Sugar Cookie Icing

4.74 from 15 votes
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Make a quick and easy sugar cookie icing with just 4 simple pantry staples! The mixture yields a pipeable vanilla-flavored topping that dries smooth and shiny. Have fun creating custom designs on your sweet treats!

Close up of a decorated cookie on a wire rack

Making an elegant cookie icing from scratch doesn’t get easier than this! All you need is powdered sugar, corn syrup, vanilla, and milk. Add to your mixer, and it’s ready in under a minute! The combination creates a super smooth consistency that you can pipe into festive designs.

You can adjust the icing consistency to make intricate designs and then fill them using the same base. Once dried, the sugar coating sets into a glossy glaze. It shell hardens just enough so that it’s perfect for stacking or packaging boxes of cookies.

Equipment selection

I use a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. However, you can use a hand mixer or whisk. The latter just takes a little longer. The whip helps to dissolve the finely powdered sugar granules with the milk quickly. There’s no egg or butter in the recipe like royal icing or cookie frosting so the consistency will be heavier, similar to a glaze, and not light and fluffy. It only takes a minute to mix the ingredients.

Using powdered sugar

Powdered sugar is granulated sugar that’s finely ground, which gives it its opaque white appearance. Some manufacturers add a small amount of cornstarch to prevent clumping during storage, and it makes the product denser so it’s easier to weigh out. Powdered sugar dissolves very quickly into a silky texture when combined with the corn syrup and milk.

Recipe Resources

Corn syrup is a must

A small amount of corn syrup keeps the icing smooth and allows the surface to dry shiny. Use light corn syrup if you want a more pure white final product or dark corn syrup if you’re okay with an ivory hue. Brown rice syrup and golden syrup are suitable substitutes. You can also use honey, but it won’t prevent crystallization as well.

sugar cookie icing in a small bowl

Milk vs. water

To adjust the consistency of the icing, I use whole milk. The fat and proteins help give the icing a more opaque appearance. You can use water could instead, but it will be slightly more translucent. Using a cold liquid gives a thicker consistency, while the mixing will help to dissolve the sugar.

Adjusting the consistency

The icing base gives just the right texture to pipe borders and intricate designs while also being used to flood (fill) the inside of those designs. I find that it spreads out to an even consistency. 

If it’s too thin for your liking, add extra powdered sugar, 1 teaspoon at a time. And in case it’s too thick, add ½ teaspoon of milk at a time. I recommend piping the borders and letting that set first, so it’s sturdy enough to hold back the flood icing when filling in. Keep the icing covered or stored in piping bags or squeeze bottles. The sugar dries and hardens very quickly when exposed to air.

Customizing the flavor and color

I like to add vanilla extract so that the icing doesn’t taste just like pure sugar. However, a small amount of peppermint or almond extract works well but start with ¼ teaspoon at a time. Those extracts are very concentrated in flavor compared to vanilla.

To create fun, bright colors, I like to use gel-based products and mix them into separate bowls with some icing. They are more concentrated than liquid food coloring, resulting in vibrant hues that don’t dilute the consistency. Make sure to add any sprinkles or decorating sugars before the icing dries.

Ways to use this

Christmas cookies with colorful icing

The benefit of using corn syrup

Corn syrup is often added to confections to prevent sugars from becoming grainy. Corn syrup is made from cornstarch broken down into a liquid glucose syrup using enzymes and heat. When combined with the powdered sugar, it prevents the sucrose from recrystallization because it’s an invert sugar. This ingredient allows the icing to set smoothly and appear shiny on the surface.

A quick sugar cookie icing with just 4 simple pantry staples! The mixture yields a vanilla-flavored topping to decorate your sweet treats.
4.74 from 15 votes
Prep Time10 minutes
Cook Time0 minutes
Total Time10 minutes
Servings 16 servings
Course Condiment
Cuisine American

Ingredients 
 

  • 3 cups powdered sugar, plus more as needed for thickening
  • 4 teaspoons corn syrup
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ¼ cup milk, divided, plus more as needed for diluting

Instructions 

Making the Icing

  • Sift the powdered sugar into the bowl of a stand mixer. Using the whisk attachment, add the corn syrup, vanilla extract, and 2 tablespoons of milk. Pulse on and off eight times. Mix on low speed (setting 2) for 5 seconds. Use a spatula to scrape down the sides of a bowl.
  • Add 2 tablespoons of milk and mix on low speed (setting 2) for 10 seconds. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Mix on medium-low speed until combined, about 15 to 20 seconds. The icing should be smooth, thick like honey.

How to Ice Cookies

  • The icing consistency should hold its shape well for piping the border, as well as flooding the inside area. Let the border set, then fill the center with more icing. For a thinner consistency, gradually add more milk, ½ teaspoon at a time. For a thicker consistency, add 1 teaspoon of powdered sugar at a time.
  • Use icing as is, or divide into separate bowls. Mix with gel or food coloring until the desired hue is reached. If not using immediately, place a piece of plastic wrap directly on top to prevent the icing from drying out.
  • Transfer icing to a piping bag or squeeze bottle to make designs. Make sure to add on any sprinkles, nonpareils, or other decorations while the surface is still wet.
  • Dry decorated cookies on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or on top of a wire rack. It will take about 1 to 2 hours to set and dry the surface. Store finished cookies in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

Recipe Video

YouTube video

Notes

  • Recipe Yield: About 1 cup, to use on about 24 small cookies or 12 large ones.
  • Serving Size: 1 tablespoon
  • To Make it Dairy-Free: Instead of milk, substitute water, coconut milk, almond milk, or cashew milk.
  • Storing: Store in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Place in a resealable plastic bag or an airtight container with a piece of plastic wrap placed directly on top to prevent the surface from drying out.

Nutrition Facts

Serves: 16 servings
Calories 98kcal (5%)Carbohydrates 25g (8%)Protein 1g (2%)Fat 1g (2%)Saturated Fat 1g (5%)Cholesterol 1mgSodium 4mgPotassium 5mgSugar 24g (27%)Vitamin A 6IUCalcium 4mgIron 1mg (6%)

Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000-calorie diet. All nutritional information is based on estimated third-party calculations. Each recipe and nutritional value will vary depending on the brands you use, measuring methods, and portion sizes per household.

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Jessica Gavin

I'm a culinary school graduate, cookbook author, and a mom who loves croissants! My passion is creating recipes and sharing the science behind cooking to help you gain confidence in the kitchen.

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