Beginner's Guide to Cookie Decorations

Every batch of cookies is an opportunity for greatness, and the road to decorative perfection is paved with delicious frosting.

Don't be intimidated if you're the farthest thing from a cookie decorating champion--there are only a few techniques to master and then your creativity can flourish. Before you know it, your decadent presentations will be the envy of the neighborhood. (Remember that even the worst-decorated cookies of all time are far greater than the best-ever pieces of lettuce. You'll get there.)

Whether your goal is simple Christmas cookie decorations or elaborate adorable cupcake cookies, here are 8 guidelines to help you master the basics.

1. Relax.... The best cookies take time

Rome wasn't built in a day, and although each step of cookie decorating can be simple, the cooling, cutting, and adorning often takes some hours. That's the fun of it! Get a good playlist, stick to your plan, and enjoy the process--leave the last-minute panic to another kitchen.

2. Start with a dynamite recipe--your cookies will be judged on taste, too

The baked cookie may be your canvas, but make sure it doesn't taste like canvas, or that's all your samplers will remember. The easiest to festoon are flattened sugar cookies and gingerbread cookies (think classic Christmas cookie decorations) so start with Grandma's best recipe.

3. Pick relatively easy starter shapes

Next, choose your cutters! The classics--stars, hearts, snowmen, gingerbread men--are foolproof bases for cookie-decorating beginners, as you can focus on adding endless nuance with icing and toppings. Bake more than you need! You can use the extras to taste-test and to practice your frosting techniques.

4. Bake! Carefully...

Chill cookie dough for at least 30 minutes, chill the cookie pan too, and attach "spacers" to your rolling pin to ensure uniform cookie thickness--all of these help keep your cookies from spreading out in the oven and becoming too thin and brittle to handle the frosting spreader. Don't under- or over-cook them, naturally. Place baked cookies on a non-stick cooling rack and let them cool completely before frosting.

5. Royal icing is your best friend

Of course, you can't go wrong with a simple glaze recipe or a buttercream frosting--just make, spread, and enjoy! But royal icing holds its shape, allowing for the precision that will take your decorated cookies to the next level. Once you've got your supplies (royal icing mix, piping bags, decorating tips, and a variety of colors), you'll be ready to get experimenting! Play around with the "outline-and-flood" method, where you "outline" with a thick-consistency border and then "flood" the inside with a thinner icing, finishing off the detail work with a toothpick.

6. Sprinkle on some clever toppings

The best add-ons satisfy both form and function; they add cleverness to the idea while contributing to the deliciousness of the cookie. There are a million different types of sprinkles, jimmies, pareils, and candy treats that can be added. Be creative: M&Ms can be snowman buttons or ladybug eyes; broken pretzel sticks can spell letters or numbers. But whatever you use, add in your toppings before the frosting dries.

7. Never stop exploring

Before you know it, you'll be decorating cookies like a culinary Cezanne: you'll be layering frosting on top of frosting (allow the bottom coat to set completely first), drawing intricate designs (spread water-thinned icing with a toothpick before it dries), or investing in an "airbrush gun" to photoshop your cookies like a real-life Instagram filter. Before long you'll be whipping out crowd-pleasing cupcake cookies, and treats that look like sushi or animals, and breathtaking scenery cookies, and a lot more. Spread cookies, and you can spread joy--your neighbors, friends, and teachers are waiting!

Get inspired by beautiful creations from Cookies By Design! They offer delicious decorated heart-shaped cookies and other fun cookies for every occasion!