Sugar Cookie Decorating Made Easy
My love language is gift giving. So, it makes sense that I love making sugar cookies and giving them to friends and family. It took me about 3 years to research and gather all of the information below, and I own 700 cookie cutters. I clearly went overboard with this hobby, but it is so fun! I started out with toothpicks and ziplock sandwich bags and made beautiful cookies! I entered the world of professional cookie decorating in 2017 (you can see some of my work on the older posts on Phillips Ridge Farm instagram page), and I found that flooding a cookie is a huge stress reliever. It is like picking a scab...one of the most satisfying things on the planet. I just wanted more excuses to make cookies.
In this post I'll share with you some of my favorite tips and tricks to making the perfect sugar cookie. There are some shortcuts that will make your life so much easier. I'll also share some of my favorite blogs, online stores, and youtube instructional videos.
WHAT YOU NEED:
-stand mixer (kitchen-aid is the best, I have the professional 600 series and I got it on -amazon refurbished and its as good as new) - use the flat beater attachment for cookies
-rolling pin (this one is great for getting the perfect 1/4 inch thickness, this one is cheaper and works just as well)
-cookie baking sheets (these are my favorite)
-great value cookie icing or Betty Crocker cookie icing (**I don't recommend buying these pre-colored, it's better to buy white and add gel food color--in my experience the icing discolors and cracks when its pre-colored)
-gel food colors (americolor is my favorite)
-ziplock sandwich bags and scissors
-big coffee cup for filling up your ziplock bags
The fool-proof won't spread sugar cookie recipe:
Sarmie Sisters Sweets Sugar Cookies
1 c unsalted butter
1 c granulated sugar
2 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp almond extract (optional)
3 1/4 c flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
Let butter soften on the counter for about 3 hours before starting, or if you never plan ahead like me I just use this microwave method. Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees.
Cream butter, sugar, and vanilla together with stand mixer, beat until fluffy (until the butter mixture starts to stick to the sides). Add eggs one at a time, mix thoroughly with each addition. In separate bowl mix together flour, baking powder, and salt and then sift. Pour all the flour in at once and cover your mixer with a hand towel. Mix on low until the dough is the consistency of play dough. See a great video tutorial on this here. I also made a video about this here. In the first video she adds a couple cups of flour at a time but I've found that adding it all at once works fine.
Half the dough, roll it out to 1/4 inch thick between layers of parchment paper. Stack the dough (still between the parchment) on a cookie sheet and set that in the freezer for 15 minutes. Peel away the parchment from the top and the bottom of the rolled out dough. Cut the dough with cookie cutters and place on parchment paper lined cookie sheets and bake on the middle rack for 6-8 min at 400 deg F. Cookies are done when you start to see the bottoms barely brown. Let cool on cookie sheet for 1-2 min before transferring cookies to cooling rack.
BAKING TIP: Don't roll out your dough onto a floured surface. That's a mess. Just put your mixed dough between layers of parchment paper and roll it out. Stick it in the freezer for 15 minutes, pull it out, pull off the parchment, use the cookie cutters to cut the dough, and bake. Then, take the leftover dough and just roll it back out between parchment and cut again. No added flour needed and no mess!! You also don't have to chill the dough every time you re-roll it.
BAKING TIP: You can bake cookies and let them cool and then put them in an air tight container between layers of parchment paper and freeze them for months ahead of time. They will taste just like they were fresh baked (and you can decorate them right out of the freezer they don't have to be room temp). You can also store dough in the freezer. Just put dough in a gallon zip lock bag and roll it out to 1/4 inch in the ziplock. Seal the ziplock and store in freezer. When you are ready to bake let the dough thaw on the counter a couple hours, cut away the ziploc bag, and you are ready to cut and bake with NO ROLLING! This was a game changer for me.
The Fun Part: Decorating!
Icing consistency is the tricky part to this. Great Value cookie icing and Betty Crocker cookie icing in the bag is a medium consistency icing right out of the bag and will help you skip this step altogether. That means it's great for piping your outline and then flooding the cookie right out of the bag. This makes things super easy. There is a great video tutorial about this here. You will see in the video that just cutting off the top of the icing bag and putting the icing in a ziploc makes things easier (use that coffee cup to hold the ziploc bag in place while you fill the bag). You just cut a small hole in the corner of your ziploc and you are ready to start decorating (decorating tips are just annoying and are more clean up!). Just remember to always pipe the outline of the cookie then fill it in (just like in the video). If you have trouble getting a nice line along the edge of the cookie use a practice sheet to practice (you can get one here).
Piping icing close to the edge of a cookie can be tricky. I always show this video in my cookie classes about the correct way to pipe royal icing. It is important to touch down with the piping bag then lift as you apply consistent pressure to the bag. This takes practice but isn't hard to do and you should be able to get some decent looking cookies your first time around. It's also important that when you flood a cookie you flood it from the outside to the inside. Also, keep the tip of your piping bag close to the cookie as you flood and this will naturally pop some of the air bubbles that will inevitably end up in your icing. You can see an example of this here.
After you are done decorating leave the cookies out to dry on the counter for 24 hours. Don't cover them to dry or the icing will wrinkle up After they are dry you can store them in an air tight container for up to 10 days.. You can also store them decorated in the freezer between layers of parchment paper in air tight containers;
DECORATING TIP: decorate on a small square paper towel. Use the paper towel to turn and move your cookie around as you decorate so you don't have to touch the cookie (you can see this in the bag icing video tutorial above). Also, don't move your cookie after you are done decorating it. The icing will crack if you try to move them before they are completely dry.
DECORATING TIP: Don't let your cookies dry in direct sunshine. The sun will dull the colors in your royal icing. If you put them up before they are completely dry they will dry with ripples in the icing or cracks.
DECORATING TIP: Dry your cookies in a dehydrator to give them an extra layer of sheen, and also to speed up decorating different layers.
DECORATING TIP: The hardest part of decorating cookies is making the royal icing and adding water to get the right consistency. To skip that step, buy pre-made cookie icing in a bag. Below is the recipe for royal icing I use if you want to make your own royal icing.
DECORATING TIP: If you want to pipe roses or flowers, or plan on writing small letters or tiny details, it's better to use stiff royal icing (not sweet hope icing). Mix 1/4 cup meringue powder with 1/2 cup cold water, beat until stiff peaks form, then beat in 4 cups of powdered sugar, adding more sugar to reach the desired consistency.
Using dehydrators, airbrushing, projecting images, stenciling, and painting cookies is all the rage. You can spend a ton of money on supplies and different aspects of cookie decorating. I won't get in to everything here but I am going to talk about icing consistency. If you want to use your own royal icing this is something you need to perfect, and in my opinion sweet hope icing has less air bubbles than the store bought icing and I LOVE IT.
Here are the best blog posts about icing consistency. I love lilaloa's method because it is so much faster! Counting to 15 every time you mix and add water can take a long time but as you practice you will know exactly what you like. For me, i really like flooding and outlining with 14 second icing. For fine details I will outline with piping consistency and flood with a 10-12 second icing. Sky is the limit and there is plenty to learn and read about!
Lazy Cookie Decorators Guide to Icing Consistency
Cookie Decorating Supplies (in general):
The Cookie Countess (highly recommend her airbrush machine if you want to get one)
Truly Mad Plastics (has the best gold dust for painting gold onto cookies)
Sugarbelle Shape Shifter Set (also available at michaels and hobby lobby)
Miscellaneous items that I love:
Pampered Chef rolling pin holder and powdered sugar shaker
8-cup flour sifter (amazon)
Supplies for advanced decorating:
Sweet Hope Icing
If you want to make royal icing I recommend Sweet Hope Icing. I added notes of what brands I like for each item and where to get them. Sweet Hope Icing (aka frankenfrosting) is a mix of royal icing and glaze and dries with a nice sheen and has a soft bite:
Part One: Royal Icing
4 pounds powdered sugar
4 tablespoons meringue powder (I like this brand)
1 cup plus 4 tablespoons water
4 teaspoons vanilla
2 tablespoon glycerin
1 Mix the meringue powder into the powdered sugar until thoroughly incorporated.
2 At the lowest setting of your mixer and using the blade attachment, add in the water, flavorings, and glycerin. Once the ingredients are full combined, turn the mixer to medium, whipping the icing just until it becomes fluffy and holds a firm peak.
3 Move the royal icing into another bowl and then cover the top of the bowl with a slightly damp kitchen towel.
Part 2: Glaze
There's no need to clean the bowl and blade attachment between making the two icings.
4 pounds powdered sugar
1 cup water
1 cup corn syrup
2.5 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3.5 teaspoon almond emulsion (I like lorann)
*1 squeeze of white coloring gel (this keeps colors from bleeding later on)
1 Add all the ingredients to the bowl in the order listed so that the powdered sugar is on the bottom of the bowl.
2 Beat at low speed until ingredients are combined and the turn the speed up to medium, beating until the glaze is well blended and smooth like thick honey. (2-3 minutes).
Part Three: Sweet Hope Icing
1 batch royal icing
1 batch sweet glaze
1 Add the royal icing back into the mixing bowl containing the glaze.
2 Whip at low speed for 30 seconds. Use a spatula to scrap down the sides and the bottom of the bowl.
3 Whip at low speed for another 30-60 seconds or until you can see that the two icings have become one beautiful bowl of thick fluffy magic.
**2/3 vanilla 1/3 almond would be 3.5 teas almond and 6.5 teas of vanilla Notes:
Using the provided measurements you should end up with a very thick fluffy icing that would be considered piping consistency. Add more water as needed to thin to consistencies for filling and flooding (see advanced section of this post for more details on this).
The icing can be left on the counter in an air-tight container for two-three days or stored in the refrigerator for up to 7-10 days. It can be kept in the freezer indefinitely, I make the icing in bulk and I freeze it in these and pull icing out when I need it . When using frozen or refrigerated icing be sure to allow the icing to thaw completely since it needs to reach room temperature to get a true gauge on the icing consistency. Should you notice any separation in the icing just hand stir until the liquid is incorporated back in. You can also store already colored leftover icing in the freezer, you just have to mix it well before use after it is thawed.