I have to admit that I found decorating sugar cookies to be a bit intimidating at first. It can be a complicated, multi-step process and most people wouldn’t have the needed supplies on hand. New bakers have a tendency to get caught up in perfection – you have to find the perfect sugar cookie recipe, then the perfect icing, then the best tools. One thing I’ve learned: don’t strive for perfection! Especially in the beginning. Decorating sugar cookies should be fun – a wonderful creative outlet that anyone can do, once they know the basics.
To decorate sugar cookies, you first need two things: sugar cookies and icing. Groundbreaking stuff, huh? It might seem silly to break it down so simply, but we don’t want to get caught up in the fine details here. Just the basics.
Sugar Cookies: I find sugar cookies to be some of the most temperamental cookies you could possibly bake, until you get the hang of it. I’ve had more trouble baking sugar cookies than any other type of cookie. I think that’s why everyone seems to have their favorite, which is probably the cookie that has yielded the most consistent results for them (and still tastes great). I have a couple recipes that I use, but I’m still on the prowl for a “favorite.” I’ve been thinking about experimenting and coming up with my own – we’ll see how that goes!
While some bakers would gasp at this recommendation, if you haven’t found a recipe that you love and you just want to practice, use a mix! I can hear the collective gasp now. No, seriously. When I wanted to practice in the beginning, I wasn’t looking to make gourmet cookies. I just wanted to get better. Sometimes, the thought of making sugar cookies seemed like so much trouble, and I found myself dreading it. There is no reason to feel that way! Try out a mix. It will not be the pinnacle of perfection, but we’re not looking for that right now! I’ve had relative success with Betty Crocker’s Sugar Cookie Mix. I’ve also found it easy to doctor – to add some additional ingredients for a flavor boost.
Icing: The second part of this cookie equation is icing. Now, if you thought bakers were fiercely loyal to their sugar cookies recipe, you haven’t seen nothing yet! There are many differing opinions on the perfect type of icing:
- Royal Icing: Many, perhaps most, cookie decorators use royal icing. Remember that super hard icing you use to make gingerbread houses? That is royal icing. It is a white icing, normally made with meringue powder, that dries very hard and has a matte finish. It can be thinned with water to alter the consistency. Some people think that royal icing does not taste very good.
- Buttercream: This is more like the icing that is used to frost a cake. It tastes great, but never dries stiff. This may be the type of icing your grandmother used on sugar cookies, spread with a knife. It works beautifully for a cookie that is only meant to be eaten – it is not recommended for decorating.
- Meringue-Powder Buttercream: I have never tried this kind of icing, but I am excited to. It is supposed to be a cross between royal icing and buttercream. It dries to a smooth, hard finish, but remains a bit softer.
- Glaze/Corn Syrup Icing: This icing has no meringue powder – it is usually just powdered sugar, some kind of liquid (milk or water), sometimes corn syrup, and flavoring. It tastes better than royal icing, but can be a little too sweet for some.
Is your head spinning yet? I know, it is a lot to take in. Personally, I switch between royal icing and corn syrup icing, depending on the type of cookie.
But, the truth is, this is what works best for me – once you start trying new things and feeling more confident, you will find what works best for you! This is not an exact science – they’re just cookies.
Now, I’m having trouble trying to focus on this post while watching Mad Men (it is not Sunday morning without a Mad Men rerun!). Multi-tasking fail. So, I will continue this discussion in another post. Plus, I don’t want to overwhelm you with too much information as once!
- Bakers can be creepily attached to their particular sugar cookie and/or icing recipe.
- Unless you have a sugar cookie recipe you already love, feel free to practice with a mix. I promise I won’t tell!
- They are many different types of icing out there. I alternate between a corn syrup/glaze icing and royal icing.
- What works best for me won’t necessarily work best for you – you will discover this as you become more comfortable with the basics.
- Anyone can make fabulous cookies (seriously).