I’ve had many questions regarding decorated cookies since I began 7-ish years ago, so I thought I’d share some of my favorite decorating tips I’ve learned over time. By no means am I an expert, but I hope you find my top 10 suggestions helpful.
There are so many ways of decorating cookies; you can cover them with fondant, rainbow sprinkles, delicious melted chocolate… I could go on, but one of my favorite ways is to flood a cookie with royal icing (flood icing). To basically cover the cookie with a smooth, glossy, sugary coating; piped in such a way that your icing becomes a design – instant sugar art! My tips today refer to decorating cookies with flood icing.
I’ve got an in-depth tutorial here, which goes over how to flood in detail.
How to Flood Cookies with Royal Icing – Top 10 Tips
1. Use a good icing recipe. See here for one of my two faves from cake central user Antonia74. Another favourite is from Peggy Porschen’s book Pretty Party Cakes, but won’t post it here due to copyright infringements.
2. One of the most important things I’ve learned about cookie decorating is that if your icing isn’t at the correct consistency or thickness, the experience can be very frustrating. The trick I use to make sure my icing is just right is called the “10 second rule“.
Drag a butter knife through the surface of your royal icing and count to 10. If the icing surface becomes smooth in anywhere between 5-10 seconds, then your icing is ready to use. If it takes longer than approximately 10 seconds, the icing is too thick. Slowly add more water. If your icing surface smoothes over in less than 5-10 seconds, it is too runny. Mix your icing longer or slowly add more sifted icing sugar to thicken.
3. For tip sizes, my favorite tip is #2; it’s great for outlining and filling in. For larger cookies use tip #3 or #4 and for smaller cookies use tip #1.
4. Seal the top end of your piping bag closed with an elastic band for less mess.
5. Practice piping on your work surface or parchment paper before you begin your cookies, so that your hand gets the feel of it. I usually find I need a few minutes of playing around before my piping improves. Decorate your least favorite cookies or extra cookies first; that way if you make a mistake it won’t matter as much!
6. When you’re outlining the cookie, about a centimeter in begin lifting the piping bag away from the cookie, so that the icing just falls onto the surface. You’ll be able to control your piping easier that way.
7. If your hand is shaky, rest your arm on the edge of your work surface while decorating.
8. After you’ve finished applying the icing to the cookie, shake it gently to help settle the bumps if there are any.
9. If you notice any small air bubbles, pop them with a toothpick or pin right away. If you don’t, the air bubble usually pops on it’s own and leaves a hole in your icing. (See acorn which squirrel is holding in the image above).
10. Let your cookies dry for at least 24 hours before you package them. They won’t get stale as the icing acts as a sealant for freshness.
These are just a few of my favorite tips which would have helped alleviate some frustration had I known them when I first began decorating cookies. If you have any tips which you’d like to share you’re welcome to leave a comment below.
Happy cookie decorating!
p.s. In case you missed it, f you’d like a tutorial on how to make the owl cookies, you can find it here.
Thank you, I did read it, however I read it this morning and I kept my royal icing (prepared with meringue powder) in the refrigerator last night, wanted to know if I can use it today for cookie decorating… or if I should make a new one…
It’s fine to use @ Cris. The fridge is fine (and safe), just might add a little moisture to the icing, even if it’s in a container. Just stir well and check the consistency before you use it.
Thank you soooo much for this tutorial! I might be back for more questions, but I’m trying this tonight!
Do you change the thickness of the frosting depending if you are outlining or filling? I am going to try this and will be layering different colored frosting. Any tips for making something like the owl cookie you pictured? How long before I can ice one color on top of another?
Have fun, @ Jeni!
HI @ Kay: Here is a video on how i outline and fill in (no change in thickness); https://sweetopia.net/2012/02/video-how-to-outline-and-flood-cookies-with-royal-icing/
Check my video section for how i find the consistency if you like as well.
Here is the owl cookie tutorial;
Hello. I have been having a mysterious thing happen when my royal icing starts to dry and wanted to see if this has ever happened to you or could give me some advice. After my icing starts to dry it ripples. It goes on nice and smooth and when I think it won’t do it it does. Any thoughts? This has happened every time I have made cookies over the past year but never before this. Cant figure it out.
I absolutely love how royal icing makes decorating cookies easy and I can get clearly defined lines. But I can’t stand the taste. Other than dumping a whole container of extract into my next batch, what can I do to help it taste as good as it looks?
@ kim: Hmm, it could be that you’re moving the cookie before it’s dry, or it could be that somehow just the top is drying really fast, thereby kind of causing a ‘stretching’ reaction. (is there a fan on them or something). I remember someone asking me about this about a year ago, and since it had never happened to me, i wasn’t sure of the answer, so asked on facebook. There were a ton of replies, and you’d think I’d remember, but I don’t, sorry. 🙁 If you want to go back through my facebook pages to see, or hopefully it’s one of the first two suggestions.
@ Carmen: Taste is a personal thing, so it’s hard to say, but I like the recipe I use. Another suggestion is to use real lemon juice instead of extracts.
Hi Marian! I am kind of new to Royal Icing (because the last time, icing didn’t dry up on cookies – humid condition). I just like to ask if you had the same consistency (10-count flood icing) used both for piping the outline and for filling? Because in the previous recipes I followed, they used a diff. consistency for each. Is 10-count good enough for both?
Hi @ Jayvee: With my recipe, I use a 10 second count for outlining and filling in. You may want to check out some of my youtube videos where I show how I do it, and show how I find my 10 second icing consistency. xo
Thank you! I tried doing both the sugar cookies and royal icing just this weekend and it came out fantastic! Although the sugar cookies were difficult to handle after a while when I put them outside the fridge. They easily became soft and hard to transfer from the pan it came from to the baking sheet, is that normal? But it might also be because of the weather here(I live in the Philippines – hot weather right now due to upcoming summer). However, I enjoyed the taste of the sugar cookies! And I did the butterfly wing-marbling that you had a picture tutorial about. Thanks, your site is very helpful.
My pleasure, @ Jayvee: That’s wonderful! Yes, if it’s humid where you live it affects the cookies. Here are a few posts for you on that:
I am making a dessert magazine for a class, and one of my pages is how to ice cookies. I was wondering if I could use some of your pictures (with credit of course) to accompany it. Thanks for your help!
I love your owl cookies I am not able to get the owls to look good any ideas.
Marian (Sweetopia) says
Hi @ Ali: Absolutely!
@ Barbara: Have you seen this tutorial? https://sweetopia.net/2011/07/how-to-make-decorated-owl-cookies/
How would you like me to credit it? I wasn’t sure if you wanted me to use your name or the blog name.
HI @ Ali:
A link to my site is fine (or sweetopia.net under the pics or something).
I am new to cookie decorating. Yikes, it’s not as easy as I thought! I finally got the flooding consistency right. But now I have cookies with the outline that is bumpy and not consistent! Is there anyway I can save this batch. They are Easter eggs. Thanks!
Marian (Sweetopia) says
Hi @ Dale: Sorry, do you mean the icing is bumpy/lumpy?
I am trying to figure out how to take a box of Sees candy and write “Jesuit Prom?” on the center chocolates. My son is using this to ask his Gf to prom. Can I use royal icing on chocolates? Your cookies are amazing by the way! Love this site 🙂
Wondering if Michael’s Stores carries royal icing in a writing tube? I have tips home if needed.
@ Terry: That would be a great idea! You could make royal icing transfers and adhere them to the chocolate with royal icing. Here’s a post on making transfers; https://sweetopia.net/2011/01/valentines-love-cupcakes/
If your chocolates are smaller and the letters need to be smaller then, you’ll need to use something different, most likely, as RI transfers are very fragile.
Maybe use fondant/gumpaste cutters, like tappits. ( https://sweetopia.net/2012/08/how-to-use-tappit-cutters-thank-you-nurse-decorated-cookies/ ) or you’ll need to pipe right onto the chocolate.
For the piping, yes I think Michael’s carries royal icing in a writing tube. I’ve never tried them though… not sure how well they work, sorry.
Hope that helps in general!
Hi, I’m decorating hummingbird shaped sugar cookies and then hand-painting details. What is the best way to use multiple colors on a cookie? Is it possible to flood more than one color? I’d like the body to be green and blue, and then there’s the beak with black but I’m getting stuck thinking about how to execute this. Any advice or tutorials?
So that’s my problem! thanks!! I keep playing with the thickness thinking that was it. Now I know I try to outline too fast, pulling the outline as I am doing it. Thank you so much!! @ marian:
HI @ Catherine: It would help for me to see the design you’re going for, if there is a photo/illustration, however, I think you’re asking about flooding several colors beside eachother? You can wait about 15 minutes to let one color set, and then flood another area beside it. If it’s white and a darker color, such as black or white, I’d wait til the one area was completely dry before putting the next color. I’ve done a simple cardinal before, if you’d like to see it here;
If you haven’t already, I recommend checking out my youtube videos and the cookie tutorial section above. Good luck! xo
Glad I could be of some help, @ karen! 🙂
Deanna Barnes says
You need to keep the tip of the piping bag inside a damp cloth. It’s probably getting dried out.@ Laura:
Martha Lander says
Marian, what is a good small basketweave tip to use for a 2 1/2″ or 3″ Easter basket sugar cookie?
I really think this amazing blog , “How to Decorate Cookies with
Royal Icing – Top 10 Tips | Sweetopia”, extremely entertaining
not to mention the post was in fact a very good read.
I just love your site. I am new to the cookie decorating business and need help on how to ship cookies frosted in royal icing in hot weather. I am making 2 dozen nautical baby shower cookies and need to ship them out this Thursday to my cousin who lives in Fort Washington. The weather in New York is unusually hot(in the 90’s all this week)and I am sure that the weather in Fort Washington will be just as hot. The cookies are white sailor outfit with navy blue stripes and red tie and a red white and blue sail boat. Should I decorate the cookies with royal icing, let them dry and then freeze them before shipping them and or use cold packs or will the cookies be ok to ship as is? Any tips you can give on how to pack cookies with royal icing for shipping in hot weather would be greatly appreciated. Thanks
Marian (Sweetopia) says
Gina, I don’t have a lot of experience with shipping cookies in hot/humid weather, I’m sorry! I would try contacting a company like Elenis.com, and asking them how they deal with it. xo
It’s actually a great and helpful piece of info. I am glad that you just shared this helpful information with us. Please stay us informed like this. Thanks for sharing.
Dena Ashby says
I have a question, I’m hoping you can help. Practically every time I make dots, big or small, they pit. How can I keep this from happening?
I know what you mean – frustrating, isn’t it! Besides making your icing a little thicker, here are some posts on it for you:
I came across your site I want to say about two years ago and saw the butterfly cookie. I tried to make some cookies for my daughter’s princess themed party. I really wish I had taken the time to really read your blog because the cookies I made were horrible. As of yesterday I have taken the time to read, watch, and study your site and videos and will give the cookies a try again for her party in October. Thanks so much for taking the time to make these tutorials.
Thanks for the compliment and hope your next experience is better for you! xoxo
I can’t tell you how great your website is. I recently made my first royal icing cookies using your recipes and tips. They turned out really well, especially for my first time. However making the icing proved to be rather time intensive because I had to add almost 15 times the amount of water suggested. I did it very slowly so that I wouldn’t thin it out too much. Is there some easier way to insure a proper icing consistency without spending 2 hours making it? The coloring and putting in piping bags is time intensive enough. 🙂 Thanks for any input. I’m in Lexington, Ky if that helps at all with knowing how weather may have a part to play.
Here is a link to the cookies I made. 🙂 http://portofthoughts.blogspot.com/2013/04/henrys-1st-birthday-party.html
Hi Elizabeth, I will be doing a video on it, but it’s about 1/4 cup… give or take. It really does make a difference depending on the humidity level of the room. Hope that helps! Gorgeous party btw.
How long should I wait after flooding the cookies before making the artwork over the top of it? I have decorated many cakes and cupcakes…but….never cookies!! This will be totally new to me!!!
Here is a video for you:
I love your website! Fantastic tips!!!
I do have a question, though! I usually flood my cookies and wait until they are dry to add piping details on the top. However, the small piping details on the top often aren’t secured onto the cookie well and tend to fall off with the slightest touch or bump (especially dots for eyes or a nose, polka dots, or small lines.) Any ideas? Should I not wait until the flood frosting is completely dry to add the piping details?
You are an artist! they are beautiful!
Hi,i find your tutorial really helpful…i just have a question..is there a recipe for royal icing if i cant find meringue powder? Is it safe to use raw egg whites?im planning of making a carrot topper for cupcake…pls help…
Here is a post for you: xo
Hi, may I know is royal icing transfer best to use only for cake topper or can it still use to stick on cookie?
Yes, I have a video tutorial on them and use them here and there on cookies. Here’s the video post if you like:
I just watched it!!! You are like the dictionary to sugar cookie decoration….!! Big thank you!!
Just found this wonderful website..THANK YOU!! My question is how can I get the royal icing to have a sheen rather than the matte finish they always seem to have?..and also,how do I go about adding colored sugar to just the piping..do I need to put another piping layer on after the entire cookie is dried?
Here is a post on the sheen (discussion near end of post); https://sweetopia.net/2011/11/gluten-free-coconut-cupcakes-with-coconut-frosting-shiny-royal-icing/
and here is a post on adding sugar (in the post – orange leaves);
Hope that helps!
I am so happy I found you! I am planning a cookie decorating party for my mothers group kids (nearly 3 years old) and though they will not be making cookies as beautiful as yours, I am hoping that I will. Your tutorials make it look so easy and I find the comments section to be super duper helpful as well. You’re amazing!
Thanks so much, Mae and Allison! xo
This is what I’ve been looking for! I will include this into my Baby Shower food party!
I am new to making homemade sugar cookies. What is the difference between royal icing and the others and when you leave the cookies to dry for 24 hours, where do you leave them, in the fridge or outside (covered, uncovered)? Also, what piping couplers are you using with your wilton number 2 tip?
here is a video on drying cookies for you:
I use ateco couplers but also have a few wilton ones. Here’s a video on my fave tools if you like:
Hi there …I am a fan of your beautiful cookies and website. You truly have a gift! I recently started decorating cookies and have noticed that the small dots piped on and thin line details fall off after they’ve dried. I am very careful to ensure they’re completely dried before packaging them but they keep breaking off. Help! Thank you!
I’m sorry to say, you’re probably doing nothing wrong… the dots are definitely sensitive! I wish I had a solution, sorry!
Hi Marian, I want to add to my offer a holiday biscuits for doggies. I use only natural, preservatives free ingredients. I am looking for vegetable, fruit and herb coloring for the royal icing and color chart how to mix them to make any color. This is a new experience to me, please help if you can.
P.S. Have a blessed Thanksgiving !!!
Sorry I’m late with my reply!
I don’t have a chart, but just a few ideas;
*blue – blueberries,
*red – beets, raspberries
*yellow – mango
*green – spinach
I’m sorry I don’t have any posts for you. Hope it went well and would love to hear about it if you already tried them!