Save on Pinterest

10 Mistakes You’re Making When Decorating Cookies

Have more fun in the kitchen over the holidays with secrets for decorating Christmas cookies, straight from the experts.

1 / 11
Raw dough for Christmas cookies and cookie cutters shaped glove, Christmas tree, snowflake, jingle bell, gingerbread manShutterstock / Anastasia_Panait

Not using the right type of cookie

Not all cookies play nicely with icing. Our Test Kitchen finds that flat sugar cookies and gingerbread work best. They won’t crumble when you work with them and tend to have large, flat areas to decorate. Find a recipe for cutout cookies that will do the trick!

Check out our Christmas Cookies Baking Guide!

2 / 11
Timer on kitchen worktop with cooling rack in the backgroundChristopher Elwell/Shutterstock

Relying on recipe times

“I never look at recipe times when I bake cookies,” says Sally McKenney, cookbook author and food blogger at Sally’s Baking Addiction. “I look at the cookies themselves. The cookies are done when the edges are set and lightly browned. Keep in mind that cookies’ centers will continue to cook for a few minutes while out of the oven cooling.”

In short, every oven is a little bit different. Make sure yours is ready for the upcoming holiday baking spree.

3 / 11
Christmas cookie.Shutterstock / everyday polkadot

Not giving yourself enough time

The decorating process requires time and patience. Hilary Ramos at The Cookie Countess reminds us, “Your base icing will need anywhere from a few hours to overnight to dry enough to add details; and then time to dry again before you can stack or package.”

4 / 11
Hands of little girl sheeting dough with rolling pin.Shutterstock / NATALIA61

Not using rolling pin guides

For cookies that have a smooth, even thickness, Georganne Bell, the decorator behind LilaLoa, recommends using rings that slide onto the ends of a traditional wooden rolling pin to keep the dough the same thickness. (Here’s a set of rolling pin rings.)

5 / 11
kids hand decorating cookies with sugar. Shutterstock / NATALIA61

Not allowing cookies to cool

Don’t rush! When you start decorating your cookies before they are completely 100% cool, the icing will melt. Make sure each batch is cooled before you begin to add the icing. Our Test Kitchen recommends decorating your cookies the day after you bake ’em.

6 / 11
Decorating traditional gingerbread cookies with royal icing for Christmas.Shutterstock / Arina P Habich

Using royal icing that’s too thick

Royal icing that’s too thick means it won’t smooth out at all. Georganne from LilaLoa has some good advice: “Give the bowl of icing a quick stir. The surface of the icing should be uneven and you should see stir lines in the icing. Tap the bowl on the counter 5 times. If the surface has smoothed out, that’s your perfect consistency. If it hasn’t smoothed out, it’s too thick. Try adding a few drops of water and trying again.”

Wait—what is royal icing?

7 / 11
Decorating gingerbread cookies with royal icing for Christmas.Shutterstock / Arina P Habich

Using royal icing that’s too thin

On the flip side, using royal icing that’s too thin means it will flow right off the cookie! Do the same bowl tap trick from the last slide. But if it smoothed out after only 2-3 taps, it’s too thin. Just stir in a few tablespoons of powdered sugar.

8 / 11
Christmas cinnamon cookies icing decorating process with a pastry bagShutterstock / kuvona

Making small batches of icing

It’s the same amount of work—and clean up—to create one small batch or one large batch. You can quickly create a custom batch, too. Just whip up a super-sized batch of basic icing, then divide into separate bowls to create all your colors and flavors.

9 / 11
Winter and Christmas decorated cookies - backgroundShutterstock / Pacharawan

Not using enough icing

A lot of new decorators won’t use enough royal icing on their cookies. “Without an adequate amount, the royal icing can’t smooth into itself and you’ll be left with wavy, bumpy cookies,” says Georganne of LilaLoa.

Try this pretty decorating technique starts with a good layer of royal icing.

10 / 11
Cute Boy And A Woman Decorating Gingerbread CookiesShutterstock / NatashaPhoto

Not practicing first

There’s truth to the saying “practice makes perfect!” If you’re new to decorating with royal icing, Hilary the Cookie Countess recommends that you do a practice round. “This way you’ll know if you have all the right supplies, or if you need to purchase a few more. It will also give you a chance to make changes; sometimes a cookie design seems better on paper than in reality.”

11 / 11
Smiling gingerbread men nestled in holiday dish with gift-wrapped surprise.Shutterstock / Marie C Fields

Having an intricate design

Your cookies don’t need to be complicated! There are many simple and easy ways to make beautiful cookies. In my opinion, sprinkles make everything look more dressed up. Check out these easy Christmas cookie decorating ideas, too.

Lauren Naru
Lauren Naru writes about gift guides, sales, and must-have items for the kitchen and home. She loves a good deal is and is always on the hunt for super-savings and products that solve cooking problems. In her spare time, you’ll find her creating custom cookies for friends and family. Lauren lives and works in New York's Hudson Valley region.