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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.

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.

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.

  • 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, 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.

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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


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*
  • 4.55 Tablespoons (67-75ml) room temperature water
  • pinch salt*


  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.


  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. Love this icing. First time was in a hurry to try it and no corn syrup but did have apple syrup. Love the shine, easy to work with and so yummy. Thanks for this great tip.

  2. I’m so excited to begin holiday baking. Your cookies are just beautiful. Just a comment/ question before I prepare to make these.
    I have found that the pearls and balls in decorations are so hard that you could chip a tooth eating them. I do love the look of your decorations though. Is there a brand that is not so hard on the teeth? I’ve tried Wilton and found them too hard. Thank you kindly.

    1. Hi Jennie, thank you so much! The sprinkle balls can certainly be hard and they are not my preferred choice. I prefer jimmies/sprinkles. I really like the coarse sparkling sprinkles pictured on some cookies and mentioned in the notes– they also slightly soften on the wet icing as it dries.

  3. Note that there are clear vanilla extracts – well, ok, clear _imitation_ vanilla extracts. But at least the vanilla flavor is there, even in pure white icing.

    1. Hi Kelly, once the icing is dry, a light layer would work just fine. Just don’t saturate it or the moisture could begin to break down the icing (at least that’s how it works for royal icing and I can’t imagine it would be different here).

  4. Hi Sally,
    This may sound strange but how do you get the icing in the squeeze bottle without getting all over the counter like I do !

    1. Hi Susan! Mix the icing up in a large liquid measuring cup (4 cup size) or any mixing bowl with a spout. Hope this helps!

  5. Hello,
    I was just wondering if there is an alternative for Corn Syrup, as I am located in the UK and we don’t have it here. We do have golden syrup as well as glycerine. Would these work as an alternative.

    1. Sure can! 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.

    1. Hi Angela, you can try but the glaze may end up tasting creamy or may not set the same way.

  6. Hi Sally,
    Could I replace the corn syrup with honey? I can’t find any type of syrup where I live…
    Thank you!

    1. Hi Juan, you can but if you’re unable to find corn syrup, you can just omit it. Hope you enjoy the icing!

  7. Hi Sally,

    Would I be able to use regular corn syrup or does it have to be light corn syrup?


    1. Hi Becca! You really want light corn syrup in this recipe for both color and flavor.

  8. It looks so simple to make. I just think my kids won´t be able to wait 24 hour for them to dry. Lol!
    I don’t have light corn syrup, I do have dark corn syrup. Since it is only 2 teaspoons, do you think I can use it. If so what should I expect differently.

    1. Hi Erika! Dark corn syrup will make the icing darker and add a different flavor, we don’t recommend using it. You may leave it out if you aren’t concerned about shiny, glossy icing.

  9. Can icing be spread with a pastry brush – I have my grandkids frost turkey shape cookies before Thanksgiving dinner to keep them amused and usually just do powdered sugar with milk but would love to try your recipe?

    1. Hi Judith, we can’t see why not. Feel free to thin it out a bit more if needed in order to use the pastry brush. Have fun!

  10. May I replace the corn syrup with maple syrup? My husband and children are allergic to corn products. Thank you.

    1. Hi Candy, you can omit the corn syrup if needed. Hope you enjoy the icing!

  11. Would I be able to cover the entire cookie in one layer, let it dry, then add in more icing over top of the dried layer? For example if I wanted to have specific spots for sprinkles to stick to for decoration.

    1. Hi Shannon! Yes, but this icing takes quite a while to fully dry.

  12. I used this recipe last year and decorated aron of cookies, everyone loved them! Definitely doing them again this year!

  13. How can I make the brown icing (moose head) shown in the main photo? Hope this recipe is very gingery-spicy.

    1. Hi Suzanne! The icing on that cookie was dyed brown with some gel food coloring – you could try adding some spices as well if you wish!

  14. Can I use honey instead of confectioners sugar and if I can, how much honey should I use?

    1. I do not recommend honey as a replacement for the confectioners’ sugar. You could use it to replace the corn syrup if desired though.

  15. I have used this recipe in the past both with water and also with milk. I froze the cookies for about two weeks. When I took them out of the freezer there were spots on my icing that had changed color. I was wondering if you have any idea what would have caused that?

    1. Hi Barb, those spots are most likely a result of moisture pooling on the tops of your cookies. Make sure to let the icing completely dry for a full 24 hours before freezing.

  16. It says this can be stored up to two days would 3 days be too long? I’m taking these on a trip to decorate cookies with my niece and nephews but need to make it in advance and it can’t be used for about three days? Thanks I’m advance

    1. Hi Ava, it *should* be ok. It may need to be whisked again after sitting and/or need an extra few drops of water to thin out.

  17. I want to add an edible paper image to the cookie after 24 hours. Do you suggest brushing with corn syrup to adhere the image?

    1. Hi Mary Beth, Yes you can brush lightly with corn syrup to adhere the edible paper. Just make sure your icing is 100% dry first.

  18. Sprinkles seem to bleed their color in icing. If I wait the 24 hours the sprinkles roll right off. What is the proper way to put sprinkles on the icing? Thanks for the help.

    1. Hi Karen! It’s best to add them while the icing is still wet. Using high quality sprinkles will help to keep them from bleeding!

  19. Do you think I can substitute lemon juice for the water or would the acid stop it from setting?

    1. Hi Chris, You could replace some of the water with lemon juice. Enjoy!

  20. I followed all the directions carefully but the frosting was so thin that I added 1/2 to 1 cup more of confectioners sugar ( I had sifted it after measuring out the 3 cups for the recipe). It never really thickened up & was challenging to frost the cookies with. Did I do something wrong?? Would love to make it again. Thanks

    1. Hi Joanne! The wonderful thing about a simple recipe like this is that you can always adjust it to your needs – feel free to add as much confectioners’ sugar as needed to get the icing to your desired consistency.

  21. I just made the icing but had difficulty getting it think enough. I followed the recipe carefully but added 1/2 to 1 cup additional confectioners sugar to try to thicken it but didn’t seem to help much. Not sure if it was a problem that I sifted the sugar after measuring it. At any rate would love your advice. I’d like to make the icing again!

    1. Hi Joanne! You can keep adding powdered sugar as needed until the icing reaches your desired consistency.

  22. Hi. How long do you wait to add another color to the cookie? I don’t want them to run together. Thanks!

    1. Hi Cheryl! This icing takes quite a long time to set – about 24 hours to completely set. For more intricate designs we recommend our royal icing recipe!

  23. If I waited 24 hours for the icing to dry could I then add another colour to it as decorations?

    1. Hi Bernie, yes, but this icing takes quite a while to fully dry. Be sure the icing is fully dried and set before adding on another color. Or for more intricate designs, we recommend our royal icing instead. Happy decorating!

  24. What type of salt do you recommend? Your recipe calls for only a pinch… but do you prefer kosher? Fine sea salt? Table salt?

    1. Hi Noreen, unless otherwise mentioned, we use regular table salt in our recipes.

  25. 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.

  26. 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?

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