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How to decorate cookies with buttercream – and the best buttercream frosting recipe for cookies – skip the royal icing and make this! It’s easy to do and tastes so much better.

chocolate sugar cookies decorated with bright frosting


I always have preferred buttercream cookies to royal icing ones – I’ve made my cut out cookies with frosting for over 20 years and always used buttercream. While I love watching royal icing videos and think they’re so pretty – they’re just too complicated for me. I’m not a frosting perfectionist – while I love the look of them I can never seem to make them look the way I see the cookies in my head. Buttercream never does that to me!

A basic cookie icing is so simple with just a few ingredients – and you can frost with it in so many ways. Use different tips and food coloring to create the sugar cookies of your dreams – without worrying about drying time, flooding consistency, or overflow. Christmas cookies goals unlocked!

I promise this recipe not only tastes amazing but it’s something anyone can do. If I can do it, so can you. It’s the best sugar cookie frosting!

piping bags with buttercream

Important Ingredients

This recipe is very similar to my vanilla buttercream frosting recipe, with one noticeable change: milk vs heavy cream.

  • Butter: Use softened room temperature butter. I prefer using unsalted but you can use salted butter, just reduce or omit the added salt.
  • Powdered Sugar: this gives the body to the frosting. Don’t pack it!
  • Milk: While my normal buttercream for cakes uses heavy whipping cream, I prefer milk for cookie frosting. It dries a bit crustier than cream or half and half. You can also use nondairy milk, like almond milk or soy.
  • Vanilla Extract: This is so important for flavor! I always use pure vanilla. I don’t find it changes the color too much – and I don’t like the flavor of imitation, which is why I don’t use the clear vanilla extract you find at craft stores. You can also add a bit of almond extract for extra flavor if you like.

How to make Buttercream for Cookies

  • Add softened butter, powdered sugar, and salt to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. You can also use a hand mixer, but you’ll want to add a little bit of sugar at a time and it will take longer.
  • Mix until the sugar and butter are crumbly, then add the vanilla and milk a bit at a time. Mix on medium-high speed until creamy and the frosting has a spreadable consistency. Be sure to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl during mixing.
  • Add food coloring as desired and place in piping bags or use an offset spatula to frost your cookies.
food coloring, piping tips, clips, and bags.

Tools I love for decorating cookies

Sometimes I just use a butter knife to frost cookies, but other times I want to be more fancy and use piping tips and food coloring.

  • Piping Bags: I always use plastic disposable piping bags. The 12-inch size is perfect.
  • Piping Tips: While I have a piping tip kit, I usually use just a handful of other tips. My favorites are a 1M tip, tip number 1-5, and some of the small star tips.
  • Couplers: Adding a coupler to a pastry bag allows you to easily switch out the tip and use the same color on another design.
  • Food Coloring: Gel food coloring is the best to use because it doesn’t thin your frosting like liquid food colors and they give nice vibrant colors (like, actual red and black).
  • Bag Clips: These aren’t required but I like them because it helps keep the frosting from drying out.

Favorite Piping Tips

I often wonder what a piping will look like with different tips. I’ve created these graphics so you can see which tip looks like what.

For outlining cookies and filling in the center, I’ll use Tip #3 or Tip #4.

For trees or decorative stars, I’ll use Tip #30, 74, 3B, or Tip 199.

These are all Wilton tip numbers – different brands have different numbers.

christmas shaped cookies with frosting decorating the cookies

Tip From Dorothy

Expert Tips

  • You can make your frosting ahead of time and store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
  • You can even freeze frosting for up to 3 months in an airtight container.
  • Allow chilled frosting to come to room temperature on the counter for at least 1-2 hours. You may need to add a bit more milk if the frosting is too thick after sitting.
  • Sprinkles make every cookie design look better!
  • This frosting goes perfectly on chocolate cut out cookies, classic sugar cookies, and even shortbread cut out cookies!
  • These cookies are stackable with minimal transfer after you’ve allowed them to dry – the top of the icing will form a slight crust.
valentines day themed heart shaped chocolate cookies

FAQs

Are buttercream cookies stackable?

Once you let the frosting set, these are stackable with just minimal transfer. They do not harden like royal icing cookies but they aren’t so messy you can’t stack them on a plate.

Can you freeze buttercream cookies?

Place them in a single layer on a cookie sheet and cover them with plastic wrap. Freeze until solid then stack in airtight containers between layers of parchment or wax paper. Separate stacks before thawing.

chocolate sugar cookies decorated with bright frosting
5 from 2 votes
Decorate your sugar cookies with buttercream for the perfect easy decorated cookie.
Prep Time 30 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes
Yield 36 cookies
Serving Size 1 cookie

Ingredients
 

  • 4 cups (452g) powdered sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup (113g) unsalted butter , softened
  • 1 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons milk regular, low- or non-fat, or nondairy
  • Food color and/or sprinkles if desired

Instructions

  • Beat butter until smooth in a large bowl with an electric mixer.
  • Slowly mix in powdered sugar, then vanilla and 1 tablespoon of milk at a time until the frosting is the consistency you desire.
  • Tint the frosting if you want it a color.
  • Frost cookies, decorating them with sprinkles. Store loosely covered at room temperature.

Recipe Notes

  • If using salted butter, omit added salt.
  • You can make your frosting ahead of time and store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
  • You can even freeze frosting for up to 3 months in an airtight container.Allow chilled frosting to come to room temperature on the counter for at least 1-2 hours. You may need to add a bit more milk if the frosting is too thick after sitting.
  • For outlining cookies and filling in the center, I’ll use Tip #3 or Tip #4.
  • For trees or decorative stars, I’ll use Tip #30, 74, 3B, or Tip 199.

Recipe Nutrition

Serving: 1cookie | Calories: 76kcal | Carbohydrates: 13g | Protein: 0.1g | Fat: 3g | Saturated Fat: 2g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 0.1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 1g | Trans Fat: 0.1g | Cholesterol: 7mg | Sodium: 17mg | Potassium: 3mg | Sugar: 13g | Vitamin A: 81IU | Calcium: 2mg | Iron: 0.01mg
Nutritional information not guaranteed to be accurate
Course Dessert
Cuisine American

Favorite Cookies to Frost



Dorothy Kern

Welcome to Crazy for Crust, where I share recipes that are sometimes crazy, often with a crust, and always served with a slice of life.

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