Bakers, put down your piping bags! In my never-ending pursuit for quicker, easier and more painless ways to create beautiful and delicious things, I decided to tackle one of my (previously) least favorite things to make — sugar cookies decorated with royal icing. As my luck would have it, they’re also my son’s favorite special treat. He passes up cupcakes and cake, but always goes for the sugar cookies.
To save us all some precious time and energy, I investigated a number of ways to decorate sugar cookies without having to break out the tips and piping bag. Why pipe when you can dip, spread, brush, splatter and drizzle your way to stunning sugar cookies that only look like they took hours to make?
5 ways to decorate sugar cookies without a piping bag
All images via Erin Bakes.
This method is one that savvy cookie decorators have been using for years. The first time I saw it done my jaw dropped, because it’s so simple and so effective.
Start with royal icing that’s been thinned to the consistency of creamy salad dressing. (I know that’s might not be the most appetizing analogy, but I think it tells the story.)
Hold a sugar cookie by the sides, dip the top of the cookie in the royal icing, lift the cookie from the icing and gently shake away the excess. That’s it.
You can use a spatula or knife to spread the icing out, but it’s really not necessary. Set the cookie on a drying rack or cookie sheet until the icing has set up firm, at least an hour.
The marbled dip
Just because dipping is easy, doesn’t mean we can’t make it look fancy. Try swirling colors of royal icing together in a bowl and dipping your cookie into the swirl. Twist the cookie a little as you lift it from the icing to exaggerate the marbled effect:
The two-tone dip
A tad bit messier but equally effective method for dipping is to come in from the side for a two-tone look.
Scrape the bottom of the cookie off on the edge of the bowl before setting it on a drying rack or cookie sheet to set up.
Be more patient than I was and wait until the first color has completely hardened before moving onto the second color.
Yes, I know I’m not rocking anyone’s world by suggesting you spread royal icing on a cookie with a knife or icing spatula. I believe that’s a technique probably as old as cookies themselves. What I am suggesting is taking a new look at the time-honored technique and borrowing a few design ideas from the cake world — watercolor and two-tone.
The watercolor effect
Start with a solid base coat, but don’t let it dry. Immediately move on to adding dollops of different icing colors all over the cookie. It’s OK if they start to smear together, it’s only going to get messier from here.
Swipe the blade of an icing spatula across the surface of the cookie to smooth the icing over and blend the colors together. Spread in one direction only to prevent the colors from becoming too muddled.
Add sprinkles, because who doesn’t love a little bling?
The two-tone effect
Create a simple two-tone effect using the same techniques as above, but with no base coat.
Smear one color of icing over part of the cookie and immediately spread another color on the other side of the cookie. You don’t have to stop at two, like I did. If you’ re feeling ambitious you could alternate colors for a striped effect or add a gradient of colors for an ombré look.
Swipe the blade of an icing spatula across the surface of the cookie, covering both colors at the same time. This will allow the line to blend without muddling the colors.
Use the dip or spread method for the base coat of your cookie. Thin a few colors of icing down to a watery consistency. The icing should be thin enough to splatter easily, but not so thin that the color is transparent.
Dip a clean paintbrush in the icing and flick the bristles to create splatters on your cookie.
Splatter your cookies before your base coat hardens for an embedded-icing look, or wait until the base colors are dry and your splatters will add a raised texture to the cookie.
Similar to their splattery cousin, drizzled cookies require a royal icing that’s been thinned to a watery consistency. Also similar to splattering, start with a wet base for an embedded look or a dry base to create a textured appearance.
Dip a fork into the thinned icing and drizzle it across the cookie. Repeat with other colors.
Drizzle each color in the same direction or switch it up to create a more varied design.
This one came as a bit of a revelation to me. I initially had the thought to use a paintbrush to create designs on a cookie — similar to brush embroidery but without the hand cramp. That’s exactly what I did for these cookies:
Just dip a paintbrush into royal icing and spread it on the cookie to create stripes. Use thicker icing to create texture or thinner icing for more of a watercolor look.
While I was painting stripes on my cookie I thought to myself, could I cover an entire cookie this way? Should I? Yes, I should! I’m confident someone has painted a cookie’s base coat before, but this was the natural evolution of how it happened in my kitchen.
Very simply, just dip a paintbrush in royal icing and spread it across the surface of the cookie. It’s that easy and it might just be my new favorite way to ice a cookie.
Use the paintbrush to further enhance your cookie’s design by dropping little drips of icing into the wet base coat.
So what’s the verdict on piping-free sugar cookies?
After exploring these five methods for decorating sugar cookies without piping, I feel like I might actually have fun the next time I have to decorate a batch for a birthday party or holiday get-together!
un and cookie decorating are not three words I usually put together, so that’s kind of a big deal in my world. I hope these tips and tricks help you with your next batch of cookies!