimum. The last two years, it ended up being three days total but my designs with royal icing were also a bit more complicated.

If you’re curious, here’s my sugar cookie and royal icing decorating schedule:

Pre-Day One
– Buy the ingredients
– Figure out my cookie and icing flavors

Day One
– Prep the kitchen and my dining room table for baking by: cleaning up any dirty dishes, cleaning the surfaces, emptying the oven, etc.
– Grab and start mixing the ingredients
– Preheat oven
– Grab baking tools (cookie cutters, pans, parchment paper, etc.)
– Bake cookies (I usually do a rotation of cutting cookies, then chilling them in the fridge for about five minutes, and then baking them)
– Once all the cookies have been cut and I’m about to finish baking them, I will start cleaning up my mess
– Make the base icing (keep white, no colors added, keep on the thicker side of consistency)

Day Two
– Decide on color theme
– Find designs for cookies (this helps me figure out what colors are going to be high demand and which ones don’t need as much icing)
– Mix icing colors for decorating
– Grab all the tools (icing tips, toothpicks, icing bags, pictures of designs, etc.)
– Start decorating!

Day Three
– Finish decorating
– Add second layer texture design (see those raised dots in the image below? those are made by letting the first layer of royal icing fully dry)

Pink, green, white sugar cookies with winter holiday designs, like a white snowflake | Decorating Perfect Sugar Cookies | Decorating Sugar Cookies for Beginners | Sincerely Yasmin

Related Post: Kitchen Tools You Need When Decorating Sugar Cookies

I wish I had a blog post like this when I started making sugar cookies. It was a lot of trial and error the first year of making sugar cookies and royal icing!

I hope this blog post has answered some questions about how you can improve your sugar cookie decorating skills to get Pinterest-perfect cookies! If you have any specific questions, be sure to leave a comment and I’ll share any resources I have.

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Tips & Tricks for Decorating the Perfect Sugar Cookies.

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