Even if your forte is decorating cakes, cupcakes or cake pops, learning the essential cookie decorating techniques is a great way to expand your skills and your offering. Cookies are the perfect add-on treat for parties, events and weddings.
Want to make professional-looking cookies? You’ll need to learn these cookie decorating techniques.
Making perfect sugar cookie dough
You can’t design beautiful cookies on a crumbly, uneven or unshapely cookie base. Every beautiful and delicious cookie starts with mixing the perfect cookie dough and baking it correctly.
Choosing a recipe
There are tons of sugar cookie recipes out there. In the end, everyone’s preferences are different so what’s perfect to one person may not be so great for another.
Our advice is test out lots of basic sugar cookie recipes instead of opting for just one. You need to know what you like and why a certain recipe doesn’t work for you. If a recipe doesn’t work for you, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s wrong — it’s just not what you’re looking for.
For the most part, simple recipes are the way to go — they’re much less stressful and save time. Some sugar cookie recipes call for fancy techniques or added steps that are generally unnecessary. Look for a recipe that involves simple steps such as creaming the butter and sugar, adding the dry ingredients, mixing into a dough and chilling.
Need a recipe to get started? Here’s a classic that can get you started.
Getting the right texture
Once you’ve mixed the dough but before it’s chilled, the ideal texture for cookie dough is similar to Play-Doh. If your dough is sloppy and doesn’t hold together, add a couple tablespoons of flour. If it looks too dry, lightly beat a small egg in a separate bowl and add a little in, mixing slowly in a stand mixer.
Cookie dough isn’t very well-suited to substitutions. If you don’t have the right ones ingredients for the recipe, find another recipe. We’ve heard horror stories of using powdered sugar instead of regular granulated sugar or powdered egg whites instead of actual egg whites in a cookie recipe, which results in a weird texture.
Rolling and cutting out cookies properly
Rolling out the dough
Our preferred method for rolling out dough is to sandwich it between two layers of parchment paper or waxed paper. This prevents the dough from sticking to the rolling pin.
Typically, a ¼” thickness is ideal for cookies. It’s handy to have a rolling pin with guides, but you can also make your own guides by using chopsticks, books, or other small items that will prevent you from rolling the dough too thin.
What about re-rolling cookie dough scraps? You absolutely can, but it’s best to do it only once. Otherwise, you compromise the texture of the dough.
Cutting out the cookies
Cutting shapes out of the dough isn’t rocket science, and you don’t have to overthink it. But we do have a few tricks that can make it a bit easier and more efficient:
- Try to fit as many cut-outs in the rolled-out dough as possible. As mentioned above, you don’t want to re-roll too much, so make the most of the first roll. Consider flipping cutters upside down or sideways to make them fit.
- Don’t twist the cutter. If you do twist or wiggle the cutter, your shape will look wonky. Carefully press straight down and lift the cutter straight up.
- If the dough frequently sticks to your cutters, dust the edge of the cutter in a little all-purpose flour or powdered sugar before each cut.
- In general, the simpler the shape, the better the cookie will turn out. Avoid cut-outs with tiny, intricate pieces — they’re more likely to fall off or burn!
Baking the cookies to perfection
Most of the time, you can multitask while your cookies bake. But be careful — your whole cookie project can go wrong if you lose track of the baking.
It’s essential to keep an eye on your cookies while they are in the oven. A recipe may tell you to bake the cookies for 12 minutes on a certain temperature, but what worked for the recipe writer’s oven might not work for yours. By checking in on your baking cookies, you can make sure that the temperature and bake time are just right. Over time, you’ll get to know your oven and can make adjustments that work for you.
To know when your cookies are baked, give them a little poke. If the cookie rises back up, then they’re ready. If not, bake for another 2-3 minutes and try again. You want your cookies to be light, but with a slight golden edge. Any darker and they’ll look and tasted over baked.
Creating a flat surface
Even the most experienced cookie-makers can get air bubbles in their baked cookies. Air gets trapped in the dough during mixing or re-rolling, and then the air rises to the surface when baking.
Don’t worry! There’s a handy fix. Once the cookies are baked and cooled, use a sharp scalpel (or food-safe craft knife) to scrape or sand away the bumps.
Making royal icing
Royal icing is the perfect medium for decorating cookies. Royal icing lets you add color to your cookies, give them a smooth surface and add intricate details.
While there are plenty shortcuts for making royal icing — such as pre-made royal icing mixes or egg white powders — we prefer to make our from scratch. As long as you use pasteurized egg whites, the icing will be safe to eat.
Getting the right royal icing consistency is key. Varying the amount of powdered sugar, water and liquid flavorings in the icing will help change the consistency.
We recommend making a large batch of royal icing in a stand mixer. Then, transfer it over into a large bowl and cover with a clean, damp cloth, which stops it from crusting over. When you’re ready to decorate, take out a little of the frosting, color it, adjust the consistency as needed and get going.
Decorating with royal icing
There are so many cool designs you can achieve with royal icing, as long as you learn a few basic techniques to start.
Outlining and flooding
One of the first things you’ll learn when it comes to cookie decorating is how to outline and flood a cookie with royal icing.
Flooding is the technique that results in that smooth, even layer of royal icing as a base on your cookie. But flooding can’t exist without outlining, which keeps the flooding icing in place.
First, pipe a smooth outline around your cookie with 10- or 15-second consistency icing (that’s royal icing that takes 10-15 seconds to flow back together once separated or “cut” butter knife or spoon — you can learn more about it here).
As soon as your outline is complete, immediately fill the outline with flooding-consistency icing (which is more viscous than outlining icing). If your icing consistency is right, the icings should smoothly fill in the space. If it doesn’t, you smooth it out by gently shaking your cookie back and forth.
Here’s another trick: After you’ve flooded the cookie, gently tap it against your work surface to bring hidden air bubbles to the surface of the icing. Pop the bubbles with a toothpick.
Once you’ve mastered outlining and flooding, try your hand at borders! The most basic border involves piping a dot and swiping lightly to the side, creating a teardrop shape. Repeat in the same direction all the way around your flooded cookie.
As you might guess, you need to get the consistency perfect. We recommend an icing that takes around 20 seconds to flow back together once separated. Then test it: If you get peaks on to your dots, you can either smooth them out with a damp, food-safe paintbrush or make the consistency thinner. If your icing looks too wet, try a smaller piping tip for more control or add a tiny amount of sifted powdered sugar to the icing.
Once your royal icing base is dry, it’s time to decorate. One of the simplest approaches is to pipe details with a piping-consistency royal icing right on top of the base.
This technique does take some practice! It often involves freehand piping to achieve a nice, fluid style. To start, try basic flowers such as roses or other natural elements like leaves, which are wonderfully forgiving subjects.
If you’re a little shaky and need extra practice before piping on cookies, start sketching with pencil and You’ll get to practice forming the shapes and can use your sketch as a reference when piping cookies.
Wet-on-wet icing detailing
One of the best cookie decorating techniques is the wet-on-wet method. Usually, detail is added on top of dried flooding icing to create textured, 3-D look. But with wet-on-wet decorating, you add a contrasting color of flooding-consistency royal icing onto undried flooded icing. The two wet colors of icing integrate creating a smooth, print-like effect.
Brush embroidery is a great technique for creating advanced-looking designs with a fairly simple cookie decorating technique. It’s great for creating lace-like designs and amping up the texture.
First, use a small round tip (we like the PME Supatube No. 1) to pipe 15-second consistency icing as an outline of a design. Then, wet a small, food-safe paintbrush and touch it to the icing. Drag the brush from the start of the piping inward.
What cookie decorating techniques would you love to learn?