Decorating Sugar Cookies

Decorating Sugar Cookies

Every year my family has a fall cook-off and this year’s theme was Oktoberfest! In honor of our German roots and cook off theme, I decided to try making a beer stein cookie, complete with decorative icing. I love making sugar cookies, and I love eating them even more, but I’ve never attempted to really spend time piping the icing to make them look cute. On the one hand, why spend more time than it takes to open a can of store frosting and throw a few sprinkles on them when the cookies will just be eaten anyways?? But on the other hand, if my years of watching Food Network have taught me anything, it’s that you eat with your eyes first, so presentation is key to a great dish. So, I decided since this was a special occasion, I would put forth the effort to make a cute cookie…..turns out it was worth it to see everyone’s reactions! **Side note, my grandma took a cookie home with her on Saturday night and said it is still sitting on her countertop because she can’t decide if she wants to eat it or just keep looking at it! Ha!

Aside from decorating, sugar cookie dough itself can sometimes be intimidating because there is definitely a difference in making a dough intended to drop on a cookie sheet and one intended to roll out for cutters. You’ll find a wide variety of recipes that will all yield a different texture of baked cookie, but for use with cookie cutters, it’s important the dough hold it’s shape when baked and be firm enough to hold up with icing on top. After trying many different recipes over the years, this is now my one and only sugar cookie recipe I use and pass along to others. It’s never failed me!

Sugar Cookie

  • 1 cup of butter
  • 1 cup of granulated sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 Tablespoon baking powder
  • 3 cups all purpose flour
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Beat the butter and sugar together until fluffy. Add egg and extracts.
  3. Combine baking powder and flour together, then slowly add to butter mixture. You’ll know the dough is the perfect consistency when it pulls away from the side of the bowl into a ball around the mixer. If you have to scrape the sides of the bowl to make a ball with the dough, add a little more flour until it comes together on it’s own.
  4. Wrap the dough ball in plastic wrap and chill in refrigerator for at least 1 hour.
  5. Remove chilled dough and divide in half. On a lightly floured surface, roll out a section of dough to about 1/4″ thickness. Cut out cookies with your choice of shaped cutter, and place cookies on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
  6. Bake cookies for 9-11 minutes until very lightly browned. Timing will depend on size of cookies and oven rack placement.
  7. Let cookies cool completely before icing.
A beer stein cookie cutter for Oktoberfest!

Now that you have a bunch of cute cookies baked and cooled, it’s time to really make them shine with a delicious icing. This icing recipe was passed on to me from my aunt, and it quickly became my favorite for a couple reasons: 1) no egg whites or meringue powder, both which are disgusting in uncooked recipes, and 2) the icing hardens enough to stack the cookies while maintaining a beautiful glossy sheen.

So let’s talk icing consistency before we get into the ingredients. To decorate a sugar cookie properly, you’ll want to first outline the cookie and then flood it. What does this even mean?? I knew the lingo from Food Network (yes, I watch all the baking competitions) but had never actually done this type of decorating myself. I turned to YouTube in the hopes of watching a demonstration of what my icing should look like, but the only videos I found were for Royal Icing – the kind with either raw egg whites or meringue powder. Not helpful. So, for the recipe below, you want your outlining icing to be the consistency of toothpaste (it should not slide off the back of the spoon after mixing it), while the flooding icing should be a little thinner and slowly drip off the spoon.

The easiest way to outline and flood a cookie is using a piping bag and tip. I use disposable plastic bags because quite frankly I’m so exhausted after making cookies and I don’t need another thing to wash! Cut a small hole in the piping bag so the decorating tip fits half way through, then fill the bag with the outlining icing first. An easy way to get the icing in the bag is to place the piping bag inside a tall glass and fold the top over the glass, so the bag stays open. Makes life sooooo much easier!

I forgot to take a picture of this step, so this is a stock photo of how to fill the piping bag using a glass. One of these days, I’ll remember to take all of the photos I need 🙂

Start your decorating by outlining the cookie first. This will keep your flooded icing neatly inside where it belongs.

I wanted the “foam” on top of the beer stein to have some dimension, so I used the thick outlining icing that would hold its shape.

After the outline has set up, then you can begin flooding the inside area.

I made a thick outline icing to draw lines over the flooded icing after it had set up

The beauty of this icing recipe is that it sets up quickly, so you can layer as needed to create dimension on your cookie. My first attempt at this is far from perfect, and the more I look at the picture the more I see the imperfections, but I was pleased with the overall appearance. Ava has a birthday coming up, so I may just give this sugar cookie decorating another try 🙂

Icing Recipe

  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 2 teaspoons milk
  • 2 teaspoons light corn syrup
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • food coloring
  1. Mix together the powdered sugar and milk using a spoon. *I tried using a hand mixer but the beaters kept clumping the ingredients and I couldn’t get it mixed well.
  2. Add the corn syrup, extract, and desired food coloring. Mix until completely blended. This will be thick! At this point, you can add a little more milk to create a flooding consistency, or keep as is for an outlining consistency.
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