Tips For Decorating Sugar Cookies with Royal Icing

I’m so excited to share today’s post with you! Since I’m by no means an expert baker, I like to get (and share) some tips from people who are. Sarah from Coastal Cookies is a sugar cookie decorating genius! She is based here in Destin and before she started her cookie business she worked in the real estate field. Baking was just a hobby at the time, but when she offered to sell her cookies to real estate agents for open houses she had a dozen orders right off the bat. Since we live in Florida most of the houses her company sold were beach homes, so she would often make coastal-inspired cookies as closing gifts. And thus Coastal Cookies was born! She now creates amazing cookies for birthday parties, holidays, weddings and much more! Below are some of her tips for both baking the best cookies and decorating them like a pro.

Baking Tips

It took me a long time to find a recipe that I loved, mainly because I have such a long list of criteria! Taste is ALWAYS #1, followed by a cookie that doesn’t spread and holds its shape, has a decent shelf life, and isn’t fussy to bake. By fussy I mean NOT a recipe that requires me to roll the dough, put it in the freezer, take it out and cut the shapes, and put it back in the freezer, then bake (there are A LOT like this out there!). While I can’t share my actual recipe with you, I can share some baking tips to ensure you make the best of what you have!

  1. Invest in a rolling pin that rolls your dough to an even thickness. This makes your cookies look so professional! I bought an amazing one on Amazon by Joseph Joseph for under $20 (shop it here!). It has rings on the ends of the rolling pin that allow you to adjust the thickness of your cookies (from 1/16″, 1/6”, 1/4”, and 3/8”).
  2. Use semi-room temperature butter. I usually pull my butter out of the fridge about an hour before I start baking. You want it soft enough that your mixer can incorporate it, but not too soft – otherwise your cookies might spread as they bake. When you have intricately shaped cookie cutters (almost all of mine!), spreading is a no-no.
  3. Only re-use your dough once. After cutting all shapes out of my rolled piece of dough, I collect the scraps and re-roll it. I will only re-roll the scraps one time because I’ve found that rolling it any more than this causes the cookies to shrink or become tough.
  4. Invest in cute cookie cutters! They really make decorating easier (for me at least!). My all-time favorite brand is Kaleidacuts – a husband and wife team located right here on the Emerald Coast. Another brand that has super cute designs is Sweet Sugarbelle. You can find Kaleidacuts on Etsy (click here), and Sweet Sugarbelle is available at Michaels, HSN, Amazon etc!
  5. Once the cookies are completely cooled after baking, put them on a clean baking sheet with a paper towel underneath them. This helps to absorb any extra butter and prevent butter bleed (more on that below).

Decorating Tips

I use a royal icing recipe for decorating my sugar cookies. I started with a great recipe from Sweet Sugarbelle (found here) and I have tweaked it slightly with different extracts. There’s no one way to ice a cookie, in fact that’s one of my favorite parts about Instagram—seeing the different ways everyone decorates! Below are some useful tips that have really worked for me.

  1. Practice. Working with royal icing takes a lot of practice. I use two different consistencies – piping (stiff) and flooding (liquidy). I start by outlining the area I want to decorate with the piping icing. Then I fill in the area using the flooding icing – but not too much or it will flow over the edge. Then you have to pop any air bubbles that appear or they will dry that way. Oh, and did I mention you have to work FAST?! Don’t worry though – it gets easier with practice!
  2. Food colors – NEVER buy the cheap food colors from the grocery store!! It won’t get dark enough or bright enough for you. You want to use food color GEL – preferably Americolor (Wilton also works in a pinch). I buy Americolor on Amazon and they have 3 different sizes. A little goes a long way – I usually only use a few drops when mixing up a color. Black, red, and navy are the hardest to mix because they are so dark. As tempting as it may be to add more gel, DON’T! Believe it or not, the color will darken as it dries. For example, to make bright Christmas red, I usually mix up a color that looks like a dark salmon pink. By the time it dries it’s red! I’ve heard other decorators say you should mix these colors up the day before and let them set overnight (in the fridge), but honestly…who has time for that?! So I usually just make them a little lighter, knowing they will deepen. If you add too much food coloring, you’re going to have issues. The main one being that they might not dry. Imagine spending hours on baking, mixing colors, decorating cookies and leaving them to dry – then coming back in the morning and seeing that they just. aren’t. dry. You’ll want to pull your hair out, guaranteed. Additionally, if you add too much food coloring, you can get what’s commonly referred to in the cookie world as ‘butter bleed’. Butter bleed is when your cookie looks great decorated and then you come back hours later (or the next day) and notice what looks like grease stains seeping in. It stinks. The easiest way to avoid these icing pitfalls is to use color sparingly AND use Americolor gels.
  3. Royal icing is great and all, but it can get REALLY hard when you have to do floral details on cookies. So instead of chipping a tooth, I add a tsp of corn syrup to my icing mix. The corn syrup still allows the flowers to dry and hold their shape, but when you bite into them, the icing is softer on the inside.
  4. Favorite Decorating tools – some of my favorite decorating tools are my cookie swivel (essentially a mini lazy Susan), decorative scribe (used for spreading the icing around – Siliscribes has some ADORABLE ones), and my dehydrator (helps icing dry faster). You can see all of my favorite tools on this Amazon page

I hope these tips and tricks help you to ice the perfect (and YUMMY) cookie!