Bakers, put down your piping bags! There are ways to decorate with royal icing that don’t require you to break out the piping tips, and they still result in a totally gorgeous sugar cookie. Whether you dip, spread, brush, splatter or drizzle, these techniques are all fun ways to achieve a batch of totally stunning treats.
Pro Tip: However you choose to decorate your cookies, after they’re covered in icing you want to set them on a drying rack or cookie sheet until the icing is firm (at least one hour.)
1. The Basic Dip
This method is one that savvy cookie decorators have been using for years, and the crazy part is it’s so simple. Start with royal icing that’s been thinned to the consistency of creamy salad dressing. Hold a sugar cookie by the sides, then 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 could use a spatula or knife to spread the icing out, but it’s really not necessary.)
2. The Marbled Dip
Just because dipping is easy doesn’t mean you can’t make it look fancy. Combine different royal icing colors in a bowl, then dip your cookie into the swirl. Twist the cookie a little as you lift it from the icing to exaggerate the marbled effect.
3. The Two-Tone Dip
For this dipping method, you’ll come in from the side to create a two-toned look. Dip one half of the cookie in the royal icing, then scrape the bottom of the cookie off on the bowl’s edge before letting it set.
Wait until the first color has completely hardened, then dip the second half into the second color. Shake off the excess and let your second color dry.
4. The Watercolor Effect
This technique is probably as old as cookies themselves, but it’s a fun, artistic one. Start with a solid base coat, but don’t let it dry. Immediately add dollops of different icing colors all over the cookie. (It’s OK if they smear together.)
Swipe the blade of an offset spatula across the surface of the cookie, smoothing the icing over and blending the colors. Spread in one direction only to prevent the colors from becoming muddled.
Finish it with sprinkles, because who doesn’t love a little bling?
5. The Two-Tone Touch
This is another super-easy cookie decorating technique. Simply smear one color of icing over half of the cookie, then immediately spread another color on the other side.
Pro Tip: You don’t have to stop at two swipes of color — you could continue alternating hues for a striped effect, or add a gradient of shades for an ombré design.
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.
6. The Splatter
This design requires multiple techniques. First, use the dip or spread method for the base coat of your cookie. Then, 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, food-safe paintbrush in the icing and flick the bristles to create splatters on your cookie (just like you would in a painting). Splatter your cookies before your base coat hardens for an embedded-icing look, or wait until the base colors dry to give your splatters a raised texture.
7. The Drizzle
Similar to their splatter, drizzled cookies require you to decorate the base of your cookie with a dip or spread method first. Thin royal icing in other colors to a watery consistency.
Dip a fork into the thinned icing and drizzle it across the cookie. Repeat with other colors. Drizzle each in the same direction or switch it up to create a more varied design.
Pro Tip: Just like with splattering, you can start with a wet base for an embedded look or a dry base for a textured appearance.
8. The Brush
Another simple technique, all you gotta do here is dip a clean, food-safe paintbrush in royal icing, then spread it across the surface of the cookie. Enhance your cookie’s design by using your paintbrush to drop little drips of colored icing into the wet base coat.
All images by Erin Gardner