You want to make pretty cookies, but you can never get your icing nice and smooth. Well, that's because cookie decorators don't use old fashioned butter cream icing. We use something called Royal Icing. It's a very simple recipe, but it gives great results.
1 egg white (if you don't want to use an egg white you can use 3 T meringue powder)
4 C powdered sugar
ABOUT 1 - 2 T water
Mix the egg white and the powdered sugar, then add the water gradually to get the consistency you want.
It's that simple. I actually use lemon juice instead of water to give a little more flavor to my icing. If you use vanilla, it will tint your icing and it won't be white. Lemon juice doesn't have that issue.
So, why use royal icing. It gives a nice smooth canvas to decorate on, and the big thing, it dries "hard" so that you can stack cookies, unlike buttercream icing.
The procedure with royal icing is slightly different as well.
To start with, you want a stiffer icing because this is going to be your edge and what holds the next step together. This should be about the consistency of toothpaste, or a little bit thicker, but you don't want to have to squeeze too hard to get it out.
If you're not going to be doing a lot of decorating, buy a set of disposable bags from a company like Wilton. You can find the bags in craft stores in the cake decorating section. You can also find them at Walmart. Or you can use a plain old zip top bag.
There are a couple of ways to use these. You can cut a small hole in the corner of the bag and use that, or you can buy tips, again, from craft stores or Walmart. If you're lucky enough to live near a cake or cookie decorating store, you can find all kinds of neat tools. You can also drop the tip into the bag and use it that way, or you can use a coupler. With these the wider part goes into the bag, just cut the opening a little bigger so that the end comes out of the hole. Then attach your tip and screw the ring on. This allows you to change tips without having to empty the bag.
This is what it looks like when it's put together.
Now outline your cookie.
Let this dry for a little bit. This is the border that's going to hold in the next step, the flood icing.
To make flood icing, take your regular icing and add a little bit more liquid too it. You want it about the consistency of glue so that it flows easily, but not too liquidy.
Squeeze this onto your cookie. You don't need to totally fill the cookie with the icing, and if you do, you run the risk of it overflowing.
Next you take a toothpick, or something similar and spread the flood icing. It will flow somewhat on it's own, but spread it into the corners and up against the edge, unless you want to leave a gap.
Let these dry, preferably overnight. You will now have a nice blank canvas to add any details you want to. If you don't wait long enough, the designs and colors can bleed into each other. Sometimes you want to do this on purpose, like I did with my tie dye cookie.
You can add coloring at any point in time. My personal preference is Americolor. I prefer them over Wilton for several reasons. The colors are incredibly concentrated so you don't need as much. These come in a squeeze bottle so it's easier to control the color, rather than Wilton where it's in a little jar and you have to scoop it out or dip something into it, then dip that into your icing. I have had the caps on the Wilton bottles crack, or the jars leak, which leaves a giant mess.
Whatever you choose to do, have fun with it. There are so many fun cookie cutters available now, and the only limit is your creativity. If you want to see what I mean, check out some amazing cookie decorators. Sweetopia, JP Creatibles, and Sugar Belle are amazing blogs and the detail they put in their cookies is beyond description. They are true cookie artists.
You can also check out my photos on my Facebook page. I'm a work in progress, but it might give you some ideas or inspiration.