Let’s be real—icing is the best part about sugar cookies, so it’s essential to get it right. There are a variety of ways to make it, from basic to more advanced. Many recipes call for egg whites or meringue powder (often referred to as royal icing); these ingredients create a stiff icing that’s good for intricate piping, but aren’t necessary for basic decorating. If you want to keep things easy, you most likely have everything you need in your pantry.
Things You'll Need
One optional ingredient I recommend is gel food coloring, available at grocery stores, craft supply stores, or online. A few drops gives your icing a vibrant color without changing the consistency.
Step 1: Combine the Ingredients
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the confectioners’ sugar, 4 tablespoons water or milk, vanilla, and corn syrup. Vigorously whisk together until very smooth with no lumps.
Step 2: Adjust for Proper Consistency
The icing should be thick enough to hold its shape while drying, but not so thick that it can’t be piped onto cookies. It should be about the consistency of Elmer’s Glue. If necessary, add an additional tablespoon of water (to thin) or sugar (to thicken).
Step 3: Add Gel Food Coloring (Optional)
To add gel food coloring, divide the icing into smaller bowls and whisk in approximately 1 to 3 drops per 1/2 cup of icing until the desired color is achieved. Keep in mind that gel coloring is much stronger than regular food coloring so you don’t need much for rich pigment.
Step 4: Decorate the Cookies
The easiest way to decorate cookies is with a squeeze bottle. For more control over the design, use disposable piping bags and small piping tips, available (along with squeeze bottles) at a craft supply store or online. If you want to get fancy you can also purchase couplers, which allow you to easily switch between tips without changing the bags. Either way, it’s good to practice icing on a plate before decorating the cookies.
Once piped, the icing takes a few hours to completely set (but that doesn’t mean you can’t eat the cookies before then if you can’t resist).
When deciding whether to use water or milk, keep this in mind: Milk adds a touch of creaminess, but the icing can’t be left at room temperature for longer than 4 hours. This is fine if the cookies will be eaten right away, but icing made with water can be left at room temperature indefinitely.
To add lemon flavor to the icing, use a mixture of water and lemon juice, replacing half of the water with lemon juice. Make sure to thoroughly strain out any pulp or seed residue.