The Best Sugar Cookie Icing Recipe for Decorating

Iced sugar cookies get garnished with sprinkles.
Recipe At-A-Glance
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Holiday Recipe5 minutes
This is the best icing recipe for decorating sugar cookies. It’s easy to make, and dries into a nice and smooth finish. Plus, there's an option without corn syrup!

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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.

A tree-shaped cookie gets spread with sugar cookie icing.

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.
  • 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). 

A pink bowl of sugar cookie icing sits next to heart-shaped cookies.

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 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!

A tree-shaped cookie spread with green sugar cookie icing sits next to a bowl of frosting.

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 them once they are out of the freezer!

Iced sugar cookies get garnished with sprinkles.

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.
 
Best Sugar Cookie Icing Recipe

Best Sugar Cookie Icing Recipe

Yield: Enough for 6-7 dozen cookies (depending on cookie cutter size)
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 8 minutes
Additional Time: 2 hours
Total Time: 2 hours 18 minutes

This is the best icing recipe for decorating sugar cookies. It’s easy to make, and dries into a nice and smooth finish. Plus, there's an option without corn syrup!

(This is our favorite sugar cookie recipe!)

Ingredients

  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 2-4 tablespoons milk
  • 1 tablespoon light corn syrup or honey (see notes)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla, almond, peppermint, or coconut extract
  • Food coloring

Instructions

  1. Combine powdered sugar, two tablespoons milk, and corn syrup or honey, adding more milk until icing reaches desired consistency. For piping and spreading, you're looking for a thicker icing. For dipping cookies, you'll want something a little bit thinner.
  2. Pipe, spread, or dip onto baked cookies. If you'd like to use sprinkles, apply them before the icing dries.

Notes

  • Using corn syrup in the cookie icing recipe will result in an icing that dries soft, but stackable. Using honey will result in a softer icing that should not be stacked.
  • Make sure the cookies are completely cooled before frosting.
  • Looking for a sugar cookie recipe to use this icing on? This recipe is our go-to, fan-favorite recipe.

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Nutrition Information:
Yield: 72 Serving Size: 1 cookie
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 20Total Fat: 0gSaturated Fat: 0gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 0gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 4mgCarbohydrates: 4gFiber: 0gSugar: 4gProtein: 0g

At Wholefully, we believe that good nutrition is about much more than just the numbers on the nutrition facts panel. Please use the above information as only a small part of what helps you decide what foods are nourishing for you.

Cassie is the founder and CEO of Wholefully. She's a home cook and wellness junkie with a love of all things healthy living. She lives on a small hobby farm in Southern Indiana with her husband, daughter, two dogs, two cats, and 15 chickens.
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Hello. My name is Cassie, and I’m a healthy home cooking expert.

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