Add these decorated sugar cookies to your holiday traditions! Learn how to decorate using royal icing, cookie icing, sprinkles, and Candy Melts.
NOTE: This post was sponsored by Wilton. Thank you for supporting my brand partners. As always, all opinions stated here are entirely my own.
The holiday season is upon us! It’s time to bake all the sugar cookies! Every year I set aside one weekend to crank out as many cookies as possible.
Table of contents
No Chill Sugar Cookie Dough
Decorated sugar cookies are little works of art beloved by all. Sugar cookies are an excellent choice for cookie exchanges, gift giving, and sharing with loved ones.
Spread holiday cheer with a box of beautifully decorated homemade sugar cookies!
This is my favorite go-to recipe during the holiday season. Most sugar cookie dough recipes benefit from chilling or resting in the fridge.
This is a sugar cookie dough that you can immediately roll, stamp, and bake! No chilling necessary!
Simply mix together the dough and start stamping out cookies immediately! Best of all, these cookies can be baked ahead of time.
Bake up to three days in advance. Store in an airtight container until you are ready to decorate.
- Pick your favorite cookie cutter shapes. I highly recommend using metal cookie cutters. They are much sturdier than plastic ones and very easy to clean. I used the Wilton snowflake cookie cutter set and the Wilton 12-piece holiday cookie cutter set (photographed above).
- The cookie dough easily comes together in a stand mixer. The dough needs to be used immediately after mixing. Roll dough out to about 1/4-inch thick on a flour surface.
- Dip cookie cutters in flour before stamping. This will ensure clean lines and prevent the cookie cutter from sticking to the cookie dough.
- Stamp out cookies! Try to utilize as much of the cookie dough as possible. For example, when stamping out Christmas trees invert the stamp after each cookie to maximize dough usage.
- Gather scrapes and re-roll dough as necessary to stamp out more cookies.
Tips for Sugar Cookie Success
- Place similar sized and similar shaped cookie dough together on baking sheets. This will ensure even baking.
- Don’t over-bake the cookies! Bake for 6-8 minutes just until the edges of the cookies are set. The cookies will continue to “cook” on the hot baking sheet out of the oven.
- Allow fresh from the oven cookies to remain on the baking sheet for about 5-8 minutes to firm up. Then, transfer cookies to the wire rack. Cool cookies to room temperature before decorating.
- Use stackable wire cooling racks to save counter space.
Baked and cooled cookies can be stored in an airtight container for three days before decorating.
Freeze Cookies for Storage
Let’s focus on three ways to decorate cookies
- Royal Icing
- Cookie Icing and Sprinkles
- Chocolate and Candy Melts
1. Royal Icing
There are several ways to make royal icing. The traditional method uses egg whites and confectioners’ sugar. I prefer the more modern method which uses meringue powder.
Meringue powder is a mixture of dried egg whites, cornstarch, and stabilizers. It’s a great alternative to using raw egg whites. It’s safer (no worries about salmonella!) and much easier to measure out.
Note: Meringue powder can also be used to make meringue topping and other frostings!
You will need a stand mixer with a paddle attachment or a high-speed hand mixer to whip together the royal icing. The royal icing here is simply made using: warm water, meringue powder, confectioners’ sugar, and vanilla.
How to Color Royal Icing
I recommend using food gel coloring for royal icing.
Gel coloring is a bit more concentrated than that standard liquid food coloring you find at supermarkets.
Stay away from liquid food coloring!
Liquid food coloring has too much moisture. It will greatly affect the texture and consistency of the royal icing.
I suggest using the Wilton Gel Icing Color or Wilton Color Right Performance Food Coloring System.
Just remember… a little goes a long way! Just a few drops of coloring can make a bowl of royal icing bright green!
Tips for Using Royal Icing
Royal icing hardens and dries quickly. It is important to keep unused royal icing covered!
Cover royal icing with a damp paper towel. For extended storage, cover the damp paper towel with a lid or plastic wrap.
Other ways to prevent royal icing from hardening:
- store in sealed piping bags
- place in covered squeeze bottles
- excess royal icing can be kept in the freezer for longer storage
Christmas Tree Cookies
Here’s a great way to decorate sugar cookies with limited colors. These Christmas tree cookies use two colors: green and brown.
The same gel color was used to color the three shades of green.
The different shades are based on the amount of gel color used.
More gel coloring means darker green color. Less gel coloring creates a softer pastel green color.
How to decorate royal icing Christmas tree cookies:
- Fill individual piping bags with colored royal icing. Cut the tips of piping bags or use small round piping tips. Use green shade #1 to pipe an outline for the top of the tree.
- Outline the middle of the tree with green shade #2.
- Use green shade #3 to pipe outline for the bottom of the tree. Use the brown color to create swiggle line for the tree trunk.
- “Flood” the outlines with corresponding green shade to fill in the cookie. (More info about flooding below.)
Candy Cane Cookies
Here’s another way to use royal icing. You can layer different colors on top of each other.
The candy cane has a white base and will be pipped with red stripes.
Note: I’m using Wilton’s Icing Bottle for Cooking Decorating. The flexible bottle is microwave safe and comes with two decorating tips.
- Gather all the necessary tools and equipment: toothpicks, paper towels, two piping bags (one filled with white royal icing, the other with red royal icing), and a squeeze bottle with white flood royal icing.
- Pipe a border along the outline of the candy cane cookie using the white royal icing piping bag. Snip off a tiny tip of the disposable piping bag or use a small round piping tip (such as piping tip 1 or tip 2)
- Use the squeeze bottle to “flood” the space within the royal icing border of the cookie.
- Fill in any spaces not covered by the flood royal icing by dragging and pulling the royal icing with a toothpick. Use the toothpick to pop any air bubbles that may form on the surface of the icing.
What is Royal Icing Flooding?
After you’ve outlined the cookie with piping royal icing, flooding is a technique used to easily spread icing across the surface of the cookie.
Flood royal icing is created by watering down piping royal icing.
Set aside a small amount of piped royal icing. Add a tiny amount of water (about 1/2 tsp to 1 tsp at a time is a good start) and stir to loosen the royal icing.
Continue to add water until the royal icing is smooth and pourable consistency.
Use a squeeze bottle or a piping bag fitted with a large tip to flood the cookies with the thinned out royal icing.
Set the cookie on a flat surface and allow the royal icing to dry. This will take anywhere from one hour to overnight depending on the humidity of your room.
Here are some examples for easy ways to decorate the candy cane cookies and Christmas tree cookies.
Note: Add sprinkles to royal icing cookies before the icing sets! Otherwise, it will not stick.
2. Cookie Icing and Sprinkles
Not a fan of piping bags or mixing together your own royal icing? Pressed for time, but still want to hand decorate your cookies? This is the perfect solution- Wilton Cookie Icing!
The cookie icing bottles are super easy to use. No need to fuss with additional food coloring. The icing comes in a variety of colors.
This icing is great for decorating sugar cookies and gingerbread cookies because the icing dries smooth like royal icing.
To use, simply twist off the cap and remove the inner seal.
Pop the bottle in the microwave for 15-20 seconds. Replace cap and knead or shake the bottle to distribute heat and ensure icing is a smooth consistency.
That’s it! You’re ready to start decorating! Easy, right?!
Squeeze icing to the surface of the cookies. Immediately top with sprinkles or desired decor. Set decorated cookies on a flat surface to dry.
No need to wait hours. The icing will harden in about 30-45 minutes. At this point, the cookies are ready to be stacked and packaged!
Over time, the cookie icing will thicken and harden in the bottle. When this happens, just pop it back in the microwave for 5-10 seconds.
These cookie icing bottles are great for cookie decorating with children. No need to fuss with piping bags and food coloring.
It’s also wonderful when you have dozens and dozens of cookies you want to decorate for gift giving.
3. Candy Melts and Chocolate
Wilton Candy Melts or your favorite chocolates are another great decorating option! Candy Melts come in a wide assortment of colors.
While the majority of colors are vanilla flavored, there are new options like strawberry, cookies & cream, and blueberry lemonade.
Use Candy Melts in a variety of different applications. They are great for dipping or drizzling.
They’re good for making molded candies or chocolate bars, coating cake pops or brownie bites, and of course, cookies!
Fill a disposable piping bag with Candy Melts. Tie close with a rubber band. Then, microwave at half-power for about a minute. Knead the bag until the candy is smooth.
Snip off the tip of the bag and pipe away! Use a small piping tip, such as tip 1 or 2, for more detailed or intricate piping work.
Candy Melts hardens fairly quickly, about 20 minutes at room temperature.
The warmth of your hands will keep the candy melts fluid in the piping bag. Simply reheat the bag for 5-10 seconds intervals if the candy melts start to harden.
Note: Be sure to remove the metal piping tip if re-heating the piping bag in the microwave!
Just like royal icing or cookie icing, you can decorate Candy Melts with sprinkles!
Out of the three options, Candy Melts are the easiest to clean up. Any spills on the table or countertop will harden and can be easily swept off using an offset spatula or bench scraper.
For more cooking decorating ideas, head on over to The Wilton Blog!
How to Pack and Gift Cookies
I recommend drying the royal icing decorated cookies overnight to ensure the icing is completely set.
The cookie icing and Candy Melts are ready for packing on the same day.
Hand Delivered Cookies
I like using this 4-cavity sampler box shown in the image above. The see-through top window gives recipients an exciting peek to the treats inside!
Plus, the box comes with removable inserts to ensure the cookies don’t crush or smash into each other. I also like to stack cookies on a big plate like the image below. Then, I wrap the plate in cellophane and tie it closed with a ribbon.
Mailing decorated sugar cookies a bit more complicated.
I suggest placing individual cookies in bubble wrap pouches or place individual cookies in a cellophane bag with a piece of card stock or poster board.
Place the wrapped cookies in a box filled with crinkle paper or packing peanuts to ensure the cookies are cushioned and protected.
No Chill Sugar Cookies with Royal Icing
- 390 grams all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 226 grams unsalted butter, softened, room temp
- 200 grams granulated sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon almond extract *
- 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract, or vanilla paste
- 1 large egg, room temp
- 170 grams warm water, about 90°-110°F or 32°-43°C
- 55 grams meringue powder
- 910 grams confectioners' sugar
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract *
- gel paste colors, as needed, see notes
- Preheat oven to 350°F (or 180°C). Line baking sheets with parchment paper or nonstick silicone baking mats. Set aside.
- In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream butter until smooth. With the mixer running low, slowly pour in sugar. Add in extracts. Scrape down sides of bowl to ensure thorough mixing.
- Add egg. Continue to mix on low to medium speed until well combined.
- Add flour mixture in two additions. Mix on low speed until dough forms. Divide dough into two equal parts.
- Work with one piece of dough at a time. On a lightly floured work surface, roll dough to a thickness of about ¼-inch. Use a well floured cookie cutter to stamp out desired cookie shapes. Gather dough scraps and re-roll dough as necessary.
- Place cut cookies on the prepared baking sheet, spacing them about 2-inches apart. Bake for 8 minutes* until the edges of the cookies have set. Cool cookies on baking sheet for 3-5 minutes to firm up. Transfer warm cookies to the wire rack and cool to room temperature.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together warm water and meringue powder. Let mixture sit undisturbed for 3 minutes.
- Using a paddle attachment, mix on low speed. Add confectioners' sugar in three additions. Add vanilla extract. Mix on low speed until icing holds a ribbonlike trail on the surface of the mixture when you raise the paddle.
- Divide icing into smaller bowls. Color icing as desired using gel food coloring, powdered food coloring, or liquid food coloring.NOTE: At this point icing is ready for piping.
- Save any remaining royal icing by covering the surface of icing with a damp paper towel.
- Flood Royal Icing: Set aside desired amount of royal icing for flooding. Add a small amount of water (about 1 teaspoon at a time) and stir to loosen the royal icing. Continue to add water until the royal icing is smooth and pourable consistency.
- To ensure even baking, place similar sized and similar shaped cookie dough together on baking sheets.
- Don’t over-bake the cookies! Bake for 8 minutes just until the edges of the cookies are set. The cookies will continue to “cook” on the hot baking sheet out of the oven.
- The suggested 8 minute baking time is for 3-inch cookies. Adjust baking time depending on the size of your cookies.
- Allow fresh from the oven cookies to remain on baking sheet for about 5-8 minutes to firm up. Then, transfer cookies to wire rack. Cool cookies to room temperature before decorating.
- Use gel food coloring for royal icing. Do not use liquid food color because it will greatly affect the texture and consistency of the royal icing.
- Other extracts such as almond, lemon, or peppermint may be used in place of vanilla extract.