Decorated Shortbread Sugar Cookies

I’ve always wanted to decorate sugar cookies, but I was pretty hesitant because it seemed kind of involved for something that would be eaten rather quickly. Now, I’m not going to say this was easy – though the cookies were super easy to make and YUMMMMMY! – but it was a lot of fun, and as you’ll see I’ve made them a few more times already since last weekend.

I went to a first birthday party for my friends’ son, and I wanted to do something special for him. (since he’ll remember it and all…) I decided these sugar cookies would be perfect because you can make them as colorful and detailed as you want. All I wanted was a simple background so I could personalize the cookies with messages for the birthday boy, as you’ll see below.

The best recipe I found was from The Decorated Cookie. I’d recommend you follow her directions for the frosting because I didn’t and I paid for it! I modified her cookie recipe slightly, but check hers out and you might like that too.


  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 egg, room temp
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp almond extract
  • 1tbsp lemon zest
  • 2.5 cups flour
  • 1 tsp salt

Cream the butter and sugar together. Add egg and blend. Add extracts, zest, and salt then blend. Gradually add the flour (I did 1/2 cup at a time).

Separate the dough into 2 squares and wrap in plastic wrap. The first time I made these, I did it as one lump, and I ended up breaking it apart to roll it out anyway because it was so difficult. Plus, you won’t want the dough getting warm or it’s difficult to roll and cut, so I tried to work with as little of it at a time as I could.

Once it’s wrapped, refrigerate it for a couple of hours. When you’re ready to start cutting your cookies, preheat your oven to 375ºF.

Working with one piece of dough at a time, roll it out to about 1/4″ and cut out whatever shapes you please. I used circles, 2 sizes. After I had re-rolled the first section a couple more times, and it became too soft, I put the remainder back in the fridge while I started on the second, fresher half.

Bake on parchment-lined sheets for 12-14 minutes. The bottom edges should be a little brown, but not super dark.

Truth is, actually, that I tried one of the more well-done cookies (was gonna chuck it anyway) and it still tasted fantastic! Let them cool on the sheet for a bit, then cool completely on wire racks. To reiterate, they have to be completely cool before you can decorate them.

Now’s a good time to start on the icing. I didn’t use her recipe in its entirety, because I didn’t think I wanted to work with a thicker frosting. I might have to rethink that for next time, since she didn’t lead me astray with her cookie recipe. Here’s what I used:


  • 4 Tbsp Meringue Powder
  • 1 box powdered sugar (1lb, 4 cups)
  • 1 tsp lemon juice (maybe a bit more to taste)
  • splash of vanilla
  • 1/4 cup water (only used enough of this to achieve the consistency I wanted, feel free to use more or less)

One step I should have listened to was whipping the water with the meringue powder first. However, I didn’t want to add too much water at the beginning and have the icing be too runny, especially for the outlining portion of the decoration. I mixed the meringue powder with the sugar, and then added in the extract, lemon juice, and water.

So, in the future, I’d recommend whipping the meringue powder with the water and flavorings, and adding the sugar in last. That’s of course not what I did, but the cookies came out fine. I just had separation when I left the icing sitting too long.

But I digress. The first step in decoration is an outline. I outlined all the cookies in white to save myself the headache of having to mix together 2 batches of each color I’d planned to use (one thinner for flooding, one firmer for outlining). I wanted the white to be thicker so I could use it for outlines and details on top, and I wanted the other colors just for flooding so I’d have a pretty canvas for my decoration. I used a piping bag and a Wilton #2 tip for this.

Let those dry for a bit, I think I left them overnight just because I’d started on them too late in the evening, but you can just leave them for 15 minutes or pop them in the fridge if you like. You want the outline solid, otherwise it won’t make a dam to hold the rest of the icing once you flood it.

Then it was time to mix colors. Maybe I should have done this beforehand. Oh well. Originally I’d wanted 3 colors, blue, yellow, and green (it was for a boy, after all), but I ended up with 2 after it was such a pain I wanted the process to be over with. Really it shouldn’t have been that difficult, but as I said I mixed the icing ingredients in the wrong order and it kept separating on me. Boo to that.

Anyways, I used my Wilton gel icing colors for this, and got them to the shade I wanted. I’d recommend going a little darker than you think you need it, because (as you’ll see below) the cookies came out much lighter than I imagined. I thinned out the consistency a bit as well, because I just wanted it for flooding.

Squeeze some of your icing into the middle of a cookie. Don’t do too much, you can always add more if you need it, because it will start running over the edges. If the frosting doesn’t quite make it to the outline, you can use a toothpick to help it.

Here’s one batch with the blue and green, very subtle differences. I’ll use more coloring next time.

You have to let these set overnight (8 hours). You’ll see. They may look like they’re dry after a couple of hours, but if you press down on one you’ll ruin the topcoat. (of course I did that!) I’d recommend refrigerating them if you can, but otherwise they’ll keep fine on a counter-top while you sleep.

The next morning I added the detailing with a #1 tip and voila! (Note, the smaller cookies with the ‘1’ and ‘heart’ on them were piped with a #2 tip. The icing kept bleeding when I’d try to write anything more detailed, even after thickening the icing with powdered sugar,  so I just switched to the smaller tip.)

Since I was so inspired by those, I  made a bunch more over the course of the week… Some for Team USA (who did not win men’s hockey), some for my friend Amy’s birthday, which I’d fully intended to monogram but ran out of time, and a couple each for my dad and sister, as part of the tax season cookie rollout and the “congrats on leaving the job you hated” packages 🙂

And last, but not least… I also made another 2 batches (about 6 dozen) of these cookies for the March round of The Baking Gals. I hope they find the soldiers in good spirits and good health 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: