Merry cookie decorating, sweet friends! It’s almost Christmas time and I couldn’t resist getting one more big batch in. These guys were so fun to decorate, with fairly straightforward designs and fun, bright colors.
The most enjoyable part, for me, was the marbling… you’ll see below that I went a little cookie crazy with it! I’ll share basic cookie decorating how-to’s and similar videos related to the designs here, but if you’d like more info. on any of the cookies you see, please feel free to leave a comment below.
Because even the simplest designs can be frustrating if you’re not familiar with some royal icing tips and tricks, I thought I’d spend some time on things I’ve learned which have helped me over the years. I still have much to learn (especially with craters, more on that later), but can share what I know with you.
First off, the cookie decorating basics and then onto the tips below.
Find the cookie cutters I used here by clicking on each individual cutter below (Any links to Amazon in this post are affiliate links):
Sugar Cookie Recipe
The sugar cookie recipe can be found here.
What you’ll need:
- Piping Tips – PME #1.5, PME #2 and PME #3
- Piping Bags
- Gel paste colors
- Scribe Tool or Toothpicks
- Transparency Paper
- Gold Luster Dust
- Gold Edible Stars Confetti
- Black Edible Ink Marker
- White Sanding Sugar
- Pico Projector for drawing help, if you’d like it
- Mini HDMI to HDMI cable (doesn’t come with the Pico projector)
- Arkon Mount to hold projector
- or on Arkon’s site – Arkon Remarkable Creators Phone and Tablet Stand (20% off with coupon code sweetopia)
- iPad (If you’d like to project image from iPad)
- Lightning to HDMI Adapter (Adapter for HDMI cable to attach to iPad)
Royal Icing Consistency
The consistency of icing is key for easy decorating. Click here to see a YouTube video on finding the right icing thickness for basic flooding and decorating.
Cookie Decorating Basics
This video on outlining and flooding is a good place to start if you’re new to decorating cookies with royal icing. These cookie decorating basics YouTube videos may also be helpful to get you started.
Thank you to The Gift Wrap Company for the gingerbread man with hat, and snowman character design! I found these adorable gift tags and made royal icing replicas!
Royal Icing Tips for Cookie Decorating
It was mentioned earlier, but in case you missed it, here is the royal icing recipe I use for all my cookies. Finding a good recipe helped my decorating immensely in the beginning. The meringue powder I use has cream of tartar in it, so I no longer add cream of tartar, unless I’m making a gingerbread house with the icing. (Cream of tartar helps the icing set/stiffen).
Royal Icing Consistency
By far, one of the biggest tips is to figure out what kind of consistency you’ll need for each aspect of your design. There are 3 main consistencies I use:
10 second rule icing or medium consistency icing
For basic outlining and flooding (my most commonly used consistency), it is loose enough to flow nicely on the cookie for flooding, but not so loose that it is hard to control without a dry, outlined border. Here is a video on how I achieve that consistency, which explains the 10 second rule. Here is another video showing how I decorate some simple designs using the same consistency icing to outline and flood. It does take some time to get familiar with the consistency you end up liking. Sometimes I do use a slightly thicker icing (about 15 second icing), which means I’d have to shake the cookie more to help the icing settle. I’ll use that for a cookie which is smaller and has less room for the icing to spread. Another way to test the icing comes with experience… getting the feel for it while you’re stirring it with a spoon… how loose it is or how thick it is… you will get the feel for it with practice. Visually, another way to test is to lift your spoon out of the icing after stirring, and let the icing fall into your container… depending on how the icing falls (Does it fall in ribbons? Does it flow easily?) and how it settles, will help you determine your consistency. Another thing you can do is let your icing drip into the container, then gently shake the container like you would if the icing was on a cookie, then see how the icing settles. It will “act” like it would act on a cookie, so you can test if you’re happy with how the icing settles, before you put it into a piping bag. I realize the last few tips are not likely helpful for beginners, so the video mentioned earlier regarding the 10 second rule is a great place to start.
5 second icing or runny consistency icing
Using the same video as seen in the 10 second rule (Here is the video), drag the knife through the surface of your icing, and if the line runs back together in about 5 seconds, you have your runny icing. Runny icing is good for filling in or flooding larger cookies. It flows easier and you have more time to work with it before it sets. Note that I usually do a thicker outline (10 second icing) for a large cookie, and fill it in with a 5 second icing. You will see the outline a bit, but the thicker, somewhat dry outline will do a much better job of holding the icing in, and as a result your cookie will look more full, or the icing looks puffier, rather than flatter. I do this with smaller areas of flooding too, if I’d like an especially puffy look, like the icing dripping off the top of the gingerbread house in the cookie below. If you like a flatter look, omit the outline and flood your cookie further away from the cookie edges, then push the icing with your piping tip or scribe tool as close to the edge as you’d like.
Thick Icing – For fine details
For leaves, piping lines and for any details which are finer, more “crisp” or where I need the icing to keep its shape, I’ll use thick icing. To see if you have made thick icing, dip your spoon into the icing and lift away. You should see a stiff little peak where you’ve lifted our spoon away. If the peak disappears rapidly back into the icing, your icing is too runny. It should mainly keep its shape. You can also tell when you’re mixing it; it’s harder to mix and has a much tighter feel. If you’ve made your icing too runny, you can just add spoonfuls of powdered sugar (icing sugar or confectioners sugar) until you’re happy with the consistency. For thick consistency I also usually small piping tips, sizes 1, 1.5.
It takes some patience to figure out the consistency you’ll need, especially as a beginner decorator, so as much as possible, make sure you have some time set aside to make your icing. I like to break up my cookie decorating a bit; here are the two schedules I use along with some free printables if you’d like to try them out.
Storing royal icing, how long it can be kept and what about icing that separates?
There were some questions on Instagram and Facebook about storing royal icing, how long it can be kept for, and what to do about separated icing. – Here is a post for you on all those questions.
How do you dry your cookies? Do you use a fan?
Here is a video for you on how I dry my cookies.
Mixing Royal Icing
One mistake I still do sometimes, is to not mix the food gel coloring into my royal icing well enough, especially near the bottom of the container. I often use recycled yogurt containers (see this post here on staying organized while cookie decorating), and I’m finding that I prefer rounder-bottomed, shallower containers, as it’s easier to mix the the icing. You can see by looking at the gingerbread houses below, that the ones with icing which wasn’t mixed well enough, have streaks.
Avoid stirring your icing vigorously, it creates air bubbles.
Marbling Royal Icing Tips
Marbling is an easy and fun way to play around with different designs!
Here is a how-to video for you on how to marble with royal icing on cookies.
Preparing your Icing for Marbling
I usually prepare the consistency of my marbling icing (10 second icing) first, then separate the icing into individual containers and color them. That way all the icings have the same consistency. Do note that if you have a color which requires a lot of gel coloring, it may thin your icing a bit. If you notice that it becomes a bit too runny, you can add powdered sugar until the consistencies match again. One more tip… if you’re using white icing, ensure that the white icing is a tad thicker than the colors, it helps prevent bleeding.
Craters in Icing
While dots (generally dots or a similar type shape) of royal icing are drying (varying sizes, but generally small), small craters can form. You can see them in many of the Christmas balls on the tree cookies, especially in the tree on the left, below.
I obviously still have issues with them 🙂 and would love your feedback on things that have helped you. I’ve been experiencing it here and there about as long as I’ve been cookie decorating. The issue is discussed in depth here. As far as I can tell, a thicker icing helps. Other than that, if I feel like it, once the icing with the crater has set, I try to fill it in with a little royal icing, or in this case I put lots of luster dust mixed with raspberry vodka into some of them. I made the latter mixture somewhat thick so as to be a little like a paste to fill them in. Some people say that drying cookies with a dehydrator or fan works in minimizing craters, but I have yet to experiment with that. Please feel free to me know what works for you!
Top 10 Mistakes to Avoid
Here is a post I wrote with some common mistakes to avoid for cookie decorating, please let me know if you have any to add, I’d love to learn more!
How do I avoid butter spots on my icing?
Here is a post for you, How to Avoid Spots on Icing.
How do I prevent my icing from bleeding?
Here is a post for you. 🙂 Make sure you color your white icing, white! And the consistency of the white icing should be slightly thicker.
How do you color your icing red?
Here is a post for you? 🙂
How long does it take to make decorated cookies?
I like spacing it out a bit, rather than doing everything in a day or so. Here are my tips and cookie decorating schedules, with options for a shorter schedule and a longer schedule.
How do you get your corners so neat?
Not all of them are, but a few things which I do are:
When I’m outlining a cookie, I don’t always continuously pipe the whole perimeter of the cookie or shape in one shot. I sometimes pipe until I get to a corner and then stop and start a new line for the next side of the cookie/shape. It creates more of an edge than a rounded corner. Another thing I do is use a scribe tool to push the icing to the corners if it’s not as sharp as I’d like.
Issues with Lettering
Using a stiff, thick icing is a good place to start, although stiffer icings can clog in tiny tips like 00, 0 or 1. Try using a disposable bag where you can snip a tiny hole off the end. I have these ones. You might want to check out this post on preventing tips from clogging as well. One trick I do though, I try to make the cookies I’m lettering on larger, that way the lettering doesn’t have to be so small. I can then use a medium-thick consistency icing and a #1 tip. I’ve put ‘lettering video tutorial’ on my list of things to work on as a video, so I’ll be playing around with it in the next while and will be back with a tutorial. I’m sorry that’s not immediately helpful, but hopefully the other tips are somewhat useful for you.
What color is on the scalloped cookie cutter? (A question asked on Facebook)
It’s Wilton sky blue mixed with a tiny bit of black. As much as possible, I color my royal icing in daylight, and check it near a window before finishing, to see the truest shade of what I’m trying to achieve.
How can you do fine lines on some of the smiles of the gingerbread men?
This edible ink pen has two sides, use the fine tip.
Merry, merry Christmas to you and happy decorating!