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It’s the holiday season, and that means one thing: cookies. You might be participating in a cookie swap or looking to come in first place in your office’s cookie competition. Either way, you’re probably perusing recipes and wondering how on earth you’re going to tackle the most difficult part of making cookies: the decorating.

Related Reading: The Unexpected Tool That Stands Between You & Perfectly Round Cookies

But that’s no matter, once you get your hands on Emily Hutchinson’s cookbook “Creative Cookie Decorating.” The self-taught cookie decorator—who owes her passion for baking to her grandmother—provides a slew of frosting recipes, buttercream decorating tips, and step-by-step guides for turning your run-of-the-mill sugar cookies into the likes of tea time flowers, baseballs, and reindeer with just a heaping of buttercream, food dye, and piping bags. 

Creative Cookie Decorating, $22.49 on Amazon

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“Decorating can be intimidating,” Emily admits, “because you’re like, ‘Where do I start?’”

But Emily is on a mission to make decorating far less scary. And the first thing to make cookie decorating easier is to master the art of the piping bag. Emily hopped on the phone with Chowhound to divulge some of her best tips and techniques for using (and cleaning) piping bags, along with some tricks for if you need to decorate cookies but don’t have any piping bags at home. Plus, at the very bottom you’ll find a recipe for a cookie honey glaze, one of Emily’s favorites.

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Plastic Wrap Is Key

Emily’s best tip for piping bags is one a lot of bakers haven’t tried before: employing plastic wrap. She suggests laying down a piece of plastic wrap, placing a dollop of buttercream in the middle, then rolling it up like a burrito. She snips off the end, slips the package into a plastic bag, and attaches the piping tip. Now you can immediately start piping—without worrying about dirtying a piping bag. Once you’re finished, throw away the plastic wrap and reuse the piping bags as many times as you can. It’s much more cost-effective, and the plastic wrap actually prevents your hands from warming the buttercream.  

Only Fill Your Piping Bag a Little at a Time

Johannah Chadwick

Emily stands by only adding about a cup of buttercream to your piping bag at a time, then continuing to fill it as needed. This way, you don’t have to worry about buttercream dripping out of the top.  

Related Reading: 9 Unique Ingredients to Add to Your Holiday Cookies

Coil the Piping Bag or Plastic Wrap at the Top

Make sure to close the top of the bag as best you can, so there won’t be any buttercream explosions.  

If You Are Out of Bags and Tips, Enlist A Trusty Spatula or Knife

Johannah Chadwick 

If you need to decorate cookies in a pinch but can’t rely on piping bags, simply snag a knife or spatula, run it under very hot water, and gently smooth over your buttercream. It’ll create a perfectly glossy, flat surface. 

Sprinkles Can Clean Up Any Mistakes

Made an error in your decorating? No matter. Grab some sprinkles and hide your mistake under a kaleidoscope of colors. 

Wash Out Piping Bags and Tips So You Can Use Them Again

This one may seem obvious, but it’s quite easy to merely throw away the bags when you’re done decorating. But cleaning the bags and tips is much more cost effective and environmentally friendly. Emily says she sterilizes the bags with a big of soap and water, and the tips can be washed in the dishwasher.   

Recipes excerpted with permission from “Creative Cookie Decorating” by Emily Hutchinson.

Honey Glaze Recipe

As soon as I made this glaze, my kids wanted to join in and help. I love decorating in the kitchen with my kids; Reese and I had so much fun making galaxy cookies. We added tiny gold stars after we dipped them. To make galaxy glaze, add blue, black, purple, and pink food coloring. There are so many possibilities, and it’s fun to come up with new ideas with your kids because they get so creative with their colors. These cookies were made with lots of laughs and a ton of love. Drizzle, dip, pour, or flood this yummy glaze over your cookies. Let it set for 1 to 2 hours or overnight. For plain glazed cookies, leave out step 6. This is the glaze I refer to throughout the book for marbling, so I’ve included those instructions here, as well.

Master Tip 

You can use 1 tablespoon of honey, if desired (my son prefers less honey). Mix in any colors to marbleize your cookies. Liquid food coloring will work best in marbling cookies because it’s thinner and can be swirled through the glaze with ease. Another option is to outline with buttercream and fill with glaze. Your glaze will dry harder than your buttercream because the buttercream just crusts over.

Honey Glaze

Ingredients
  • ½ tablespoon honey
  • 2 tablespoons milk plus 2 teaspoons
  • 1 teaspoon clear vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon lemon juice
  • 2¼ cups confectioners’ sugar
Instructions
  1. Mix honey and milk together in a medium bowl.
  2. Add clear vanilla and keep stirring.
  3. Add lemon juice. I know it sounds strange but it balances out the sweetness
  4. Sift your confectioners’ sugar to make sure there are no clumps and add it to the bowl.
  5. You should be able to pull the spoon straight up and it will drizzle down.
  6. Put a drop of liquid food coloring in glaze and gently swirl. Don’t overmix.
  7. Dip cookie straight down into glaze until its fully coated. Don’t swirl cookie.
  8. Pull straight up and let the glaze drip off for a second and quickly flip over.
  9. Pop any air bubbles with a toothpick or knife tip. Place on wire rack with parchment paper to catch any drips. Allow 2 hours to dry. Overnight for best results.

Header image courtesy of Johannah Chadwick.

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