How to Make Frosted Sugar Cookies

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Have you ever wondered how to make beautiful frosted sugar cookies like you see in the magazines? In this tutorial I’m showing you how to decorate cut out sugar cookies with buttercream frosting! We’ll be using my easy cut out sugar cookie recipe for our cookie base.

Looking for more Christmas cookie ideas? Try my Classic Snowball Cookies!

Plate of Christmas sugar cookies decorated with colored frosting.

Frosted Sugar Cookies for Christmas

Everyone knows there are two very important parts to making the perfect sugar cookies for Christmas.

The first part, is of course the cookies. You have to start with a solid sugar cookie recipe and also make sure you’re not accidentally making mistakes along the way. In this post, to make things super easy, we are going to use my tried and true cut out sugar cookie recipe to make sure we’re getting the best start. You might also want to read my Tips and Tricks for Perfect Sugar Cookies post – it has over 15 tips!

The second part is using the right frosting to decorate your cookies. That’s what this post is about! 

Why I Don’t Use Royal Icing

Let me start by saying I am not a fan of royal icing. I learned how to do it when I took cake-decorating classes, but it’s not my favorite. If you prefer royal icing, check out my friend Lindsay’s tutorial for how to decorate cookies with royal icing, it includes a super helpful video!

Today we are decorate just buttercream frosting only, which I also prefer for taste purposes. 

Decorating cookies takes commitment. You need some time; maybe a diet coke or a glass of prosecco and you need to mentally prepare yourself to make a mess. Which is all good with me because I know I will be eating cookies along the way, so that is always a WIN.

Messy kitchen counter with piping bags filled with colored frosting

The Best Frosting For Decorating Sugar Cookies

My preferred frosting for decorating is a traditional buttercream, with a minor tweak.

How many of you have trouble with buttercream? Don’t worry!! Just follow my tutorial for the Perfect Vanilla Buttercream Frosting! It’s way easier than you think. This buttercream also lightly crusts over, which is great for cookies, but not great for stacking them.

There a couple simple things I do to make my original buttercream frosting perfect for decorating cookies:

  • Use cold butter. When you make your buttercream frosting be sure you butter is COLD! That’s right, cold, not softened. You will need to beat the heck out of the butter so it is more whipped, and softened in the mixer. If you start with soft butter, then your frosting will be weak and not great for piping.
  • Add Crisco. I like using a combination of butter and Crisco when I’m going to decorate cookies. Crisco has a higher melting temperature than butter.  This means that when you are mixing color and handling your buttercream as you are piping, the Crisco blend will stay stiffer for longer and your frosting will hold its shape after you’ve piped it onto your sugar cookies.
A small jar of piped vanilla buttercream with a full piping bag sitting next to it

Adding Flavor to Your Frosting

When preparing a buttercream for decorating, in order to get a true color, you might consider using CLEAR Vanilla Extract. This can be found at most craft stores, or online. If you use traditional vanilla extract, it turns the frosting a light brown shade, which is fine but can sometimes alters the color of your frosting

You can use a touch of almond extract instead of clear vanilla. Almond extract is naturally clear, but it has a very strong flavor. You only need a touch, so start small and add more to flavor to taste. 

Christmas stocking shaped sugar cookie decorated with frosting

Adding Color to Your Frosting

Decide ahead of time, how many colors you are going to make. No matter what, I always end up coloring more than I need, which is good, because you never want to run out of a color- it’s nearly impossible to get it the same color twice. 

However, when I just need a little bit of one color, I spoon 2-3 spoonfuls of frosting into a paper cup and use a toothpick to dye and mix the color. Be sure to set aside some white frosting. I also use a lot of paper cups for dying colors, so that I can just throw them out instead of having to clean bowls.

A bowl of white sugar cookie frosting next to a chart of gel color options

I recommend using gel color instead of food coloring. The gels are thicker, which means they have less water. So when you add them into your frosting, you frosting will not get thinner. I recommend Ameri Gel for individual colors. That is the starter set, but if you can find a cake store or a craft store you can get very specific colors. 

However, if you aren’t looking to invest a ton of money in individual colors, you can purchase Wilton Color Right System. It is made up of 8 basic gel colors, and comes with a guide to make something like 30 different colors. It’s fantastic. They also sell the single replacement colors in the craft stores like Michaels or JoAnns. 

One important tip when using gel colors: start with SMALL drops! You can always make a color darker, but in order to make it lighter, you have to add a butt load of white frosting. You can see below, I used just a hint if yellow and blue to make this green frosting.

Sugar Cookie Frosting Tutorial -3296

Tools you’ll need to decorate sugar cookies

  • Piping Tips – More on these below.
  • Coupler Set. Technically, you have to use 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! 
A tray with various piping tips for decorating with frosting

Which piping tips are best for decorating cookies?

  • I like to use #3, #5 (both round tips)
  • An open star tip, usually #18,
  • A multi-opening tip (I call it my grass tip), #233
  • A basket weave tip #48.

Here’s my complete guide to decorating tips. I have multiple tips for some of the ones I use the most; it is just helpful instead of having to wash them all the time. You can buy them at craft stores or online, and they are usually $1-2 each.

Ok now that we have covered the tools you’ll need, let’s talk about decorating these cookies.

How to Make Frosted Sugar Cookies

The two steps are pretty straightforward but I will mention them anyways:

Make the Cookies and Frosting

Before you get started, bake a batch of cut out sugar cookies and prepare a big bowl of buttercream frosting

Add Your Frosting to Piping Bags

I have an entire post dedicated on 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. 

First, cut the tip of your bag off just below the bottom edge of the coupler. I like to do this, so I can fit my tip over the piping bag and coupler, and then screw the cap over the piping tip. Keeping the bag a little longer helps keep the bag from blowing out the sides. Sorry, but I couldn’t think of a better way to say that.

A piping bag and a pair of scissors

When it’s time to fill the piping bag, I always use a glass so that I have two free hands to get every last drop of frosting in my piping bag. They are a pain in the butt to refill!

A piping bag being filled with green frosting.

To clean up, just cut your piping bags above the coupler (discard the top part) and use warm water to help release the coupler from the end of the piping bag. Run your piping tips under hot water, and I usually soak them in a bowl of hot water to remove any residue. I let them air-dry overnight.

Decorate the cookies

Alight, it’s time to decorate! Before you start to decorate, test your frosting by squeezing a little bit into a paper towel so you know how hard to squeeze and what the consistency is.

To decorate these sugar cookies, I used a variety of piping tips, but mostly I used a small open star tip (#18) and an open round tip (#5). As long as you have the couples on your bags, you can easily switch out the piping tips you are using to switch up your decorating.

Well that’s about all I got! I hope you’ll give it a try. And if not, just quit halfway through and enjoy some cookies. No one is judging you over here.

Don’t forget my Tips and Tricks for Perfect Sugar Cookies!

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