Easy Sugar Cookie Icing
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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.
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.
Sugar cookie icing recipe
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.
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.
How to make sugar cookie icing
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.
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.
How to color 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.
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.
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.
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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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.
I used your icing recipe over the weekend and they looked so nice and shiny, but as they dried the icing became streaked with white and lost their smooth shiny look. What did I do wrong? I followed the recipe exactly as it was stated
I’m not too sure since the corn syrup typically keeps the icing shiny. It could be that the icing was overmixed. Humidity can also be an issue with this type of frosting.
If I use milk or heavy cream, do I need to refrigerate the cookies?
Sugar acts as a preservative but you can store them in the refrigerator just to be safe.
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.
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.
Do you really use 1/2 cup of lemon juice? … seems like an awful lot.
You may not need it all. The instructions state to add it gradually until the icing is the desired consistency.
Is it possible to use fresh orange or clementine juice instead of lemon?
You can but keep in mind it will tint the icing because it’s orange.
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.
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.
This icing is amazing! Thank you for sharing a wonderful recipe.
I’ve been looking for a great cookie icing recipe!