Cookie decorating is arguably the most delicious art form out there. “I especially love cookies, because I find them to be like little canvases,” says professional cookie decorator and Skillshare instructor Laurie Shannon, also known as The Icing Artist. “Literally, anything you can imagine, you can create it on a cookie.”
Want to whip up a batch of holiday cookies or send a yummy gift to a friend? Whether you prefer royal icing to buttercream or you’ve never heard of either, you’re in the right place. We’ve compiled everything you need to know about how to decorate sugar cookies and make your own cookie art.
What Do You Need for Cookie Decorating?
“The nice thing about cookie decorating is you don’t actually need a lot of tools,” Shannon says. Here’s what you’ll want to have on hand:
- Sugar cookies
- Royal icing (a type of icing that dries rock hard)
- Piping bags
- Bag clips
- Cookie scribe or toothpicks
- Gel-based food coloring
- Metal cookie cutters
From there, pick up a piping bag, which is typically available at grocery stores. Shannon also suggests using a bag clip to keep your icing fresh and to prevent it from leaking out of the top of the bag as you’re decorating your cookies.
You’ll also need a cookie scribe, a pointed tool that helps you manipulate the royal icing. (Though if you don’t have one or aren’t quite ready to make the investment, a toothpick works, too.)
Shannon suggests gel-based food coloring because it makes for a more vibrant color and doesn’t affect the consistency of the icing like liquid-based food colorings do.
Metal cookie cutters are also a bit easier to use than plastic cookie cutters, according to Shannon, but you can also use a paper template and a sharp paring knife to shape your cookies.
How to Make Cookie Art Like a Pro
Now that you know what you need to create cookie art, you’re ready to create your own edible masterpieces!
Step 1: Bake the Dough and Make the Royal Icing
Using Shannon’s recipe, make the sugar cookie dough, then roll it out in one flat layer, aiming for about ¼ inch thickness. Once the dough is rolled out, use metal cookie cutters to cut out shapes and place them on a baking sheet. If your cookies aren’t coming away from the cutters cleanly, use a small paring knife to clean up and sharpen the edges. Then, pop your cookies in the oven, bake as directed, and let them cool!
In the meantime, make royal icing using Shannon’s recipe. If your icing is too thick, add small amounts of water until you reach your desired consistency; if it’s too thin, add a bit of powdered sugar. If you aren’t going to use all of the icing right away or you have leftovers, store it in an airtight container. Finally, mix in your gel-based food color of choice, and pour it into a piping bag.
Step 2: Flood Your Cookies
While this may seem like an odd concept for the kitchen, in the world of cookie art, “flooding” refers to applying the base layer of icing to your cookies.
First, pipe a border around the outside edges of your cookie. Next, fill the entire center of the cookie with royal icing. Then, using the pointed end of your cookie scribe in a tight, circular motion, move the tool through the icing until you have a smooth, consistent surface.
Always let your cookie dry completely—even overnight in some cases—before adding your next layer of design.
Step 3: Start Your Cookie Decoration!
Now comes the real fun—adding stripes, dots, designs, and more! While you can certainly do all of your decorating with royal icing, you can also incorporate fun tools like brown bag cookie art molds, stencils, and edible markers.
“Especially if you’re into art… this is where you can just really show off all of your skills,” says Shannon. “But if you’re a beginner or not an artist… you can just have fun and create whatever designs, and it’s okay if it’s messy. Because once you have all these little messy things together, it creates a beautiful piece of art.”
Cookie stenciling is a great choice for those who are just learning how to decorate sugar cookies, and you can either purchase cookie stencils or make your own. Gently place the stencil onto your cookie surface and add a small dollop of royal icing over the stencil. Then, carefully rub the icing over the stencil with a flat knife, being careful not to let the stencil move around too much on the surface of the cookie. Then, lift the stencil from the cookie to reveal your design!
Edible markers are excellent for creating details and adding finishing touches to your cookie art designs. They’re easy to use, too—simply write or draw right on the surface of the cookie. Just be careful not to press too hard to protect your cookie and any icing you’ve already applied.
Cookie Art Resources and Tips
Now that you’re familiar with the basics of cookie decorating, here are some tips, ideas, and inspiration to help you create all kinds of cookie art masterpieces.
Christmas Cookie Decorating
If you’ve been collecting images of Christmas cookie clip art and want to make your own holiday-inspired cookies, try this course by Skillshare instructor Rachel Britz, who will teach you how to bake and decorate Christmas trees, gingerbread, and reindeer cookies.
Floral Cookie Decorating
Character Cookie Decorating
Need a fun idea for a kid’s birthday party? Skillshare instructor Angela Alvarez will teach you how to decorate Mario Brothers themed cookies. She uses a combination of royal icing and fondant, a thick type of frosting designed to be used in layers, to make mushrooms, stars, and mystery boxes.
Wedding Cookie Decorating
Whether you’re hosting a bridal shower or looking for a break from the traditional wedding dessert, create Shannon’s adorable wedding-themed cookies in the shape of a mason jar, heart, and tiered cake. “I love that they’re all so different, but they match perfectly together,” she says of the finished design.
Learn More From the Icing Artist!
Cookie Decorating For Beginners: Create Incredible, Edible Art.