I’ve had a love/hate relationship with frosted sugar cookies over the past few years – I think they are the sweetest, most adorable cookies when they look good, but try as I might, I’ve never been able to perfect those perfectly straight borders and smooth finishes. I’ve spent many a Sunday afternoon frosting pink and red Valentines Day hearts, green St. Patty’s Day shamrocks, pink and blue onesies for baby showers, and countless Christmas designs – and they never seem to turn out quite as well as I’d hoped. Some of my prior attempts, and cookie inspirations, below:
Top to bottom, left: pink onesies for my friend Heather’s baby shower a couple years ago, cacti and chili peppers for my friend Karrie’s “fiesta” themed baby shower last summer, life preservers for my friend Courteney’s nautical themed baby shower last fall. Top right: the way I want my cookies to look someday – hippos for my friend Lindsay’s baby shower, made by the oh-so-talented Yoona Park; bottom right: when I just gave up and ordered cookies off of Etsy (link here – I would completely recommend this woman) for my friend Amanda’s shower (also nautical themed). On a related note – I’m starting to think I need to come up with a new baby shower favor idea. Also, one reason I can never quit social media, no matter how often I’m tempted – I was able to dig up all of these pics, which have long been deleted from my phone.
So, when my friend Kristen told me she had taken a sugar cookie decorating class, of course I begged her to come over and share some (all) of her secrets. Not realizing it would be over ninety degrees this weekend, we made plans to get together for a cookie decorating party/tutorial session on Sunday afternoon. Kristen picked out two designs she thought would be good basics, and despite the sweltering heat, we got to work.
The most important part of a perfect sugar cookie (I’m going to go ahead and use the word perfect, although mine still have a ways to go, but “perfect” meaning what we’re all aspiring towards) is the consistency of the icing. The first time I used meringue powder (essentially dried egg whites in powdered form, it’s what makes the frosting dry solid), I followed the recipe on the tub, which makes a pretty thick frosting – and then assumed there was something wrong with the way I frosted. As it turns out, it was the recipe’s fault, not mine – I just needed to add more water. I used to always ask Yoona (of the perfect hippos, above) what her secret was, and when she told me to thin the frosting with water I assumed she was just trying to hide her actual secrets from me. Turns out she was telling the truth – that’s really all you have to do.
There’s some debate about whether it’s best to use a thicker frosting to outline your cookies, and then a thinner frosting to flood, or rather to just use a medium-thick consistency for both. There are a number of tutorials online that can explain the frosting better than I can – I like this one (I also used her cookie recipe) and this one. For the squares, we ended up with a consistency that was thick enough to hold a line when you outlined the shape of the cookie, but thin enough that it would “flood” the outline and spread into a smooth surface once flooded.
To do the pinwheel design, we thinned the frosting even more, so that the colors would bleed into the white and dry as one smooth finish. We outlined with the thicker white so that the circle would hold its shape, and then flooded the circle with the thinned white and immediately piped on the colored circles using thinned red and blue icing and with a size #2 tip on the pastry bag. I should have taken more pictures, but we were just so engrossed in our decorating that I forgot. As soon as you’ve piped the colors on, use a toothpick to create a pinwheel, spiderweb, or “firework” shape. A better tutorial can be found here.
Kristen found this design online as well; for these, we just waited for the white to dry, and then with a thickened icing (just add more powdered sugar) and a #1 tip we drew the design on (Kristen, ever the perfectionist, used a stencil; I “freehanded” mine so they’re a little less uniform). Although my sprinkles look yellow, they are technically “gold” and were the best that I could find (shouldn’t one be able to find gold sprinkles when it’s fireworks season?!?) – I applied an edible gel with a toothpick (should have used a small paintbrush) once the red and blue frosting were dry, and then sprinkled the gold on top for a little added sparkle.
Thanks to Kristen, I have a whole new level of confidence in my royal icing skills, and thus a newfound enthusiasm for the next baby shower I get to host. I hope everyone has a safe and happy Fourth of July – and if you want to hire Kristen for your next party, let me know – she does amazing cakes and cupcakes too!