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Easy Sugar Cookie Icing

This sugar cookie icing is the only icing you will ever need because it's the best tasting! It contains just four ingredients, dries hard, and is easy to color.

decorated sugar cookies on grey plate

I'm getting excited thinking and planning for Christmas baking.

One of my favorite things to make during the holidays is cookies. They are practically the best for shipping to friends and family scattered across the US.

Sugar cookies are often a safe bet when sending cookies. Almost everyone enjoys a soft, sturdy cookie flavored with sweet buttery vanilla. Especially when they are decorated with the tastiest icing ever!

This sugar cookie icing recipe is adapted from my friends Donna and Chad's new cookbook, The Simple Kitchen. They are the faces behind The Slow Roasted Italian and this is their first cookbook. It's definitely one they should feel proud of.


Why this recipe works

  • Lemon juice takes the icing to a whole new level of deliciousness.
  • Light corn syrup is added to give the icing shine and help it set quicker.
  • The icing dries hard like royal icing and can be used to decorate all types of cookies.
bowl of blue sugar cookie icing

Icing that is smooth, firm, and glossy when it hardens is the best icing for sugar cookies. It should dry hard and allow the cookies to be stacked.

The great thing about this recipe is it's made with just a few simple ingredients and so incredibly easy to make. You only need four ingredients, a bowl, and a spoon.

I chose to use lemon juice as my prefered liquid because I think it tastes the best when compared to water, cream, or milk. Fresh lemon juice is subtle and tastes like lemonade when mixed with powdered sugar.

I also add a splash of vanilla but this really isn't necessary when using lemon juice.


Ingredients

You only need 4 ingredients for my homemade sugar cookie icing.

  • Powdered sugar: This becomes the base of the icing. I recommend sifting it to remove any clumps. This will allow it to dissolve easily once the liquid is added.
  • Corn syrup: I highly suggest using it! It will help the icing dry hard and it adds shine. This is one of the key ingredients to help mimic royal icing.
  • Lemon juice: Lemon juice will make the frosting taste like lemonade but it's subtle and pleasant. I prefer using this over water, milk, or cream.
  • Vanilla: You only need a splash of vanilla when using lemon juice since all the flavor comes from the lemon.

What can I use in place of corn syrup?

While the corn syrup plays a vital role in the appearance of the frosting and how it sets, you can omit it if you really don't want to use it. Just add a bit more liquid to compensate.

What can I use in place of lemon juice?

Lemon juice offers the best flavor. If you're not a fan of lemon I suggest using half lemon juice and half water. This will dilute the lemon and make it more subtle.

You can also opt to use milk or heavy cream.

What can use in place of vanilla extract?

You can omit the vanilla if using lemon juice as the liquid. Otherwise, almond extract is a tasty option that works well with water, milk, or cream.

Experiment with other extracts such as peppermint or orange for Christmas cookies.


I've seen a lot of tutorials that say you need two thicknesses of icing for decorating cookies. One for outlining and one for flooding.

One thing I found when testing methods for the best sugar cookie icing is the different consistencies will be visible on the decorated cookie. There will be a clear distinct outline instead of a smooth flat surface.

My way of avoiding this is to use one icing consistency that works for outlining and flooding. For this to happen, it needs to be slightly thicker than honey.

green, white, red, blue, and yellow sugar cookie icing in piping bags

Step 1: Make the icing

In a large mixing bowl, add powdered sugar, corn syrup, and vanilla extract.

Add 3-4 tablespoons of lemon juice or the liquid of your choice and stir well. The icing may still be quite thick at this point.

Continue to add the liquid, ½ tablespoon at a time, and mix well after each addition. Do this until the icing is not as thick as toothpaste but not as thin as honey. It should be somewhere in between.

bowl of powdered sugar next to a bowl of sugar cookie icing

Divide the icing among small bowls. Use one bowl for each color. Add a small dab of gel food coloring for icing to the bowls and stir to combine. Add a little of the food coloring at a time until the results are desirable.

plain sugar cooking icing with a dot of food coloring next to a bowl of icing colored red

How to ice sugar cookies

Transfer the icing to a decorating bag fitted with a small piping tip. I like to use the #2 tip by Wilton. Set out several bowls with an assortment of dragees, sprinkles, and non-pareils.

Pipe an outline around the inner edge of the cookie. Let it sit for just a minute or two then fill in the inner section with the same color. Immediately take a toothpick or icing needle and work the icing to fill in any exposed areas.

For a completely smooth surface, don't wait too long to fill in the outline. If the online dries too much you will see the distinction between the outline and inner area.

Adding sprinkles: Apply sprinkles immediately after icing while the icing is still wet or the sprinkles will not stick. Do this over a sheet of parchment paper for easy cleanup.

piping white icing on star shaped cookies

How long does this icing take to harden?

The top of the icing will begin to set after 1-2 hours but it will take at least 24 hours for the icing to fully harden.

It's best to decorate cookies the day before you plan to serve them and allow them to harden overnight. Don't put the cookies into a container until the icing fully sets. Leave them on a baking sheet or wire rack to air dry.

How much icing does this recipe make?

This recipe makes a lot of icing! It will yield enough to ice about 67 3-inch cookies. You can easily halve the recipe if you need less icing. But leftover icing will keep stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks.

bowls of red, yellow, green, and blue icing with sugar cookies

Tips for success

  • Sift the powdered sugar to remove clumps. This makes it easier to dissolve when adding the liquid.
  • Gradually add the liquid to avoid adding too much. Humidity can affect how much liquid you need.
  • Practice piping on a sheet of parchment paper before you begin decorating cookies. This will give you a feel for how much pressure to use when squeezing out the icing. Plus it's a good way to get used to holding the piping while drawing.

Storing & Freezing

To store: Leftover icing will keep for up to 3 weeks stored in the refrigerator. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap or transfer to a piping bag that doesn't have the end snipped off and secure it closed with a rubber band.

Place the iced cookies in an airtight container and store at room temperature for up to 5 days. Or in the refrigerator for up to 10 days. (Make sure the icing is dry and layer with parchment paper.)

To Freeze: Iced cookies will keep for up to 3 months in the freezer. Once the icing is dry, layer with sheets of parchment paper in a freezer-safe container. Thaw in the refrigerator overnight or set the cookies out to thaw at room temperature.

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bowls of red, yellow, green, and blue icing with sugar cookies

Sugar Cookie Icing

Yield: enough to ice 67 3-inch cookies
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 10 minutes

This sugar cookie icing is truly the best tasting! It's made with just 4 ingredients, dries hard like royal icing, and is perfect for decorating cookies for any occasion!

Ingredients

  • 4 cups (480 g) confectioners' sugar, sifted
  • 3 tablespoons corn syrup - Note 1
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ½ cup (120 ml) fresh lemon juice - Note 2
  • Gel food coloring for icing

Instructions

  1. In a large bowl, combine the confectioners' sugar, corn syrup, vanilla, and 3 tablespoons of lemon juice. Stir with a whisk or spatula. The mixture will be thick and possibly dry at this point.
  2. Continue adding ½ tablespoon of lemon juice at a time, mixing well after each addition, until the icing is smooth and slightly thicker than honey.
  3. Divide the icing among the number of bowls needed for decorating, or use as is.
  4. Stir in the food coloring, one drop at a time, until the desired color is reached.
  5. Pour the icing into decorator bags fitted with a Wilton #2 piping tip. Keep unused icing covered tightly until ready to use or it will start to harden.
  6. Working with one cookie at a time, pipe an outline around the inner edge of the cookie. Let it sit for just a minute or two then fill in the inner section with the same color. Immediately take a toothpick or icing needle and work the icing to fill in any exposed areas. Decorate with sprinkles while the icing is still wet.
  7. Allow cookies to dry for 24 hours before storing but cookies can be eaten before the icing has set.

Notes

  1. The corn syrup is used to help the icing harden. It also adds shine. You can omit it if you don't wish to used it but the icing will need little more liquid to compensate.
  2. I prefer the taste of lemon juice over other liquids. It's subtle and has a light lemonade flavor. You can use half lemon juice and half water for a milder flavor. Milk or heavy cream are also okay to use.
  3. Skip the lemon juice and experiment with different extract flavors. Almond, peppermint, and orange are great. Use water, milk, or cream as the liquid when changing up the extracts.
  4. Read through the blog post above for more helpful tips on making the icing and using it for decorating.

Make ahead tip

  1. Leftover icing will keep for up to 3 weeks stored in the refrigerator. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap or transfer to a piping bag that doesn't have the end snipped off and secure it closed with a rubber band.
  2. Place iced cookies in an airtight container and store at room temperature for up to 5 days. Or in the refrigerator for up to 10 days. (Make sure the icing is dry and layer with parchment paper.)
  3. Iced cookies will keep for up to 3 months in the freezer. Once the icing is dry, layer with sheets of parchment paper in a freezer-safe container. Thaw in the refrigerator overnight or set the cookies out to thaw at room temperature.

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Nutrition Information:
Yield: 67 Serving Size: 1 tablespoon
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 29Total Fat: 0gSaturated Fat: 0gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 0gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 1mgCarbohydrates: 7gFiber: 0gSugar: 7gProtein: 0g

* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet. Since different brands of ingredients have different nutritional information, the values shown are just an estimate.

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Post updated November 2020 with a brand new recipe, photos, and a video. If you would like the original recipe, it can be found in The Simple Kitchen.

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Fiona

Saturday 13th of February 2021

Hello. I would love to try your icing but it is difficult to get corn syrup in the U.K. The usual alternative is golden syrup ?? Can you suggest what i can use instead of golden syrup please.

Jen Sobjack

Tuesday 16th of February 2021

Agave syrup, brown rice syrup, honey, golden syrup, or cane syrup can all be used a substitute for corn syrup. However, I've not used any of these in this recipe so I can't guarantee how the icing will turn out.

Jen

Wednesday 16th of December 2020

Do you really use 1/2 cup of lemon juice? ... seems like an awful lot.

Jen Sobjack

Wednesday 16th of December 2020

You may not need it all. The instructions state to add it gradually until the icing is the desired consistency.

Andrew

Thursday 3rd of December 2020

Is it possible to use fresh orange or clementine juice instead of lemon?

Jen Sobjack

Saturday 5th of December 2020

You can but keep in mind it will tint the icing because it's orange.

L. Johnson

Friday 16th of October 2020

I'm needing to make cookie decorating kits for the children at our Employee Christmas Party (planning way ahead and I'm not what you would call "crafty"). Does this icing dry quickly? I want to keep them somewhat entertained and I'm not an experienced homemake everything gal. Could use some suggestions if this wouldn't work.

Jen Sobjack

Saturday 17th of October 2020

The icing will set within a few hours as long as you're not in a humid environment. It is best to let iced cookies sit overnight before stacking them or packaging them. I'm not much help for suggestions as I'm not an expert in cookie decorating. But, I found this article on how to host the best cookie decorating party and it has plenty of helpful information.

Sharon K

Friday 31st of July 2020

This icing is amazing! Thank you for sharing a wonderful recipe.

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