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Perfect Sugar Cookies and Royal Icing

Martha Stewart Living, August 2005

Sugar cookies are buttery classics that are delicious anytime on their own -- but they also make ideal holiday cookies when festively decorated with icing. Try customizing them to your taste with an addition such as lemon zest, a bit of brandy, or a hint of cinnamon.

Tips for Baking Cookies
Chilled dough will help retain the shape of the cookies; soft, warm dough tends to lose its shape when cut and moved. Rolling out the dough is sometimes difficult. Roll out the dough in small batches, make sure it's cold, and use a light dusting of flour or sugar to keep it from sticking to the work surface. Don't overmix the dough once you have added the dry ingredients. Overmixing will make the cookies tough. Dip cookie cutters in flour to prevent sticking. Rotate baking sheets halfway through baking to ensure that the cookies bake evenly.

Tips for Decorating Cookies
Keep sanding sugar (a large-grain decorating sugar) in a variety of colors on hand. Place the unbaked cookie on a sheet of parchment paper, and sprinkle the sugar on top. Tip the cookie upside down to remove excess sugar.Try coating your cookies with royal icing in a variety of colors. Use a #1 or #2 Ateco pastry tip fitted in a pastry bag. Once the cookies are baked and cooled, carefully pipe a border of royal icing. Then "flood" the outline using a thinner blend of royal icing to coat the cookies. Use a toothpick or skewer to help push icing into place. Allow the icing to dry completely, up to one day. Dragging is the process of adding a second color through flooded icing. Use a toothpick to pull the icing; pull in alternate directions for a marbleized look. Keep filled pastry bags upright in a glass lined with a damp paper towel or use squeeze bottles. To create raised designs, pipe icing on top of dried flooded areas.Pipe icing onto the cookies, and sprinkle with sanding sugar for a sparkling effect called sugaring. Tip the cookie to remove excess sugar.

Recipes and Gift Ideas
Once you've mastered Martha's signature sugar cookies with royal icing, try some of Martha's favorite tips for creating beautiful gift packages for your friends and family.

Comments (9)

  • 2 Mar, 2011

    For the icing, she says you can replace the 5 T of meringue powder with the whites of 5 eggs. That is incorrect! It does NOT turn out when you do it that way.

  • 20 Dec, 2010

    Vegan: I used light tasting olive oil instead of butter, replaced eggs with dry egg substitute reconstituted recommended amount of water, added the zest of one whole lemon and replaced the brandy or milk with lemon juice. I rolled the chilled dough onto floured waxed paper as the vegan version was more fragile, but after baking, they turned out perfect!

  • 21 Nov, 2008

    I find the best way to roll out the cookie dough is to roll the dough in between two pieces of plastic, ( I just use the plastic bags you buy your veggies in at the grocery store). Place the dough in the middle and fold the plastic over it to cover the dough, then roll it out. It really works, and it doesn't stick to the rolling pin, the surface you're working on, and it doesn't break!

  • 26 Oct, 2008

    I found out long ago if you use powder sugar instead of flour when your rolling out cookies they come more tender. If you use to much flour they come out tough.I had no problem rolling the cookies out they needed to chill for 2 hours instead of one.

  • 17 Oct, 2008

    These cookies turned out great! (although a little difficult to roll out, I had to use a lot of flour!) For a fall twist, I added 1/2 tsp. of cloves and 1tsp. of cinnamon and iced them to look like jack-o-lanterns!

  • 16 Apr, 2008

    For Tina3057: Makes soft, not too sweet cookies perfect for decorating.
    Cream together 2 cups Sugar

  • 22 Mar, 2008

    Where is part Two? Can't find it!

  • 18 Feb, 2008

    How do yu make soft sugar cookies?

  • 28 Jan, 2008

    This really is the best Sugar cookie recipe I have found. I made this recipe and another one during Christmas and found this one much easier to work with and better tasting too. Once chilled it gives you plenty of time to roll and cut your cookies without getting too soft. My cookies were picture perfect!