The icing trick looks fancy without the fuss. What else do you need?

By Betty Gold
December 22, 2020
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When it comes to baking, I tend to focus my efforts on making sure my desserts taste delicious over making them look immaculate. Don’t get me wrong: Presentation definitely matters, but I’d choose a cake with a ‘rustic-looking’ layer of homemade buttercream over one with super-smooth, fancy-but-sand-flavored fondant any day.

I (predictably) apply this philosophy to sugar cookies, too. Why spend hours piping out the most painstakingly perfect snow-dusted pine tree if it isn’t even edible? That’s why, when I first discovered this tie dye decorating trick, I was over the moon. Finally, a way to send my loved ones tins filled with deliciously sweet, buttery decorated cookies that look way more high maintenance than they were to make.

Tie dye is basically a hot mess by nature (makes these the perfect holiday cookie for 2020, no?), which means this decorating trick is near-impossible to screw up. Here’s how to execute the cutest tie dye sugar cookies for whatever holiday you’re celebrating this season. 

Credit: Betty Gold

1

Get the recipe for basic sugar cookies

I swear by this basic sugar cookie recipe. The cookies are the ideal balance of sweet, buttery, and tender-crisp, and they hold their shape when they bake, which makes them the perfect palette for icing decorations. Just make sure to follow the instructions in step 4 for cutout cookies.

Choose any style of cookie cutter you like. You can use traditional holiday shapes, like Christmas trees or Hanukkah dreidels, or go with a star, square, or (my personal favorite) a retro T-shirt shape. Simple circles are a great option for starting out, though—not only are they easy to ice, but the tie-dye effect really pops on a round shape. No cookie cutters? Simply use the rim of a drinking glass to stamp out perfect circles of dough before baking—or make your own cookie cutters from scratch.

2

Once your cookies have baked, transfer them to a wire rack and let them cool completely. Feel free to bake your cookies up to two to three days in advance—just store them in an airtight container at room temperature until you’re ready to bake. Alternatively, you can mix up the dough and keep it in the fridge as long as four days, or freeze it for up to three months. 

RELATED: Here’s How to Freeze All Your Favorite Desserts—From Cupcakes and Cookies to Buttercream, Bread, and Beyond

3

Get the recipe for royal icing

When you’re ready to decorate, you’ll need several colors of icing on hand. Royal icing works best for this decorating style—it should be thick but malleable; ever-so-slightly denser than flood consistency.

You can choose to purchase pre-made icing in squeezy bottles in various colors, or make it yourself using our basic royal icing recipe here. If you choose to DIY, scoop your icing into separate bowls, one for each color you’d like to use, and stir food dye into each one. (Or, for an all-natural dye option, add a tablespoon of beet juice, orange juice, cranberry juice, or a teaspoon of turmeric for every 1/2 cup of icing). Feel free to leave one icing white, too—it adds brightness and contrast to the colorful cookies.

Next, transfer each color of icing to its own piping bag before and add a small-sized round tip to the corner, or scoop it into empty microwave-safe squeeze bottles. Do a quick piping test on a cutting board or paper towel—if your icing feels excessively firm or thick, you can heat the filled bottles in the microwave in five-second increments until it’s easier to work with. 

4

With the color of your choice, carefully pipe a line of icing around the outer edge of your cookie. It doesn’t have to be perfectly straight, just make sure not to hug the edge too closely or your icing could run off (and dribble down) the sides of the cookie.

Grab your next color, and pipe around the inside of the circle you just drew. Continue drawing these circles, alternating icing colors, until you reach the center of your cookie—it should look like a colorful target. As I mentioned, you don’t have to be overly meticulous about lining up the colors perfectly or even making sure that the lines are all the same thickness. Variation in color and texture will just add to the final tie dye effect. Just make sure to complete each circle around the cookie.

5

Using a scribe tool, toothpick, or skewer, very carefully draw icing into any blank spots you may see between your lines to fill in the white space. At this point, you can also clean up your outer edges if need be.

6

Station your dragging tool in the center of the innermost color of icing. Gently draw it out from the inside towards the outside edge of your cookie, just up of the outermost icing line. When you reach the icing rim, pull the tool away. Repeat this in an even pattern all the way around your cookie.

Repeat the exact same dragging method around the cookie, this time starting on the edge of the cookie and tracing towards the center. Wipe off the tip as needed.

7

At this point, consider yourself finished. Transfer your cookies to a drying rack and leave them there for 45 minutes to an hour to dry—the icing will harden to form a perfectly glossy candy-like layer. But if you want to keep going, go right ahead. Continue dragging in and out to enhance the tie dye effect, draw a swirl in the center, or add sprinkles on top of the cookie.