Decorating Cookies

Learn basic techniques for decorating cookies, with tips on making and working with frosting and icing.

Sugar Cookie Icing

Photo by Marianne

Frosting and Icing

You can turn plain cookies into miniature works of edible art by decorating them with frostings and icings. (The two terms are often used interchangeably, but many cooks think of frosting as thick and fluffy, and icing as relatively thinner and glossier.)

The simplest types of cookie frostings and icings are made using confectioners’ sugar, butter or shortening and milk or water. Sugar Cookie Icing and Decorator Frosting are typical examples. These both have a softer texture than royal icings, which dry to a very hard, crunchy finish. (Royal icing is great for gluing gingerbread houses, but sometimes it’s not very tasty.)

Sugar Cookie Icing

Photo by MW

Watch and learn how to make sugar cookie icing.

Top Tips for Making Frostings and Icings

  • Frosting can easily be thinned to the desired consistency by adding liquid such as milk, juice or water.
  • For a smooth glossy finish, warm the icing slightly in a microwave, or in a bowl over a pan of simmering water.
  • Be sure to stir frequently so that a crust does not form on the top.
  • Keep icing covered with a damp cloth and plastic wrap in between uses.

Flavors and Colors

Adding flavors and colors takes frostings and icings to the next level. You can find flavorings such as vanilla, lemon, orange, or almond extracts in most grocery stores. (Note that vanilla will discolor the icing slightly.) Fruit juice such as lemon and orange can also be substituted for the liquid in a recipe, but are generally not as intensely flavored as extracts.

Food-safe colors come in liquid and paste form. Liquid is commonly available in grocery stores, but for brighter, more intense colors, use paste food coloring–available at craft and kitchenware stores. When adding color, first mix the color into about 1 tablespoon of icing, and then blend that into the rest of the icing.

Sugar Cookie Icing

Photo by Luv2bCookin

Applying Frostings and Icings

Frost cookies with a pastry brush, knife, or small spatula. Set the freshly frosted cookies onto a tray or waxed paper to dry. Once the first coat of frosting is dry, you can pipe another color of frosting (or icing) over the top to add details such as stripes, spirals, polka dots, and names.

Icing can be applied in a number of ways depending on what you want to accomplish. Watch how to use a pastry bag to outline a cookie, flood it with a smooth glaze of thinned icing, and draw the finishing details in colored icing. You can improvise a pastry bag by filling a small plastic baggie with frosting and cutting off the corner to make the pastry “tip.”

You can also decorate by dipping cookies into a bowl of thinned icing. Hold the cookie by its edges, dip into the icing, and lift up with a twisting motion to let the excess drip back into the bowl.

Before the icing hardens, press pieces of candy into it or sprinkle the cookies with different colors of sugar or edible glitter.

Sugar Cookie Frosting

Photo by Dianne

Chocolate-Dipped Cookies
There is nothing quite as enticing as a cookie dipped in melted chocolate. Darker chocolates generally need to be tempered to keep them shiny and firm. As an alternative to tempering, look for “coating chocolate.” Designed to maintain a shine without tempering, coating chocolates contain a different type of fat in addition to the cocoa butter found in good chocolate and may not taste as chocolaty as good quality chocolate. Some bakers add a few drops of vegetable oil or melted paraffin to warmed chocolate as another alternative to tempering.

Dip cookies halfway into the chocolate, and scrape the excess off of the bottom using a small spatula or the side of the bowl. Then give the cookie a gentle shake and once again, scrape the excess chocolate off. This will keep the chocolate from forming a puddle around the cookie while it sets up. Place the cookies onto waxed paper starting at the farthest end and working inward. This prevents accidental drips on the finished cookies.

Creative Dipping Ideas

  • Dip one end of each cookie into ground pistachios, hazelnuts, pecans or other nuts while the chocolate is still wet.
  • When the first coat has set, apply another color of chocolate. Try dipping one half of each cookie in dark chocolate, and the other half in white. You can even color white chocolate a nice pastel color: use candy coloring pastes from craft stores or kitchen supply stores.
  • Use a pastry bag (or a plastic sandwich bag with a tiny hole cut in the corner) to drizzle stripes on cookies for an elegant touch.


Chocolate Dipped Orange Biscotti

Photo by chocolatebabe

Decorations Baked Right In

For pretty cookies that don’t require an all-day production, add a garnish before the cookies are baked. Rolled cookies can be shaped into logs, chilled, cut, and baked. Roll logs in colored sugar, finely chopped nuts, coconut, sesame seeds, or sprinkles before baking. Even a light dusting of confectioners’ sugar or cocoa powder will give any cookies an elegant finish. Dust the cookies again, right before serving, to freshen their appearance. For more elaborate cookies, try pinwheels or checkerboards.

Butterscotch Icebox Cookies

Photo by SunnyDaysNora

Put It All Together

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