Let’s get real. How much do you really need to invest to get started with cookie decorating? Do you really need an extensive list of supplies to learn how to make decorated cookies?
The answer is absolutely not. Learning how to decorate cookies and getting started in cookie decorating as a hobby is one of the cheapest hobbies you can start because you probably have most of what you need in your kitchen already.
This list is a realistic list of ingredients, supplies, and tools that you need to decorate your first set of cookies. Do not go out and buy a bunch of things to make cookies. Here’s why:
Your Supplies Do Not Make You a Good Cookie Decorator
The only thing that makes you a good cookie decorator is practice. You can buy all of the most trendy and popular tools and supplies, but none of these things are going to give you the experience and practice you need to become “good”.
Until cookie decorating gained in popularity over the last 10 years, most cookie decorators used the most basic supplies because all of the currently trendy and popular tools simply weren’t available. And some of the most experienced cookie decorators still don’t have much more than the basic tools and supplies – because they know the secret – you don’t need them!
So let’s get realistic about what you actually need. I’m going to give you the most simple of lists and tell you what you must have and nothing more.
If you want to ignore my narrative as I create this list, Click Here, to jump to the end of the post for the bulleted list.
Let’s start with cookie dough. What supplies and ingredients do you need to make your first batch of cookie dough?
Cookie Dough Ingredients
(Ingredients may vary slightly depending on the recipes you use)
FOUR ingredients are must have! That’s all! If your recipe calls for more than these 4 ingredients – they are for flavor and possibly for texture. Vanilla extract, almond extract, lemon extract, or other flavoring ingredients should ideally be used to make your cookies taste better. They will be a little dull without this ingredient – but it does not affect the dough’s ability to be rolled out, baked, and turned into an edible cookie. Other ingredients such as salt may also be used to intensify or balance the flavors. Some recipes will call for leavening ingredients such as baking powders, baking soda, cream of tartar, etc. but I don’t use any of these in my classic sugar cookie dough. These ingredients will affect the final cookie’s texture and will affect the dough’s spread or lack of spread during baking.
Cookie Dough Supplies and Tools
Next, you’re going to need something to mix these ingredients together. Do you HAVE to have a mixer? Honestly, no you do not. A mixer makes it easier for sure and I would recommend at least having an electric hand mixer of some sort if possible. But if you don’t, YOU CAN STILL MAKE COOKIE DOUGH!
Roll-out sugar cookie dough is a very thick and tough dough. It’s hard to mix it well with a hand mixer because of this. A stand mixer is usually used by most cookie decorators because regular mixing of the dough with a hand mixer will burn it out pretty easily. But if you don’t have a stand mixer, and even if you don’t have a hand mixer, don’t worry.
To make dough without a mixer – you need a fork or a wire whisk. Start with room temperature butter – it should be soft enough that when you press it with your finger, it deforms. If your butter is soft, use a whisk or fork and mix it up until it’s smooth. Then add your sugar and mix these two ingredients together until it’s nice and creamy. Then add your egg and mix together. Finally, add your flour – but here’s the trick – leave the mixer, fork, or whisk out of the equation at this point. USE YOUR HANDS to incorporate your flour until it all comes together. Knead it until it’s smooth, and then you are ready to roll it out.
Rolling, Cutting, and Baking
Once you have your dough mixed, you are ready to roll it out, cut it, and bake it. So what do you need for this?
You need something to roll the dough out with. If you don’t have a rolling pin, you can use anything that is cylindrical. Do you know how many Southern grandmothers have been rolling and cutting out biscuits for decades without a rolling pin or biscuit cutter? They use a glass! A glass is round enough to roll out dough and the mouth serves as a round cutter.
Cookie dough is a little stiffer than biscuit dough so I would discourage you from using an actual glass and instead use something like a stiff plastic cup or something that is less likely to break when you push firmly on its sides. Do you have a can of pan spray in your cabinet? Wash the outside of the can and use that for rolling if you want. You can also use a washed “tin” can. You just made some soup and have some cans to throw away? Don’t – now you have a rolling pin and cookie cutter. All you need is something cylindrical and stiff enough that it won’t collapse when you press on it. If you have a rolling pin, great. But don’t let the lack of one keep you from making your first batch of cookies.
If you feel like you HAVE to buy a rolling pin, don’t worry about buying something fancy or specifically made for cookie dough. I’ve used the same plastic rolling pin for the past 8 or so years. I don’t use a pin with sizing rings, I don’t use one with a special indention for precise dough thickness, I don’t use anything fancy. The only thing special about my rolling pin is that it’s technically made for fondant. The reason I bought it was because it was the only one I could find at the time that was long enough for me to roll out large batches of dough. But you don’t need a 24 inch rolling pin for a single batch of dough. An 8-12 inch rolling pin is all you need.
You don’t need fancy spacers, or rings, or gadgets to roll out dough with consistent thickness either. In fact, I wouldn’t worry about the thickness of your dough too much until you get comfortable with the process of making cookies. Don’t try to make it too technical when you are just starting. You can roll out your dough to an approximate 1/4 to 3/8 inch thickness just by paying attention to what you are doing. If you absolutely must have consistent thickness and you can’t eyeball it, go to your local hardware or craft store and pick up a 1/4 inch square dowel rod. You only need about 24 inches total. Cut it into two pieces of 12 inch length. Place one on each side of your dough, put your rolling pin on top, and roll out your dough. These ridiculously cheap dowels are your spacers. This is what I have used for 10 years. I have the SAME cheap dowel that I bought ten years ago.
But, let’s go back to the basics. All you need here is something cylindrical to roll out your dough.
Next you need to cut it. If you don’t own a single cookie cutter, use the mouth of a glass to cut round cookies. I make round cookies more frequently than any other shape because a round cookie is so versatile. You can do so much with a round cookie. Don’t let the simple shape keep you from thinking creatively. If you want a different shape, use a paring knife to cut your dough by hand. You can make strips, triangles, squares, clouds, ovals, etc. Over the years I’ve made dozens and dozens of cookies by hand cutting because I didn’t have a specific shaped cutter. If you want a more complex shape and can’t do it free hand, draw it onto a piece of paper or print it out from a computer. Cut it out and then use it as a template for your knife.
Finally, we need to bake the cookies. You will need an oven or some kind of appliance that works like an oven. If you only have a tiny toaster oven, you can use this! You just won’t be able to cook many cookies at a time. You will also need a baking sheet of some kind. Technically, you don’t even need a baking sheet. You can use a sheet of aluminum foil!
The type of baking sheet you use really doesn’t matter. If all you have is a round cake pan, use this. I use commercial, heavy duty, aluminum sheet pans – but I also make several dozen cookies a week. You don’t need to go out and buy a special pan for cookies. Use what you have. Watch your cookies while they bake because the thickness and material of your pan can alter the baking time needed for your cookies. Bake them until they are set – as in they don’t look doughy or wet in the center. They don’t have to be brown, they don’t even have to be “golden”, but they do need to be set.
Royal Icing or Icing Glaze
There are two types of icing that cookie decorators usually use. Royal icing and/or a glaze type icing. Some decorators use buttercream but I don’t, so I can’t really guide you on using buttercream for cookies.
What is the difference in Royal Icing and Icing Glaze?
Royal icing is a mixture of powdered sugar, water, and egg whites. The egg whites in royal icing give it strength. This strength gives royal icing the ability to be used in a 3-dimensional way – meaning that if it is made thick enough, it holds shape and texture very well similar to cake frosting. But unlike cake frosting, it dries completely hard.
Cookie glaze on the other hand does not contain eggs. It is a mixture of powdered sugar, corn syrup, and water. The lack of eggs reduces a cookie glaze’s ability to be used for 3-D design, but it’s still a very versatile icing that can be used to make incredible cookie designs. The omission of eggs also makes it perfect for people with egg allergies and for vegans.
If you are just starting out with cookies, a cookie glaze is a good starting place because it behaves enough like royal icing that all the basics of cookie decorating are the same when you use it. Some people actually prefer working with glaze and some like it better than royal because it has a softer bite when dry. The limited and easy to acquire ingredients are also great for beginners. If you want a great glaze recipe from the glaze icing queen, head over to Cookie Crazie’s blog and snag her recipe. There’s probably not a more experienced cookie decorator who can give you the ins and out of a cookie glaze than Cookie Crazie.
Let’s make our required ingredient list for icing.
- Powdered Sugar
- Corn Syrup
THREE INGREDIENTS!! Cookie Crazie recommends adding white food coloring gel to reduce the glaze’s translucency, but this is technically an optional ingredient. And just as before in our cookie dough requirements, vanilla extracts and other flavors are technically optional. They will improve flavor but have no impact on the ability to create the glaze.
- Powdered Sugar
- Egg Whites
Again, THREE ingredients are all you technically need. When it comes to egg whites, you have several options. Actual fresh egg whites are the easiest to acquire and you likely have them in your refrigerator. There are people who will discourage raw egg whites for use in royal because of the ridiculously small chance of salmonella. I won’t advise you on using them or avoiding them – this will be up to you. But know that you CAN use them and they work perfectly – this is the original recipe for royal icing anyway.
However, if the risk of salmonella bothers you, then you can use pasteurized eggs. I don’t recommend pasteurized liquid egg whites that come in a carton because the properties of the egg white has been altered and these don’t always perform the greatest. They can be used, but it’s difficult to get the texture of your icing correct. Pasteurized eggs in the shell are better and are safe to consume raw.
If you are afraid of raw eggs and can’t get pasteurized eggs, then the next two options are either powdered egg whites or meringue powder. Powdered egg whites can usually be found in your grocery store in the baking aisle. But smaller stores may not carry them. Meringue powder is not something that is found regularly in grocery stores. However, some places like Wal-Mart and craft stores like Hobby Lobby do usually stock meringue powder. Meringue powder and powdered egg whites are not the cheapest of ingredients, which is why I usually just recommend that beginners use regular fresh egg whites. Both meringue powder and powdered egg whites can be used for royal icing. Meringue powder is just egg white powder with flavorings, preservatives, and stabilizers added.
I use meringue powder in my royal, but when I first started cookie decorating, I used raw egg whites. The recipe is simple – 3 large egg whites and 1 pound of powdered sugar. Beat the egg whites until frothy (with a wire whisk or mixer). Gradually add your powdered sugar in 4 parts while you beat the mixture. Once all of the sugar has been added, continue beating the mixture until it is stiff. That’s it. Easy-peasy.
What tools or supplies do you need for your royal icing or cookie glaze? An electric hand mixer is recommended for this to make sure you get your icing whipped up to a stiff consistency. But, you CAN do it with a wire whisk. It will be tougher and take more time, but it can be done. If you don’t have an electric hand mixer, pull out your whisk and get to mixing!
Now, we have our cookie’s baked and our icing mixed. Is food coloring a required ingredient? Nope, definitely not. You can decorate cookies in all white!
You can also achieve shades of ivory, cream, light and dark browns with one simple ingredient – cocoa powder! Use the tiniest sprinkle to shade your icing into an ivory or cream color – use more for browns.
There are also some other ways to achieve colors without actual food coloring. Blueberries – crush them and strain the pulp, use the liquid to get shades of purple. Beets – especially canned – use some of the liquid for red/burgundy shades. Raspberries – crushed and strained – for shades of red. You do not have to have food coloring to make decorated cookies!
If you MUST use food coloring, don’t worry about buying a specific type or brand to get started. Your inexpensive cheap colors found in every grocery store aisle will color your icing. However, these colors are very diluted so they will not produce vibrant colors. That is usually achieved by gel or powder colors – but these are not as readily available. Gel colors can usually be found in stores like Wal-mart and craft stores such as Hobby Lobby. They will typically be packaged in small pots or little bottles. You can also purchase them online. But this article is about necessities – food coloring is not a necessity.
Finally, we have come to the actual decorating of your cookies. Here is where you are expecting me to tell you to go out and buy piping bags, piping tips, couplers, bag ties, icing bottles, fancy scribe tools, cookie turn tables, gadgets and gizmos a plenty. Nope, stop right there and watch this video.
Haniela’s channel on YouTube is one of the oldest channels out there. She’s been making cookies since at least 2003 – maybe longer. Her channel has existed since at least 2003. Did you see her piping? Did you see what she was using? She was using sandwich baggies, or Zip-Lock bags.
THAT’S ALL YOU NEED! A plastic baggie! You don’t need piping bags, you don’t need piping tips, you don’t need couplers and bottles and any other gadget that someone tells you you have to have. You need a plastic baggie.
Haniela used plastic baggies on her channel for years before she switched to piping bags. Baggies are so accessible for everyone – you probably have them in your cupboard.
An alternative to the sandwich bag is a parchment cone. This is the traditional piping tool used long before commercially produced bags were around. A parchment cone is just a sheet of parchment paper folded into a cone shape that is closed at the tip. The tip of the cone is snipped open with scissors or a knife to make an opening to pipe through. If you have parchment paper, you can make these very easily.
The only other thing I would recommend for your decorating process is a toothpick. I use a scribe tool when I’m decorating – this tool is useful for pushing icing into tiny areas and useful for pushing icing to the edge of your cookie. But you don’t need a scribe tool, or a boo boo stick, or a turkey lacer. All you need is a toothpick. It serves the same exact purpose.
So this is your real, no BS supply list to start decorating cookies. Let’s recap:
- Granulated Sugar and/or
- Powdered Sugar
- Egg White or Corn Syrup (Royal or Glaze)
- Wire whisk and/or electric hand mixer
- Rolling pin or round cylindrical item such as a drinking cup or can of pan spray
- Drinking glass for cutting or paring knife
- Baking pan (or aluminum foil sheet)
- Plastic sandwich bag or parchment paper
There are a couple of miscellaneous things that I haven’t mentioned such as a bowl and a spoon for thinning your icing or mixing colors. You can also add that to your list (or pull it out of your kitchen cabinet because you already have this).
Guys, this is it. The real, no BS, cookie decorating supply list. There are a million things out there that you can buy to help you decorate cookies. Feel free to add those things as your budget or your interest allows. But don’t let extensive lists and expensive tools stand in your way of getting started with cookie decorating.
If you want a more in-depth list of tools and supplies, you can check out my Frequently Used Tools for Cookie Decorators list. Even this list doesn’t have everything – but it is the list of things that I use most often as a full-time cookie decorator. I STILL don’t have all of the popular and trendy items out there because, to be honest, I do just fine without them.
Let me know what you think about the Real, No BS, Cookie Decorating Supply List. Does it make the thought of cookie decorating a little less intimidating and expensive? Let’s get baking!