Iced sugar cookies get garnished with sprinkles.

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 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). 

Wholefully Protip

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!

 

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 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!

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

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!

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.
 
Easy Sugar Cookie Icing Recipe

Easy 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.

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204 Comments

  1. I want to make this for using with the students in my classroom. I have used it before and love it. Can I make it in the morning and use it the afternoon or do you think it would thicken up too much? I want to put it into squeeze bottles.

    1. Hi Lucinda! This will definitely harden in that time. If you’d like to use it in squeeze bottles with your students, you’ll want to make it close to the time you’re going to use it. We’re so glad you love it! Please let us know how it goes with your students!

  2. Amazing. I was able to pipe designs like Royal icing and put them in treat bags. You have to be a bit more careful with them than with rock hard Royal icing, but the soft bite and beautiful gloss is worth it.

    1. So glad it worked well for you, Allison! Thanks so much for taking the time to tell us about it =)

  3. This is an excellent icing for Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Easter, etc. cookies. However, if you have more than 2 dozen cutout cookies, you will need to double this recipe. The recipe as is when I made it just barely iced 2 dozen small cutout cookies.

    1. Hi Rebecca! If you make the icing using corn syrup, you should be fine! If you use honey, the icing will be too soft to stack. If you’re concerned about them sticking together even after allowing the icing to completely dry and harden, you can always put parchment or wax paper between the cookies before sliding them into the treat bag!

    1. Hi Lindsay! Unfortunately, this isn’t the type of icing that can be made ahead and stored. Once you put it into the fridge it will harden and no longer be usable. The good news is it comes together super quickly so hopefully not being able to make it ahead shouldn’t be a problem! =)

    1. Hi Chrissy! We’ve never tried that, but we imagine it would be okay. It might not have the coverage you want without some trial and error on the consistency, though. If you tried it, please let us know how it turned out!

  4. Since this icing recipe contains milk how are u able to store the cookies on the counter for up to a week wouldn’t they need to be refrigerated . I really want to try your recipe. Please respond, thank you

    1. Hi Arezu! The high sugar content keeps this safe for storing on the counter. If you store these in the fridge, the icing will start to discolor and even bubble due to the change in moisture between the icing and the cookies. Your best bet is to keep them in an airtight container on the counter!

    1. Hi Rebecca! Once the frosting has hardened on the cookies, you can stack them between layers of parchment paper in an airtight container and leave them on the counter for up to a week.