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How to Decorate Cookies with Frosting

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Have you ever wondered how to decorate sugar cookies for Christmas and other holidays, like you see in the magazines? In this tutorial, I show you how to make the best buttercream frosting for Christmas cookies and offer step-by-step tips on exactly how to frost the most beautiful Christmas tree, present, and stocking cut-out cookies!

Overhead view of frosted sugar cookies

The Best Buttercream for Cookie Decorating

Beautifully decorated (and tasty) sugar cookies are one of the best parts of the holiday season. There are two very important parts to making the perfect sugar cookies for Christmas. First, of course, is perfectly soft and chewy cut-out sugar cookies. The second part is the frosting.

While there are different types of icing used to decorate cookies, buttercream is the most popular and my personal favorite. My vanilla buttercream is perfect for decorating cookies, so that’s what we’re using today.

After your sugar cookies are baked and cooled and your frosting prepared, it’s time to get to the fun part. Learning how to decorate sugar cookies! Below you’ll find a detailed step-by-step guide to everything from preparing and coloring the frosting to exactly how to pipe a few popular holiday designs, like a Christmas tree and stocking.

Once you get the basics down, you’ll be decorating sugar cookies for Christmas like a pro. It’s so much fun and a great way to get into the holiday spirit! (But, of course, these same tips are applicable no matter the season, whether you’re decorating sugar cookies for Easter, a baby shower, or just because!)

Overhead view of a snowman frosted sugar cookie

What Makes This Frosting Perfect for Cooking Decorating?

Why is this the best buttercream for decorating sugar cookies?

There are a few reasons! It’s ideal for decorating because it’s not too soft or too runny. It’s stiff enough to hold a good shape but soft enough to work with. You can pipe it or spread it, whichever you need for your desired design.

It’s also easy to adjust the flavors by switching out the vanilla extract and it takes on colors very well. (More tips on adding colors below!)

Piping bags of frosting, cut out sugar cookies, and sprinkles

What You’ll Need

Below you’ll find everything you need for the perfect frosted sugar cookie, including the ingredients for the buttercream, some helpful tools, and the best piping tips.

Ingredients

The vanilla buttercream requires just 6 ingredients. The most important thing to note is that the butter must be cold to achieve the desired texture.

  • Sugar cookies – I recommend these soft, homemade sugar cookies.
  • Unsalted butter – The key to making the best frosting for cookies is to start with cold butter, not room temperature.
  • Powdered sugar
  • Pure vanilla extract – I always want the best tasting, so I stick with pure vanilla extract, which can make the buttercream tinted slightly yellowish. If you want to avoid that, you might consider using Clear Vanilla Extract.
  • Heavy whipping cream – You can also use milk.
  • Pinch of salt – Optional but can help cut down on the sweetness.

Can I Flavor My Buttercream?

While traditionally made with vanilla extract, buttercream can be flavored with any type of extract you prefer. Almond, peppermint, or lemon are great options, or you can use a combination of vanilla with one of these too.

A sugar cookie with buttercream frosting shaped like a christmas tree

Great Tools To Have

There are a few tools that are helpful to have when it comes to decorating cookies. A few of these are optional but to achieve the best designs, I do recommend having most of these on hand.

  • Piping Tips – More on these below.
  • Coupler Set. You don’t have to a coupler, but it makes it SO easy if you want to change tips while using the same piping bag with the same color frosting.
  • Piping bags. I usually use 12-inch Decorating Bags and no more than ¾ full so you can easily hold them in your hand. I also have some piping bag elastic ties to help keep my bags closed.
  • An Angled Spatula, which is basically my best friend for mixing frosting and filling piping bags
  • Sprinkles!

Which Piping Tips Are Best For Decorating?

There are a lot of different piping tips available but the truth is, you can do pretty much anything you want with just a few of them. No need to go crazy, until you decide you really love decorating! Here are a few of my favorites. Be sure to check out my complete guide to piping tips as well.

  • I like to use #3, #5 (both round tips)
  • An open star tip, usually #18 or #21 – you can do so much with these!
  • A multi-opening tip (I call it my grass tip), #233
  • A basket weave tip #48.
Three piping bags with buttercream frosting

How to Make Cookie Frosting

Before the fun part of decorating the cookies comes the (also fun) part of making the buttercream cookie frosting.

Make The Frosting

  1. Whip the butter. Cut the butter into tablespoon-size pieces and whip for 5 to 7 minutes, until super whipped and fluffy. This is the most important step for proper consistency.
  2. Add the remaining ingredients. Alternate adding 2 cups of powdered sugar with the liquid ingredient, beating until well-combined after each addition.
  3. Continue whipping. Increase the speed and beat for an additional 3 to 5 minutes, to add additional air into the frosting.

You can also see my full post on buttercream frosting for any questions on the process.

Color The Frosting

After the frosting is prepared, it’s time to add some fun colors! Here are a few tips for coloring your frosting but I also have another post on coloring buttercream if you prefer more of a deep dive on the technique.

  • Use gel colors and avoid food coloring: The gels are thicker, which means they have less water. So when you add them into your frosting, it doesn’t change the consistency. Wilton makes an 8-pc set that a great starter kit. I also recommend Ameri Gel. Outside of the starter sets, you can also purchase individual colors.
  • You just need a couple drops: The gel colors are highly concentrated, so a little goes a long way. Usually, it’s 1-2 drops per 1 cup of frosting. You can always add more. as you need. I also use a toothpick to add small amounts.
  • Stick to 4 colors max: I always use white and 3 other colors. This helps ensure I will have enough frosting to go around and helps reduce the mess.
  • Just need a little bit of one color? Spoon 2-3 spoonfuls of frosting into a cup and use a toothpick to dye and mix the color.
Close up of a frosted Christmas cookie in the shape of a stocking

How to Decorate Sugar Cookies

Now on to the fun part – decorating the cookies!

Bake The Cookies

You’ll need a tried and true sugar cookie, and for that, I recommend this recipe. They’re soft, they hold their shape and it’s such an easy recipe. Plus it only requires 30 minutes of chill time. Be sure to bake them ahead of time so they’re cool when it’s time to add the icing.

Prepare The Piping Bags

I have an entire post dedicated to how to use a piping bag because if you’re new to using them, there are lots of tips you might not know and it will make it so much easier to get started. That said, here is a basic run-down of how to prepare the piping bags for this recipe.

  1. First, cut the tip of your bag off just below the bottom edge of the coupler. Keeping the bag a little longer helps keep the bag from blowing out the sides. at.
  2. Fold the bag over a glass. This just makes it easier to fill while keeping your hands clean.
  3. Seal the bag: A rubber band works great, but push all the air out and twist it tight.
  4. Add the tip: My top recommendations are in the section above and I’ve also noted which tip I used for each design below.

Creating Fun Designs with Frosting

There are endless ways to decorate sugar cookies and getting creative is half of the fun. But I did want to provide a few specific step-by-step tutorials for a few popular Christmas cookie designs.

Christmas Trees

Tip used: Wilton #21 (can also be done with a #18) Open Star Tip

  1. Pipe rosettes. Working your way from the bottom to the top, pipe a single rosette. Add the second one on top, coving the end of the first rosette.
  2. Repeat the pattern. Continue this pattern all the way across the cookie and then start working your way up to the top.
  3. Add sprinkles. Decorate with sprinkles if desired.

Stocking

Tips used: Wilton #199 (French Star Tip) for white and #21 for the red

  1. Pipe rosettes. Start by making three rosettes on top with a Wilton #199 tip (French Star Tip). You could also do with a tip #21 but I prefer to have the different textures of the two together.
  2. Add the red frosting. Then use the red buttercream with a Wilton #21. Work from one side to the other, wrapping the edges of the buttercream around on the ends.

Presents

Tips used: Wilton # 5 (Open round tip) A size 5 is the best one of the round tips.

This is one of the easiest tips to decorate with as you can use almost any shape with this technique. It’s similar to an outline and flood technique you would use for royal icing.

  1. Outline the cookie. Start by outlining the edge of the shape.
  2. Fill the cookie in. Then work right to left (or vice versa) and fill the cookie by simply moving the piping tip back and forth, rounding the edges. Do your best to keep the line continuous.
  3. Add the ribbon. To add the white ribbon, use the size #5 tip with white icing. Decorate with sprinkles.

What Happens If My Frosting “Breaks” While Piping?

The frosting can break easily with the smaller tips (like adding the ribbon to the presents). You can either scrape it off with the flat edge of a knife and start over, or simply try to bridge the gap as best as possible. This frosting can easily be manipulated with a toothpick. If this happens when you are filling, simply cover it with a sprinkle!

Will This Buttercream Harden?

As it sits at room temperature, the icing on these cookies will develop a light crust. However, it won’t harden completely and the underlayer stays quite soft. This is perfect for eating cookies but not great for stacking them.

A frosted sugar cookie snowman

Storing Frosted Cookies

Frosted cookies should be stored in an airtight container. I do recommend a single layer for best results, but if you need to stack two layers high, place a piece of parchment paper between layers. Stacking cookies can result in some damage to the frosting.

Can I Freeze Frosted Sugar Cookies?

Yes. Frosted cookies can be frozen. Once decorated,  place them on a cookie sheet in the freezer for 15-30 minutes until the frosting had hardened. Then transfer to an airtight container. As long as the frosting is firm, these can be stacked in the container, with a layer of parchment paper in between. Thaw cookies on a cookie sheet in a single layer. These can be thawed on the counter for a couple of hours.

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Overhead view of frosted Christmas cookies

How to Decorate Sugar Cookies

  • Author: Julianne Dell
  • Prep Time: 15 minutes
  • Total Time: 15 minutes
  • Yield: 4 1/2 cups

Description

Have you ever wondered how to decorate sugar cookies for Christmas and other holidays, like you see in the magazines? In this tutorial, I show you how to make the best buttercream frosting for Christmas cookies and offer step-by-step tips on exactly how to frost the most beautiful Christmas tree, present, and stocking cut-out cookies!

Ingredients

For the frosting

  • 1 1/2 cup (339 g) (3 sticks) unsalted butter, cold.
  • 5 cups (650 g) powdered sugar
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons (12 ml) pure vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons (30ml) heavy whipping cream (or milk)
  • Pinch of salt (optional)

Instructions

  1. Cut the butter into pieces. Using the paddle attachment, whip the butter for 5-7 minutes, scraping down the bowl occasionally, beating until the butter look light in color.
  2. Add 2 cups of powdered sugar and mix on low speed until incorporated into the butter then add the vanilla extract and mix to combine. Beat for about 60 seconds.
  3. Next, add an additional 2 cups of powdered sugar and beat on low speed until sugar is incorporated. Increase speed to medium-high and beat for 3 minutes.
  4. Add last 1 cup powdered sugar along with the heavy whipping cream and salt. Beat on low until the ingredients start to mix together. Increase speed to medium-high and beat for another 3-5 minutes to whip additional air into the frosting.
  5. Divide the frosting into bowl, add gel colors and decorate. 
 

Notes

  • This will make enough to generously frost 24+ sugar cookies
  • Storing: Frosted cookies should be stored in an airtight container. I do recommend a single layer for best results, but if you need to stack two layers high, place a piece of parchment paper between layers. Stacking cookies can result in some damage to the frosting.
  • Freezing frosted cookies. Frosted cookies can be frozen. Once decorated,  place them on a cookie sheet in the freezer for 15-30 minutes until the frosting had hardened. Then transfer to an airtight container. As long as the frosting is firm, these can be stacked in the container, with a layer of parchment paper in between. Thaw cookies on a cookie sheet in a single layer. These can be thawed on the counter for a couple of hours.
  • Category: Frosting
  • Method: Stand Mixer
  • Cuisine: American

Keywords: buttercream cookie frosting, how to decorate christmas cookies, how to decorate cookies

Leave a Comment

Recipe rating

14 Responses
    1. Julianne - Beyond Frosting
      Beyond Frosting

      Hi Sue, you can use 50/50 butter to Crisco or if you want them to set even more use 1:3 butter to Crisco ratio.

  1. Shannon

    Does this icing dry enough that you can stack cookies? I noticed there were some stacked on the plate. How long do they have to dry? I make the Wilton class buttercream with powder sugar and Crisco. Would I need to add some meringue powder to help it crust over? It’s my family and friends favorite icing so I don’t want to mess with it. I’ve never tried royal icing and not sure I want to learn to decorate that way or not. Great website!! Thanks for all the tips.

    1. Julianne - Beyond Frosting
      Beyond Frosting

      Hi Shannon, the frosting does crust a little bit, but not enough where I would recommend stacking them if you’d like them to hold the design. It will get mishaped with the weight of the cookies. You can add some meringue powder, that would help. However I haven’t done it in my buttercream but I am familiar with the Wilton method. I don’t decorate with royal icing, only buttercream!

  2. Stefan Bradley

    It’s good that you mentioned how you should consider how many different colors you are planning to use when you are decorating your cookies. My wife’s birthday is coming up, and I want to decorate some sugar cookies in a unique way. I wonder if there is a way to make the cookies look shiny.

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