How to Decorate Cookies Like a Pro

Cookies created in The Scout Guide test kitchen using tips and techniques from Jessica Bishop. See examples of Jessica’s work on Baking Me Happy’s Instagram

Whether you’re an accomplished baker or prefer to leave the measuring and mixing to the experts, we can all agree that decorating cookies is a fun creative exercise. And while we’re well aware that there are no hard-and-fast rules when it comes to applying icing, we were curious about the tips and tricks that pros use to produce their beautifully designed creations. Therefore, we reached out to Jessica Bishop, owner of Baking Me Happy in Mobile Bay, Alabama, for advice. From the perfect icing recipe to time-tested decorating techniques, here is her expert advice.

Start with a great icing recipe. The perfect sugar cookie icing is both delicious and easily adaptable in terms of consistency. Here is Bishop’s tried-and-true recipe for royal icing: In the large bowl of a standard mixer, combine 4 cups powdered sugar with 3 tablespoons meringue powder and 6 tablespoons water. Whisk on high for 8 minutes until fluffy peaks have formed. Add in 1/4 teaspoon of a flavored extract, such as vanilla, almond, or even peppermint for a fun holiday twist. This will yield enough icing to decorate two dozen cookies.

Choose a color palette. Whether you choose to go all-out with your color scheme or opt for a more pared-down palette (as we did for the cookies featured above), you’ll need to decide how many different colors of icing you’d like to use, and divide the icing accordingly. Then, use a toothpick to transfer gel icing coloring into your bowls of icing and stir it in with a rubber spatula. A little coloring goes a long way, so use the gel sparingly—you can always add more for a deeper hue.

Remember that icing consistency is key. Bishop likes to create two different consistencies of icing to decorate with: Outline and flood. Here, she breaks down how to use—and prepare—each type:

  • Outline: This thicker icing is perfect for creating borders on your cookies. To prep your outline icing, take a small amount of colored icing and scoop it into a piping bag fitted with a #2 tip. Next, use your piping bag to create outlines on your cookies that you can fill in with your flood icing.
  • Flood: After you’ve prepped your outline icing, thin out the remaining icing using a spray bottle of water. To get the consistency just right, part the icing in the bowl with a rubber spatula. When it takes 6 seconds for the icing to come back together, you have achieved the correct consistency. Transfer this thinner flood icing into plastic squeeze bottles. Squeeze the icing out onto the cookies within the border you created with the thicker outline icing.

Utilize different decorating techniques. To give your cookies dimension and flair, Bishop recommends employing different methods of decorating. Here, she explains two go-to techniques:

  • Wet-on-wet: Flood a cookie with one color of icing. Using a different color, immediately drop dots onto the surface to create polka dots, draw lines to create stripes, or use a circular motion to create a peppermint swirl.
  •  Details: Let a flooded cookie’s icing dry until a slight crust forms. Then, use leftover outline icing to pipe on finer details, such as smiley faces or string lights.

Get creative and have fun. “There is no wrong way to decorate a cookie,” Bishop says. Try a variety of patterns, design directions, and color patterns, and don’t be afraid to get a little out-of-the-box (for inspiration, we recommend checking out Baking Me Happy on Instagram). Bishop suggests hosting friends and family members for a cookie decorating party to help everyone get into the creative spirit. “Keep in mind, royal iced cookies need to dry overnight,” she cautions, so plan your timing accordingly.

TSG Tip 343 from Jessica Bishop, founder and owner of Baking Me Happy in Fairhope, Alabama. Baking Me Happy is featured in The Scout Guide Mobile Bay.