Colorful icings, sugars, glitters and confetti transform rolled and cut-out holiday cookies into delicious works of art. These tips cover the basics; the rest is left to your imagination.
Cutting and Baking
To get the greatest number of cookies, begin cutting the rolled-out dough from the edge.
When baking successive batches with one baking sheet, let the sheet cool to room temperature before placing more cookie dough on it. On a warm sheet, the dough would immediately begin to melt, distorting the cookies' shapes, thinning their edges and altering their texture.
After removing a cookie sheet from the oven, let it cool on a wire rack for 5 minutes. (This allows the cookies to firm up.) Then, using a spatula, transfer each cookie to a rack to cool completely before icing and decorating.
Icing the Cookies
Royal icing, a firm icing made with egg whites and confectioners' sugar, takes food coloring well. If you're making icing in several colors, first divide the uncolored icing into small bowls. Add food coloring paste to each, a tiny bit at a time, then stir with a toothpick until the desired hue is achieved.
Apply thin icings or glazes with a clean pastry brush, a little at a time. Brush the icing evenly over the cookie using light, feathery strokes. (Thick royal icing can be thinned with equal amounts of lemon juice and water until the desired consistency is reached.)
Apply thick icings with a pastry bag, which works best when nearly filled with icing. Decorative tips can be used for creating patterns, piping lines or writing messages.
Decorating with Sugars
To apply colored sugars before baking, press them into the cut-out cookie dough. Sugars (as well as edible glitters and confetti) can also be applied to cookies after they're baked, but require an icing or glaze to adhere to. Sprinkle the sugars onto their sticky surface, then gently shake off the excess.
For a quick and easy decorating scheme, divide the decorating sugars among small bowls. Coat the cookies with royal icing, then gently press them, icing sides down, into the decorating sugars to coat.
Adding the Finishing Touches
Use icing pens to create intricate designs or write messages on your cookies. The effect is the same as you'd get with a pastry bag and fine tip—only quicker and easier.