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Sugar Cookies With Sponged Icing

Royal icing, a mixture of confectioners' sugar and egg whites, is the best choice for decorating most cookies. Unlike buttercream frosting, royal icing hardens when dry; a thin coating on a cookie makes a good foundation for further decorating.

  • Yield: Makes about 4 dozen 3-inch cookies

Photography: Mike Krautter


  • 2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, or 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice and zest of 1 lemon
  • Royal Icing for Sponged Sugar Cookies


  1. In a large bowl, sift together flour, salt, and baking powder. Set aside.

  2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together butter and sugar until fluffy. Beat in egg.

  3. Add flour mixture, and mix on low speed until thoroughly combined. Stir in vanilla or lemon juice and zest. Wrap dough in plastic; chill about 30 minutes.

  4. Heat oven to 325 degrees. On a well-floured board, roll out dough to 1/8 inch. Cut into desired shapes. Place on ungreased baking sheet and chill until firm, about 15 minutes. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, or until edges start to brown lightly. Cool on wire racks and decorate with Royal Icing.

Cook's Notes

This technique yields lovely decorations on both un-iced cookies and cookies with a dry base coat. Wet a small piece of natural sea sponge (available at pharmacies and cosmetics stores) and squeeze out until damp (excess water will cause icing to run). Dip sponge in thick royal icing, wipe off excess on the edge of the bowl, and gently dab on cookie until surface has been evenly covered. A second color can be sponged on top once the first has dried, but more than two sponged colors will start to look muddy. As a variation, we iced half of a leaf cookie with dark-colored icing, then carefully sponged over both halves with a pale color. To create a snow-covered effect, try lightly sponging white icing onto dry chocolate or gingerbread cookies.

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