Our Insta feeds are constantly blowing up with gorgeous cookies decorated like everything you could possibly imagine. But how do those bakers get them looking so darn perfect? It all starts by nailing these basic techniques.
1. Choose the Right Recipe
Gorgeous designs can’t shine on a crumbly or uneven cookie! So if you want pretty cookies, you’ve got to start at the very beginning by mixing the perfect dough and baking it correctly. There are tons of sugar cookie recipes out there but, for the most part, less is more. Look for one that involves simple steps such as creaming the butter and sugar, adding the dry ingredients, mixing into a dough and chilling.
When the dough is mixed but not chilled, the ideal texture is similar to Play-Doh. If yours is sloppy and doesn’t hold together, add a couple tablespoons of flour. If it looks too dry, lightly beat a small egg in a separate bowl and add a little in, mixing slowly in a stand mixer.
2. Roll It Right
Our preferred method for rolling out dough: sandwich it between two layers of parchment paper or waxed paper, as it'll prevent the dough from sticking to the rolling pin. Typically, ¼” thickness is ideal for cookies — you can use a rolling pin with guides, or make your own guides using chopsticks, books or other small items that prevent you from rolling the dough too thin.
Yes, you can totally re-roll cookie dough scraps! But it’s best to do it only once. Otherwise, you compromise the texture of the dough.
3. Make Perfect Cutouts
Cutting shapes out of cookie dough isn’t rocket science, but we do have a few tricks that can make it easier and more efficient. For starters, always carefully press your cutter straight down and lift it straight up. (If you twist or wiggle it, your shape will look wonky.) You can also dust the edge of the cutter in a little flour before each cut to prevent sticking!
4. Get Baked
To know when your cookies are ready to come out of the oven, give them a little poke. If the cookie rises back up, then they’re ready. If not, bake for another 2-3 minutes and try again. You want your cookies to be light with a slight golden edge. Any darker and they’ll look (and taste!) overdone.
Even the most experienced bakers can get air bubbles in their cookies. Don’t worry, there’s a handy fix: Once the cookies are baked and cooled, use a sharp scalpel (or food-safe craft knife) to scrape or sand away the bumps.
5. Be Royal
Royal icing is decorating #goals because you can use it to create a smooth surface and to add intricate details. The key is getting the right royal icing consistency to create the look you want. Try making a big batch, then vary the amount of powdered sugar, water and liquid flavorings based on your project.
6. Outline Like a Pro
There are so many cool designs you can achieve with royal icing, as long as you learn a few basic techniques. First up: how to outline a shape. Simply pipe a smooth outline around your cookie with 10- or 15-second consistency icing. (That’s royal icing that takes 10-15 seconds to flow back together once separated.)
7. Have Fun With Flooding
Flooding is the technique that results in a smooth, even layer of royal icing that covers the base of your cookie. As soon as your outline is complete, immediately fill the outline with flooding-consistency icing (which is more viscous than outlining icing). If your consistency is right, the icing should smoothly fill in the space. If it doesn’t, gently shake your cookie back and forth to smooth it out.
After you’ve flooded the cookie, gently tap it against your work surface to bring hidden air bubbles to the surface of the icing. Pop the bubbles with a toothpick.
8. Add Details
Once you’ve mastered outlining and flooding, try your hand at some details! One idea: simply let your base dry, then pipe and flood decorations right on top. It'll take some practice to feel confident free-handing your design, so start with easy ideas like this simple lace look.
9. Get Wet
Another awesome cookie decorating technique is the wet-on-wet method. Usually, detail is added on top of dried flooding icing to create a textured 3D look. But with wet-on-wet decorating, you add a contrasting color of flooding-consistency royal icing onto undried flooded icing. The two wet colors of icing meld together to form a smooth, print-like effect.
10. Brush It Up
This brush embroidery technique is easy to achieve and looks super profesh. Plus, it'll really amp up the texture of your treats! First, use a small round tip (we like the PME Supatube No. 1 ) to pipe 15-second consistency icing as an outline of a design. Then, wet a small, food-safe paint brush and touch it to the icing. Drag the brush from the start of the piping inward, and you'll start to see your embroidery design emerge!