How To Decorate Cookies

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

Sugar Cookie Icing_Flowers

Sugar Cookie Icing_Flowers | Photo by ekennedy

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.) For more on this mini-debate and info on how to make them, check out How to Make Frostings and Icings.

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 it can lack the depth of flavor of other frostings and icings.)

Watch and learn how to make sugar cookie icing.

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.

Sugar Cookie Icing

Sugar Cookie Icing | Photo by CCLoves2Bake

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. Tip: To improvise a pastry bag, fill a small plastic baggie with icing and snip a bit off the corner to make the pastry tip.

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.

See How to Melt Chocolate

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

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.

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.

Christmas Pinwheel Cookies

Christmas Pinwheel Cookies | Photo by Celeste

Put It All Together

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