Holidays and baking frenzies go hand in hand, and some people find themselves decorating cookies nearly every day. Add some variety to your baking adventures with these 12 suggestions for decorating sugar cookies.
1. Roll 'em up
Instead of making dough for cut-out sugar cookies, start with the drop cookie recipe method. Except, this time, roll the dough into small balls, toss them in a bowl of sugar sprinkles, and place on a baking sheet. You will get fluffy, soft, festive cookies completely coated in color, no other decorations necessary. Plus, they'll have a nice little crunch to blend with the softness of the drop cookie.
2. Flip things over
Want a picture-perfect sugar cookie? “Turn the cookie over and frost the bottom," says Chef Owner Daniel Orr of FARMbloomington Restaurant in Bloomington, IN. “It provides a smooth, flat surface. This makes the cookie easier to decorate and looks nicer. That's what professionals do."
3. Simplify life
Ever been mesmerized by time lapse videos of complicated sugar-cookie decorating? These presentations make a time-consuming job look manageable, . But but as many of us know all too well, Pinterest fails are real. While you should never be discouraged from trying a new decorating method, if you want a sure thing when it comes to sugar-cookie decorating, skip the complicated royal icing and whip up your own sugar icing using powdered sugar, vanilla, water, and food coloring. Avoid messy tips and pipe it on with mini squeeze bottles.
4. Get marbled
Whether you use royal icing or your own homemade sugar icing concoction, marbling the surface of your cookie adds a little extra flair and dimension. Once you've piped on your base icing, pipe a contrasting color on top in a spiral shape, polka dots, or lines, then gently use a toothpick to pull the icing in different directions and create one-of-a-kind marbled designs.
5. Go natural
If you're ready to just say no to neon-frosted sugar cookies, consider homemade, plant-based food dyes for natural-looking color. “Chemical food dyes are convenient, but the colors can look artificial," says Justin James, pastry chef who runs Chef Iso. “The pigments in common food items make exceptional dyes that give deeper, richer, and more elegant color." He recommends the following mixtures for beautiful colors: Turmeric and water formed into a paste to make yellow; pureed red beets with a small amount of water for red or pink; and red cabbage with a bit of water and baking soda to make blue.
6. Put a stamp on it
Cookie stamps (stamps with designs that make impressions on top of the cookies) eliminate the need for icing or sprinkles. If you enjoy the taste of a plain sugar cookie but still want the appearance to be festive, use cookie cutters to make your desired shapes, then emboss the dough with cookie stamps.
7. Go chunky
For those who enjoy a bit of texture with a sugar cookie, and who prefer to avoid decorating them entirely, toss crushed pistachios, cranberries, candied orange peel, sprinkles, or other tasty accents into your drop-cookie dough. You'll create colorful and complex cookies with minimal fuss.
8. Light the way
Bake up round sugar cookies. Frost with white icing. Pipe on a squiggly, loopy, thin black border. Place mini M&Ms at various spots along the border. Voila – a festive sugar cookie decorated with a delicate strand of Christmas lights.
9. Poke holes
When your drop sugar cookies come out of the oven, gently press your thumb into the middle of each cookie to make a slight indentation. In this little pool, add a generous squirt of icing, a dollop of jam, a peppermint Hershey's Kiss, or the filling of your choice. Tip: Only cook about half a dozen cookies at a time so you can quickly poke the holes before the cookies start to cool.
10. Fondant fun
If you want to elevate your sugar cookies and are feeling ambitious, go the way of professional pastry chefs and use colored fondant. Roll out the fondant to the desired thickness, cut it out with the same cookie mold (since cookies tend to spread while baking, the size should be just right), and carefully press the cookie onto the fondant using a bit of water or icing as an adhesive. You can embellish even more once the fondant has set, but sometimes that colorful smooth surface is enough to suffice.
11. Do the dip
Melt a little baking chocolate on the stove or in a bowl (especially if your kids are helping) and dip each sugar cookie in halfway. You'll create your own version of a black and white cookie without having to stress about making it look perfect.
12. A dusting
Use a stencil in your desired shape and place it over your cut-out cookies. Dust on confectioners' sugar or cocoa to make a memorable and simple enhancement to your sugar cookies.