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Decorating Cookies

Learn a few basic techniques for decorating cookies, from the elaborately frosted to the simply chocolate-dipped.


The most beautifully decorated cookies are made using frosting. It takes practice, but piping is a very versatile skill for decorating cookies and cakes.

The simplest types of cookie icing are made using confectioners' sugar, butter or shortening and milk or water, such as Sugar Cookie Icing and Decorator Frosting. These icings have a somewhat softer texture than royal icings, which dry to a very hard crunchy finish. (Royal icing is great for gluing gingerbread houses, but it's not very tasty.)

Coloring and Flavoring

If you want a different flavor for each color of icing, use vanilla, lemon, orange, or almond extract (vanilla will discolor the icing slightly). Juice can also be substituted for the liquid in a recipe. For brighter colors, paste food coloring--available at craft and kitchenware stores--works better than the more commonly available liquid colors.

  • When adding color, first mix the color into about 1 tablespoon of icing, and then blend that into the rest of the icing.
  • Frosting can easily be thinned to the desired consistency by adding liquid such as milk, juice or water.
  • For a smooth glossy finish, warm the icing slightly in a microwave, or in a bowl over a pan of simmering water.
  • Be sure to stir frequently so that a crust does not form on the top.
  • Keep icing covered with a damp cloth and plastic wrap in between uses.


Frost cookies with a pastry brush, small metal spatula, or by simply dipping the cookies into a shallow bowl of icing: hold the cookie by its edges, dip into the icing, and lift up with a twisting motion to let the excess drip back into the bowl.

  • Use a knife or spatula to spread icing over any bare spots.
  • Set the freshly frosted cookies onto a tray or waxed paper to dry.
  • Once the first coat of frosting is dry, you can pipe another color of frosting over the top to add details such as stripes, spirals, polka dots and names.

Disposable plastic pastry bags work well and give you control over your piping, or you can improvise by filling a small plastic baggie with frosting and cutting off the corner to make the pastry "tip." Smaller children can press pieces of candy into the frosting before it hardens, or sprinkle the cookies with different colors of sugar or edible glitter.

Dipping in Chocolate

There is nothing quite as enticing as a chocolate-dipped cookie. Darker chocolates generally need to be tempered to keep them shiny and firm. If you don't want the mess and process of tempering, look for "coating chocolate." Designed to maintain a shine without tempering, coating chocolates contain a different type of fat in addition to the cocoa butter found in good chocolate. (Most coating chocolates are of a lower grade and may not taste as chocolaty as couverture.) Many bakers add a few drops of vegetable oil or melted paraffin to warmed chocolate as an alternative to tempering.

Working from right to left, dip cookies halfway into the chocolate, and scrape the excess off of the bottom using your finger or the side of the bowl. (Disposable latex gloves will keep your hands clean and the cookies fingerprint-free. You can find them at drugstores and some supermarkets.) Then give the cookie a gentle shake and once again, scrape the excess chocolate off. This will keep the chocolate from forming a puddle around the cookie while it sets up. Place the cookies onto the waxed paper starting at the farthest end and working inward. This prevents you from dripping onto the finished cookies.

Get Creative

  • Dip one end of each cookie into ground pistachios, hazelnuts, pecans or other nuts while the chocolate is still wet.

  • When the first coat has set, apply another color of chocolate. Try dipping one half of each cookie in dark chocolate, and the other half in white. (You can even color white chocolate a nice pastel color: use candy coloring pastes from craft stores or kitchen supply stores.)

  • Use a pastry bag (or a plastic sandwich bag with a hole cut in the corner) to drizzle stripes on cookies for an elegant touch.

Decorating Before Baking

For pretty cookies that don't require an all-day production, add a garnish before the cookies are baked. Rolled cookies can be shaped into logs, chilled, cut, and baked. Roll logs in colored sugar, finely chopped nuts, coconut, sesame seeds, or sprinkles before baking. Even a light dusting of confectioners' sugar or cocoa powder will give any cookies an elegant finish. Dust the cookies again, right before serving, to freshen their appearance. For more elaborate cookies, try pinwheels or checkerboards.

Sep. 30, 2009 4:59 am
thank you so much for these hints. i'm going to add them to my recipe collections!
Oct. 7, 2009 1:14 am
this information is so helpful...especially since christmas is around corner (well almost). tks.
Lizzie D 
Oct. 27, 2009 3:09 pm
Thanks you for these great helpful hints and directions. We're never too old to learn from one another. Happy baking!
Oct. 28, 2009 1:58 pm
I was thinking the same thing about Christmas!! Haha. I am planning on going to a pottery painting studio and doing over sized mugs and putting cookies in them for mt friends and family, cheap and handmade (: Two of my favorite words when it comes to gifts
Oct. 29, 2009 3:54 am
weekend is almost knocking on my door ...thanks gotta treat old friends .
Nov. 24, 2009 2:53 am
Thanks and God bless you for this guidance. May He give you more ideas.
Jenny Kosa 
Nov. 29, 2009 4:14 pm
I admire your decorations & thankyou for sharing your ideas.I'll try them on my son's birthday party.
Dec. 11, 2009 4:48 pm
Just go to click on "file" in the upper corner of your tool on "save as" will go to one of your personal files and then you can print it.
Dec. 12, 2009 8:16 am
I wish I could file in my recipe box for future reference. This is great information
Dec. 19, 2009 1:23 pm
Oh MY! I intended to copy this to my recipebox, and wound up publishing it. Worse, it came up as my own! I did not intend this. Pkease accept my apologies.
Dec. 23, 2009 2:41 pm
kathrynwitte, the very same thing happened to me just now. I don't understand what happened!
Jan. 30, 2010 11:23 am
OK, I want to start on 'decorating' cookies, but the problem is I am at the same time starting on 'making' cookies!!So could anybody tell me which is the best/easiest recipe for that, I mean cookies I can use my beauuuutiful brand new cookies cutters on and which come out nice and 'flat' so one can decorate them as I see (with a little jealousy I admit) on this page??? HELP!
Mar. 24, 2010 6:59 pm
LaFrance: From this site, try The Best Rolled Sugar Cookies and Sugar Cookie Icing
Sep. 26, 2010 5:32 am
When working with chocolate try to get a pair of cotton gloves your hands can breathe and they will not leave finger prints. When wearing latex I found that the chocolate was melting on me when I was holding either the cookies or chocolate I was working with. My hands was unable to breathe and had a lot of heat inside the glove.
Nov. 3, 2010 5:02 pm
Lee, copy and paste to word and print...
Dec. 3, 2010 2:37 pm
To print you can highlight the text, right click, copy and then paste it in a word document. then you just pring that... that's what i do if i can't print something.
Anne WDC 
Jan. 6, 2011 8:32 pm
It's much easier to print anything by clicking up top left on "file," and simply clicking print. You don't have to paste it into a document first. You can even highlight a portion of the page and where your printer menu says Print All, Page __, or Selection, click selection. No saving involved.
Anne R. Jones 
Feb. 19, 2011 2:24 pm
Thank you so much. I have envied those who could decorate beautiful cookies for holidays. Now I will try!
Mar. 25, 2011 2:40 pm
very helpful hints,I love trying new things thank you everyone.
Jul. 13, 2011 4:08 pm
Vanilla will NOT alter the color of white icing if you use clear vanilla.
Sep. 21, 2011 7:21 pm can just copy and paste the content you wish to print over to a Word document (or whatever you use as your word processor) and then just print from there. You could also use your browser's print option, but you you will likely be printing off all the comments as well.
Oct. 7, 2011 6:48 pm
Can someone tell me how to stretch canned cake icing?
Oct. 8, 2011 6:12 pm
Well I read somewhere that if you put the canned icing in a bowl and beat it with a mixer it goes further. Also, you can put the can in the microwave and heat it and just pour it on your cake if you want.
Nov. 29, 2011 10:27 pm
I'm looking forward to using these tips for my holiday cookies.
Nov. 30, 2011 8:31 am
A quick note.. For the vanilla, if you get clear vanilla, it won't discolor at all!
Dec. 12, 2011 3:59 am
great info
Dec. 17, 2011 9:14 am
Just hit the Ctrl (control)P keys.
Dec. 20, 2011 3:34 pm
How do I save this article? I'd like to add it to my personal recipe collection.
Dec. 27, 2011 4:27 pm
great info!!!!!!!!thanks
Cheyenne Rodriguez 
Oct. 12, 2012 5:42 am
Need more Halloween ideas
Dec. 11, 2012 4:40 pm
does anyone know how to make crusted frosting. when it's done it looks like hard sugar.
Oct. 12, 2013 2:43 pm
Thanks! I needed to know what types of things I can do, so my cookies look amazing!
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