The best iced sugar cookies are easy to make and delicious and these ones are both of those things. This post is packed with everything you need to know from the classic sugar cookie recipe to making perfect royal icing for cookie decorating.
These Easy Iced Sugar Cookies are a favourite of mine and in this 2-for-1 post, I’ll give you all the info you need to make perfect sugar cookies and the best tasting sugar cookie icing for outlining, flooding and even dipping.
This is a classic sugar cookie recipe – buttery, sweet and just as lovely on it’s own as it is iced. Whether you like your cookies soft or crisp, this recipe has you covered.
The royal icing I use to decorate my cookies tastes amazing and it can be used for outlining and flooding, dipping or dolloping. It’s so versatile, you’ll never need another one, so lets get straight into it.
If these cookies look familiar to you, yes I mimicked my favourite childhood biscuit – 100s and 1000s biscuits – and these taste exactly like them. Roll the dough thin and cook them until golden to get a crisp cookie like the originals.
Let’s start with the sugar cookies
If you’re looking for the classic sugar cookie recipe, that gives you soft, melty and buttery cookies, then you will love this recipe. The really great part is that it’s so versatile and even a (technically) overbaked cookie turns out delicious with an intense browned butter flavour.
These cookies can truly be cooked to your liking. Baking them for;
- 9-10 minutes = a pale, soft cookie that melts in your mouth
- 12-14 minutes = a golden, crisp cookie that has a rich browned butter flavour
How to make the best sugar cookies
- Start by beating together butter and sugar for a few minutes until it’s light and fluffy.
- Add an egg and vanilla and beat that through.
- Now add the combined dry ingredients – flour and baking powder – and mix until it comes together.
- Break the dough into 2 parts and shape into disks. Wrap them in plastic wrap and chill until firm (about 2 hours).
- Roll the chilled dough out on a lightly floured surface to anywhere between 4-6 mm thick.
- Use cookie cutters to cut out shapes then place them onto lined baking trays.
- If it’s warm and the dough has softened substantially, chill the cut cookies for another 10 minutes before cooking.
- Let them cool for a few minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool.
Pro cookie tips
- Butter should be softened but not greasy. It should be soft enough to make a dent when you gently press it but not for your fingers to go straight through and it should not be greasy.
- Scrape down the side of the bowl now and then during each stage so that everything is incorporating evenly.
- The dough is a little sticky straight out of the mixing bowl but this is good. This is because there is a high ratio of wet to dry ingredients and it’s important since we want these to have a good buttery flavour.
- Chilling is necessary. Sorry but any sugar cookie worth eating will need chilling time because you’re looking for a cookie that both tastes good and holds it’s shape. It will be much easier to work with as well once chilled, so just make sure to plan for the chilling time and these cookies are incredibly easy.
- When rolling out the dough, add enough flour on top and below the dough so that it doesn’t stick but not too much or you’ll risk losing the rich buttery flavour.
- Baking time will depend on the thickness of your cookies (and of course your own oven). Thicker cookies (6mm / ¼ inch) will be softer than thinner (aka 4mm) cookies after the same baking time.
- The second chill is not absolutely necessary but will depend on the warmth in your home. If the dough gets too soft during rolling, it’s worth chilling the cut cookies for 10 minutes so they keep their shape on baking.
The best tasting sugar cookie icing
My royal icing recipe is perfect for many different cooking decorating styles and each style just uses a different icing consistency which is adjusted purely with water.
I use meringue powder for this royal icing, meaning no raw egg whites. Meringue powder is easy to get, generally in your regular supermarket too but if you can’t find it there, try a cake decorating store.
For those readers in Australia: I have tested both Pavlova Magic (the one in the little plastic egg) and Queen brand Meringue Mix in this recipe. Both work well and both are available in supermarkets.
This recipe works perfectly for outlining, flooding, dipping and dolloping.
- Outlining: Is where you use a stiff consistency icing that will hold it’s shape but be thin enough to pipe through a small #1 or #2 piping tip, without breaking. You then ‘draw’ a line around the edge of a cookie.
- Flooding: is where you use a thinner consistency icing and pipe it inside an outline to ‘flood’ the cookie. You have reached flood consistency when, after giving it a good stir, the icing settles almost completely back into itself after 10-12 seconds.
- Dipping: The cookies in these pictures were iced via the dipping method. You upturn a cookie into the icing, then lift it and wipe a little off against the edge of the bowl. It’s slightly thinner than flood consistency and will drip a little down the sides for a cute rustic look. You have reached dip consistency when, after giving it a good stir, the icing settles back into itself after 8-10 seconds.
- Dolloping: Dolloping is not a technical term but it’s what I use when I want to spoon a little icing onto a cookie and have it smooth out but not flatten out. Sometimes it’s called 20 second icing but I find 15-17 seconds is about right and this is the time it takes to smooth out. This icing is great for creating shapes on top of a cookie that don’t run down the edge.
How to make royal icing for cookie decorating
- Mix all the ingredients together in a stand mixer with paddle attachment or just in a large bowl using an electric handheld beater. Beat until it comes together, then on high for about 1 minute.
- At this point, you start to add water until you have the consistency you want – see consistency guide above and pro tips below.
- Colour the icing (divide between small bowls if you want more than one colour or use this really cool marbling technique).
- Dip the cooled cookies (right side down) into the icing, then carefully lift it and scrape a little of the excess off on the edge of the bowl.
- Flip it icing side up, onto a wire rack over a baking tray, then lift it just 1cm or so and drop it again a couple of times, to help the icing settle.
- Sprinkle over hundreds and thousands or any sprinkles you like then let them set. They will take 24-48 hours to harden completely but can be eaten any time after they’re made.
Pro tips for royal icing
- There are a number of factors involved in getting the right consistency, from how well you’ve measured out the sugar to the altitude or humidity where you are. This means you’ll need to eyeball it but it’s very easy, just check back at the consistency guide above. Add water only ½-1 teaspoon at a time and add a little more sugar if it becomes too thin.
- As a guide, I added about 6 extra teaspoons of water to the base recipe to get a dip consistency
- Royal icing begins to dry out immediately, so give it a good mix right before you use it to make sure it’s still the right consistency.
- Cover piping bag tips with plastic wrap while you aren’t using them to stop the icing from setting in the tip.
You can change these up with flavourings – add a little lemon or orange zest to the cookie dough while mixing. Or replace the vanilla extract with any flavour – just make sure to add a little at a time. Flavourings like peppermint can be much stronger than vanilla.
And have fun with these cookies. Get the kiddies involved – they can choose their favourite colours and favourite sprinkles to customise them and the fact that you don’t need to pipe the icing makes them fun for everyone.
Storing instructions for sugar cookies and royal icing
Royal icing will keep very well in an airtight bag or container in the fridge for 3-4 weeks. Let it come to room temperature before using, at which time you’ll need to give it a mix and you may need to add a little water.
The decorated sugar cookies will keep fresh 7-10 days in an airtight container. Room temperature, in the pantry, is fine as long as your house is not hot, otherwise store them in the fridge. Let them come to room temperature before eating.
The sugar cookie dough can be frozen. Either as a disk, then thawed overnight in the fridge before rolling. Or in a log, so that you can slice and bake straight from the freezer. Make sure to store it wrapped in plastic wrap AND in an airtight bag or container.
The cookies (not decorated) can be frozen, then thawed at room temperature before eating.
Now you have all the information you need to bake perfect vanilla sugar cookies at home and decorate them with a gorgeous royal icing, what are you waiting for. These are perfect for any festive get together, from Easter to Christmas and everything in between.
Lemon Curd Cookies
Baci Di Dama
Easy Easter Sugar Cookies
Vanilla Passionfruit Shortbread Cookies
Easy Iced Sugar Cookies with Royal Icing
FOR THE EASY SUGAR COOKIES
- 225 g (1 cup / 2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
- 1 cup (200g) caster (superfine) sugar
- 1 large egg, room temp
- 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 355 g (2+3/4 cups) plain (all-purp) flour
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
FOR THE ROYAL ICING
- 4 1/4 cups (630g) icing (powdered) sugar
- 4 tablespoons water (notes)
- ½ teaspoon cream of tartar
- 2 tablespoons meringue powder (notes)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
FOR THE COOKIES
- Stand mixer with paddle attachment recommended but not absolutely necessary. Beat the butter and sugar for 2-3 minutes on med-high until lightened and fluffy. Scrape down the sides a couple of times during the process.
- Add the egg and vanilla and beat to combine.
- Add the flour and beat on low, until all incorporated.
- Take the dough out of the mixer, divide in two and shape into disks, 1 inch thick, then wrap in plastic wrap and chill for at least 2 hours (you can also freeze it at this stage – see notes in post).
- Preheat the oven to 180C / 340F / 160C fan forced. Line two large cookie sheets with baking paper.
- Place the dough on a lightly floured surface and sprinkle a little flour over the top.
- Roll the dough out to about 4-6mm thick (up to ¼ inch), adding a little flour only if required to stop it sticking, then use cookie cutters to cut out shapes.
- Transfer the shapes to the baking trays and chill for a further 10 minutes before baking: 9-10 minutes until they look dry and have slight colour change on the edges for soft cookies or 14-16 minutes and until golden for very crisp cookies.
FOR THE ROYAL ICING
- Sift the icing sugar into the bowl of a stand mixer with paddle attached.
- Add the water, meringue powder, cream of tartar and vanilla.
- Mix on low until everything is combined.
- Turn it up to high and beat for about a minute.
- Now you have a basic royal icing. Add water ½ to 1 teaspoon at a time to get the consistency you like. Stiff but pipable for outline, settling in 8-10 seconds for dip icing, settling in 10-12 seconds for flood icing.
- Divide the icing among small bowls and add 1 drop of food colouring to each. Mix well.
- Place a wire cooking rack over a tray lined with baking paper.
- Dip the top of each cookie into the icing, scrape a little on the side of the bowl, then turn, icing side up, onto the wire rack. Lift and drop the cookie gently (only about 1cm) to smooth out and level the surface of the icing.
- Do 3 at a time, then sprinkle the top with sprinkles. Repeat with the remaining cookies.
- I use a standard Australian 20ml tablespoon
- All ovens vary – always test for doneness 3-5 minutes before the recipe suggests
- For best results, you should always weigh ingredients like flour and sugar. Kitchen scales are relatively cheap but if you can’t weigh the ingredients, use the spoon and level method (don’t scoop).
- The butter should be just softened enough that your finger will make a slight dent when you press on it - not so soft that your finger goes through or that it's greasy.
- If you are doing outlines, allow them to set for 20-30 minutes before proceeding with flooding.
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