Updated: Mar 6
Hello, and thank you for signing up for this beginner cookie decorating class!
My name is Cindy Burek and I am the owner of Buttercup Cookie, LLC. I started my cookie decorating business in 2011, and 3 years later started offering cookie decorating classes too. I no longer take custom cookie orders so that I can concentrate on my classes, although I do offer cookie sales and pop up shops at various times throughout the year such as holiday time. I truly appreciate your interest and support of my small business!
This blog post is a new way for me to provide you with cookie and icing recipes, storage and freezing information, tips and tricks of the trade, how to find products as well as places to further your interest in cookie decorating. In the past, I would talk about this information during the first half hour of my classes when my classes were 2.5 hours long. Now my class is 2 hours of straight decorating, and this post is sent to you ahead of time so you can read at your leisure, ask questions either at class or later via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I found that after 7 years of teaching, many students were repeat attendees so listening to the same talk each time seemed redundant, and there are those who aren't necessarily interested in decorating on their own at home (they just come to decorate)! Plus, unknowingly, sometimes I would forget to share some information. I look forward to seeing you in an upcoming class! And, yes that's me in first photo with longer hair!
I first need to say this…BAKING IS A SCIENCE. I am sure everyone has heard that before, but it is so true. There are so many factors that can affect how a recipe turns out, especially rolled cookie dough. Some examples are the weather, how well your oven works, the temperature of the butter you use, the size of your eggs and how densely you fill the measuring cups just to give you an idea. I strongly suggest that you follow the recipe as stated to get the best results, knowing that, sometimes a recipe can still be off because…baking is a science! But here are some helpful tips when making cookie dough and baking cookies, but first you need the recipe! Although, many people are quite happy with their recipe so please use whatever recipe you want.
Note, this sugar cookie recipe below is the foundation for the cookies I sell (and you are going to be decorating at class). I do not share my exact recipe for the cookie dough as I still sell them, but this recipe listed here is the base for it, and it is very good. The only changes I make is adding some extra flavoring/extract/emulsion to enhance the flavor it a little bit more. But that won’t change the fact that this recipe is pretty darn good as is and makes nice sugar cookies for decorating.
Here are some pointers when making your sugar cookie dough:
*As mentioned above, make sure you use room temperature butter, a large egg, and don’t densely pack your flour in the measuring cup as that will add too much of a dry ingredient and can affect the density of the dough.
*You can use a hand mixer or a stand mixer, but the paddle attachment is best when using a stand mixer.
*It is important to scrape the sides of the bowl after adding the egg otherwise it will not mix fully with the butter and sugar.
*The dough should pull away from the bowl when the ingredients are completely mixed.
Almost all rolled cookie recipes call for the dough to be chilled in the refrigerator. If you bypass this step, you might have a problem with the dough sticking when you roll it out. But the main reasons to chill the dough are to enhance the flavor, texture and to help the fats solidify for better baking performance. You don’t want to skip this step! When I take the dough out of the mixer, I flatten it on the plastic wrap before wrapping it up and placing it in the refrigerator. If you don’t flatten it a little, then it can chill into a hard ball that will be difficult to roll. Chill at least 30 min to 1 hour before rolling.
Once the dough is chilled you can pull it out of the refrigerator and GET READY TO ROLL!
I do not flour my surface area when I roll the dough. I feel that adds too much flour to the dough and can change the density. I lay parchment paper down on my surface area, place the dough on it...then totally optional, I place another piece of parchment paper on top of the dough. That way my rolling pin doesn’t get covered in grease and it makes for easier clean up. The key to successful decorating with royal icing is to have a cookie that is level, so the icing doesn’t roll off the sides of the cookie after icing it. The way that I get evenly, level cookies is to roll the dough between two wooden square dowels that are 3/8” thick and 18” long. You can use ¼” thickness if you prefer a thinner cookie, plus it will yield more cookies per batch. I find the dowels at Home Depot or a hardware store and have them cut in half to measure 18”. They sell really fancy ones online using harder woods or plastic but this is a cheap option.
I then get my cookie sheet ready. I use silicone baking mats from Silpat here. There are knockoff brands available on Amazon here that cost less. I just find they evenly bake the cookies on the backside and help with spreading. You can still burn them using a silicone mat though. I always joke that at least the cookies will burn evenly, haha! Please don’t feel you need to run out and invest in these mats, baking on parchment paper is totally fine and is most commonly used.
The handy part about rolling your dough on parchment paper at your work area is you can use the paper to lift the cookie off the table and onto the cookie sheet instead of using a spatula. Sometimes when you use a spatula to lift the cookie it can stretch or misshape the dough and give your cookie a funny shape. Make your life easier and decorate on a cookie that actually resembles the cookie cutter! After you space the cookies out (6-12 cookies per pan depending on the cookie sizes) it is time to go one step further in preventing cookie spread while baking, and that is placing the cookie sheet in the freezer for 10 minutes. When you bake a frozen cookie (or partially frozen), it takes longer for the cookie to bake therefore the process slows down and there is less chance of spreading. If you think about a room temperature cookie going directly into a hot oven, the cookie is going to hit that heat and start to melt before it even begins to bake. I realize not everyone has room in their freezer but if you can rearrange to get a tray to fit you will see what I mean after baking, it makes a big difference in the spreading of your cookie (as long as you followed the recipe).
Note: the cookies will need to bake approximately 4 minutes longer when frozen. See recipe for baking times. I rotate my trays on the oven rack halfway through just to ensure even baking. Before decorating, you will want to let the cookie cool off completely. If you don’t plan to decorate right away, you may want to place the cookies in an airtight container, so they stay fresh. If you don’t plan to decorate anytime soon but wanted to get the baking out of the way, you can freeze the cookies in the container. I would suggest wrapping up the cookies before putting them in the container to prevent freezer burn.
Royal Icing 101
Have you ever used royal icing before? If you have put together a gingerbread house before then you have worked with royal icing. The difference in using it on cookies is the recipe can be made so it doesn’t dry quite so hard. Obviously when building a house it needs to dry hard, but on a cookie, it is a bit more enjoyable if the icing is softer to the bite. The beauty of royal icing is you can create fun designs and patterns that you wouldn’t be able to with buttercream icing. Here are some samples of how far you can take cookie decorating!
Above are the ingredients that you will need to make royal icing. I use meringue powder to make my icing, instead of raw egg whites. My go-to brand is Genie’s Dream by The Creative Cookier found here, it is such a wonderful product and makes the icing process easier. I say that because making royal icing can have its challenges. I really like Domino Powered Sugar too, although you can certainly use generic brands. Lemon extract is the flavoring I prefer for my icing, but vanilla or almond extracts are popular flavors as well. If you are making a seasonal flavored dough and want the icing flavor to compliment it, that is no problem as you can use any flavor. Corn syrup is the ingredient that helps keep the icing from getting super hard. The icing will still dry hard enough so you can stack the cookies on top of each other.
As I mentioned above, making the right consistency royal icing can be a little tricky the first time trying but the more times you make it, the more you’ll get the hang of it. The two main issues people seem to have initially is from either adding too much water, or over mixing the icing which incorporates too much air into it and makes decorating difficult. The recipe will yield a slightly thick icing, but you can water it down as you determine what consistency you need. Some people like to make flowers using decorator tips (a star tip or leaf tip for instance) and that requires a thicker icing, so the shape holds up shown in the first photo and the roses on the butterflies in second photo. Also, the lines on the butterflies are done using this slightly thick icing. In intermediate level decorating, stencils can be used to create fun patterns on cookies with that same kind of icing, shown on the bunny and egg cookie. In this instance you would make the batch as directed in recipe, then take a small amount out of the bowl and set aside in another bowl. Ever so slightly thin it with water as discussed below, then color.
I use a one consistency icing and that is what you’ll be using in my classes. A one consistency icing is thick enough to outline the cookie, and thin enough to flood the interior of the cookie. So, in this instance you would make the batch as directed, and then thin down the icing with water.
How do you know when it is the right one consistency icing? There is a way to check, and it is called the 20 second count method. I use a spray bottle of water to water down my icing to that 20 second count. If I were to use the faucet on my sink or pour from a measuring cup, I likely would add too much water because it is difficult to control. In order to reach the 20 second count, I need to cut through the icing with a knife or offset spatula and count to 20. If the line is still present, I will spray water on the icing and stir it completely. Then cut through again and count. I usually do this three times before I get to the 20 seconds. When I have reached the 20 second count, I will then divide the icing into the number of bowls I need, based on how many colors I want to have for decorating.
I mentioned piping and flooding above, what does that mean? Different from buttercream, royal icing is runnier and can overflow the edge of the cookie. Piping a line of icing around the edge of the cookie will act as a dam and hold the icing that you’ll pipe onto the middle from running over the edge.
Hopefully you will find this recipe and the directions helpful to make the perfect royal icing. If by chance you add too much icing you can try to thicken it back up with powdered sugar. Meringue powder is relatively expensive so I wouldn’t throw it out. It is important to have the right consistency though, so your decorating isn’t a source of frustration so try to slowly thin it out with a spray bottle. As with anything, it takes some practice.
The type of food coloring I use is a gel, sometime referred as gel paste or liqua gel. Brands I like are Americolor, found here and Chefmaster, found here. I like to mention that there is such a thing as white food coloring too, and it really brightens up your icing. For darker colors, especially black, navy and red, you will want to color your icing the day before decorating. That gives the icing time to develop its color overnight. Otherwise, you will end up using a lot of food coloring if you try to make it instantly dark. That isn’t the healthiest to consume that much coloring and it can make the icing taste artificial or bitter.
When bagging icing I find it helpful to put the disposable piping bag (here) inside a glass or cup and fold the top down over the rim. That way when you fill the bag, any messes that drop around the outside the bag won’t be an issue once the bag is pulled out of the cup, because the mess will now be inside the bag. After I squeeze the icing down in the bag, I gather the end tight and twirl it around so that the icing fills the tip with no air bubble.
I use a tape bag sealer to close the bag (from Amazon here) shown below but you can always knot it or use a clip or rubber band. I save money by not investing in a lot of piping tips, instead I trim off the tip of the bag w scissors. When cutting the tip of the bag I just cut off a little bit because you can always take more off later after you test out the opening.
Storage and Uses for Leftover Icing
Often you will have leftover icing from a decorating session. You can either store it in a container with a tight lid, leaving it on your counter or in the refrigerator for 2 weeks. If you don’t think you’ll use it within that time frame you can put it in a Ziploc bag and freeze it flat for up to 3-4 months (be sure to write the date on it). For both instances the icing will separate, and the water within will create a syrup and settle on the bottom. You will need to remix it by hand to incorporate the syrup. Also, the extract flavoring will dissipate and need to be refreshed when remixing. If you find you don’t have quite enough leftover to save those two ways, consider using the smaller amount you have left to create ‘icing transfers’ using decorator tips like shown here.
Storing Decorated Cookies
Once your cookies are decorated you will want to let them dry for at least 12 hours, although if it is humid out it may take longer. You can put a box fan in front of them to speed that time up and sometimes the icing gets a little shine from the fan too which is a plus. Or even use a dehydrator like you use for fruit and meat but I wouldn’t leave them in for more than 30 mins as it can dry out the underside of the cookies. A plastic container with a snug lid is great for storing the cookies. And yes, you can stack them once they are dry. They should taste fresh for a week in a closed container. If you are using them for a party, I wouldn’t plate them until closer to the party time, so they stay as fresh as possible. If you need to give the cookies as a favor, bag them once dry and either use resealable bags found here, or tie with a ribbon. If you wanted to invest in a heat sealing machine, you can find one on Amazon here. Cookies stay the most fresh when properly heat sealed, 2-3 weeks.
Freezing Decorated Cookies
If needed, you can take your freshly decorated cookies, once completely dry of course, bag them and freeze. The best way to keep your decorated cookies looking the best is to individually bag the cookies or take 2 cookies and place them back to back, then bag together. Place all the bagged cookies in a plastic container with a snug lid and put in your freezer. When it is time to thaw the cookies give yourself at lease 4 hours before they are needed for thawing time. You want to take out the container and place it on a counter but DO NOT remove the lid. Wait 4 hours for it to come to room temperature, then take off the lid. If you do it too early the warmth of the room will hit the cold cookies and create condensation on the inside of the bags, potentially ruining your beautiful cookies.
These are not in any order rather just a helpful list of places where you can go spend hours learning anything and everything about cookie decorating. There are many others out there as well but I just picked a few. Also tutorials are on YouTube if you have a specific technique, just google it and you are sure to find many options for viewing.
www.sweetopia.net Marian from Canada was the first person that I learned everything you need to know about decorating cookies. She is very talented and has tried and tested almost every technique out there.
www.sweetsugarbelle.com Callye is hands down the queen of cookie decorating. Her following is huge because she makes it easy to decorate cookies that are simple in design yet super cute.
www.lilaloa.com Georganne’s site is super helpful for starting out in cookie decorating. She lists a whole bunch of websites for specific needs under the “Quick Start for New Beginner’s” section. She published a book that is a great resource, The Cookie Companion—A Decorator’s Guide.
www.sweetambs.com Amber is a true master. She travels the country and world teaching. I was lucky to take one of her classes.
www.hanielas.com Hani is a sweetie and usually gets back to you with your question. A fun blog with not just cookie stuff.
www.bakeat350.blogspot.com Bridget has published books that many people utilize to get ideas for cookie designs. Her style and Callye’s style are a lot alike.
www.juliausher.com Julia is so well respected in the baking field. She is the top dog with her credentials. She has a video series out that is great for watching hands on techniques. Her work is perfection!
www.montrealconfections.com Marlyn is the YouTube tutorial queen. She has monthly lessons you can sign up for and gain access to her video library!
www.artymcgoo.blogspot.com Elizabeth is an artist, plain and simple. Her work is breathtaking, each and every time!
Pretty much all of the sites for tutorials and blogs I shared with you have recipes for all sorts of cookies. From basic sugar cookie to chocolate to gingerbread you will find they are all good sources to test. Sweet Sugarbelle, Lilaloa and Sweetopia are probably the most used among cookie peeps I believe.
To be honest, when starting out I would stay local and use those coupons for the pricier stuff like meringue powder. Michael’s, Joann’s, Hobby Lobby. For harder to find items locally, there is The Confectionery House on Hoosick St heading towards Brunswick.
Other places that you can purchase supplies from on the internet are:
www.creativecookier.com (Genie’s Dream meringue powder, color gels, supplies)
www.grundfullydelicious.com (great place for Americolor gel paste, supplies, icing bags)
www.globalsugarart.com (tons of supplies)
www.americantraditioncookiecutters.com (just cookie cutters, cheap)
www.annclarkcookiecutters.com (made in USA, quality metal cutters)
www.trulymadplastics.com (plastic cutters and supplies)
www.etsy.com/shop/BobbisCookiesCutters (platic cutters)
www.etsy.com/market/sinfulcutters (mostly cutters, some supplies, mini icing bags)
www.killerzebras.com (stencils and supplies)
www.2tsstencils.com (stencils and supplies)
www.thecookiecountess.com (stencils and many supplies)
www.howsweetisthat.ca (supplies) Canada but she has flat rate shipping
www.countrykitchensa.com (pretty much everything)
www.emmassweets.ca (all sorts of decorating supplies plus Mary's great decorating book)
www.christinesmolds.ca (pretty much every mold you could imagine)
www.amazon.com (cheap piping bags, when in stock, called ilauke Disposable Pastry Bags)
The following businesses have been kind enough to offer my students a discount code for shopping at their online stores. These are for my students only, please do not share codes.
Now It’s Time to Decorate!
Thank you for taking the time to read this information. If you ever have any questions, please contact me at email@example.com and I do my best to respond as soon as I see it. Also, now that you have taken a Beginner Class with me, you are now welcome to try one of my Intermediate Cookie Decorating Classes where you can learn to make some fancy cookies like you saw at the beginning of this post. You can find my most current listing of upcoming classes on my website. There are times of the year when I slow up with classes particularly in January and August as the interest is lower at those times. If you want to stay abreast of current information, and of course pretty cookies, you can follow me on Facebook (Buttercup Cookie) and Instagram (buttercupcookie.ny) and I always love to be tagged should you post your cookie creations to your page. You can also ask me to add you to my email list for class dates. I do not sell your information and I literally only send out a few emails each year.
Thank you once again for supporting my small business.