Baking cookies is one thing, but decorating is a whole other story. Sure, you can whip up a batch of chocolate chip cookies without any fail, but when it comes to replicating the kind of buttercream cookie decorations that are ubiquitous in bakeries and even talented neighbors’ kitchens, it’s not always such an easy project.
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Luckily, there’s a cookbook for that. “Cookie Class,” by Jenny Keller of Jenny Cookies Bake Shop in Lake Stevens, Wash., is filled with over 100 decorating ideas, starting with sugar cookie dough as a vehicle. Easily decorate cookies with piped palm trees, diamond rings, and rainbows with Jenny’s step-by-step guides and photos, where she makes sure that there’s no guessing games on the decorating part. Throughout the book, Jenny provides an assortment of decorating tips—from investing in disposable pastry bags to opting for less is more.
Cookie Class, $17.18 on Amazon
Keep reading for all of Jenny’s cookie decorating tips, then get into the winter wonderland zone with her recipe for jolly snowmen cookies. Her version opts for perfectly round sugar cookies, swiped with a circle of white icing (infused with a bit of peppermint extract, if you like), a smattering of black dots to represent eyes and a mouth, and a quick loop of orange frosting for that cute carrot nose. The finished product will look impressive—as if a handful of snow gracefully fluttered into your kitchen—and when your friends ask, “Where’d you buy those cookies?” you’ll be quick to inform them that they, too, can craft bakery-worthy cookies with just a few tools.
Recipe and text excerpted with permission from “Cookie Class” by Jenny Keller, published by HarperCollins Publishers.
Here comes the fun part! But first, some advice before beginning.
When decorating cookies, always use disposable pastry bags. They are faster and easier to use than a knife and much simpler to use with children, and they make cleanup a breeze. I prefer to use 12-inch (30.5-cm) bags. They hold less icing but allow me to keep a steadier hand while decorating.
Before attaching a decorating tip to your bag, consider using a coupler. Couplers make it easy to switch decorating tips without having to use a separate bag. Once your bag is ready to fill with icing, be sure to fill no more than half full to ensure a good grip and better control when piping. Overfilling your bag may result in a giant mess, with icing oozing out the top of the bag and giving your hand a cramp! The more icing you put inside the bag, the more icing your hand has to squeeze to pipe.
My number one decorating rule is to keep decorating simple. The more you add, the messier it can get. I typically keep faces and extra details to a minimum. Simplify decorating by using only two or three colors of icing. You’ll save on cleanup time and still get gorgeous designs. You can also use one color and make three shades of it to give your cookies a gradient look.
When covering a cookie in icing, I always outline the cookie before filling it in. I prefer not to decorate all the way to the edges, leaving some of the cookie to show so that when it is transferred to a display piece or packaging, the cookie icing doesn’t smear.
You only need a few decorating tips to create hundreds of designs. Each decorating tip is numbered, but different brands have different numbering systems. I love to use Wilton decorating tips. A standard round decorating tip will likely be your new best friend. Wilton’s #1 and #2 tips are great for writing and fine detail, while #3 and #4 tips are used more often for outlining and filling in shapes. Star tips (#16 and #18) are great for creating texture in cookies. I use them to make animal fur, snowflakes, types of food, and flowers. Flower designs in particular might require a bit more advanced decorating skills, but you don’t need a lot of different kinds of tips to create pretty blossoms. For example, using the Wilton #104 tip can make several different designs; simply change the way you angle the bag and tip, from 45 degrees (see page 28) to vertically straight up and down and more.
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The final piece of advice I can offer is this: When decorating cookies, do not stress about making your cookies look perfect! Give yourself a break and have fun with it. The more you decorate, the better you’ll get. If you make a mistake, just scrape it off with a knife and start again—or better yet, eat it!
Note from Jenny
When snipping the tip of a pastry bag, don’t cut off too much! It’s always better to cut less and adjust or else your decorating tip or coupler may slide right out of the hole, especially when you exert pressure on the bag.
When to Break Out Couplers
Before you fill your pastry bag(s) with icing, decide how you plan to decorate. If you’ll be using one color with just one tip, then snip the tip of the pastry bag, insert the decorating tip, fill the bag with icing, and get started! But if you want to use the same tip with more than one color, it’s time to break out the couplers.
Couplers are a two-part plastic piece that allow you to change out tips on the same bag of icing. Snip the tip of the pastry bag, insert the coupler base so that it pokes out of the hole a bit, fit the desired tip on the base, and then screw on the coupler ring to hold the tip in place. When you want to change tips, simply unscrew the ring and repeat.
- Sugar cookies become all the more whimsical with sprinkles, nonpareils, sanding sugars, and more. To make sure they stick, add them when the icing is not yet dry.
- Use sprinkles to disguise mistakes or messy decorating. Simply dip the decorated cookies into a bowl of sanding sugar or sprinkles and voilà!
- Add sprinkle accents to cookies by using them as elements on the cookie. Nonpareils become fans on a football field or the coat of a llama, brown sprinkles resemble Big Foot’s fur, and a mixture of sprinkles stands in for candy. Get creative!
- Combine sanding sugar, nonpareils, confetti quins, pearls, and sprinkles to create a personalized sprinkle mix.
Jolly Snowmen Recipe
Give these snowmen cookies a holiday flavor by adding peppermint extract to the icing before decorating.
- 1 batch Sugar Cookie Dough
- 2½-inch (6.35-cm) round cookie cutter
- 3 pastry bags
- 1 Wilton #1A decorating tip
- 1 Wilton #2 decorating tip
- 1 Wilton #3 decorating tip
- 1 batch buttercream Icing (page 26), divided and dyed as follows
- ½ cup (120 ml) black
- ½ cup (120 ml) orange
- Remainder undyed (white)
- Follow baking instructions for sugar cookie dough.
- Fit one pastry bag with the #1A decorating tip and fill with white icing. Fit one pastry bag with #2 decorating tip and fill with the black icing. Fit one pastry bag with the #3 decorating tip and fill with orange icing.
- Using the white icing, pipe a large dollop onto the cookie to cover the entire surface. If your icing ends up shaped like a chocolate kiss, gently tap the cookie on the counter to encourage the icing to settle.
- Using the black icing, pipe the snowman’s eyes and mouth.
- Using the orange icing, pipe a nose to resemble a carrot.
Photography by Kelly Clare Photography.