Once your cookies are baked and cooled, it’s time to get your icings together. The first step in cookie decorating is applying your base coats of icing. These will be the canvases upon which you shall create your edible masterpieces. They can of course be any color at all. Since I’ve got an autumn thing going, mine will be yellow, orange and brown.
I use the very simplest of all icing formulas for this: powdered sugar and water (plus color). The pros use softened, diluted fondant which they buy in pre-made 50 lb. blocks. I’ll admit that offers certain advantages in terms of consistency and keepability, but then how long do decorated cookies last in your house? You see my point. A basic cookie icing formula goes like this:
6 ounces powdered sugar
1 tablespoon, two teaspoons water
a few drops of the food coloring of your choice
That’s it. The consistency you want is slightly thicker than you might expect. This is so all the icing doesn’t just run off the cookie before it gets a chance to set. You want something that runs off a fork somewhat slowly, sort of like so:
If you let this sit more than a few minutes, either covered or uncovered, it will form a dry crust on the top. Don’t worry in the least about it, just stir it back in until it’s all smooth again. Now then, grasping the nearest cookie, apply a thick dollop to the surface with a spoon or fork…
…then quickly and confidently spread it over the surface. I say “quickly and confidently” because the icing will start to set up almost immediately, giving you little chance to go back and fix uneven or bare spots after the fact. Don’t worry though, after two or three cookies, you’ll get the hang of it.
Now then, I should say here that some folks like to apply huge amounts of icing, then just set the cookie on a rack and let the excess drip off. It’s a fine technique, though I don’t usually like the look of a totally coated — edges and all — cookie. This is especially true for complex shapes, where the icing can gunk up and obscure the finer contours. So as the icing is starting to drip and/or firm, I gently scrape the edges with a butter knife.
Let the cookies sit out for a minimum of an hour to dry. They’ll even be fine for a few days if you want to do this ahead of time. Say, for a cookie-decorating party.