This was my third year (as of 2020) making and decorating sugar cookies, and they came out AMAZING! I was so proud of all the texture I was able to add when decorating sugar cookies.
If you’re trying to achieve that Pinterest-worthy decorated sugar cookie, then this is the blog post for you!
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.
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 rerolling 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!
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 cold as much 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 oiler 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.
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. 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 winter holiday designs to help you get started practicing your sugar cookie decorating.
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!
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.
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 icing when decorating sugar cookies.
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 were also a bit more complicated.
If you’re curious, here’s my sugar cookie decorating schedule:
– Buy the ingredients
– Figure out my cookie and icing flavors
– 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)
– 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!
– 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)
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! I hope this blog post has answered some questions about ways you can improve your sugar cookie decorating skills.
Still have questions about decorating sugar cookies?
Drop them in the comments below!