How to Make Painted Cookies . . . Without Special Tools or Ingredients

How to Make Painted Cookies . . . Without Special Tools or Ingredients

Last week, I set out to bake some sugar cookies. I’d been trying to think of a creative way to visually represent each culture I research on this blog, so I thought, why not decorate the cookies with flags from upcoming regions?

I’d always been a fan of creative cookies, but I’d never thought of painting cookies with food coloring until I saw this example, this example, and this example on Pinterest. I had to try it. I read some tutorials on how to make royal icing as well as how to pipe and flood cookies (totally doable with freezer bags and no special tips), but I hadn’t looked into the details of food coloring—I could just use the standard tiny blue, green, yellow, and red bottles with the cone caps, right?

When it came to the day, though, I discovered that the cookies I had seen that inspired this project were actually painted with fancy food coloring pens, and other food artists all seemed to use powdered food coloring for painting on cakes. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do, but I decided to try two methods—oil painting and watercolor painting.


1. Oil Painting


Taking hints from the oil painting for cakes method, the first method I tried was oil painting the cookies by mixing a dab of non-hydrogenated vegetable shortening with a few drops of food coloring.


Why it didn’t work:


Everyone knows water and oil don’t mix, so I wasn’t too optimistic.While this did transfer color onto the cookies, there were three problems with it:

  1. the color difficult to mix
  2. the colors were muted
  3. the shortening and the color easily came off the cookie when touched, even once dry.

So, if you’re working with liquid food colors, I would advise staying away from this method unless you’re going for a muted look.


2. Watercolor Painting


The second method I tried was the watercolor method. What you’re supposed to do with this method is mix equal parts food coloring and water (just a few drops of each) and paint on the cookie as you would watercolors.


Why it didn’t work well:


I think this method is fine is you’re just having fun and trying to get color onto the cookies. However, if you’re looking for exact colors and brush precision with this method, it won’t work well for you. Here’s why:

  1. Even the slightest amount of water really dilutes the color—red becomes rose, dark blue becomes sky blue.
  2. The excess liquid in the cookie soaks into the dried royal icing and creates uneven splotches and streaks of color, just as would happen with watercolor paper. (If you’re going for an authentic watercolor look, this could actually be a benefit for you.)
  3. The consistency of water plus food coloring is very runny—it will be difficult to achieve precision with this method.
  4. Colors will bleed, anyway.

I had to find another way. I remember my mom telling me when I was only four that you should always dilute food coloring with water, but maybe that was for coloring dough. In any case, I knew that if I wanted to achieve true colors with precise details, I’d have to forgo the added water and paint the food coloring directly onto the cookie.


What Worked: Painting with Undiluted Food Coloring


Food coloring isn’t the healthiest thing to consume a lot of, so I only recommend this for special occasions, unless you make your own, natural food coloring (my next project to try!). Just squeeze out a few drops of each color in a muffin tin, and then mix the colors you want in the extra compartments (light green, brown, purple, black…). Undiluted, all the colors look very similar, so it might be a good idea to use post-it notes to label what color is inside each compartment. More than once, I stuck my brush into the brown compartment when I was looking for blue.

You will need:


  1. sturdy plastic bags (freezer bags work well)
  2. the ingredients for royal icing: pasteurized egg white or merengue powder and powdered sugar/confectioner’s sugar
  3. sugar cookies to frost and decorate
  4. a set of simple, new and unused paintbrushes (the ones for kids work well—make sure you pick up a set that includes a tiny brush for details!)
  5. scissors
  6. basic liquid food colors
  7. a muffin tin or a large plate to use as a palette
  8. paper towels to clean up
  9. time (depending on how detailed you want your cookies to be, plan on spending at least 10—20 minutes on each cookie. Very detailed cookies could take even longer—one of mine took nearly two hours).


Now I have cookies with the flags (or coats of arms or seals, if flags weren’t available) for the next several weeks of locations! Stay tuned for more cookie decorating tips and tricks.


Written by A. Alexander


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