Here's our steps for preparing to ice:
Use piping bags or squeeze bottles. We use both, but the squeeze bottles are so much easier for us. I have this set and love it! In fact, I'm going to order another set.
Find an icing recipe you like. I don't have an exact recipe per say. We take a medium size bowl and fill it about 2/3 full of powdered sugar. Add a couple of forks (yes, we scoop it with a fork of shortening and mash into the powdered sugar. Try to "fork" it throughout the entire bowl. Start adding some milk. We used whole milk last night but can't say we have always done that. I will say that, last night our consistency was perfect. The icing did not clump or get stuck in the bottles nor was it too runny that it wouldn't run off the cookie so fast that it didn't have a chance to set.
For us, this has been pure trial and error! If you are a baker, please pardon my amateur-ness! We slowly add the milk. It is very easy to add too much and then it's too runny. Add some milk, stir, add some milk, stir, and so on. If you add too much milk, then you have to keep adding powdered sugar and it's just not as ideal. It's easier for us to add just a little milk at a time. This allows us to stir out the lumps before adding more.
Consistency is key...
I wish I could give you a description of consistency from this blog post, but basically we hold the fork we mix with up above the bowl and see how it falls off. We want it to not be too thick and "slow" to run off and not too thin or "fast" to run off. Again, it's pure trial and error here. I've got about 15 years of making lots of these cookies as I really only started to get into them once my kids were born. We also add about 1/2 tsp of vanilla as the mixture starts to get to where we want it.
We split the white icing we just mixed up into several smaller bowls based upon the number of colors we will want/need. Last night we made red, green, white, blue, brown, yellow and black and it took two "batches" of icing to do so. My daughter used to do a lot of baking and introduced me to the kinds of food coloring that comes in gel form in little jars (we get at Michael's or Joann stores). They seem to take WAY less to make the colors much richer than the typical drops you buy in the little four packs.
Pour/scrape the colors into the squeeze bottles. You will also need tips for these bottles. I'm not sure which tip number this is considered, but this is the size we use! I know...so helpful, right?
And this is what we do for the actual decorating process:
Outline the area you want to decorate with that color. Let it sit for a minute or so before filling in the inside with more icing. We use old plastic silverware we have collected in the drawer from take out meals to spread the icing around. I often lightly tap the cookie on the counter or gently shake it back and forth to get the icing to settle and flatten a bit. If you have to work at spreading your icing or if there is no chance it will settle by tapping or shaking it a bit, then it's too thick. If it's running off the sides no matter what you do, then it's probably too thin.
Do one section at a time if needing multiple colors. And, if you want to overlap colors, let the first layer/color dry for 5 or so minutes before coming back to do another color over top. Smaller tips are better for more detailed designs. My daughter once looked up how to do a really cool design while the icing is still wet using a cake tester!
If you want to add sprinkles, be sure to do so when the icing is still wet, or before it starts to harden. Otherwise, you'll have more sprinkles on the table then on the cookies!
- Cover your surface with some type of covering before starting. This year we lined our island with brown craft paper I happened to have down in my work area. It probably took 15 minutes off of our clean up time!
- Squish out as much excess icing out of the bottles and rinse out with hot water before soaking in soapy water for several hours. Use a bottle scrubber to get inside and scrub them out.
- Let the cookies dry overnight and then we store in plastic containers with wax paper between layers of cookies.
- BE PATIENT! This is probably the most important out of everything!
Remember, we are not experts! We just have lots of practice using our method!
Again, I have to emphasize that this is OUR method. We are not experts, have never taken cookie decorating classes, and just learned by process of trial and error. I am quite certain there are easier methods as well as cool tools that could help us step up our game more if we wanted.
What I love is that my family likes to decorate these every year and we have the perfect kitchen island to stand around to do so. My husband pretty much always does something inappropriate with at least one of the gingerbread men or women and the kids fall off their chairs laughing. Each year I see the kids getting braver with what they try and they are more patient, too. My 14 year old wanted to make the icing himself last night and wanted to know exactly how to do it. I was thrilled he asked to learn. It would make me so happy if he carries on to his family! We asked the kids to each pick their favorite two that they decorated... here they are! That's JuJu Smith Schuster for you non-Steeler fans! He's missing part of one eye. Let's hope that does not cause any issues for tonight's game!
Other cookies I've done...
I now understand why really nice looking sugar cookies are expensive. There is some time in these babies! The back and feet take a beating after standing over cookies for hours. I learned quickly that decorating sugar cookies is only fun for me if I do it one in a while AND if it's just for fun.
To be quite honest, I kind of burnt myself out on decorating sugar cookies. I used to do them for teacher luncheons, and happily so. There is nothing I wouldn't do for our teachers! But it became more than I could handle, especially when my business started to grow. I became that miserable mom who was really mad at myself for taking on too much, so ultimately it was best that I let it go. It's taken until this year that I actually started to enjoy it again! Here's a look at some cookies I've done in my day.
Do you like to decorate sugar cookies? Are you more of an expert or more of a "I don't do them because I don't have the patience" kind of sugar cookie decorator?