I have mentioned before that I used to work at a bakery in Charlotte where I was able to learn so much about food and baking. One of my favorite memories was the hours spent making glazed (or iced) sugar cookies around the holidays. While the long hours were exhausting, I found making these cookies to be oddly rewarding. They come out looking really nice and elegant, and taste fantastic. I think we sold so many of them because they are such crowd pleasers. Of course kids will like them for both the look and the taste, and they have a more sophisticated look than sugar decorated cookies, so adults liked them, too.
I also think decorating cookies with icing is a fun holiday activity, especially for kids. Sweet girl and I have made and decorated these cookies for two holidays, and she has a blast. I think more ended up on her than the cookies, but that’s part of the fun, right? The experience makes for some great pictures, too! Luckily this icing hardens when dried, so the mess is short lived. Once dry, these actually make less of a mess than cookies decorated with colored sugar. So next time you need a dessert to bring to a party, or a gift for a teacher, or just a fun activity with the kids, try these.
For the cookies, I use my sugar cookie cutouts recipe and leave them plain. The cookies in the picture are slightly thicker than the recipe says, maybe about ¼ inch. The thickness is totally up to you, but I do think thicker cookies are easier to ice. Thinner ones may be more delicate and could break while you are trying to spread the glaze on. If you make them a little thicker, obviously your yield will be slightly lower, and you will also need to bake them for an extra minute or so.
The secret to icing that hardens is meringue powder, which is basically a powdered substitute for egg whites in recipes. I doubt it ranks highly on a list of natural and healthy foods, but this is something we only make a few times a year as a special treat, so I don’t worry too much. From the dairy and soy free perspective, it work for us, but does have a longish ingredient list. If you have a more severe sensitivity or allergy, make sure that you are comfortable with the ingredients. I use Wilton brand which can usually be found at craft stores in the baking section. I also saw that King Arthur makes one but I have never tried it. The two do have slightly different ingredient lists so I would read them both and see if one or the other meets you needs better.
For coloring, a little goes a long way in this icing. I have been accidentally heavy handed a few times and ended up with blinding colors, so start with just a drop! For the cookies pictured I used synthetic dyes, some icing gel colors and some plain old food coloring. When possible I like to avoid artificial colors, so I use some natural alternatives (discussed in this post), but they do yield colors that are more dull. Like with the meringue powder, I figure this is rare treat so sometimes we just use dyes!
Follow my recipe for Sugar Cookie Cuts Outs. Roll the dough out slightly thicker, up to about 1/4 inch. This may require baking them for an extra minute or so. Allow them to cool completely before icing.
The “Glaze” Icing
2 cups powdered sugar
1 Tbsp. meringue powder
¼ cup water
- Mix dry ingredients. Add water slowly until desired consistency is reached.
- If you need to thin it out, add additional water a few drops at a time.
- Dye as desired and spread in a thin layer on sugar cookies. A small offset spatula works well for this.
- Lay cookies in a single layer to dry for a few hours.
- Keep icing covered when not in use to avoid drying out.
The Piping Icing
1 cup powdered sugar
1 Tbsp. meringue powder
2 Tbsp. water
- Mix dry ingredients. Add water slowly until desired consistency is reached. This should be thicker than the glaze so that it can be piped into stiff lines.
- If you need to thin out more, add additional water a few drops at a time.
- Dye as desired and pipe over* dried glazed cookies. Lay cookies in a single layer to dry for a few hours.
- This dries even faster than the glaze, so work quickly with it and cover immediately.
*I have also seen people pipe an outline first and then fill it in with the glaze. I have not tried this method myself, but I think it would work fine.