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How to Decorate Cookies Like a Pro

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Whether people are trying to bake a batch of fall-themed sugar cookies for a Thanksgiving dinner or planning to bring a variety of homemade confectionery treats to a Christmas potluck, there are right ways and wrong ways to go about decorating.

While basic cookies might be fine for dessert after a family dinner, even novice home bakers can do better when it comes to sharing with friends and family. Read on to find some tips for how to decorate cookies like a pro.

Try Out Custom Shapes

There are tons of fun cookie cutters out there, so no aspiring expert baker has an excuse for sticking to nothing but rounds and squares. If there’s a special occasion coming up and not a single premade cookie cutter will do, it’s even possible to make custom shapes using parchment paper or cardboard. 

To make cookie cutters at home, just cut the cardboard or parchment paper into the desired shape, place it on top of the rolled-out cookie dough, and cut around it with a small, sharp knife. X-Acto knives are great for creating complex details and defined edges.

Freeze the Dough Before Cutting It

It can be hard to transfer cut cookies from the workspace onto a baking sheet without tearing or distorting them, but freezing the dough first will make it easier. Start by rolling out the cookie dough directly onto a piece of parchment paper, then move the whole sheet onto the baking tray. Place the tray in the freezer for around 10 minutes to firm up the butter, then cut them as usual.

Learn the Difference Between Frosting and Icing

Most home bakers use colored frosting to cover sugar cookies and colored icing to create unique, beautiful designs. For the icing, especially, it’s best to stick with gel food colors that are more concentrated than liquid food coloring. Those who are new to making their own frostings and icings can learn more about food coloring gel and how to use it online before getting started.

Invest in a Quality Piping Bag or Two

There are tons of instructional videos and articles online about how to create DIY piping bags using things like Ziploc baggies with their tips cut off. Unfortunately, these methods won’t offer the level of control that a real piping bag will. 

A piping bag is a simple tool composed of a plastic or coated canvas, a funnel-shaped bag, and a two-piece plastic piece that helps bakers secure tips onto it. With a high-quality piping bag, it’s easy to avoid icing drips and switch out piping tips as needed for different types of decorations. Investing in multiple piping bags and tips will allow home bakers to mix multiple colors at once and use them as they go instead of rinsing the tips and switching out the bags for each color.

Use the Piping and Flooding Technique

Experienced cookie decorators love the piping and flooding technique for applying icing because it’s the best way to create a smooth, professional finish. To use this technique, prepare a batch of thick icing, then use it to “pipe,” or outline the cookies. Once all the cookies have outlines, add some water to the rest of the frosting to thin it out until it’s pourable.

Let the Cookies Dry Before Packaging Them

This tip may seem obvious, but many a home baker who has waited until the last minute to make cookies for a party or a family meal has learned it the hard way, so it’s worth mentioning. Even if the cookies are cool and the icing is supposedly fast-drying, it’s always best to let the cookies dry overnight before attempting to package them.

Get Baking

No matter how simple or advanced a baker plans to get with designs, it’s always best to have a plan in place and get started early. Most cookie recipes can be mixed up in advance, which can make life easier for those who choose to make multiple types of desserts, and all frosted or iced cookies need to dry uncovered overnight before they can be packaged for transport. 

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