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How to use icing decorating tips

how to use icing decorating tips

rolling out cookies

1 Roll out your dough and cut out cookies directly on a sheet of parchment to fit your cookie sheet. Leave enough space between cut shapes for the cookies to spread a bit when baked.

2 Using a small spatula, carefully remove the scraps of dough from between the cookie shapes. You can ball this up and re-roll it.

3 Transfer the cookies, parchment and all, onto your cookie sheet. Voilà! Perfect cookies ready for baking, with no misshapen cookies from transferring with a spatula. See our recipe for Holiday Butter Cookies

royal icing… in 3 consistencies

Royal icing is opaque, dries hard, and is versatile. It’s great for everything from gluing together a gingerbread house to creating detailed cookie designs. Royal icing should be piped with a pastry bag. A variety of textures can be achieved depending on consistency.

This image illustrates three different consistencies for using royal icing. The top row is thick royal icing piped through a variety of star tips, or “detail” icing. To make the icing, beat with a stand mixer until thick and glossy, and stiff peaks form. A stiff peak will stand in a point when a spoon is dipped in the icing. Be careful not to over-beat the icing: it’ll lose its glossy sheen and could result in icing that flakes off the cookie when dry. This stiff icing can be used to create detailed piped textures with pastry tips such as star, grass, and leaf. At this stage, icing can be used right away, or stored airtight for a few days. You can divide and color your icing at this step, or thin it slightly first to make the “outline” icing below.

The middle row is “outline” icing – the stiff icing from above, thinned with a little water so that it has the consistency of toothpaste. It holds its shape when piped through the star tip, but the details are softer. This is the icing to use for outlining, writing, and detailing on cookies. Color the icing using gel paste or food color a bit at a time until you achieve the desired shade. Sometimes a small amount of color can make a big difference; it’s MUCH easier to darken a color than to lighten it up. The color will deepen as it sets, especially for dark colors like red, black, or brown.

The bottom row is icing thinned to flooding consistency. It should be about the consistency of thick syrup; imagine cold molasses. Piped through the same star tip, it loses shape but stays in a nice bead. To create “flooding” icing. slowly add water a bit at time to your tinted outline icing, using a silicone spatula. Using a mixer at this stage would add unwanted air bubbles to the icing. Flooding icing should be used within a few hours, or it will start to separate. This icing is used to create a smooth surface on cookies.

See our recipe for Royal Icing

Make quick and easy royal icing with our White Cookie Icing Mix

pastry bag & coupler

1 A coupler allows you to interchange pastry tips with the same bag of icing. The coupler is made up of a base and ring piece that screw together to hold a pastry tip.

2 To start, you’ll need a coupler that fits the tips you wish to use; tips, and a pastry bag. Place the coupler base, narrow end first, into the bag and push it snugly into the point – this will help you see how much of the bag to cut off. Adjust or remove the coupler base so you can snip off the end of the bag.

3 The opening should expose the end of the coupler, but the bag should cover the threads. Cutting too much of the bag can cause leakage, or the coupler could squeeze through.

    4 Place the desired tip onto the coupler.

    5 Screw the ring piece onto the base. This locks the tip, bag and coupler together. Tips can be changed by unscrewing the ring and inserting a different tip.

    6 The pastry bag is ready to fill. It helps to stand the bag in a tall glass so you don’t have to hold the bag upright while you spoon or pour in your icing. Fill it up to two-thirds full, then twist the end closed, securing with a bag clip or twist tie.


    1 Using outline icing (see royal icing. above) pipe around the outline of the cookie or shape to be filled. Use a #1 or #2 tip for this, or a pastry bag with just the very tip snipped off. Go ahead and outline a few cookies at a time, to allow the icing to set a bit.

    2 Using flooding icing (see royal icing. above), fill in the outlined shape. The outline icing acts as a dam to hold in the flooding icing while it dries into a nice, smooth surface.

    3 Gently tap the cookie, or jiggle side to side to help the icing spread evenly. Use a toothpick to guide the icing to the edges to completely fill the outline, and to pop any air bubbles. Air bubbles can leave the finished surface pitted, or with dark spots. Allow the flooded cookies to dry for several hours (or overnight) if you wish to add raised details or to paint on them.


    1 Start with a freshly flooded cookie; you want to work while the icing is still wet.

    2 Lay the cookie on a piece of parchment. Generously cover the cookie with sugar or sprinkles.

    3 Gently tap off the excess sugar.

    4 Use the parchment as a scoop to transfer the excess sugar back to a bowl, for further use. The flocked cookie can take several hours to dry.

    colored layers and embedded designs

    1 Start with a completely dry flooded cookie. This may take several hours or overnight.

    2 Using a second, colored icing, add details and designs by outlining and flooding certain areas, or simply by piping. Use wet icing to adhere decorations such as sugar pearls.


    1 Start with a freshly flooded cookie. You want to work while the icing is wet.

    2 Use a second flooding icing color to pipe dots or lines onto the cookie.

    3 Working quickly, before the icing starts to set, drag a toothpick through the icing to create marbled designs.

    Experiment to create different marbled patterns.

    On the star cookie (above), the toothpick was passed through the icing from the center out. Dots make nice hearts or petals; lines dragged in the same direction make a scalloped pattern like scales; and lines dragged alternately, in opposite directions. make a zigzag design; think knit sweater.


    1 Outline alternating parts of the desired design. It can help to sketch the design onto the cookie with a light colored food marker.

    2 Flood the outlined shapes. Let dry; this make take several hours.

    3 Outline and flood the remaining shapes in the design. You can use the same color, or try a different color for a variety of looks. Allowing drying time between outlining and filling shapes will create the puffy look where the edges meet; wet icing would run together and create a flat, smooth surface. This is a great technique for making the ribs on pumpkins, or any area where you want definition between shapes or colors.

    4 To add additional details to the design, allow the icing to dry. Use wet icing to adhere accents such as sugar pearls.

    white icing mix

    white icing mix

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