Sugar Cookies Decorated With Royal Icing

ultimate sugar cookie
royal iced sugar cookie
Tiffany Snowflakes Sugar Cookie For Guests To Take Home

If you are baking cookies for the upcoming holiday season to give to friends, neighbors and as special “thank you” gifts, consider royal iced sugar cookies. I have made this sugar cookie recipe for years and it has stood the test of time. Prepared with powdered sugar instead of granulated sugar, the cookies don’t spread while baking. This means you can use your intricate cookie cutters and have perfectly shaped cookies. The basic sugar cookie itself is crisp and not overly sweet. When decorating the cookies with the royal icing, you can make them as simple or as fancy as you wish. They are fun to make and definitely worth the time and effort for a festive occasion.

“Tiffany” Snowflake Sugar Cookies

 Basic Sugar Cookie

About 3 dozen 4 – 4 1/2 inch cookies or 5 dozen 2 – 2 1/2 inch cookies

Preheat oven to 375 degrees

  • 1 c. butter, softened to room temperature
  • 1 1/2 c. powdered (confectioners) sugar
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp. almond extract
  • 2 1/2 c, sifted flour
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. cream of tartar

Cream the softened butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl then add the egg, vanilla and almond extracts. Slowly add the flour, baking soda and cream of tartar and mix well. Gather the dough into a ball then divide into four discs. Wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate for two hours or until firm.

Roll out one disc at a time between two sheets of plastic wrap to about an 1/8 inch (1/4 inch thick for a softer cookie). Remove the top sheet of plastic wrap and cut out the cookies. Remove the cut outs from the plastic wrap and place about an inch apart on a Silpat or parchment paper lined cookie sheet. Chill in the refrigerator for a few minutes to firm up (chilling keeps the cookies from spreading in the oven). Gather all the scrapes, form into a disc, cover with plastic wrap and chill until firm and repeat. 

Bake until the cookies have set, gained some color and are just slightly brown around the edges, about 6 – 8 minutes, depending on your oven. Be careful to not over bake or they will be hard. Remove from the oven and cool on the cookie sheets for a couple of minutes to firm up then use a spatula and place them on cooling racks.

Royal Icing

  • 1 lb. (about 4 c.) powdered sugar
  • 3 Tbsp. Meringue powder
  • 6 Tbsp. warm water (additional Tbsp. or two for thinning)
  • Icing gel colors

Making sure that bowl and beaters are free from any oil, add the sugar and meringue powder to the bowl of a stand mixer and mix slowly until just combined. Add the water and beat slowly for two minutes. Then beat on medium speed until light and fluffy about 6 to 8 minutes more. For the right consistency, I follow the 10 second guideline of dragging a knife about an inch deep into the icing and then counting slowly to 10. If it smooths over in 10 seconds, it can be used for piping and flooding. If it is too thick, add a small amount of water and stir until desired consistency. If it is too thin, add a small amount of powdered sugar and stir until desired consistency.

To color the icing, dip a toothpick into gel coloring and mix it into the icing until it is combined and the desired color is reached. If you wish, you can flavor the icing with a clear extract or a little lemon juice. Just be sure that whatever you add to the icing mixture doesn’t contain any oil.

Decorating With Royal Icing

Use a pastry bag to pipe a border around the edge of the cookies then let stand a few minutes for the icing to set. Thin the remaining icing with a few drops of water at a time to achieve a smoother consistency. Fill squeeze bottles with the icing and flood the area within the cookie’s border. Pop any air bubbles that form on the cookies with a toothpick.

Over working the dough will create a tough cookie.

The dough can be stored in the fridge for up to 3 days or freezes for up to 3 months

Let the chilled dough sit for a few moments so it is soft enough to roll or the dough might become crumbly. The dough will soften as you work with it, if its too soft, return to the fridge until chilled.

Unlike other cookies, don’t bake sugar cookies until golden brown. When they have a little color and are set, take them out of the oven. Depending on the size of the cookies you are making, you may need to add or subtract a minute or two on the baking time.

The royal icing recipe uses meringue powder (powdered egg whites), a pasteurized product that gives the icing body, helps it harden, and gives it a nice matte finish.

Keep the icing covered and the piping bag tips sitting in water to prevent the icing your are not using from drying out.

I like to use a squeeze bottle for icing the cookies. While the cookies are wet, you can add candy decorations with tweezers or add sprinkles, shaking off any excess and let them dry overnight. The next day, you can use royal icing in a piping bag with a number 2 tip for additional designs.

Leave the cookies at room temperature to harden about 8 – 24 hours before stacking them in an airtight container.

Notes from the kitchen


like to bake the sugar cookies one day and then decorated them with royal icing the next. While more time consuming than other cookies, the decorated cookies always get compliments when I have made them for friends. The cookie recipe has stood the test of time and is one I hope you will try.

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41 thoughts on “Sugar Cookies Decorated With Royal Icing

  1. They are a work of art Karen! Far too pretty to eat. 😉 I haven’t made Christmas cookies this year as the two of us alone certainly don’t need any extra calories! I admire your patience for getting the icing to sit so perfectly. 👍

  2. Karen, thanks for the cookie tutorial. I have tried my hand at cookie decorating but always fail miserably. Filling the border first is a great tip and will certainly improve my sloppiness. Malcolm and his mom are in the kitchen as I type, making thumbprint cookies with raspberry filling. I’ll make a batch of Snicker Doodles later today, and then maybe I’ll try again with your recipe. Thanks for sharing your insider secrets!

  3. What wonderful memories. Mom always made sugar cookies with royal icing. It was so much fun to decorate the cookies as a child and later with my kids. Just popped a tangerine glazed loaf in the oven. Needed to get started on the Christmas baking! This got me in the mood. xo

  4. In the early ’70s read a recipe for these delicious sugar cookies with royal icing in a House & Garden Christmas issue. I saved it & my young son & I made the cookies & decorated them for years. We amassed a fine collection of cookie cutters & each year on the last day before the holidays all through elementary school, he took in his boxes full of colorful goodies. They were fun to create together & fun to share. Today he’s an artist & still a great cookie master. Thank you, Karen, for reminding me this morning of those Christmases in the kitchen long ago.

  5. These look terrific! Sugar cookies are deceptively simple to make. And eat — they have such clear, honest flavor. Nice to dress them up with royal icing! They’re gorgeous. Really good stuff — thanks.

  6. These are beautiful, Karen. You always excel in demonstrating how to incorporate food in the visual celebration of life and events like Christmas.

  7. These are my husband’s favorite cookies. His mother used to make them and now my sister in law bakes them for him every Christmas.

  8. I absolutely love these classic holiday cookies! Growing up, we always made tons of royal icing…but it was destined for gingerbread houses. Then I realized how good royal icing can be for cookies! I can’t even the holiday season without at least one round of cookie decorating. 🙂

  9. These look absolutely perfect! I’ve made similar cookies but have never made Royal Icing! Your decorating them so beautifully is inspiring me to give it a try! thanks for the recipe, Karen!

  10. These look absolutely perfect! I’ve made similar cookies but have never made Royal Icing! Your decorating them so beautifully is inspiring me to give it a try! thanks for the recipe, Karen!

  11. All the holiday magazine articles and TV shows promote this classic decorated cookie, and have been writing about them for decades. I wonder when they were invented. The result does look like a lot of work, and yours are lovely.

    best… mae at

  12. Decorating sugar cookies is so much fun, and these are so pretty and adorable (for the snowman)! Happy holidays, Karen! 🙂 ~Valentina

  13. That has to be the cutest snowman cookie I have ever seen! Squeeze bottles are a great idea – so much easier to manipulate than a pastry bag!

  14. Gorgeous Christmas cookies! I haven’t had the time to bake too many this year, but love yours! and thanks for your great tips!

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