Decorated Sugar Cookies with Royal Icing

I’m itching to get into the swing of holiday baking, but there are a few things in the way: 1) it was almost 70 degrees out last week, 2) I still have 6 college essays to write, and 3) My list of holiday treats is so long and everything looks so cute, I can’t narrow it down.

While I’m not going to share what’s on the list because some of my lovely readers will be receiving the goodies,  royal icing sugar cookies are a classic for cookie exchanges, hostess gift, or any gift. Another idea is to make loft-house style sugar cookies and frost them with Christmas colors and sprinkles. And, as always, red velvet cake balls are always overwhelmingly popular. If you’re looking for a dessert to impress, try the red velvet cheesecake cake! (The TopDog food photo contest I entered the cake in ends in just 2 days, so make sure you vote for my entry!)

I learned how to decorate with royal icing through trial and error. Don’t expect your first try to turn out flawless, but Annie’s royal icing tutorial is really helpful. You’ll probably notice that there is a huge difference between the first few cookies you decorate and the ones you do towards the end – practice makes perfect!

Recipe: Sugar Cookies


  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 t vanilla
  • zest of one lemon
  • 2.5 cups flour
  • pinch of salt


  1. Cream butter and sugar in a large bowl. Blend in egg, vanilla and zest. Mix until incorporated, then add the flour and pinch of salt in 2-3 additions Beat until combined (will be crumbly).
  2. Chill until firm enough to roll out, at least a few hours. Roll out to 1/4″ thickness on floured surface. Cut into shapes. Place on parchment lined baking sheet. Freeze for 5 minutes (or refrigerate for 15 minutes) to firm up.
  3. Bake @ 350 for 8-10 minutes. Cookies should not brown. Let sit for a few minutes before placing on cooling rack.


For almond flavor that I like to use for the holidays, omit the lemon zest and add 1 ½ t almond extract.

Number of servings (yield): ~24 3-inch cookies

Recipe: Royal Icing


  • 4 cups powdered sugar, sifted
  • 2 tbsp. meringue powder
  • 5 tbsp. water


  1. Combine all ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on low speed until the sheen has disappeared and the icing has a matte appearance (about 7-10 minutes). Transfer the contents of the mixing bowl to an air-tight container. This will be the stiffest consistency of the icing, and at this point it is still too stiff to use for decorating. Add water a very small amount at a time and stir by hand until fully incorporated. Continue until the icing has reached a consistency appropriate for piping. (Remember, if you are having any difficulty piping, it is still too thick. Add a little more liquid and try again.) Using a pastry bag, pipe around the edges of each cookie. Let stand so the icing will set. Make sure to keep the leftover icing covered at all times when not in use so that it does not begin to harden.
  2. Once all the cookies have been edged, transfer some of the remaining icing to a separate air-tight container. Thin out by incorporating a small amount of water at a time, until the icing drips off the spoon easily when lifted and then smooths in with that still in the bowl. If you go too far and the icing is too thin, add more sifted powdered sugar to thicken it again. Once the icing has reached the desired consistency, transfer it to a squeeze bottle (or a plastic bag with a hole in one corner), and flood the area surrounded by the piping on each cookie. If it does not completely spread to the edges, use a toothpick to help it along. Allow to set.
  3. Use the remaining thicker icing for piping decoration as desired. Gel icing color is best as it does not add a significant amount of liquid. Liquid food coloring can be used as well – add powdered sugar as needed to compensate for any thinning that occurs.

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