It’s getting closer to the most wonderful time of the year … to make gorgeous decorated cookies. I’ve gathered my favorite tools, recipes, and techniques to help you make the tastiest — and most beautiful — cookies. So don your favorite festive apron, gather the goods, and let’s bake.
Start with the right cookies
You’ll need a delicious and sturdy base for your icing designs, so let’s talk cookies. I love our Gingerbread and Sugar Cookie mixes — they taste amazing and save time (so I can focus on the decorating!). Or choose your favorite roll-out cookie recipe (I like these Holiday Butter Cookies) then grab some fun cookie cutters, like these Holly Jolly Cookie Cutters or these Christmas Cheer Cookie Cutters. The unique shapes and generous size make a perfect canvas for detailed cookie designs. Alternatively, the embossed design from these cookie stamps offers a built-in decorating guide.
Baker’s tip: Using parchment will save you even more time by making clean-up quick and easy — and each sheet can be reused for many batches of cookies. Check out our Cookie Guide for recipes and more tips for perfect cut-out cookies.
Gather your glaze and tools
My go-to decorating icing is our Simple Cookie Glaze. It’s easy to make, colors beautifully, and dries to a shiny finish. Enhance it with any flavoring you like, such as vanilla extract, Fiori di Sicilia, or peppermint oil, to complement your cookie base. (Find more about why I love this glaze and how to make it in this previous post on cookie decorating techniques.)
My favorite prep tools for mixing glaze are silicone bowls and nylon spreaders, so I can easily color small portions at a time. The flexible bowls and fine edges on the nylon spatulas make mixing colors and transferring glaze into pastry bags simple and tidy. (Heads up: At King Arthur, we only recommend the products that we, as bakers, truly love. When you buy through external links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission.)
Now that we have our cookies baked and cooled and our glaze recipe prepared and portioned, we’re ready to mix our colors.
Our favorite new natural food colors — and how to use them
This year we’re excited to have a new product to up your naturally colored game: Our new Plant-Based Food Colors will be the icing on the cake (or cookies) for your holiday baking.
These new food colors have a lot going for them: They’re plant-based, vegan-friendly, certified kosher, and gluten-free. They come as a set of four intensely colored powder packets: pomegranate red, vivid orange, bold yellow, and magic blackberry (a versatile pigment that shifts from purple to pink to blue — more on that later!), and they can be blended for a full spectrum of rainbow colors. They’re also more concentrated than natural gel colors, which make them a great value. Plus, powdered pigments have a longer shelf-life than gels, so you can stock up and always have bright and natural food colors on hand.
(We’ve been offering plant-based color options for a while with our Natural Food Colors — see this detailed post on how to use them for additional naturally colored decorating tips.)
To mix your colors, just add water
Unlike gel or liquid colorings, which are ready to use straight from the package, the Plant-Based Food Colors powdered pigments require you to add water. Once hydrated, each packet of powdered pigment transforms into highly concentrated liquid color that can be used drop by drop like gel paste (I suggest using a dropper or pipette), or all at once to add intense color to full batches of frosting or glaze. For rich color, use the color in up to 2 cups frosting/glaze (it will be brighter in glaze but also creates bold color in frostings like buttercream); for most pastel shades, use more than 2 cups frosting/glaze.
To hydrate the powder: Add 1 teaspoon of water to a small dish and sprinkle an entire color packet over the water. Let sit for a few minutes, then use a mini whisk or fork to completely dissolve the powder. If you still have lumps, let sit a bit longer, then whisk again. I found that this process could take up to 10 minutes to get a nice smooth result.
The fully hydrated packet yields a generous amount to color small portions of icing — just over 200 drops, or a heaping teaspoon, from one packet. I’ve also found it’s easier to hydrate and use the full packet at once; it is possible to use a partial packet, but it can be a little messy to store.
Change colors with a dash of baking science
Now about that magic blackberry packet — how can one color make blue, purple, and pink?
Have you ever spilled merlot on a favorite white shirt or carpet (I know I’m not alone here) and after cleaning you’re left with a blue stain where the red wine was? Red to blue, what gives? Thanks to color compounds called anthocyanins found in fruits and veggies like red grapes, blackberries, blueberries, and red cabbage, exposure to different pH can yield a range of hues from red and pink to blue and purple.
Well, here’s the magic part — on its own, magic blackberry is a pretty purplish hue. But when you add a little lemon juice (acidic), it becomes pink. Add a touch of baking soda (alkaline), and you get blue. Fun, right?
Going green requires some special mixing
To achieve green icing, you’ll need to mix yellow with blue, which means playing around with baking soda.
Here’s what I recommend to make green: Start with 60 grams (about 1/3 cup) of Simple Cookie Glaze. Add 30 drops of yellow and 15 drops of magic blackberry. You should end up with a color that is more grey-beige than green, but stick with me here!
In a separate dish, mix 1 teaspoon baking soda with 1/8 teaspoon water to make a paste. Add 1/16 teaspoon of the paste to the glaze and stir well. It should shift to a dark earthy green. (Bear in mind, you should expect natural shades with plant-based food colors — creamy avocado, grassy green, earthy evergreen, spruce blue, etc.)
To make lighter green hues, I added 1 teaspoon of this dark green glaze to tint another 60 grams (1/3 cup) of plain glaze, then add drops of yellow, magic blackberry, and a bit more baking soda paste until I got a color I like. Enjoy the process — experiment to achieve a variety of hues, and remember that a little baking soda paste goes a long way. Add it sparingly to avoid imparting saltiness to your glaze.
Mix and match to find your color palette
Mix the colors to create a range of hues:
- For a rich berry red, use 15 drops red and 5 drops orange in 60 grams (1/3 cup) of glaze
- For a more vintage red, try 10 drops red and 5 drops orange
- For black and brown, I used black cocoa and Triple Cocoa Blend, using the method outlined in this post on cookie decorating with natural food colors
As a finishing touch, sprinkle on a little extra yuletide cheer with our Into the Woods or Jingle Pop! naturally colored sprinkle blends. I used elements from both sprinkle blends to add fun details to my cookies.
Don’t stop with cookies
A wonderful bonus of our new Plant-Based Food Colors is that they’re heat-tolerant — a rarity for natural food colorings — so don’t stop at frostings and glazes. Get festive with your doughs and batters too! Each packet can vividly color up to 2 cups of batter or dough, and it stays bright through baking. This works best with light-colored recipes that are baked at up to 350°F, like sugar cookies, vanilla cake, or buttermilk pancakes. Maybe rainbow pancakes with Sparkling Maple Syrup could be on the menu while loved ones are near?
Find everything you need for fun, festive cookies in the Cookie Creativity collection of our online shop.
Cover photo by Danielle Sykes; food styling by Brook Lewis.