Decorating Sugar Cookies: The Basics

Want to learn how to successfully bake and decorate sugar cookies? Like the gorgeous, colorful ones in magazines and foodie blogs? Me too. Over the last few months, I’ve been working on my piping skills, experimenting with royal icing and perfecting a wonderful sugar cookie recipe. Why? Because it’s fun! And because you guys request them. Which is great, right? I love to push myself and expand my horizons. And this has been one, big learning experience.

I asked Nicole Hodac to come over and help me photograph a tutorial. She also photographed my mistakes, seen above. See the little holes? Those develop in the icing because of air bubbles. Air bubbles that I did not pop.  C’est la vie. When at first you don’t succeed, try, try again?

That's Better!

Much better, non? Not perfect, but they are on their way.

You Will Need:

An Awesome Sugar Cookie Recipe

I use a recipe that I spent a lot of time developing. I have found this recipe, from Sweetopia, to be extremely reliable. Also a great source for cookie inspiration and practical cookie advice.

Royal Icing

At first, I used the standard royal icing recipe I found in an old copy of the Culinary Institute of America Baking & Pastry handbook.  But it used raw egg whites. I never had any problems with the raw egg white and I have the utmost confidence in my egg supplier. However, I wanted a more reliable, shelf stable icing.  I find royal icing to be tricky, so now I use meringue powder to take variability out of the equation. I am experimenting with egg white powder, and if I find a ratio that works consistently and tastes great, I will report back! In general, I like to limit my reliance on pre-packaged goods and dyes. But for decorated sugar cookies, stability and vibrant color are major goals.

Basic Recipe:

2 lbs Confectioner’s Sugar (yes, a whole 2 lb bag!)

1/4 cup Meringue Powder

1/4 tsp fine salt

1/4 cup water

Combine the confectioner’s sugar, salt and meringue powder in a stand mixer. Stir the ingredients together on low, and then add the water. Beat on medium to high speed until the icing is VERY stiff, about 5-6 minutes.

Gel Food Dye– do not use liquid dye! It will ruin the consistency of the royal icing. Wilton and CakeCraft are easier to find in major craft stores and local outlets. But I like the Americolor Gels the best. They come in squeeze bottles. Easier for measuring, easier for clean up. Altogether better. There are eco-friendly dyes, namely made by India Tree. I’ll use India Tree dyes when requested, but the colors are very limited and a bit inconsistent when mixed with the Royal Icing.

Here is an awesome tutorial from Sweet Adventures of Sugarbelle.  The tutorial is so thorough, when I thought about doing one myself, I gave up. She already has it covered!

Piping Tips & Bags

You will need tips #1,2,3,4,5 ( I like Ateco, Wilton is fine, PMCO is expensive but apparently the best). Multiples would be even better. I find I use the #3 and #4 tips the most, so I have three of each.

Buy clear piping bags, 12 or 14 inches. I like clear so that you can work with multiple colors at the same time without confusion.

Squeeze bottles, in small and large sizes. You can even get squeeze bottles with a coupler attachment, so you can use piping tips with them.


Other Supplies

Parchment- I always have this in my kitchen, and you should too. It really isn’t expensive. I get mine in sheets of 100 (very big sheets, I cut them in quarters) at GFS for about $6.00

Dishtowels, paper towels and lots of dish soap! You will need lots of cleaning supplies, because it is a mess at first- until you get it down to a routine.

Cookie Cutters-   I like to be frugal and buy my cutters AFTER the holiday occurs, when they are on sale. I’ve got some beautiful copper ones from Halloween, just itching for use. If not, bulk cutters can be had almost everywhere. Look in dollar stores, Target, Meijer, wherever you normally shop. Craft stores are also good places for cutters.

Looking for something out of the ordinary? Try Karen’s Cookies. The online outlet for all things decorating cookies. Daytonians- try Cake Craft in Beavercreek, located on Dayton-Xenia road. Family owned and operated. They are very knowledgeable and helpful.


1 Comment

Filed under Recipes

One response to “Decorating Sugar Cookies: The Basics

  1. Pingback: Bright and Beautiful Cookie Pops for Mom! « Thistle Confections

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