Updated: Feb 4, 2022
Happy Valentine's Day! Nothing says love like the labor of decorated sugar cookies. Seriously decorating sugar cookies seems like such an easy task but i would much rather bake and decorate a 3 layered cake. But decorated sugar cookies go hand and hand with Valentine's Day.
Thank You! Thank you to all the workers who, without complaint, go above and beyond at their job for our health, safety, and education. Your efforts are not only appreciated but will never be forgotten.
Do you see the stethoscope and EKG inspired cookies? And then of course, 'Danke' means thank you in German.
These Valentine's Day cookies were created especially for the essential workers who have personally impacted our daily lives. To be specific: doctors, medical staff and teachers.
Since these are the people that we have direct contact with, it was easy for us to hand deliver these cookies and see the surprises on their faces when they received them. Ok, so no we couldn't really see their faces. Masks do a great job of covering them up, but we heard the excitement in their voices.
Sugar cookies look so cute and adorable but OMG they are a ton of work. Honestly, I do not know how home-bakers make any profit from selling sugar cookies. They are super fun to do but the amount of time they take is insane. I would say for someone who is an intermediate level baker, it takes a minimum of 4 hours from start to finish, not including any sort of clean up, or time for elements to chill.
So why is decorating sugar cookies so labor intensive?
In this post I want to share with you some tricks and tips I have learned along the way as well as share some of my fails. I am not perfect at sugar cookie decorating. I would rather make 3 batches of macarons. But as we tell our kids, practice makes perfect.
In a nutshell here is what you have to do in order to make sugar cookies with royal icing.
Make cookie batter, let chill, roll out dough- use cookie cutters and bake.
Make Royal Icing in 2 batches. Add gell food color.
Use outline icing and then fill icing to fully cover cookie. Let dry.
Use outline icing for any decorative or writing on cookie.
That's it. Seems easy. Just 4 steps. Honestly it isn't crazy hard, but it does take some practice to realize what consistency you need for outline and flood royal icing. I also am not a great artist and my handwriting is just so-so. Cookie decorating is an art so I go super slow as to not make mistakes.
Let's start at the beginning.
The sugar cookies are pretty basic and actually I recommend making the batter way ahead of time. I actually had leftover sugar cookie dough (raw) still wrapped and frozen in my freezer from November. I took it out the night before and put it in my fridge (still wrapped) to defrost overnight. The next morning I rolled it out to about 1/4 of an inch. You also want to lightly flour your countertop as well as your rolling pin to avoid the dough sticking. Of course you can make your cookie dough the same day you bake it just give yourself a good 2 hours for the dough the chill in the fridge.
Tip: only place same sized cookies on the baking pan. If you bake small cookies and large cookies on the same pan at the same time either some will come out overbaked and dry or some will come out raw. You will do about 3-4 rounds of baking as this cookie dough recipes make around 3-4 dozen cookies.
They do spread a tiny bit but honestly not much. They also stay nice and flat which make them perfect for decorating! The last picture shows the cookies after they have baked- but they are a different batch from those previously pictured. Sorry! I took a picture of the wrong batch without realising. Regardless, you can see that they hold their shape very well after baking.
Tip: If you feel like your dough has softened too much after you have cut out your cookies, put the tray of unbaked cookies into the freezer for 5 minutes to firm up. When the butter gets really soft this is what makes your cookies spread out and not hold their shape. Putting chilled cookie dough directly into the freezer is the best that you can do to ensure beautifully shaped cookies.
Now I baked my cookies a day before I decorated them. This helped to break up the time. I really do not enjoy decorating cookies with small kids around, unless we are being silly and they are joining in on the fun. Then of course by all means decorate with your little ones. But if you truly are working on perfection, then decorate when you know you have about 2-3 hours of uninterrupted time.
Royal Icing time. There are so many recipes for royal icing and right now my favorite is from Sally's Baking Addiction. It is easy to put together and only requires a few ingredients.
Powdered sugar, Meringue Powder (egg white in a powder form), water and gel food coloring. Meringue powder can be bought in Germany on Amazon.de
In the above pictures you can see two rows of bowls. One row has super thick icing and the other has a more thin icing. You must have two consistencies in each color that you want to use. One to make the outline (the thick icing) and the other to fill in the cookie with what we call the flood icing.
I also ended up making another batch of icing as this was not enough. In the second batch I made it even thicker and used that for my writing.
Basically you want your outline icing to be thick enough that when you pipe it, the icing holds it shapes and doesn't spread on the cookie. This takes practice but adding more powdered sugar will make your icing thicker and adding more water (just a small spoonful) will make your icing thinner. Then you want to take your 'Flood' icing which should be more liquidy to fill in the rest of the cookie. I highly recommend using a cookie decorating tool that is like a sharp needle to help spread the flood icing evenly and to pop any air bubbles.
Here you see the three steps.
Pipe the outline
Fill in with 'Flood Icing' same color or different color depending on design you want.
Use needle to evenly spread the fill icing
Whether you use a piping bag or a squeeze bottle is up to you. I actually like both but the piping bag I definitely prefer for any writing or small detail work.
Tip: For very detailed writing/design use a piping bag without a metal piping tip, just cut a super tiny hole in your piping bag. I discovered this last step too late, which is why you can see that some of my detail work looks sloppy.
You can also directly add any sprinkles. However if you want to add more detail like writing then you must wait until the icing fully hardens. Either wait about 2 hours having the cookies sit out at room temperature or put the cookies in the freezer for 20 minutes. Then you can apply any additional detail.
Tip: Something I learned was that the color becomes more intense once it has fully hardened. Actually I noticed a difference in color after the cookies had set overnight. The red was so dark!
Do you see the difference? That is the same 'Love' cookie featured above. The first picture was taken maybe an hour after I had finished decorating and the second picture was taken the next day.
Here are also 2 videos showing you the consistency that I like to use for my flood icing.
Do you like my usage of the toddler spoons? We have SO many of these baby and toddler spoons but I don't want to throw them out. They are perfect for mixing icing!
Here is an easy technique that doesn't require the flood icing to set before adding details. Pipe small circles (dots) directly on top of your freshly decorated cookie. Then use the cookie needle or a toothpick and drag it through the middle of the circle, creating mini hearts.
Decorating sugar cookies might seem to take up a ton of time but on these cold rainy winter days there is nothing better than bringing a bit of joy to others.
And once my husband, the internist, saw the medical inspired cookies, he said, 'Wow amazing, thank you!... but can I show you what a real EKG looks like?'
Oops! I guess I have something else to practice!
Happy Valentine's day!
Here is the link to the royal icing that I used: https://sallysbakingaddiction.com/royal-icing/