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If you need a cookie decorating alternative to traditional royal icing, this easy cookie icing is a great choice. It’s like a very thick opaque glaze and comes together with a fork, whisk, and mixing bowl. This cookie icing takes about 24 hours to completely dry and you can’t pipe intricate detail as you could with royal icing but if you want EASY cookie icing, this is it! All of the pictured cookies in this post use this icing.

decorated sugar cookies and gingerbread cookies with colorful icing on cooling rack

Yes, you can create gourmet-looking decorated cookies without royal icing!

Skip All The Fuss & Use This Easy Cookie Icing

If you’re looking for professional icing with a picture-perfect finish and the ability for lovely piped detail, use royal icing. I love this royal icing and use it often for decorating sugar cookies, but it can be finicky. You need a very precise consistency in order for the royal icing to pipe, set, and dry appropriately– it definitely requires practice and patience. Before I began working with royal icing, however, I used today’s easy cookie icing. It’s still one of my favorite ways to decorate sugar cookies because it’s low maintenance, but still delivers pretty (and delicious) results. Plus, it’s great for making ahead and manageable for kids and beginners.


You Will Love This Cookie Icing:

  • Easy to make with a fork, whisk, and bowl
  • No special equipment
  • 5 basic ingredients
  • Can use squeeze bottle or piping tips to decorate
  • Manageable for young bakers and/or beginners
  • Doesn’t dry into hard cement texture
  • After it dries, you can stack, freeze, and transport cookies

You can use this icing on cookie cutter cookies such as these sugar cookies, gingerbread cookies, and chocolate sugar cookies. You could even use it on shortbread wedge cookies or drizzled on spritz cookies. I even used it on some of these pictured Halloween cookies and nearly halved the icing recipe for these Christmas sugar cookies. *NOTE: So you have plenty of icing, I recommend the full recipe as written below.

confectioners' sugar and other icing ingredients

white cookie icing in glass bowl

5 Simple Ingredients

For the icing, you need confectioners’ sugar, water, vanilla extract (replace with water to keep the icing stark white), a touch of corn syrup, and a little salt. The icing dries firm with a very slight crisp, so you can easily stack your decorated sugar cookies and travel with them.

  • Why corn syrup? You only need 2 teaspoons. Corn syrup gives the icing sticking power and creates a beautiful sheen on the dried icing. I don’t recommend skipping it, but you can if absolutely needed.

The Right Consistency

The ratio of confectioners’ sugar to water keeps the icing thick. If you drizzle a little icing off the whisk into the bowl, the ribbon of icing will hold for a few seconds before melting back into the icing. That’s when you know it’s the right consistency.


Use A Squeeze Bottle or Piping Bags/Tips

Here’s what I recommend for piping tips:

  1. Disposable Piping Bags or Reusable Piping Bags
  2. Use Wilton piping tip #4 for outlining and flooding the cookies with icing. This is the same tip I usually use for royal icing, too.
  3. Couplers: Couplers are needed if you’re switching around your piping tips and icing colors. For example, if you only have one piping tip #4 but want to use this tip for multiple colors of icing. A coupler makes it easy to switch tips between bags of icing.
  4. Optional: Bag clips, bag ties, or rubber bands to keep piping bags closed. Team member and pro cookie decorator, Stephanie, got me hooked on these bag clips.

Or instead, use a squeeze bottle!

  • To make decorating a breeze, use a squeeze bottle. They’re less intimidating than piping tips and very easy for young bakers to hold and use.

Or… just dip your cooled cookies into the icing. No tools needed.

squeeze bottle and piping bag filled with white icing

decorating a sugar cookie with white icing using a squeeze bottle

gingerbread cookies and sugar cookies decorated with icing

Tinting The Icing Different Colors

You can keep the icing white or tint it your desired color. Use gel food coloring because liquid food coloring can change the consistency. I like the brand AmeriColor– you can find their gel colors in the baking aisle of craft stores or give it a quick search online. I use and recommend (affiliate links) this set of 6 colors or this set of 12 colors. Pictured cookies used Super Red, very little Deep Pink for a pastel shade, and Leaf Green with 1 *very tiny* dot of Super Black to darken the green shade.

  • As Icing Dries, It Darkens: As icing sits in a piping bag/squeeze bottle before using AND as it dries on a cookie, the color darkens. This is the case with most colors, particularly red and black. When I make black icing, it’s usually blue-ish gray in the bowl and piping bag and then as it dries, it darkens into a black shade. Don’t go overboard on food coloring because the color will deepen as the icing dries.
  • Can I Use Natural Food Coloring For Cookie Icing? Yes, absolutely! I’ve used the brand Supernatural and they have a line of natural powdered food coloring that’s available in a few colors. You need to dissolve the coloring in a little water before using, so make sure that you very slightly reduce the amount of water needed in the icing recipe. (Note: If you ever need to thicken the icing back up after adding the coloring, you can whisk in a little more confectioners’ sugar.)

bowls of colored icing and white sprinkles

decorated sugar cookies and gingerbread cookies with colorful icing on cooling rack

This Cookie Icing Requires Planning Ahead

The icing needs at least 24 hours to dry. This is much longer than royal icing, which usually dries in 2 hours. But no one says you need to wait for the decorated cookies to dry before serving and eating! If you’re stacking, storing, or transporting your iced cookies, however, dry icing is crucial.

Cookie Recipes

PS: If you want to decorate cookies with buttercream frosting instead, use this vanilla buttercream. Feel free to keep it on the thicker side by reducing 1 Tablespoon of milk/cream.

Print
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decorating a sugar cookie with white icing using a squeeze bottle

Easy Cookie Icing

  • Author: Sally
  • Prep Time: 5 minutes
  • Cook Time: 0 minutes
  • Total Time: 5 minutes
  • Yield: about 1.5 cups icing 1x
  • Category: Baking
  • Method: Whisking
  • Cuisine: American

Description

If you need a cookie decorating alternative to traditional royal icing, this sugar cookie icing is a great choice. It’s like a very thick glaze. This icing takes awhile to dry, about 24 hours, and you can’t pipe detail very well but if you want simple decoration and a simple icing, this is it!


Ingredients

Scale
  • 3 cups (360g) confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (omit and replace with water for stark white icing)
  • 2 teaspoons light corn syrup*
  • 4.55 Tablespoons (67-75ml) room temperature water
  • pinch salt*

Instructions

  1. Using a fork, stir the confectioners’ sugar, vanilla, corn syrup, and 4.5 Tablespoons (67ml) of water together in a medium bowl. It will be very thick and almost impossible to stir. Switch to a whisk and whisk in 1/2 Tablespoon (8ml) of water. If you lift the whisk and let the icing drizzle back into the bowl, the ribbon of icing will hold shape for a few seconds before melting back into the icing. That is when you know it’s the right consistency and is ready to use. If it’s too thick (sometimes it is), whisk in another 1/2 Tablespoon (8ml) of water or a little more until you reach the consistency.
  2. If desired, stir in gel food coloring. You can pour some icing into different bowls if using multiple colors. When tinting icing, only use 1-2 drops at first, stir it in, then add more as needed to reach your desired color. Remember, color darkens as icing dries.
  3. Decorate: Spoon icing into squeeze bottles or piping bags fitted with Wilton Piping Tip #4. Decorate your cookies as desired. I usually outline cookies with icing first, then fill in the middle. If adding sprinkles on top of the icing, add them right after applying icing on your cookie.
  4. Let icing dry/set: Feel free to enjoy cookies before icing completely dries. Icing dries in 24 hours. No need to cover the decorated cookies as you wait for the icing to set. If it’s helpful, decorate the cookies directly on a baking sheet so you can stick the entire baking sheet in the refrigerator to help slightly speed up the icing setting. Once the icing has dried, these cookies are great for gifting or for sending.
  5. The shelf life of your decorated cookies depends on the cookie recipe you are using. If using my sugar cookies, cover and store decorated cookies for up to 5 days at room temperature or up to 10 days in the refrigerator.
  6. Making Ahead & Storing Icing: If not decorating right away, cover the icing tightly and keep in the refrigerator for up to 2 days. You can store in piping bags (with clips or rubber bands to seal ends), in squeeze bottles, or covered in bowl or container. Bring to room temperature before using. If icing has thickened up, add a few drops of water and mix in to thin out. Depending how you stored the icing (squeeze bottle/piping bag/container or bowl) shake squeeze bottle to mix/massage piping bag to mix/whisk in bowl or container to mix.

Notes

  1. Freezing Instructions: I do not recommend making and freezing this icing before using to decorate your cookies. It’s not as smooth and easy to use after thawing. However, decorated sugar cookies freeze well up to 3 months. Wait for the icing to set completely before layering between sheets of parchment paper in a freezer-friendly container. To thaw, thaw in the refrigerator or at room temperature.
  2. Corn Syrup: Corn syrup gives the icing sticking power and creates a beautiful sheen on the dried icing. I don’t recommend skipping it, but you can if absolutely needed.
  3. Salt: I know salt isn’t a typical ingredient in cookie icing, but it helps offset its sweetness. You just need a small pinch.
  4. Yield: This amount of icing is enough for icing 2 dozen cookies. You’ll have plenty if you want to divide it and tint the batch multiple colors, too. Icing can easily be halved by halving all of the ingredients. (Still add a tiny pinch of salt.)
  5. Decorating Supplies (affiliate links): You can use squeeze bottles or piping bags/tips to pipe this icing. If using piping bags/tips, you need Disposable Piping Bags or Reusable Piping Bags, Piping Tips such as Wilton Piping Tip #4  (my favorite), Couplers if you’re switching tips/icing colors, and something to seal the end of the bag such as bag clipsbag ties, or rubber bands.
  6. Cookies & Sprinkles in Photos (affiliate links): Pictured cookies are sugar cookies and gingerbread cookies made with these cookie cutters and the ball ornament from this set. Sprinkles used on pictured decorated cookies are plain white sprinkles, these white balls on the Christmas trees, Wilton Pearlized Silver Sugar Food Decorative, this white sparkling sugar, and red balls from a sprinkle mix like this on reindeer.

Keywords: easy cookie icing

 

Reader Questions and Reviews

  1. Why does the color drain out after a few days, turn white? I kept some in an air tight container and some on the kitchen counter- both did the same thing!

    1. Hi Kathy, I haven’t experienced that and I’ve stored cookies for a couple weeks before. What type of food coloring are you using? I usually use gel.

  2. Is the icing the same thickness to do the outline of the cookie as it is to flood or fill the inside also or do I have to use 2 consistencies please?

    1. Love this!! Did you use the exact same amount of honey as the recipe calls for corn syrup? I would prefer to use honey instead. Thank you!!

    2. Based on your comment, I used an equal amount of maple syrup to the corn syrup called for and it was great. The blue and yellow colored icing definitely had brown undertones but the greens and reds turned out great. Consistency very easy to work with. I did hope it would impart some maple flavor but it didn’t particularly. Still delicious.

  3. Hi sally
    Would this recipe be good one to use when I want to practice making decorations on wax paper
    or is there a cheaper recipe I can use

    Thank you

  4. How long would this icing stay the correct consistency for decorating? I’m hoping to make it and colour it in advance, and transport the squeeze bottles to an event for easy decorating but I want to make sure it would still be usable (probably would make 1-2 hours before using)

  5. Hey Sally I was wondering if swerve sugar free confectioners sugar could work in your easy glaze icing and I try not to have too much sugar

    1. Hi Ruth! We’d love to help but we are not trained in baking with sugar substitutes. For best taste and texture (and so you don’t waste your time trying to adapt this recipe since it may not work properly), it may be more useful to find a recipe that is specifically formulated for sugar substitutes. Thank you!

  6. How long do they take to set? Also I am freezing them in advance so one hey are set can I stack with parchment between

    1. Hi Winter, The exact time really depends on the consistency of your icing and how thick you layer it on. It may feel dry to the touch in a few hours but to stack them we usually try to wait closer to 24 hours just to be sure they are completely dry.

    1. Hi Jennifer! We actually haven’t tested this icing with that method, but I don’t see why it wouldn’t work. Let us know if you give it a try!

  7. Will this icing work if sealed in piping bags and gifted as ‘decorate your own’ cookie packages? Will it be okay in a piping bag for a few days?

    1. Hi Alison! Icing is fine at room temperature for up to 3 days. After that, it’s best to refrigerate it.

      1. The Wilton website states that the royal icing using their meringue powder will keep at room temperature in airtight containers for up to 6 months!

  8. I’m excited to try this recipe. I’m wondering if the drying time is shorter when you are just doing outlines, etc (not covering the whole cookie)?

    1. Hi Laurie, It should be! The thicker you layer on the icing the longer it will take to dry – so just doing outlines should dry relatively faster. Have fun!

  9. Hello! If I do not have corn syrup, what can I substitute and how much of it would I need for the posted recipe? Thanks!

    1. Hi Nazia, We’ve never tested this icing with a substitute but you can simply skip it if absolutely needed.

  10. About how many gingerbread cookies will one batch of this icing decorate? Also, I want to make white, red, and green icing. Can I make one batch (to divide for those colors) and use water instead of vanilla extract? In other words, will the food coloring work to make red and green if water was used? Or, do I need to make a separate batch for them using vanilla extract?

    1. Hi DeAnna, it depends how much icing you want to use on the cookies– this recipe is enough to fully cover and decorate 2 dozen 3-4 inch cookies. You can separate 1 batch into a few bowls for different icing. You can leave out the vanilla if desired. (The icing is still white even when you add the vanilla.) The food coloring will work if you add vanilla.

  11. If I only have regular food coloring, Is this okay? I can’t seem to find any gels in enough time to frost my cookies. TIA! 🙂

    1. Hi Rachael! Yes, you can use regular food coloring. Your colors may not be as vibrant but still beautiful!

    1. Hi Courtney! The icing is quite liquid and wouldn’t spread on with a knife. You could try drizzling with a spoon. Or you can always use a simple plastic bag with a tiny tip cut off as a makeshift piping bag. Let us know how it goes!

  12. Hi Sally! Love your recipes. I made icing last Friday but never got around to making the dough until today. Is the icing still good as long as it’s been refrigerated?

    1. Hi Courtney, We only recommend storing the icing in the fridge for up to two days, but do whatever you’re comfortable with!

    1. Hi Jody! We always prefer to use gel food coloring for the most vibrant colors – Americolor makes great ones.

  13. Best cookie icing recipe I have ever used! So easy to work with and it isn’t overly sweet!! Thanks for sharing.

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