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Sugar cookie decorating tips

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naked cookies on a cookie rack.jpg

I will probably never create a sugar cookie as picture perfect as Kim Kardashian, and I am totally ok with that.

Recently I got so caught up dreaming of designs for the world’s best cookies that my stress levels shot through the roof. I sweat through my shirt. I overcooked a batch of cookies. I quite literally poured icing all over my hand in the process of  transferring it to a squeezable condiment bottle. I was a mess!

icing tubes

I finally began having fun when I gave myself permission to make mistakes and just move on.

I didn’t create this blog to spend hours worrying about designing sugar cookies for a picture on Instagram so I could sit back and watch the Likes roll in. I created this blog with the intention of learning how to use my camera and to share my adventures in the kitchen.

Since then, my number one goal has become sharing my baking experiences as honestly and empathetically as possible. Curated social feeds shouldn’t prevent any of us from having fun and making mistakes in the kitchen.

Put another way: I’m not here for the ‘gram. Baking is messy, and I’ve learned something from every one of my projects – including the time I dropped a four-layer Fourth of July flag cake.

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So if you’re intimidated as hell by royal icing, and your cookies don’t yet look like the ones around every digital corner, girl, you are not alone. We’re all just doing the best we can, and done is better than perfect.

Below are some tips I’ve learned during my quest for the perfect sugar cookie and pictures that illustrate my process. I hope that by sharing what baking  in my house actually looks like, we can break down the lofty ideals of perfection one imperfect cookie at a time.

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Recipes

Cookie: Can you believe I almost threw out the cookies pictured above? Sure they’re pretty ugly, and I bet the cracked surface means I did something wrong, but they’re tasty and that’s what matters most. Plus they make for excellent practice cookies (as you can see in the heart in the bottom right above). There are a million and one sugar cookie recipes online, but I used Sally’s snowman sugar cookie recipe from Sally’s Baking Addiction.

Icing: Sugar cookies usually require two kinds of icing: royal icing and flood icing. Royal icing icing is thicker and dries faster, so you can create borders and other designs on your cookies. Flood icing is royal icing thinned with water and you use it to fill in the shape of your outlines. You only need one recipe for both, and if you only use one, stick with royal icing.

Tools

icing tools.jpgPiping bags: Piping bags are ideal for royal icing. You can cut the exact size hole you want in the bag which will determine the width of your icing lines. Bigger opening = thicker border. I cut about 1/4 inch from each bag’s end and propped the bags up in a glass cup while working. Royal icing is usually thick enough that it won’t ooze out the bottom.

Thanks to my one of my best friends, I have a box of disposable piping bags that I can’t recommend enough! I also have washable, reusable bags, but I usually make so much of a mess (or forget about the icing in the fridge until it expires – oops!) that it’s nice to purge bags after using. One less thing to clean.

Piping bag alternative: If you don’t have piping bags, use a sandwich baggie! Just make sure you don’t zip it closed. This will cause the pressure to build inside the bag and the icing will spill out the top when it finally breaks open. Yes, I learned this the hard way.

Condiment bottles: Squeezable condiment bottles are great for flood icing. I use these from Amazon. They stand upright so you don’t have to worry about the icing leaking everywhere, and most have openings which are the perfect size for cookie decoration.

Condiment bottle alternative: If you don’t have condiment bottles, I recommend adding flood icing and then using something smaller like a toothpick or butter knife to spread it.

Decoration tips

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Always start with royal icing. It creates the barrier which will contain your flood icing.

While moving slowly in most decoration processes tends to yield the best results, I find the less precious you treat a cookie, the less shaky your icing will turn out. Hold your royal icing tip slightly above the cookie as you draw your desired border, and watch the icing fall into place. Floating the icing will help maintain clean lines.

I like to outline every cookie and let them set before moving on to flood icing. Royal icing should be hard to the touch when it’s done drying.

flood icing in progress.JPG

Use flood icing to fill your cookie. There is no wrong way to fill in the empty space. I like to flood the outline first and then fill in the middle of the cookie. Just do whatever your heart moves you to do!

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You know those Instagram videos where someone uses a small gray needle-like tool on the flood icing? I always thought they were spreading the icing. During my icing class this past spring at Biscuiteers, I learned they’re actually popping air bubbles in the icing.

Do you see the four bubbles on the flood icing in the picture above? To remove them, gently poke them with a toothpick or pick up the cookie an inch or two from a surface and drop it. The pressure is usually enough to pop the bubbles as seen below.

pink heart cookie without bubbles.jpg

Voila!

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My biggest tip (and yes I feel like a big cheese ball saying this) is to be kind to yourself and just have fun. Your first, second, and third batches will be far from perfect, but don’t let that stop you!

Once I threw perfection out the window, I had way more fun piping and throwing sprinkles around with reckless abandon (there may or may not have been several Jackson Pollock shoutouts).

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So your lines are crooked and they’re giving you an eye twitch? Just add more lines! Your royal icing broke and now flood icing is pouring out the side of the cookie which is most definitely happening in the picture above? Move that cookie to a plate and pop it in the fridge so the icing can harden. I guarantee no one will care. At the end of the day, you’ve got cookies in your house and that’s all that really matters.

Happy Valentine’s Day, friends! And an especially Happy Valentine’s Day to Kevin, who has eaten his fair share of imperfect cookies and doesn’t make me feel any less because of it!

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4 Comments Join the Conversation

  1. These cookies are so cute! I will for sure have to use your tips. I have never tried royal icing, but I really want to now. I love your blog! 🙂

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