This is the perfect icing recipe for decorating cookies. It ends up drying hard enough to pack the cookies in a tin, but is still soft enough to bite into without chipping a tooth. And it shines so bright and glossy in the light. It makes for some obnoxiously pretty cookies.
What’s the best icing for iced sugar cookies?
There are really three kinds of sugar cookie icing you’ll see out there in the baking world. All three have their benefits:
- Royal icing: This is the hard icing that you see people using to make intricate decorations on cookies (or gingerbread houses). While this icing makes for beautiful cookies, I honestly find the flavor to be…not great. So I tend to not use royal icing for my Christmas cookies (or cookies for any occasion, really).
- Buttercream frosting: You’ll see this kind of fluffy, thick, buttery frosting more frequently on soft-baked Lofthouse style sugar cookies. It’s delicious on these cookies, but it does tend to be tricky to stack on a cookie tray or pack in a gift tin.
- Powdered sugar glaze: The sugar cookie icing we’re showing here and the one I use most frequently is a simple powdered sugar glaze. The resulting iced sugar cookies dry solid enough to stack on a cookie tray, but soft enough to bite into without chipping a tooth (I’m looking at you, royal icing). It’s easy to color, easy to flavor, and easy to work with. This sugar cookie icing will harden in 2-3 hours at room temperature (or even faster if you chill the cookies).
For sugar cookie icing without corn syrup, replace the corn syrup with honey. The decorated cookies will not be stackable, but the iced cookies will be delicious and corn syrup-free!
How thick should sugar cookie icing be?
Many pro cookie decorators will make two thicknesses of icing—one thicker icing for outlining the outside of shapes, and one thinner one for “flooding” inside the outline. We don’t think it has to be that complicated at home!
The right consistency is the icing that is easy to work with for you, depending on your icing method. It might take a bit of trial and error, but once you get the exact right tablespoons of milk, you’ll always know it for future cookie batches. You can always add more milk to make it thinner or more powdered sugar to thicken it back up.
Here are some tips depending on your icing method:
- If you’re piping the icing on: Piping bags tend to warm up in your hand pretty quickly, so we recommend erring on the side of thicker icing—knowing it’ll thin out as it warms.
- If you’re using a squeeze bottle (our favorite way to decorate cookies with kids!): Go for a frosting that is just thin enough to easily go through the nozzle without free-flowing.
- If you are spreading the icing on the cookies: You’ll want a pretty thick icing for spreading.
- If you are dipping the cookies: You’ll want a thinner icing that easily coats the cookies.
What flavor does this icing have?
The classic sugar cookie icing has a sweet vanilla flavor. But if you want to mix things up, all you have to do is swap out the vanilla extract! I’ve used almond extract, coconut extract, and peppermint extract, all with great results.
What’s the difference between powdered sugar and confectioners’ sugar?
Nothing! Powdered sugar, confectioners’ sugar, and icing sugar are all the same thing.
What’s the best way to ice sugar cookies?
There are some absolutely exquisite iced sugar cookies out there, and I don’t even pretend that I can compete in that category. My cookie decorating skills tap out at spreading some frosting. I typically just spread icing on my sugar cookies using a popsicle stick (since I’m an adult now, I really should invest in a proper icing spatula). You could most definitely pipe this frosting on if that’s your (piping) bag, but I’ll stick to my lazy girl popsicle stick method for now, thank you very much.
I normally make my frosting thick enough that it will stay on top of the cookie, but still thin enough that it will self-settle and dry with a smooth, bump-free top. It’s really the fool-proof way to frost cookies. If you’re decorating with kids (or, ahem, inebriated adults—it makes a fun holiday party activity), squeeze bottles are the way to go!
You can also dip your sugar cookies in the icing. Just make the icing thin enough to be dippable, then grab a cookie and barely dip the top in a bowl of the icing. Make sure to do this over parchment paper or wax paper—it gets messy!
What’s the best way to color this icing?
On its own, this is a clean white icing. It makes a beautiful surface for all sorts of sprinkles and decorations. But if you want to add some color to the frosting itself, both liquid and gel food coloring work well in this sugar cookie icing. Gel food coloring will give your icing more vibrant and bold colors, but it does stain. If you’re decorating with kids, we recommend sticking with liquid food coloring. If you want multiple different colors of icing, divide the batch into smaller bowls to be colored.
Can I make sugar cookie icing without corn syrup?
You can make this same sugar cookie icing with honey, but it does not dry to the same soft-but-stackable texture—it stays pretty soft. I keep a bottle of corn syrup in my pantry for this recipe and this recipe alone!
How do you store iced sugar cookies?
Once the frosting has hardened, I stack them between layers of parchment paper in a glass food storage, airtight container and leave them on the counter for up to a week.
Why can’t you freeze iced sugar cookies?
I’ve tried it before, and while the taste is fine, this particular icing recipe tends to crack and lose its luster in the freezer. Our sugar cookie icing recipe is so easy to mix up, it will take you no time to frost the cookies once they are out of the freezer!
Cassie’s protips for PERFECT cut-out iced sugar cookies:
- Sugar cookies are done when they are just BARELY brown and set up. You’re not looking for “golden brown” here. You’re looking for very slight color along the edges.
- Let the cookies cool completely before icing. If not, the icing will run everywhere.
- Thicker icing is easier to work with. Start with thicker icing at first, and then thin it out if needed.