Baking Tips

How to Decorate Cookies Like a Pro

With these decorating tips and techniques, as well as our recipe for an easy, tangy-sweet glaze, you'll be the  envy of your holiday cookie swap.
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Published Dec. 13, 2023.

Even the simplest flourish can exponentially enhance the appeal of holiday cookies. All you need is a good glaze, an understanding of how to apply it, and a few creative ways to give it more visual interest. 

With the following techniques and our recipe for an easy, not-too-sweet glaze, you’ll be turning out the snazziest cookies at the party—and have a lot of fun in the process. 

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Start with a Good-Tasting Glaze

A glaze should do more than add a layer of one-note sweetness to the cookies. The cream cheese in our easy recipe gives it a slightly thicker consistency that's good for spreading or piping, and also cuts sweetness with its tang. Adding color will create myriad decorating possibilities.

All-Purpose White Glaze

Makes 1 cup

To flavor the glaze, swap the milk for lemon, lime, or orange juice; add a little espresso powder or instant coffee (1/1/4 teaspoons will do); or try incorporating a scant ¼ teaspoon almond or coconut extract.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups (8 ounces) confectioners' sugar
  • 3 tablespoons milk
  • 1 ounce cream cheese, softened
  • Food coloring (optional)

Instructions

  1. Whisk 2 cups (8 ounces) confectioners' sugar, 3 tablespoons milk, and 1 ounce softened cream cheese in a bowl until smooth. 
  2. If coloring the glaze, stir in 1 to 2 drops of optional food coloring to achieve the desired tint. 

3 Basic Ways to Glaze

Before you apply the glaze, let the cookies cool completely on a wire rack. The glaze will liquify and fail to set if it’s piped onto warm cookies. 

1. Spread For a simple, smooth coat, drizzle a little glaze in the center of the cookie and then spread it out in an even layer using the back of a spoon or a small offset spatula.

2. Pipe To apply more intricate detail work, such as dots or lines, pipe the glaze directly onto the cookie (be sure to practice on parchment first). 

  • Fill a homemade parchment piping bag or a small pastry bag fitted with a small 1/16-inch round tip with glaze. 
  • Grab the bag at the base and twist with one hand. 
  • Using your other hand as a guide, hold the tip at a 90-degree angle about ½-inch above the cookie and gently squeeze to decorate.


3. Paint Use a small paintbrush to apply different colored glazes to a cookie without overlapping or to fill in an outline.

3 Ways to Gussy Up the Glaze

To add even more pizzazz to the cookies, try these ideas.

  1. Drag Two Glazes Together By applying dots of a contrasting colored glaze on top of another glaze and dragging a toothpick or thin skewer carefully through the center, you can create a variety of patterns and designs.


2. Add Embellishments In addition to common decorating options like sprinkles and glitter, consider cinnamon candies, jelly beans, crushed peppermint candies, gum drops, and chocolate morsels. Place decorations in the glaze while it is still soft; once the glaze dries, it will act like glue.

3. Sprinkle with Colored Sugar Once a glaze has been applied to a cookie, sprinkle it with colored sugar (making your own is easy; see below). For the most even distribution, hold your hand about 12 inches above the work surface. Excess sugar can be brushed or gently shaken off when the glaze is dry.

How to Make a Parchment Piping Bag

We find that the stiff opening of a homemade parchment bag works just as well as a small piping bag at drawing thin lines (and better than the usual alternative to a pastry bag, a zipper-lock bag, which is best reserved for less delicate piping).

You can also make several to hold different colored glazes—with no need for washing out between uses.

1. Fold 12-inch square of parchment paper in half on diagonal. Using knife, cut it in half on fold into 2 triangles.

2. With long side of triangle facing you, fold bottom right-hand point up and under, giving it half twist until it meets triangle's top point.

3. Holding those points together, wrap left-hand point around outside of cone until all 3 points are perfectly aligned. Tape or staple points together.

4. Use scissors to snip very small hole in point of cone.

Book

The Perfect Cookie

America’s Test Kitchen has almost 25 years of experience in the art and science of cookie baking, and now you can find all of that wisdom in one beautiful hardcover book.

How to Make Colored Sugar

Colored sugar is easy to make at home and offers many more color options than the grocery store does.

1. Spread ½ cup granulated sugar into a pie plate. Mix 5 drops of food coloring into the sugar.

2. To ensure even color, push the sugar through a fine-mesh strainer and spread the sugar back into the pie plate. Let it dry thoroughly before using (this might take several hours). 

Want to learn how to write beautifully on cookies and cakes? Read this

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