Cookie decorating is a culinary hobby that many people would love to get into. Not only do these cookies look impressive once they're baked, they taste delicious too. Cookie decorating requires a fair bit of kit. Whilst you may not need all of this to start with, those wanting to perfect the fine art of cookie crafting and copy all those intricate designs they've seen online may be best off buying all the supplies.
Ideal for the ultimate novice, this guide delves into everything you need for getting into cookie baking in general as well as some handy decorating tools that those in the trade have learnt to adopt. It's fairly long shopping list, so prepare yourself...
Crafting cookies requires a few basic utensils. Some of you may already have these tools in your kitchen, but for those that might not be familiar with baking, here are a few necessities that are essential for the cookie baking process.
Most keen bakers may already own measuring equipment. These useful utensils include beakers, measuring cups and measuring spoons. You can find specialist measuring gear for cookie baking - 'cookie spoons' for example are designed specifically for baking cookies and come in all shapes and sizes. Some people may feel they can improvise cookie mixture and royal icing, but if you're just starting out it's best to always measure. As you get more experienced, you may be able to tweak these measurements to meet your preferred consistency.
A mixer is vital for making cookie dough and icing mixture. There are all kinds of electric mixers on the market, which take out the physical work and allow you to create batches quicker. A hand-held electric mixer may be enough if you're making cookies on the odd occasion, but can be messier. Mixing machines are more expensive but a worthy purchase for taking out the manual labour of mixing. You don't need a premium machine unless you're making cookies on an industrial scale. In fact, we recommend spending no more than $100. You may even be able to score yourself a second-hand machine for cheap.
Whisks can also come in handy for mixing meringue powder into your cookie dough or simply for giving your cookies a handcrafted touch. Because these can be a nightmare to clean, it's worth opting for a non-stick whisk. Make sure you've also got a decent mixing bowl big enough for the batches you want to make.
For flattening out that cookie dough, you'll need a decent rolling pin. Most basic rolling pins will suffice, but some may prefer to shell out on a premium pin with extra features such as measurements on the side so that you don't have to guesstimate thickness. Rolling pins come in all shapes, materials and weights. Much of this is personal preference - you may prefer the rustic feel of a heavy wooden rolling pin, whilst some may prefer a lightweight metal one. Some rolling pins are even embossed to help pattern your cookies. You can find these patterned pins online.
Anyone that's used cookie mixture before knows that it's sticky stuff. When using a standard baking tray, you may find the cookies stick to the sheet. Consider buying a baking tray with a non-stick surface to make it easy to remove cookies. There are special cookie baking trays with moulds in that could save needing a cookie cutter, although these won't be ideal for those wanting to make creatively shaped cookies.
Baking paper can be another option, which you can lay over any baking tray to prevent sticking. This is sometimes known as 'parchment paper' and is available in most supermarkets. Not all kitchen paper will be suitable for the job - in fact you should avoid wax paper and butter paper as these aren't appropriate for baking.
Again, most people will have a spatula in their kitchen. These tools will help you carefully remove your cookies from the oven without damaging them. Silicone spatulas can be useful for scraping up all the cookie mixture from your mixing bowl - they're flexible and non-stick making them better suited for dealing with sticky cookie dough. These spatulas usually come in three-piece sets.
Now we get to the decorative part. This is where you can let your creativity shine. There are countless tools for getting arty in the kitchen - food bloggers and Youtubers are constantly coming up with new improvised methods of making cookie art easier.
Here are some of the main decorating tools that we suggest arming your kitchen with when getting involved in cookie decorating.
For keeping those cookies neat and evenly shaped, you'll want a cookie cutter. Circular cookie cutters are the most common choice and usually come in sets with various sizes. Obviously, there are hundreds of creative shapes out there to choose from - you needn't stick just with circles. Popular quirky shapes include gingerbread men and elephant cookie cutters. There are also plenty of Halloween themed cutters, as well as cookie cutters shaped around all the letters of the alphabet.
Cookie cutters generally aren't worth paying a premium price for. Those sets made of fancy metals may look good for the brief time they're being used, but they're really no better for the job than cheap plastic ones. You may even be able to make your own cookie-cutters.
Piping bags will help you apply icing and decorative features. There are special bags out there for this purpose. These can be worth buying as they offer more toughness and are less likely to split than your average sandwich bag. You can buy reusable piping bags, although you may not be up for the effort of cleaning them. There are plenty of biodegradable throwaway bags for those wanting be green.
Piping bags come with lots of accessories which can make applying icing easier. Bag ties are an essential extra that keep the top of the bag closed, preventing icing from escaping out the top of the bag and from prematurely drying. Rubber bands and twist ties may be able to do the job, but cable ties may offer the most security.
Icing nozzles or icing tips are another worthy purchase. These will allow more precision when applying icing, which essential if you're going to experimenting with detailed patterns. Some of these nozzles may also help with specific types of patterns such as star nozzles, which are ideal for creating icing flowers. Small plain round piping nozzles meanwhile are best suited for very intricate work.
We recommend buying a set of nozzles (there will likely be cake-making accessories in here too such as flower nails, which you won't need for cookie decorating, but they can still be handy to have). You'll find plenty of nozzle sets online. You should also look out for people selling these second hand. It's also possible to make improvised nozzles out of couplets and other household items.
You can also use squeeze bottles for applying icing. Some people find these better suited to cookies than piping bags. Like bags, you can customise these with different nozzles to achieve different icing patterns. A squeeze bottle with a coupler attached may be ideal for detailed thin lines made of icing. You don't need to buy expensive squeeze bottles - cheap everyday ones will do. You're best off using bottles that previously contained food contents. Even after thoroughly cleaning out an empty squeeze bottle of paint, there could still be traces of chemicals in the bottle which you don't want getting on your cookies.
Scribe tools will help when adding intricate detail to icing such as small dots or very thin lines. These tools may be too specialist to find in many shops, but you can easily find them online to buy. Using a swizzle stick or pipette, you may even be able to create your own DIY solution.
These improvised tools can be found in most households and can be handy for the decorating process. Toothpicks are great for adding etching into icing. They can also be useful for popping bubbles that may have formed in icing. Boo boo sticks meanwhile are great for wiping away icing errors. They can also help with carving out intricate details.
Occasionally you may want to experiment with delicate frosting or detailed paint work. You can use brushes to achieve these effects. Regular brushes and make-up brushes may be enough to provide such detail, but for those that are dedicated to cookie baking, you can buy specialist icing brushes online. It's worth buying a kit as this will give you all kinds of shapes and sizes to work with. Big brushes are usually much better suited to applying a snowy coat of powder which is useful for Christmas-themed cookies, whilst thinner brushes are better for adding precise detail. Those that love painting may find it easier to apply icing this way, although should be warned that painting with icing is very different to painting with acrylic.
Food coloring gels will bring you a diversity of colours. There are plenty of different colours to choose from and plenty of different brands. Craft shops may offer the most diverse stock, whilst there are many places online for buying such gels. Usually, expensive gels provide a bolder colour - however you should weigh up whether you're really going to get a suitable use out of them.
Those that have a talent for art may be able to combine colours to create their own shades. As well as allowing you to experiment more with colour, this skill can often be very economical as you won't be buying bottles of specific coloured gels that only get used once. White, black and red are likely to be the colours you'll use up the most, so it's worth stocking up on these. You can also get fancy gels that are glittery - useful for adding a magical touch to children's cookies.
When making royal icing, meringue powder is your secret weapon. This will give your icing a paint-like consistency that makes it easier to decorate with. Some people prefer to use egg white powder, but we recommend meringue powder as it's virtually imperishable, making it much better suited if you're not going to be cooking cookies every day. You can buy meringue powder online as well as finding it in many high street supermarkets.
Food markers are pens filled with edible ink for adding detail to food. When baking cookies, they can be used to draw guidelines for where you want to apply icing, or they can be used for drawing on features such as the eyes and mouth on a face. There are plenty of different types of food markers out there. Some may be ill-suited for drawing on cookies. We recommend baking-specific food markers. Whilst some of these markers will provide no added flavours, others contain sugar.
Getting the right consistency for icing sugar can be tricky. When adding more water to a thick solution, it can often be too easy to overwater and end up with a runny mess. A great lifehack for getting the exact consistency is to fill a spray bottle with water. This allows you to add smaller and more precise measurements to your icing mixture. You can use any spray bottle for this purpose.
Want to dry off cookies more quickly? A small countertop heated fan could help to achieve this if you want a rapid drying method. In fact, you could even use a hair-dryer.
There are also specialist dehydrators for this purpose although these are generally more expensive and better suited to cookie baking on an industrial scale. If you are making cookies to sell, it could also be worth having a rack for drying cookies on to help free up countertop space.