I’ve always loved decorating sugar cookies with royal icing, and last year I posted about these Christmas-themed sugar cookies that I had been dreaming about decorating since the spring. I was absolutely in love with how they turned out so of course I had to include them in my holiday baking this year. Baking sugar cookies and decorating them with royal icing does require a bit of time so I don’t get to do it as often as I’d like to, but it’s been some time since I first posted a royal icing tutorial so I figured I may as well show you a step-by-step process of how to make your own beautiful snowflake cookies! I’m going to warn you now that this will be a wordy and picture-heavy post, as I want to include as much detail as possible for any beginners out there. The recipe for both the sugar cookies and the royal icing are included at the bottom of this post. Let’s get started!
This is how I set up my cookie-decorating workstation (and therefore include the things I recommend you have ready with you before you decorate):
– wax or parchment paper to decorate the cookies on
– 1 coupler, 1 pastry bag, 1 #2 tip and 1 #3 tip PER colour of icing you will be using (this will make your life a whole lot easier and saves you the hassle of changing bags and tips when you need a new colour)
– 1 squeeze bottle PER colour of icing you will be flooding with (this is optional, but recommended for more detailed cookies such as these snowflake cookies)
– 1 empty container with lid and 1 small spoon PER colour of icing you will be using
– small bowl of water (not shown), this will be used to thin out your icing to the desired consistency
– a glass or cup with a bit of water in it – you will be keeping your full pastry bags in this glass and the thin layer of water at the bottom will prevent your icing from drying and hardening at the edge of the tip when your bag is not in use
– gel icing colours that you will be using
– any other decorating embellishments you will be using (sugar pearls, coloured sugar/sparkles, etc.)
– clean tweezers (for food only!) – necessary if you are working with sugar pearls
– toothpicks – to help flood the cookies, and to help incorporate the gel icing colour into your icing when you are colouring it
– paper towel
– a pre-drawn outline/idea of what design you want your cookies to have (see next picture)
– good music!
and of course, your cookies, cooled and ready to be decorated.
I can’t stress enough how important and helpful it is to draw an idea of what design you what your cookies to have before you decorate. Use the actual cookie cutter you will be using as a stencil so you can accurately visualize your design. When you are drawing out your design, keep in mind that your icing will be thicker than your pencil lines. Drawing out your design can help you realize if the amount of detail you want to incorporate is unrealistic due to size or shape of both the cookie and the thickness of your icing colour. I use a #2 tip to do my detailing and find that it is a good size to get a fair amount of detail on the cookie, but still be visible.
Now that you are all ready, the first step (once you have put your pastry bags and tips together, use a #3 tip to start) is to get your icing ready. I like to divide my icing up into separate containers first, 1 per colour I am using. I usually have an idea going in of how much of each colour I will need. For these snowflakes I knew I would probably need more white icing then pink or blue. I like to leave a bit of extra icing in the original container in case I need to make more icing, or if I need to thicken an icing that I had watered down.
When you first mix your icing together, it will be very thick. Your goal is to slowly add water a small spoonful at a time and mix it until it the icing has a much smoother consistency. This is the icing you will be using to outline your cookies, so you don’t want it to get to the point that it is runny with a lot of air bubbles forming. Your icing should still be thick, but should also be able to pipe easily out of a pastry bag fitted with a #3 tip. If you find that your icing has been thinned out too much, you can either add more of the original icing to thicken it or add powdered sugar.
Now that you have achieved the desired consistency for each of your icing colours, it’s time to colour them. I prefer gel colours over liquid food colouring because I find that the colours are much nicer and deeper, and gel colours don’t thin out the icing like liquid food colouring does (especially since you’ve worked so hard to get your icing to the right consistency!) Using a toothpick, add just a bit of gel colour to your icing and mix well. Trust me, a little goes a long way. It is better to start with just a little bit of gel colour and add more as needed, especially if you are going for a more pastel colour like I did for these snowflakes.
Mix well!Repeat for each colour you will be using. I only used pink and blue for these cookies. If you have white gel colouring, you can use that as well to enhance your white icing. I don’t own any and have been happy with my results, but if you do have a white gel colour it wouldn’t hurt to use it!
And mix. Again, a little bit of colour really goes a long way.
Fill your pastry bags with each different colour. Now it’s time to outline! I like using a #3 tip to outline, but have also used a #1 in the past for simpler cookies and found that it works well.
Slowly and carefully, outline your cookie. Try to finish the outline in one motion to avoid breaks in the icing. It helps if you are sitting comfortably and both hands steadying and supporting the pastry bag.
Once all of your cookies have been outlined, it’s time to flood them! You want a more fluid icing to flood the cookies, so it’s time to add a bit more water to each of your colours. Before I thin my colours, I always make sure I have enough left in my pastry bags for detailing. If not, I will add a bit more icing to my pastry bag before thinning it out. Again if you find that if you have thinned out your icing too much, you can either add more of the original icing or powdered sugar to thicken it. Just be careful of adding too much white colour as it could alter the colour of your icing.
Ideally you want your icing to get to a point where it slides easily off of the back of your spoon, and smooths back out and into the icing below in 5-7 seconds. Once you get to this point, let your icing sit for about 10 minutes. All of the air that you incorporated into your icing during the mixing process will rise to the top (you can see the air bubbles shown below). After 10 minutes has past, lightly skim your spoon over the surface of the icing to break up and release the air bubbles. Your cookies should now be free of air bubbles when you flood them!
You can either use a spoon to flood your cookies, or transfer your icing to squeeze bottles which makes flooding a whole lot easier! Snowflakes especially are trickier to flood simply because there are more points and edges to fill in rather than filling in a smooth circle. Once your outlined cookies have dried, you can flood them. Essentially you just want to fill out a rough outline and let the icing spread on its own. You can help the icing fill in the points and corners by using a toothpick to spread the icing. If you find that you are still getting small air bubbles, gently tap your toothpick along the bubbles to pop them. It is important to do this while the icing is still runny and not starting to set!
If you over-flood and icing starts to drip down the sides of your cookie, not a big deal! You can either try to transfer some of your icing from the cookie elsewhere using a toothpick (on its side) and gently wipe the side that is dripping. Just be careful not to wipe or disturb the outlined icing that has already set.
Let your flooded cookies dry completely (this can be done overnight), usually takes about an hour. Then it’s time to add your detailing! Make sure to switch your pastry bag tips from #3 to a #2, which allows for finer details.
If you are adding edible embellishments such as sugar pearls make sure to add them right away before the icing starts to harden. I use (clean) tweezers to help put those pearls in place!
And you’re done!
This was my workstation when I was finished…I like to start cleaning up whatever I can while the cookies are drying to save a big mess in the end. I hope you found this tutorial helpful and inspiring, and if you have any questions or if there was anything I missed, please feel free to leave a comment below!
I hope you will enjoy making these cookies as much as I did!
Ella’s White Sugar Cookies
1 cup butter, at room temperature
1 cup sifted powdered sugar
1 egg, beaten
1 ½ tsp almond extract
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp salt
2 ½ cups sifted flour
Cream butter. Add powdered sugar. Blend in egg, almond extract, vanilla, salt and flour. Chill dough until firm, at least an hour in the refrigerator. Roll to ¼” thickness on well-floured surface. Cut with cookie cutters. Place on greased cookie sheets. Bake at 375° for 8-10 min. Cookies should not brown. Frost and decorate when cool. Yields ~40 cookies.
4 cups powdered sugar, sifted
2 tbsp. meringue powder
5 tbsp. water
Combine all ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on low speed until the sheen has disappeared and the icing has a matte appearance (about 7-10 minutes). Transfer the contents of the mixing bowl to an air-tight container. This will be the stiffest consistency of the icing, and at this point it is still too stiff to use for decorating. Add water a very small amount at a time and stir by hand until fully incorporated. Continue until the icing has reached a consistency appropriate for piping. (Remember, if you are having any difficulty piping, it is still too thick. Add a little more liquid and try again.) Using a pastry bag, pipe around the edges of each cookie. Let stand so the icing will set. Make sure to keep the leftover icing covered at all times when not in use so that it does not begin to harden.
Once all the cookies have been edged, transfer some of the remaining icing to a separate air-tight container. Thin out by incorporating a small amount of water at a time, until the icing drips off the spoon easily when lifted and then smooths in with that still in the bowl. If you go too far and the icing is too thin, add more sifted powdered sugar to thicken it again. Once the icing has reached the desired consistency, transfer it to a squeeze bottle (or a plastic bag with a hole in one corner), and flood the area surrounded by the piping on each cookie. If it does not completely spread to the edges, use a toothpick to help it along. Allow to set.
Use the remaining thicker icing for piping decoration as desired. Gel icing color is best as it does not add a significant amount of liquid. Liquid food coloring can be used as well – add powdered sugar as needed to compensate for any thinning that occurs.