Sugar Cookie: Part 2 – The Icing
This is part two of a three part sugar cookie tutorial – the icing recipe. Now that you have your sugar cookies, you can add a layer of white icing which will become the perfect canvas for the final painted cookies. Or use this recipe to make colorful cookies to match the color scheme of any party or event.
This icing goes on thin and dries hard, smooth and glossy. The final look is similar to royal icing but I prefer this recipe as it does not use any egg whites. With no color added it will be slightly transparent but I have used this recipe successfully to achieve an opaque white, all shades of pink, blue, green, yellow and even black.
This recipe uses clear vanilla to maintain a light / white color. If you plan to make your cookies a darker color, regular vanilla will be fine. If you don’t have clear vanilla, you will hardly miss it in the final taste. If you are looking for an opaque white, add a few drops of the AmeriColor gel food color in bright white.
Measure all ingredients into the bowl of a stand mixer, or large bowl if you are using a hand mixer. Mix on ‘Stir’ or the lowest speed of your hand mixer to prevent air bubbles from forming. When you start mixing the icing will seem dry, then crumbly but will quickly become sticky and thick, requiring effort to move the mixer around the bowl. Here I am using the standard paddle attachment.
This recipe is not complicated but it can be tricky getting the consistency just right. We are looking for something thin enough to spread easily and dry smoothly, but thick enough to not slip off the edge of the cookie. The icing will be thick, imagine a bowl full of shampoo – but still come off the mixer in a thin stream when lifted. Test by scraping a straight line through the icing with a toothpick or knife. The line should hold for about 2 seconds before disappearing.
This frosting is too thick – it sticks and drips off in small blobs rather than a thin stream. If you are going to be coloring your icing, it is better to start too thick since just a couple extra drops of liquid can affect the consistency. If it’s too thick at your final color, add a very small splash of water. Go slowly in ~1/4 tsp increments, mixing and checking consistency after each addition.
Above: Icing at the right thickness will form a thin stream when pulled out of the bowl. Following the recipe exactly, I typically need to add in more water, BUT it’s better to start too thick rather than too thin. In the past I have experienced problems with the final look after adding more powdered sugar to thicken. If the sugar is not completely dissolved it may crystallize and form white spots on your cookies.
If you aren’t sure about the icing consistency, frost one cookie as a test. If it is difficult to move around the surface of the cookie with the spatula, it is still too thick. If it goes on easily, let it sit for several minutes. If it is too thin it may seem fine at first but start sliding over the edges as it dries.
Using an offset spatula or butter knife with a flat tip, scrape a dollop onto the end of knife and quickly lift it out of the bowl onto the cookie (it will be dripping). Place the icing towards the middle of your shape and gently push out to the edge, rotating the cookie until fully coated. Your spatula will never touch the outer edge of the icing, just bring it close enough to form the line or curve of your shape. The icing will flatten out as it dries leaving a smooth and even surface.
If the frosting dries out and becomes difficult to work with, add more water in small increments.
This method of frosting allows for a clean, contained edge without the need for piping. It also keeps the icing layer quite thin so it doesn’t overwhelm the taste of the cookie.
Sugar Cookie Icing Recipe
enough to frost ~3 dozen medium sized cookies
- powdered sugar – 2 cups or 8oz
- clear corn syrup – 2 tablespoons
- water – 2 1/2 tablespoons (plus more as needed)
- clear vanilla – 1/4 teaspoon (or additional water)
- optional: food color (gel or liquid, a few drops)
- Measure all ingredients except food color into a large mixing bowl. The corn syrup will be very sticky – just use a small spoon to scrape as much as you can out of the measuring spoon.
- Using a stand or hand mixer, mix on ‘Stir’ or low for at least 1 minute, until combined. Mixture will seem dry, then form crumbles before it smoothes out. Stop to scrape bottom and sides of bowl as needed. Remain mixing at lowest speed to prevent air bubbles.
- Check for a consistency similar to shampoo that flows off the mixing tongs when lifted out of the bowl and holds a line for 2 seconds. If frosting is too thick, add more water about 1/4 tsp at a time. Mix and check consistency again after each addition – a little goes a long way here. If making a colored icing, add the color first before any additional water since even a few drops of food color can affect the texture. See notes and photos above for more detail.
- If using food color, add one drop at a time and mix thoroughly. You can use either gel or liquid food color.
- Load an offset spatula or flat-tipped butter knife with icing. It will start to drip off right away, so move it quickly onto the cookie. Starting from the center, work around the edges of the entire cookie by pushing the icing outward. It should spread easily without sliding off the cookie.
These dry slowly so make sure you leave them for several hours before trying to stack or store. Once dry you should be able to touch the surface and apply light pressure with your finger without denting the icing. After the surface is completely dry, you are ready to turn these cookies into edible art with part 3 – cookie painting!