Everyone’s suddenly an artist during the holiday season and the allure of decorating sugar cookies (or trying to, at least) never fades. Seasoned pros and stick-figure drawers alike will appreciate the ease and usability of this simple sugar cookie icing recipe.
Unlike a rudimentary powdered sugar and liquid (whole milk, water, or juice) glaze, which always dries translucent and is prone to flaking, royal icing has the right consistency for holding crisp lines and saturated color, and dries hard after a few hours. A bit of extract and salt make it actually tasty (though it’ll always be sweet). Use as is for a thick icing that makes clear, defined outlines (we recommend a piping bag with a variety of different piping tips for that), or thin with a little water to fill in your cookies with “flood icing.” Fresh egg whites work but using meringue powder cuts down the prep time (no separating eggs!) and makes the smoothest icing that is virtually foolproof. (Plus, it comes with none of the complications of raw, unpasteurized eggs.) Order it online or find it in craft supply stores.
If you’re extremely particular about pristine white icing, search for clear vanilla extract so it doesn’t leave any trace of color, or swap it out for half the amount of always-clear, but much more potent, almond extract. Live for fun hues? This recipe is formulated to work with gel or liquid food dyes, but if you crave bold pigments, we recommend Suncore Food’s super vibrant natural food coloring powders to really nail your desired colors. (Start with about 1 tsp. coloring powder per cup of icing and adjust from there.) Feeling extra? Dust with some nonpareils, sprinkles, or sanding sugar before the icing dries.
While you can go ahead and use this royal icing recipe on any canvas you like—even gingerbread cookies will go nicely—we think this tasty, sturdy number is the best sugar cookie recipe for the job. It will hold up against cookie cutters of all shapes, sizes, and theme (Easter, Halloween, flowers, emoji, even … cute animal bums?). Whatever you choose, just make sure your cookies are baked ahead of time and fully cooled.
If this sounds like a lot of work, just call a few friends over, lay out your cut-out sugar cookies, set up some different colors of icing in small mixing bowls or squeeze bottles, and call it a cookie-decorating party. In the holiday spirit? Head this way for more Christmas cookie ideas.