For the past few years, I’ve been completely blown away by the gorgeous sugar cookies floating around Pinterest and Instagram. When I had the opportunity to take a cookie decorating class from a local pro, I signed up on the spot. After a great evening of tips, techniques, and seriously cute cookies, I came home and immediately invested in more decorating supplies (Amazon Prime, anyone?!).
Since practice (lots of practice!) makes perfect, these cut-out Valentine sugar cookies are my variation on everything I learned that evening, with plenty of tips included below. Soft and buttery, the cream cheese sugar cookies are the perfect base for royal icing and sweet sprinkles.
Perhaps my most important takeaway is that cookies are just cookies. If you’re new to decorated cookies and you’re a perfectionist too, of course you’ll want to practice your skills. But don’t forget to have fun as you practice!
- 2 1/2 cups flour
- 3/4 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 oz reduced fat cream cheese, at room temperature
- 1 large egg, at room temperature
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/4 tsp pure almond extract
- 4 cups powdered sugar, sifted
- 3 Tbsp meringue powder
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- 8 Tbsp water (at room temperature)
- gel food color
- Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. Beat butter and sugar in a large mixer bowl at medium speed until creamy; beat in cream cheese and egg until combined. Beat in extracts until incorporated. Reduce speed to low and gradually add flour mixture; beat just until incorporated.
- Divide dough in half and roll out each half into just shy of a 1/4-inch thickness between two pieces of parchment paper. Transfer to the refrigerator (keep flat) and chill for at least 1 hour, or overnight. Once the dough has chilled, preheat oven to 350°F and line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Remove the top layer of parchment paper from the dough and use cookie cutters (see note below) to cut out cookies before transferring to prepared baking sheets. Chill in the refrigerator for 20 minutes.
- Bake, rotating pans halfway through, for about 14 minutes, until lightly golden and tops and edges are set. Let cookies cool completely on baking sheets before decorating (cookies can be baked a day ahead).
- For the royal icing, combine powdered sugar, meringue powder, vanilla, and water in a large mixer bowl fitted with wire whip attachment. Mix on low speed to combine, then increase speed to high for 4 to 5 minutes, beating until smooth and glossy. If the icing seems too thick, add additional water 1 tablespoon at a time. If the icing seems too thin, add more powdered sugar. When you lift the wire whip attachment from the icing, the icing should drizzle down and smooth out in 15 seconds.
- Spoon 1 cup of royal icing into a small bowl and add a few drops of red gel food color, folding in with a clean spatula. Continue to add gel color until you reach a color about 2 shades lighter than your desired color (royal icing color will continue to develop as the cookies dry). Spoon 1 cup of royal icing into a separate bowl and add a few drops of pink gel color, folding in with a clean spatula. Continue to add gel color until you reach a color about 2 shades lighter than your desired color. The rest of your royal icing will remain white.
- To decorate, spoon icing into piping bags fitted with piping tip #4. Outline the cookies, leaving a 1/4″ border, and flood the center. After you’ve applied the icing, gently shake the cookies to settle any bumps. Top with sprinkles, and let the cookies dry completely (6-8 hours) before serving. For the large hearts, outline and flood the cookies, leaving a 1/2″ border. Immediately pipe horizontal lines of alternating colors. Use a toothpick or a scriber needling tool to drag alternating vertical lines gently through the icing. Let set for 30 minutes, then pipe a white border around the hearts. Let the cookies dry completely (6-8 hours) before serving. For the cupcakes, outline and flood the red heart and the cupcake wrappers. Let set for 30 minutes, then outline and flood the white icing. Top with sprinkles, and let set for 1 hour before piping a white border around the cupcake wrappers. Let the cookies dry completely (6-8 hours) before serving.
- Store decorated cookies covered at room temperature for 3-4 days.
Yield: Recipe yield will vary depending on the size of your cookie cutters. Cookie cutters: I recommend a set of heart cookie cutters. For the cupcake, I used this cookie cutter plus a small heart cookie cutter – punch out a portion of the frosted section into a heart shape. Use the heart cutter to punch out a heart, and place the heart right next to the cupcake so that two pieces will bake together into one cookie.
Make ahead: Shaped, unbaked cookies can be frozen up to 3 months and baked directly from the freezer, adding 1-2 minutes to baking time. Royal icing can also be made ahead – store covered in an airtight container, with a piece of plastic wrap directly touching the surface of the icing.