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Decorating cookies doesn’t have to be a complicated task. Cookies can instantly turn from plain to decorated, either before or after baking, but it does take practice and patience. We have lots of frosting, icing, and glaze choices and we show you how and when to use each one within each cookie recipe tutorial. There's more in the How To Section of this website.
When each and every cute cookie is decorated and dry, wrap them. Fit a plastic bag or a sheet of plastic wrap over each one and tie it shut with a colorful ribbon! Use several different colors, and get the kind you can curl so they cascade down from each cookie.
SARAH SAYS: I have listed a sampling of some of the cookie recipe tutorials that are embedded with step-by-step directions and everything you need to know about how to decorate cookies:
Banner Cookie Decorating Tutorial
Baseball Glove Rice Krispies Treats
Bluebird French Macarons or Macaron Pops
Candy Cane Fairy Cookies
Carrot Stix - Rice Krispies Treats Tweaked
Chocolate Chip and Heath Bar Biscotti
Christmas Cookie Cottage Tutorial
Cookie Decorating Tutorial
Cookie Decorating Tutorial 2
Flower Pot Rice Krispies Treats Favors
French Macaron Woodland Topiary
Ghostly Brownie Pops Tutorial
Gluten-Free Linzer Blossom Cookies
Halloween Rice Krispies Treats Skulls
Heart Shaped Bridal Wedding Favor Cookies
Love Bites Rice Krispies Treats Cake Pops
Love-ly Lace Cookie Heart Pops
Millefiori Slice and Bake Cookies
Mini Pizzelle Cone Strawberry Mousse Bites
Mummy Sugar Cookies
Patterned Kitty Cookies
Peanut Butter Siamese Cat Sandwich Cookies
Peanut Butter Teddy Bear Sandwich Cookies
Polka Dot and Striped Cookies Tutorial
Pumpkin Spice Macaron Pops
Rice Krispies Treats Cupcake Pops
Santa Hat Cookie Pops Tutorial
Snow Globe Cookie Ornaments
Spritz Cookie Trees
Stained Glass Heart Sugar Cookies
Stamped "Oreo" Cookies
Sugar Cookie Pop Tutorial / Easter Cookie Lollies
Thankful Cookie Tree
Valentine's Day Chocolate Cookie Stacks
Valentine’s Day Love Note Cookies
Vanilla Shortbread Cookies with How to Tint Tutorial
2. You can decorate them before (or after) baking:
DECORATE COOKIES BEFORE BAKING
Make a hole for hanging cookies: Select a firm cookie recipe, such as sugar or gingerbread. (You can even use premade cookie dough from the grocery store!). When the unbaked cookie is on the baking sheet, cut the hole with a drinking straw where you are going to thread a ribbon. Make sure it is punched all the way through and is large enough, as during baking, the hole will close slightly as the dough expands. Also, don't place the hole too close to the edge, as it could crack when trying to put a ribbon through. As soon as the cookies are out of the oven, "re-cut" the holes with the straw again. When cool, decorate and let dry. Thread with ribbon and hang. We show you how to do this with our Snow Globe Cookie Ornaments recipe and our Thankful Cookie Tree recipe.
SARAH SAYS: Of course! One year, my kids and I baked all sorts of cut-out sugar cookies and decorated them. We hung them with brightly colored satin ribbon, all over the Christmas tree, including the actual cookie cutters. They added a shimmer from the reflection of the lights. It was so beautiful! The only drawback was that our two dogs ate the entire cookie ornaments that they could reach that were hanging around the bottom of the tree -- oh, well!!
Sugar: Cookies can be decorated with sugar before or after baking. To help the sugar stick before baking, brush each cookie with beaten egg white with a pastry brush, top with a light coating of sugar and bake. After baking, apply to sugar to wet icing or piping gel.
Tint / Color: Tint cookie dough with gel paste food coloring. Some cookie recipes tint better than others. We developed the Vanilla Shortbread Cookies with How to Tint Tutorial Recipe so it could be dyed and bake with vibrant colors. We also developed our Millefiore Slice and Bake Cookies Tutorial, a riff on the technique used for glass and ceramics, and applied it to baking.
Or, tint a little of the cookie dough with food coloring and pipe onto cut out cookies. However, after baking, your coloring will not be as intense after it is baked. Choose light colored dough, and add a small amount of paste color at a time to the then dough when almost mixed. Don't over-knead the dough in the process.
Stained Glass Effect: Cut rolled cookie dough into desired shapes about 1/4-inch thick. Cut out a design in the cookie with a cookie cutter or the tip of a sharp knife, leaving a border of about 1/2-inch or a little more. Place cookies on foil lined cookie sheets and carefully spoon ground hard candies into the spaces, filling to same thickness as the cookie. Bake until candy is melted and cookies are slightly browned. Slide foil with cookies to wire cake rack to cool thoroughly before removing. We used this with the Stained Glass Heart Sugar Cookies Recipe.
Fruit, Nuts, and Candy: Press a whole nut or half of a candied cherry, or place sprinkles on the dough before baking, adding flavor as well as a nice festive color. French Macarons and Spritz cookies can be finished this way.
Different Cookie Shapes: Sometimes finishing a cookie is as simple as shaping it in a different way. Rolled cookie dough can be cut-out with cookie cutters in every imaginable way. Sarah's Creative Cut-out Sugar Cookies Recipe is perfect for this.
Cookie Presses: Stiff and buttery cookie dough used when making Spritz cookies is pressed through metal or plastic templates into bite size and differently shaped cookies. Also check out our Spritz Cookie Trees recipe.
Cookie Stamps and Molds: A ball of dough is pressed into a mold with an image. The best dough recipe to use with these stamps is ones with little or no leavening, so it won't puff, losing the image stamped on its surface.
Cookies on a Stick: Rolled and cut out (sugar cookies) or drop cookies (chocolate chip, etc.) can be baked on a stick. We had lots of fun making our Sugar Cookie Pop Tutorial / Easter Cookie Lollies and the Rice Krispies Treats Cupcake Pops!
DECORATING AFTER BAKING
1. Let baked cool thoroughly on a wire cake rack before mixing the colors and frosting. Don't mix too much in advance because the icing will crust or dry out. (Crusting is a thin layer of icing that hardens on top. It can be difficult to remove. If you stir even a small amount into the icing, you ruin it.)
2. When cookies have cooled, mix cookie icing - First separate icing into small bowls before coloring. You may need larger or smaller amounts depending on the color being used. Cover immediately with a damp paper towel as they can dry quickly. Leave some white in case you need to correct a color.
3. For piping decorations, you can piping bags for each color, fitted with a decorating tip or use a squeeze bottle with the tip cut-off.
SARAH SAYS: For small, quick piping jobs, when you don't want to dig out the pastry bags, you can use parchment cones, a small zipper top plastic bag or even a squeeze bottle.
If using a plastic bag, fill halfway with icing, remove excess air, seal the top and snip off a tiny bit of one corner. You're now ready to pipe away! For a large amount of cookies, a pastry bag is best.
For parchment cones, fill about half full. Set each one in a tall drinking glass for each of the colors you are using and keep within reach. First put a damp piece of paper towel in the bottom of each and then put your parchment cones in the glasses with the tips resting on the paper towel to keep them from drying out and clogging the opening! If you are using buttercream, you really don't need to do this, but I do anyway.
4. You are now ready to decorate.
Some decorating ideas:
Sugar: The most basic way to finish a cookie is by applying sugar, which gives it a sweetened coating and a crunch, depending on the type used. It can be applied before baking such as large grained sugar, called “coarse grained” sanding sugar, my personal favorite or some cookies call to be rolled in powdered or granulated sugar right after baking to help the sugar adhere. Additional flavor can be added to a simple cookie by rolling in flavored sugar. You can even tint sugar.
Powdered Sugar: Powdered sugar covered cookies aren’t always the most tidy to eat, but tasty none the less. These cookies go by so many names, Russian Tea cakes, Mexican Wedding Cakes, Snowballs, and so on. These cookies require at least two dustings of powdered sugar to complete. For example: nutty butter cookies are baked until just set, then rolled while warm in powdered sugar, then rolled again after they have cooled. With the first rolling, the powdered sugar will melt and create a tasty icing and a surface to stick on, then a powdery coating is added with the second rolling. Powdered sugar can also finish a sandwich cookie. Roll out your favorite butter cookie recipe, then cut out small holes in half of the cutouts. Bake and cool. Sandwich them together with your favorite preserves. Then coat the cookie half sides that have holes with powdered sugar.
Edible Sprinkles or Nonpareils: Brush the cookie with a simple glaze and sprinkle on. HOW TO TINT SPRINKLES.
Flocking: This process creates a sparkling effect on the tops of cookies. TO DO: Make a batch of Safe Royal Icing (if you wish to eat the cookies). While icing is still soft, hold the cookie over a baking sheet, and sprinkle it liberally with sanding sugar—a large-grain decorating sugar. Let the cookie sit for 30 minutes before shaking off excess sugar. Allow it to dry for several more hours before gently removing stray crystals with a soft pastry brush.
Paint Patterns with Colored Sugar: Use a paintbrush to paint patterns on baked cookies with light corn syrup, and then dip in colored sugar or sprinkles.
Stencil Patterns with Sugar: For patterns, use a stencil or paper doily and place over a freshly frosted cookie. Lightly sprinkle with powdered sugar, colored sugar or baking cocoa, using a small sieve. To make a stencil, fold a small piece of waxed paper into quarters, then in half, making a triangle. Cut shapes out of the folds and point. Unfold to use as a stencil.
Use Piping Gel to Add Sparkling Sugar to Your Cookies: For a festive look, you can top your cookie or the areas to be decorated with clear piping gel. Then, while still wet, sprinkle colored or sparkling sugar onto it. Piping gel can be also flavored with concentrated flavoring oils. Piping gel can also be used with a stencil. Use the same method as above and transfer an initial or name onto a wedding/birthday cake or cookies.
Edible Photos: To create your own photo cookie, an online company will print with food coloring, a photo of your choosing and then apply it onto a cookie that they bake for you. It is then shipped to you.
Chocolate: Drizzle or dip cookie in melted or tempered chocolate, chocolate chips or candy melts. Before starting, place plain, cooled cookies or bars on a cooling rack that is set over a parchment or waxed paper covered sheet pan. To do, dip a regular eating fork into melted chocolate, allowing the first large drop of chocolate to drip back into the saucepan. Then using back-and-forth motions, drizzle chocolate over cookies. Another way to drizzle melted chocolate is to use a plastic bag. Fill the bag with icing, cut off the corner and gently squeeze chocolate onto cookies in straight lines, zigzags, spirals or squiggly lines.
Optionally, dip the other half of the cookie after the first half has dried. I freeze mine for 15 minutes to harden the chocolate before dipping again. I then dip the undipped side. (Try to hold the cookies on their sides; do not to touch the top of the previously dipped chocolate with your fingers or they will melt it and mar its surface.) Place dipped cookie on waxed paper until chocolate is firm.
Make multiple chocolate layers by dipping a single-dipped cookie into a second type of chocolate (after first chocolate is firm and frozen for 15 minutes), leaving 1/4 inch of first chocolate showing. For example, first dip the cookie in white chocolate and then in semi-sweet chocolate.
A fancy way to decorate with chocolate is to partially dip a cookie, one-third to one-half, into melted baking chocolate or chocolate chips.
Candy, Fruit and Nuts: Cookies can be finished with a variety of items such as candy corn, gumdrops, nuts, raisins, candied fruit, miniature chocolate chips, sprinkles and colored sugars. If using an icing or chocolate base, make sure it has not set before placing candy, fruit and nuts. In place of icing, you can use a drop of corn syrup or piping gel to attach decorations such as candies and nuts to baked cookies.
Cut unwrapped rectangular chocolate mints or rectangular toffee crunch candies diagonally in half from corner to corner to form triangles. Arrange triangles in fan shape, pinwheel or random pattern on frosting or melted chocolate on cookies or bars.
Place milk chocolate stars, unwrapped milk chocolate kisses, unwrapped chocolate-covered peanut butter cup candies or purchased chocolate leaves or other shapes on glazed or frosted cookies or bars.
Sprinkle crushed hard peppermint candies, crushed lemon drops, crushed peanut brittle or coarsely chopped candy bars over glazed or frosted cookies or bars.
Marshmallow Fondant of MMF: Can be used to cover cookies with. Rolled Marshmallow Fondant is a stretchy material made from melted marshmallows, corn syrup, water and powdered sugar. It can also be tinted and flavored.
1. Bake and cool the cookies. Roll the fondant icing 1/8-inch thick. Cut the shape out with the same cookie cutter used to cut the cookie out with. The shape will be slightly larger than the cookie and may need trimming because cookie dough shrinks when baked.
2. Brush the surface of the cookie lightly with powdered sugar if making a vanilla cookie or cocoa powder, if covering a chocolate or dark cookie.
3. Then, brush the surface of the cookie with a light coating of light corn syrup. Lightly press rolled fondant onto the cookie. Use royal icing to affix additional fondant decorations to cookies.
Rolled Fondant: Fondant is a thick, creamy white crystalline candy made from a simple cooked mixture (Soft-Ball Stage) of sugar and water; however, cream of tartar or corn syrup is frequently added to help control the size of the crystals that form during cooling.
Painting with Color: Paint baked and cooled cookies in all sorts of colors.
~ Luster Dusts and Petal Dusts may be mixed with alcohol (white spirits) or lemon oil for painting. Add just enough alcohol or lemon oil to achieve a paint consistency. Luster dusts produce a shimmery, sheen finish and are available in several colors including shades of metallic gold and silver. Petal Dusts are used to achieve deeper hues with a matte finish.
~ Paint with Tinted Piping Gel: Place 2 teaspoons of piping gel in a small container. Dip the end of a toothpick (use a fresh one every time you dip) in either paste or gel colors. Dip the end in the piping gel, swipe a very small amount (colors are very concentrated) of color and stir. Only add enough until the right color is reached. Place cookie on waxed paper or wire cake rack and let dry.
~ Paint with decorating pens: Decorating pens called Foodoodlers, are fun to use. They are filled with food colors and can be used on any hard surface, such as cookies, etc. There are also Candy Writers, great for cookie decorating with colored chocolate. I have even used tinted colors packaged in small tubes, available from the grocery store.
~ Paint Molded Cookies with Egg Whites and Food Coloring:
Use only pasteurized powdered egg whites (Purchase from the grocery store. DO NOT use raw egg whites if consuming cookies), dissolve 1 to 2 egg whites worth as directed on the package. Whisk the egg white(s) until frothy. (DO NOT use raw if consuming), dissolve 1 to 2 egg whites worth as directed on the package. Whisk the egg white(s) until frothy.
Add enough powdered sugar to make a thin glaze. Tint with small amounts of food color or paste colors in a small bowl. (Dip a fresh toothpick every time).
Use a paint brush to paint on the colors. Place cookie on waxed paper or wire cake rack and let dry.
Royal icing: is probably the most popular icing that cookie decorator's use. It can be optionally tinted and piped. It is preferable because it holds up very well if the cookies need to be stacked, shipped, stored, etc. However, if cookies have piped flowers or other raised designs on them, they tend to snap off so store or ship in one layer only with plenty of cushioning. Royal icing works great for very fine detail work.
Simple Fondant Glaze: It's a poured cookie icing that can be tinted and flavored, and dries to a hard surface. The cookies can then be stacked, packaged and wrapped without marring their finish. And, they are wonderful to eat, they stay soft on the inside and soften the cookie beneath, much better than the royal icing. To cover the cookies with poured fondant: hold cookie on a wide icing spatula over the bowl or pan of icing. With a serving spoon or ladle, pour the icing over it and let drip over the sides. Place the cookie on a cooling rack set over a parchment or waxed paper lined sheet pan to catch the drips.