Christmas cookie decoration 101

Many bakers ask for tips and instructions on how to decorate cookies. Well that’s a difficult task because there are as many ways to decorate cookies as there are cookies. Here are some guidelines for novice and seasoned bakers to help you come up with your own kitchen decorating ideas.


Cookies can be decorated before baking with materials that resist the heat of baking. Some things you can put on your cookies before baking are:

colored sugars or natural sugars like pearl sugar

-jimmies, non-pareils, silver and gold lozenges and other sparks

raisins and nuts like blueberries


These items can be placed on top of almost any cookie to dress it up a bit and give it a more festive look.

Paint a masterpiece

You can also paint your cookies before baking them. Make an edible food paint with an egg yolk mixed with a few drops of food coloring and paint the cookies with a clean brush. The paint will dry while baking and give the cookie a colorful, glazed appearance. This is a fun activity for kids!

A bit of trompe l’oeil

The folks at Better Homes and Gardens have a creative recipe for Colored Cream Dough ( [] ) which is a frosted consistency dough that can be placed on top of cookies with a piping bag fitted with a writing or star tip, and then baked. The result is a cookie that looks like frosting but the frosting is baked and hard.


Decorating cookies after baking requires you to apply some type of liquid substance that will adhere to the baked cookie or act as glue to hold other items together. This usually takes the form of frosting, frosting, or melted chocolate.

Frosting vs. Ice formation

There is a big difference between frosting and frosting. The frosting is thick and shaped like rosettes and shells like you see around the edges of a birthday cake. It remains smooth to the touch and has a creamy texture, and most people think it tastes better due to the creamy, buttery taste. Icing, on the other hand, is a thinner, more liquid substance and as it dries, it thins, becomes very smooth on the surface of the cookie, and hardens. This is the glaze to use for the most beautiful professional results.

Working with frosting

You can use the frosting in two ways. One way is to simply use a knife or rubber spatula to spread the frosting over the entire surface of the cookie. The other way is to put the frosting in a pastry or decoration bag with a small tip and make fine lines or rosettes of frosting on the cookie. Either way, once the frosting has been applied to the cookie, you can further embellish it by using colored sugars, non-pareils, or any of the decoration items mentioned in the Decorate Before Baking section above. has a delicious recipe for buttercream frosting at See detailed instructions on pipe glazing from Better Homes and Gardens at []

Working with frosting

The icing is a bit more difficult to work with, but its smooth surface produces the most beautiful results! The frosting should always be placed on a cookie because it will run off the edges if spread with a knife. Once it’s frosted, you can apply silver sprinkles or other drops as mentioned above with the frosting before it sets. has an excellent recipe for Royal Icing at There is also a recipe for powdered sugar frosting ( that dries less harshly than royal frosting and has a shiny surface. Martha Stewart’s website features a great article on how to put the icing on cookies for professional-looking results (

Melted chocolate

Almost any cookie can be embellished by simply dipping it in chocolate or drizzling it with chocolate. You can even dress up your everyday chocolate chip cookie to give away or serve at parties. Melting chocolate is a simple process, but a few rules must be followed to make it a success. For Easter, try using pastel tinted white chocolate with food coloring. Use the gel, paste, or powder type of food coloring, because liquid drops can make chocolate sixteen years old.

What do you need

You can use chocolate chips or baking chocolate (the kind that comes in 1-ounce squares) and the same process applies whether you use dark chocolate or white chocolate. A small amount of butter should be added in a ratio of 2 tablespoons of butter to 1 cup of chopped chocolate chips or baking chocolate.

Water bath

Place the chocolate and shortening in the top half of a double boiler or in a metal container that has been placed on top of a saucepan filled with hot water. The water should be very hot, but not boiling, because the steam generated by the boiling water could moisten the melted chocolate and make it curdle. Let the chocolate melt over the hot water and stir it occasionally until it is runny.


Place the chocolate and shortening in a microwave safe bowl and microwave on medium power for 1 minute. Stir. Continue to microwave for 20 seconds, stir again. Keep doing this until the chocolate is almost melted. Take it out of the microwave and stir it until it is completely melted.


Dip one end of your cookie, or half of the cookie, or even the entire cookie in the melted chocolate. Place the cookie on a wire rack so the chocolate hardens. If desired, you can sprinkle chopped walnuts, coconut, or non-pareils over the melted chocolate before it hardens.


Place the melted chocolate in a zip-top bag. Using sharp scissors, cut a very small corner from the bag. Drizzle the top of the cookies with melted chocolate zigzags. Let cool until chocolate is done

Using these simple techniques will help you produce a variety of beautiful cookies at Christmas and throughout the year.

Copyright 2004 Mimi Cummins. All rights reserved.

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