Every once in awhile I love to make a batch of decorated sugar cookies. You know, the ones with the royal icing that are decorated so beautifully… that are way harder than they look? Over time, I have learned my lesson and tried a TON of different recipes & techniques – for the cookies and for the icing. Although there are a million ways to do these, and still have them come out looking beautiful and delicious, this is the best recipe that I’ve used. Although mine are definitely far from “perfect”, I also know that I am my own worst critic. At the end of it, you just have to remember, these are going to get eaten.
They take a lot of time, so don’t underestimate the decorating time OR the drying time, especially. The last thing you want to do is spend hours on some gorgeous cookie masterpieces to have them ruined as soon as you stack them in a tupperwear. I’ve done it, and it’s super sad. These cookies were for a nautical themed baby shower. For the designs, I try to keep it simple. A well-executed clean and simple design looks a whole lot better than an intricate design, that’s done sloppy (unless you can execute a crazy design, then kudos to you!).
I find it helpful to mock up the design, either digitally or you can even just sketch it out. But I like to do it in actual size to plan out the design. It’s a lot easier to tweak the design on paper, rather than wasting a cookie. Then you can just use it as a guide or even a stencil to help guide you. I filled the cookies with the base colors, and then allowed them to fully dry (I left them out overnight, uncovered). Then I used edible food color markers and sketched the basic outlines on each cookie. There are these fancy projectors for people that decorate all the time, but this is a much cheaper way to make some guidelines. For me, writing with a marker is more accurate than icing in a piping bag! For these, I cut out the basic shape (i.e. the life preserver and the anchor) and then used it as a stencil with a marker. Then piped the icing over it. Even if the cookies end up slightly different than the original design, no one will know but you 😉
- 5 cups All-purpose Flour
- 1 teaspoon Salt
- 1½ cup Unsalted Butter, room temperature
- 2 cups Granulated Sugar
- 4 Eggs
- 2 teaspoons Vanilla Extract
- ROYAL ICING:
- ¾ cup Warm Water
- 5 Tablespoons Meringue Powder
- 1 teaspoon Cream of Tartar
- 2.25 Pounds (1 Kilogram) Sifted Powdered Sugar
- 1 teaspoon clear Vanilla Extract
- Whisk flour and salt into a bowl, set aside.
- In a large mixing bowl cream butter and sugar together with a sturdy wooden spoon. Add in one egg at a time, mixing after each addition, then mix in vanilla until just combined (You don't want to create too much additional air in the dough). Slowly incorporate the dry ingredients until just combined.
- Tightly cover and chill dough in the refrigerator at least 3 hours, or overnight (up to 2 days). I find it helps a ton to divide the dough in 2 or 3 sections, then place it in between 2 sheets of wax or parchment paper, roll it out into a flat shape & store it in a large Tupperware container. It's much easier to roll out after it's chilled.
- Once dough is chilled, preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare at least 2 large cookie sheets by lining them with parchment paper.
- Roll out dough to about ¼"-3/8" thickness onto a clean and dry, generously floured surface. Cut desired shapes and place them a few inches apart onto the prepared cookie sheets. If dough has warmed up while rolling out, chill the baking sheet for about 10 minutes before baking (to help keep the shape).
- Bake for about 8-10 minutes (9 minutes seems to be perfect, don't overcook, edges should just barely start to have color). Let them sit on the baking sheet for a few minutes, then transfer cookies to a wire cooling rack to cool completely.
- ROYAL ICING:
- In a medium sized mixing bowl, combine warm water and meringue powder together and whisk by hand for 30 seconds.
- Add cream of tartar and which by hand for another 30 seconds.
- Transfer mixture to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, and add in all of the powdered sugar. Mix at a slow speed for about 10 minutes. (add vanilla once all of the sugar is moistened). Slowly add water, about 1 teaspoon at a time, until icing is at a the desired consistency (if you drag a knife through the icing, the line should disappear in 10 seconds). See this tutorial for help.
- Divide icing into various mixing bowls, depending on how many colors you need (one bowl for each color).
- Decorate and fill cookies as you wish. Once cookies are filled, they should dry uncovered at room temperature for about 8 hours, up to overnight. Then add any remaining colors and decorations. Allow them to finish drying another several hours before covering them or stacking them (they will not turn stale, the icing seals in the freshness).
* Royal Icing recipe barely adapted from Sweetopia (she also has great tutorials).