If you plan on a lot of cookie decorating in the future, pin or bookmark this page. Here you’ll find the BEST cookie decorating recipes, including cut-out sugar cookies, royal icing (sugar cookie icing), and buttercream frosting.
COOKIE DECORATING RECIPES
This collection features the best cut-out sugar cookie recipes for decorating, as well as my (I think, perfect) royal icing recipe. I also include a buttercream frosting recipe, which is great on cupcakes and cakes.
what are the best sugar cookie recipes?
You won’t get too far in cookie decorating without trusty, no-fail, awesome cookie decorating recipes. Here are my top secret recipes that everyone else had to pay for when they bought Sugarlicious. My favorite, go-to, made-a-jillion-times cut-out cookies, royal icing and frosting are collected here in one place. I’ve used these for years.
Now that you have your recipes, be sure to check out these tutorials for basic cookie decorating how-tos, all about food coloring, and where to find cookie decorating supplies. For tips on preventing cookies from spreading, click here.
CUT-OUT sugar COOKIES
basic sugar cookies
Cream butter and sugar. Add egg and blend well. Add extracts and blend. Mix flour and salt and gradually add. Cover dough with plastic wrap (I usually put mine in a gallon size Ziploc bag) and chill dough for about 2 hours. Don’t skip this. You must chill the dough. Working with about 1/3 of the batch at a time, briefly knead the chilled dough and roll about 1/4 inch thick. Cookies on a stick are rolled out 3/8 inch thick. Cut out shapes. Insert a lollipop stick about half way into the cookie, if using. Bake cookies on parchment paper-lined baking trays at 375 for 12-14 minutes. Thicker cookies may need up to 20 minutes. Just watch for edges that are nicely golden.
MAKE AHEAD Notes: You can also freeze dough. After mixing, put dough in a gallon size Freezer ziploc bag (or wrap well) and freeze. Thaw overnight or for at least a few hours in the refrigerator in the ziploc bag. If too chilled to handle, let sit at room temperature for about 1/2 hour to 1 hour until it’s workable. Chilled is good, though, don’t let it get too mushy. To freeze cookies that have been cut-out and decorated, let the cookies dry overnight. Package in freezer-safe ziplocs in a single later and freeze. To thaw, remove from the freezer but keep in the ziplocs. Let the cookies thaw totally before removing from the ziplocs.
Chocolate Rolled Cookies
(use this for cookie cutter cookies)
Cream butter and sugar. Add the egg and vanilla and blend. Mix together the dry ingredients and gradually add to the wet. Cover and refrigerate 1 to 2 hours. When chilled, roll out on a floured surface, cut out shapes, and bake on a parchment paper-lined baking tray in a preheated 375 degree oven. Bake 8 to 10 minutes for small cookies, 10 to 12 minutes for larger cookies, or until edges are crisp. Thick cookies may need a few extra minutes. TIP: In lieu of flour, which may show up on the surface, you can roll cookies between two pieces of wax paper.
NEW Gingerbread Cut-Out Cookies
(use this for cookie cutter cookies)
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 sticks (16 tablespoons) butter
1/2 cup molasses
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Mix the flour, salt and spices together in a bowl with a whisk and set aside. In a large bowl with a handheld mixer or in a standing mixer fitted with a flat beater, mix together the butter, brown sugar and molasses on medium speed well blended. Blend in the egg and vanilla extract. Gradually blend in the flour and spice mixture. Wrap the dough and chill for at least 2 hours. (You can make the dough the day ahead and keep in the refirgerator.) Roll the chilled dough out on a floured surface to 1/8-inch to 1/4-inch thickness. Cut out your shapes. Place the cookies on a baking tray lined with parchment paper. Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for about 12 to 20 minutes, depending on the size of your cookies, or until edges start to brown. Let cool completely before decorating.
Gingerbread Cut-Out Cookies
(use this for cookie cutter cookies)
3 cups flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon baking powder
¾ teaspoon salt
½ cup unsalted butter (1 stick), softened
½ cup dark brown sugar, packed
1 tablespoon ground ginger
2 teaspoons cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cloves
½ teaspoon nutmeg
¾ cup molasses
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
circle cookie cutters
Mix the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt together in a bowl with a whisk and set aside. In a large bowl with a handheld mixer or in a standing mixer fitted with a flat beater, mix together the butter and brown sugar on medium speed until fluffy. Blend in the spices. Blend in the egg, molasses and vanilla extract. Gradually blend in the flour mixture. Wrap the dough and chill for 1 to 2 hours. Roll the chilled dough out on a floured surface to 1/8-inch thickness. To make rings, use two different sized circle cookie cutters, sizes 3-inch and 1 1/4 –inch circles used here. Place the cookies on a baking tray lined with parchment paper. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for about 12 minutes, or until edges start to brown. Let cool completely before decorating.
How to make Cookies-on-a-Stick:
To make cookie pops, roll out chilled sugar cookie dough about 1/4-inch to 3/8-inch thick. Cut out your shape, insert a lollipop stick into the cookie at the base, centered in the cookie’s thickness. Press the stick about half way into the cookie. No stick should poke through the front or back of the cookie. Pat the cookie’s shape back in place with your fingers, if necessary. Place the cookies on a parchment paper-lined baking tray, and bake according to the recipe. Cookies may need a couple extra minutes of baking time, since they are thicker. Make sure the sticks don’t touch each other or other cookies when placed on the baking tray.
3/4 cup all purpose flour
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1/3 cup butter
3/4 cup sugar
2 Tbsp. water
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 tsp. vanilla extract
Combine flour, baking soda and salt and set aside. In saucepan, heat together butter, sugar and water and bring just to a boil. Remove from heat and stir in 1 cup of chocolate chips and the vanilla. Transfer to bowl and beat in eggs, one at a time. Gradually blend in dry ingredients. Stir in remaining chocolate chips. Pour into greased 9″ baking dish and bake in a preheated 325 degree oven for 30 to 35 minutes.
ROYAL ICING AND FROSTING RECIPES:
Royal Icing (Sugar Cookie Icing)
Note:This sugar cookie icing is similar to traditional royal icing, but I add shortening and flavoring to make it taste delicious. Thus, it dries hard enough to handle and pack when left overnight, but not rock hard, like traditional royal icing. The consistency is NOT the runny kind used for flooding. It’s stiffer. Take a spoonful, turn it over the bowl. The frosting should cling to the spoon and slowly fall into the bowl. That’s the right consistency. You may thin this icing with water to make it the right consistency for flooding. Use royal icing (sort of) for cookie decorating. For more details on working with royal icing, visit this royal icing recipe post.
Whip the meringue powder and water on high speed for a looooong time, several minutes, until it’s fluffy and peaks form (use an electric hand beater or the wire whisk of your standing mixer). Gradually add the rest of the ingredients to desired consistency. Store at room temperature in a sealed container for up to a month.
(Use this for cakes and cupcakes, or for sandwich cookies.)
1/2 cup (1 stick) plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
4 1/2 cups confectioner’s sugar
Cream the butter with a mixer. Add 3 cups confectioner’s sugar, 1 cup at a time, blending well with each addition (mixture may be dry and crumbly). Add 3 tablespoons milk and vanilla and blend. Blend in remaining confectioner’s sugar. Add more milk (about 3 tablespoons) until desired consistency is reached. Add more milk to thin and more sugar to thicken.
Chocolate Buttercream Frosting
Use recipe above, but add 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder and a few additional tablespoons of milk, as needed for desired consistency.
Vegan cut-out cookies
For a vegan version of cut-out cookies and cookie decorating icing, click HERE. Really, they were good. Really good. And I tried a lot of vegan cut-out cookies that were not good.
Below find some metric conversions after a reader wisely requested them. But some disclaimers: I made these conversions based on internet research (with the understanding that recipe conversions are not straightforward mathematics, and different ingredients translate differently). I don’t cook with these measures, so they’ve not been tested. I have no concept of metric amounts. I need to see them to understand them and know how they relate to US amounts. Preferably if a reader were to invite me to their English countryside castle home to help them bake? I studied a wee bit at Oxford, and I do adore the area. A London suite would work as well.
some conversions for folks elsewhere! (again, not tested, based on internet research):
2 sticks butter = 1 cup = 8 ounces = 227 g
1 cup confectioners (or icing/powdered) sugar = 128 g
1 teaspoon extract = 4.2 g = 5 mL
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour = 312 g
1 teaspoon salt = 4.2 g
4 tablespoon meringue powder = 56 g
1/2 cup water = 4 ounces = 60 mL = 113 g
6 cup confectioners sugar = 768 g
1/4 cup vegetable shortening = 56 g
1 cup granulated sugar = 200 g
2 cup flour = 240 g
1/2 cup cocoa powder = 62.5 g
1/2 teaspoon baking soda = 2.1 g
1/2 teaspoon salt = 2.1 g
375 degree F = 190 degree C
When I get a scale (hint, mom), I’ll test these, I promise.
Do you melt or soften the shortening before adding to the meringue/sugar mixture? Also, I notice small bubbles on the frosted cookies sometimes right after I put them on the rack to dry. What causes that? (I should mention that I used liquid food coloring.)
Love your recipes!
Earlene, do you mean in the royal icing? Regardless of the Crisco in the royal or butter in the buttercream, do NOT MELT!!!!! I add Crisco as is, for the buttercream frosting, I do soften the butter. The bubble thing is common, though theories are mixed as to why. I rarely see bubbles in mine and I think it’s because I make my icing thicker than most do (which means flooding isn’t quite as easy, you have to encourage the icing a bit), but I think it helps. I do use gel paste food coloring, though, americolor soft gel pastes. So I’d say try adding less water or more powdered sugar so the icing is a bit thicker.
Meagan, yes, I was referring to the royal icing. I asked about melting the Crisco because this last time I saw some “lumps” and wondered if the Crisco was not soft enough. But on second thought, I’m wondering if I should have sifted the powdered sugar.
Thanks for your prompt response and I will try making the icing thicker next time.
Ah, yep, I’m guessing it was the powdered sugar. I never sift (out of laziness), but I remember those lumps occasionally when I worked at the cookie store. The domino’s sugar works well for me without sifting.
Meaghan, thanks, I’ll try Domino next time. I had visions of my guests biting into tiny clumps of shortening, LOL!
Kerri Ann says
I am a new cookier and very addicted. I am still on the hunt for icing that work for me and my needs everytime. I have tried traditional royal and don’t care for the rock hard crumbly texture. I was using a Modified that calls for butter. Which I had been happy with until I tried it with darker coloring and it really does show any separation, but I have never whipped the water and m.powder til fluffy. I just pour everything into the mixer. I also am finding in the summer months as the icing dries there is a oily film on the top of that shows finger prints gets on the bags when I packaged them. Not pretty! Do you have that problem with shortening too? Is that just the downside of a softer royal?
Hi Kerri Ann!
I love this recipe for royal icing (ish). The beauty is that it does dry well enough to handle and package and stack and ship, but not so rock hard it tastes terrible. I’ve found no problem with using Crisco (but you can reduce the amount or eliminate it, too). But when thinning my icing for flooding, I err on the side of too thick. I always have to encourage it with a toothpick to fill my spaces. And let the cookies dry uncovered at LEAST overnight. In humid summer months, maybe even up to 2 days, and it helps to put a fan on the cookies. And then package them after they’ve fully dried. You shouldn’t see any film!
I was wondering what measurement is 2 sticks of butter? I would live to try your cut out cookie recipe but I am unsure how much butter to use.
Loving your website all the way from Australia!
how long does the royal icing last in the icing bag?
Marni, I’ve used mine up to several weeks after preparing and bagging, left at room temperature. I keep all my prepared frosting bags in a Tupperware container. If the icing looks as though it has started to separate, though, blech, I’d toss it.
Ola vc não usa fermento na sua massa de biscoitos!!!
Can you make the cookies ahead of time and freeze for a couple of weeks??
Sorry – can you bake the cookies and freeze for a couple of weeks before decorating?? Thought I would be more clear. :o)
Absolutely Wendy! I’ve done that plenty of times. It helps immensely to break things up when you have tons to decorate. I roll out, cut out and bake the cookies. Then just stack and freeze in freezer-safe ziplocs (same way I freeze the decorated cookies), then let them thaw totally in the bags so moisture doesn’t collect, then decorate as usual. Works really well. In fact, I’ll freeze at any step… I’ll freeze the dough, the baked cookies, and decorated cookies!
Just made your sugar cookie recipe. Awesome! I can’t rave enough about the balanced simplicity of it.It’s everything it should be light, as crunchy as it should be not a hint of a floury feeling ,delicate yet not crumbly. I could go on and on. Used 1 1/2 tsp almond extract and just 1/2 tsp of vanilla extract as I had run out and that’s the way to go.I might experiment with adding butter flavor as I looove butter.
A heartfelt thanks for sharing!!!
Thank you thank you thank you Sissy!! And I so agree. Because I often make these for kids, who sometimes have an aversion to the almond flavoring, I end up rarely using the almond, but I like them MOST with the almond. Can’t be beat. Your description is perfect, too :).
Hi! I have a question for the royal icing – is there a suitable substitute for the corn syrup? Thanks
Hi! I have a question with regard to the royal icing – is there a suitable substitute of the corn syrup? Thanks
Good question Zori! I know elsewhere in the world light corn syrup isn’t as readily available. While ordinarily in baking you can sub honey, in royal icing it would tint the icing too much. Corn syrup isn’t necessary in the recipe though, you can omit it entirely. I use it because it helps with the texture a bit, but so does the shortening.
Thanks for the quick response. I got the idea behind the corn syrup and I think it’s really great to soften the icing. Honey sounds nice. I’ll give it a try.
Thanks so much
Hi…I usually don’t comment on blog posts but for this one I just HAD to!!! My first attempt in making sugar cookies was a complete FAIL (it wasn’t your recipe) and I said, never again! That was about a year ago. I came across your blog and the way you explained things made me want to give them another chance. I made the cookies yesterday…best sugar cookies EVER! They’re easy to make and your directions are very clear. However, it’s quite hot where I live and even though we have the ACs on, my kitchen gets warm…so I had to keep popping the dough back in the fridge to chill it. But I loved it…and I will be making them again today!!
And the Royal Icing (sort of) recipe…I really don’t have words to describe how I felt towards this icing…it worked out perfectly!!! The consistency, the taste…and like i said, ACs on all the time so they dried pretty quick. I just need to practice more on piping the icing. Yesterday, because I was so excited about the way the icing turned out, my hands where literally shaking as I was trying to pipe it!!! :))) Thank you thank you thank you!!!
Woohooooo Tuba!! Best comment to wake up to ever! 🙂 So so glad it worked out for you, and yep, I hear you about the AC thing. In the summer the same thing happens in my kitchen!!
My sister-in-law recommended your book and site to me last year, and I’ve had a ton of success with your recipes. I was reading the comments and saw so many people that had trouble finding Meringue powder. I’m currently living in Africa and can’t find powdered sugar in grocery stores, so definitely no meringue powder. I ALWAYS order it from Amazon. They have several brands. Hope this helps!
Thanks Kim! That definitely helps. I take for granted that I have a craft store 20 minutes away that always has it stocked, but it’s much harder to find around the world. Good to know about amazon! That’s the brand I use, too.
Melissa Roberts says
Great recipes! I’m the “cookie lady” at work, in fact, have baked two batches nearly every week for a staff meeting for years. (So, am a really confident cookie baker.) But whenever I’ve tried making decorated sugar cookies, seems like I’ve beaten my head against a wall battling the royal icing, not getting the thickness right. Have spent lots of $$ for all the right tools, etc. Wound up with rock-hard chalky globs that look like a little kid made them. Would stay up half the night only to throw the mess out. Today’s Halloween, and after staying up way too late the last two nights I actually had good tasting cute cookies that got raves at work today! Your shortbready recipe is perfect, not too heavy, not puffy, held the shapes. Not too sweet, so with the frosting it was perfect. The almost royal icing worked so much better! Dried just hard enough. Among other things, made some of your monsters. Very fun! Am still trying to get the knack but now think I can try tackling some Christmas cookies this year. Thanks so much for sharing these recipes and pictures!
Thank you Melissa!!!! You hit all the nails right on the head with exactly what I love about those recipes (and I know your other woes with the fails, too, boy do I know!) So so glad it worked out for you :).
Ilissa Sabath says
I have been using your icing recipe for about two years now and I love it!! It is the only RI that actually has a good taste! While I really do love the recipe I always have annoying little lumps in my frosting. This doesn’t seem to change regardless of whether or not I sift the powdered sugar. The lumps are big enough to block the #2 piping tip… which makes decorating a total pain as I have to stop every 30 seconds to get a toothpick to clean out my tip. Have you heard of anyone else having this problem??
While for some reason I don’t have that problem, I know what you’re talking about… and even though you sift the powdered sugar, it’s still curious, because that’s usually the culprit. It could also be the meringue powder, though. What brand do you use? I use Wilton. Are you using just powdered egg whites or meringue powder?
Ilissa Sabath says
I use wilton meringue powder as well. I really don’t know what the problem could be, and I have made this recipe many times and always have the same issue. I even use an electric sifter!
I was just wondering how much icing this recipes makes? I am having 8 kids over for a cookie decorating party and wondering how many batches of this RI i should make? I’d like to make 8 different bags.
Also- can i just use regular liquid food coloring you by at the grocery store?
Really glad i found your site!
One batch should make 6 to 8 bags of icing, but you can make them a little smaller for kids, so 1 batch should do. A lot of icing goes a long way. In fact, kids do better with a bag only half full, since it’s easier to squeeze. While I vastly prefer Americolor gel pastes for my decorating, for kid versions, YES, you can just use the liquid food coloring. You may need to add a bit more confectioner’s sugar if it makes the icing runny.
This recipe sounds fantastic and I am really eager to try it out this Valentines!! And thank you for the metric conversions, that was super thoughtful 😀