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.
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 cookies or drizzled on spritz cookies. I even used it on some of these pictured Halloween cookies and these Christmas sugar cookies. You could use it to make Valentine’s Day cookies, Easter cookies, and fireworks celebration cookies, too. (Note that the photos in those recipes show royal icing, but this cookie icing will work for less intricate designs.)
5 Simple Ingredients
For the icing, you need confectioners’ sugar, water, vanilla extract (replace with water to keep the icing stark white, or use clear vanilla extract), 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:
- Disposable Piping Bags or Reusable Piping Bags
- 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. (And great for piping spider webs on Halloween cupcakes!)
- 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.
- Optional: Bag clips, bag ties, or rubber bands to keep piping bags closed.
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 use.
Or… just dip your cooled cookies into the icing. No tools needed.
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.
- 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.)
This Cookie Icing Requires Planning Ahead
The icing needs at least 24 hours to dry, but you can certainly eat them prior to the icing drying. This is much longer than royal icing, which usually dries in 2 hours.
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.
Looking for more holiday baking inspiration? Here are 75+ Christmas cookies with all my best success guides & tips.Print
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!
- 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*
- 4.5–5 Tablespoons (67-75ml) room temperature water
- pinch salt*
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Salt: I know salt isn’t a typical ingredient in cookie icing, but it helps offset its sweetness. You just need a small pinch.
- 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.)
- 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 clips, bag ties, or rubber bands.
- Cookies & Sprinkles in Photos (affiliate links): Pictured cookies are sugar cookies and gingerbread cookies made with Christmas cookie cutters (the exact set is no longer available, but here is a set with similar shapes) 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