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Cooking school 101: Claire’s guide to sugar cookies and royal Icing

Easter themed sugar cookies

Bake a batch of melt-in-your-mouth sugar cookies with my simple tips, then set yourself up for cookie success with my ultimate guide to decorating with royal icing.

Claire Brookman Fresh Ideas expert

“There’s something so soothing and special about making a batch of yummy sugar cookies, and whipping up a simple royal icing recipe to decorate the cookies. I’ve made them for Easter, Christmas, and even just as a gift for special occasions like baby showers or birthdays.

Any excuse, really! That’s why I love sugar cookies: they’re so versatile. You can make royal icing in all kinds of colours, then sprinkle your cookies with hundreds and thousands, or top with dried fruit or herbs.”

– Claire

Sugar cookies being cut out

What makes the perfect sugar cookie? Claire’s top tips:

  • Be precise and accurately measure your ingredients. Too much flour and the dough will be dry, and it will crack and crumble. Too little flour, and the dough will be wet and too sticky to roll out
  • Make sure to avoid overworking your sugar cookie dough, or the butter will start to melt and the gluten will develop, giving the cookies a tough texture. I recommend beating your dough ingredients until just combined.
  • Dividing the dough into smaller portions makes the dough easier to handle and roll out.
  • Rolling sugar cookie dough between sheets of baking paper means you won’t need extra flour, which can dry out the dough. The dough should be rolled to correct thickness – too thick and cookies will be undercooked; too thin and they’ll be fragile.
  • Dough that hasn’t been chilled enough can lose its shape during baking, plus well-chilled dough is easier to work with.
plain sugar cookies

Claire's expert hints for sensational sugar cookies


Avoid over-beating the butter and sugar mixture as this can lead to the mixture becoming too soft. This, in turn, can cause the cookies to spread excessively as well as lose their shape during baking.


Place cookies, 4cm apart, on trays. Bake until cooked and just starting to colour around the edges. If your oven has hot spots, rotate trays halfway through cooking. Cool cookies completely before decorating or storing.


Cookies that haven’t been iced can be stored in the freezer. I like to layer my sugar cookies between sheets of baking paper in an airtight container so they don’t stick together. Thaw your cookies in the fridge or at room temperature. You can also freeze the dough.

sugar cookies with royal icing

Add a touch of fun

  1. Once your dough is rolled out, use any cookie cutters you like, such as stars or hearts, or use two different sized rounds to create a wreath. The smaller the shape, the shorter the baking time will be.
  2. Sprinkle unbaked cookies with a mixture of sugar and spice, such as cinnamon or mixed spice, just before baking, or add a touch of spice to the butter mixture when sifting over the flour.
Easter-themed sugar cookies

How to be a royal icing artist

Ready to add icing? Here’s my easy and fun ways to make and create with royal icing

  • Icing can start to harden and form a crust while being used. To prevent this, cover your bowl with a damp paper towel or cloth and stir icing occasionally. If needed, add a drop of water to regain desired consistency.
  • Royal icing takes approximately 6 to 8 hours at room temperature to completely dry.
  • Always use pure icing sugar to make royal icing as it sets hard. Icing sugar mixture contains tapioca or maize starch, which stops the icing from setting completely
  • When colouring icing, remember that a little goes a long way. The colour will darken as it sets so only add a drop at a time until you reach your desired colour
Green royal icing

Get creative

  1. As well as tinting the icing, you can also flavour it. Try adding vanilla, lemon or rose extract to your icing mixture at the same time as you add colouring.
  2. Make cracked-egg cookies by piping 2 zigzag lines along the centre of egg-shaped cookies, then flood top and bottom with icing and leave the centre exposed. Carefully dip the cookies, icing-side down, into 100s and 1000s. Stand until set.
  3. To make watercolour egg cookies, simply ice the cookies and allow to set. Then dilute liquid food colouring with a little water until desired colour is achieved, then paint the icing on the cookies in a decorative pattern. Set aside to dry completely before serving.
  4. Alternatively, you can top the partially set icing with fresh herbs, such as thyme and rosemary leaves, and lemon zest.

More of Claire’s favourite cookie recipes:

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