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Decorating Gingerbread Cookies: Betty’s Top 10 Tips

Enjoy some family fun and win the cookie swap this year with Betty’s easy tips for how to decorate gingerbread cookies. You’ll also find Betty’s favorite gingerbread cookie recipes, plus get the inside scoop on how to make gingerbread icing.

The next best thing to baking homemade gingerbread cookies? Decorating them! The sturdy nature of gingerbread dough makes these cookies the ideal canvas for icing, frosting, and all the decorations you can think of. From candies to sprinkles, the artistic possibilities are truly endless! Plus, you don’t have to stick to the classic gingerbread men and women—they can be cut into a variety of festive shapes including stars, trees, snowflakes, ornaments, and so much more. Each cookie is a unique opportunity to let your creativity shine, plus they make great personalized gifts—all you need is a simple gift bag and a ribbon to make someone’s day a little sweeter.

Equipped with a few baking supplies and Betty’s top 10 tips for how to decorate gingerbread cookies, you’re set to make this the best cookie season yet. Now’s a great time to invite the family into the kitchen, especially your little bakers and let your imaginations run wild. Don’t be afraid if it gets a little messy—it’s all a part of the process. Plus, it’s proven that the more messy the creativity gets, the more chance you have of slaying the annual cookie exchange!

Betty’s Top 10 Tips for How to Decorate Gingerbread Cookies

Bowl of dough being mixed with hand mixer next to a carton of eggs and cup of sugar

When it comes to decorating gingerbread cookies, Betty knows a thing or two! Whether this is your first or 41st time working with these classic cookies, always remember that gingerbread cookies are meant to be fun and festive—let your creativity shine. And don’t worry about perfection or get too focused on the end result, simply enjoy the process. By following these tips, you’re guaranteed to not only create a delicious and family-friendly treat, but beautiful memories that will last long after the last crumb is devoured.

1. Start with a Good Gingerbread Cookie Recipe

Before you spread on the frosting or icing, you of course need a reliable gingerbread cookie recipe. You want a gingerbread dough that is going to bake into cookies that are nice and firm so they stand up to the weight of your decorations. The cookies should hold their shape in the oven and bake to a texture that’s not too soft or too crumbly. To achieve this ideal texture, it’s a good idea to refrigerate your dough before baking. Gingerbread dough is known to be sticky, so let it rest for 30 minutes to an hour before you roll it out.

Our Favorite Homemade Gingerbread Cookie Recipes

Need a recipe? Betty’s got you! If you have time to make your dough from scratch, we’ve gathered a few of our favorite homemade recipes below. If you’ve got a million things on your to-do list or just want to get to decorating faster, take a shortcut to scratch with Betty’s Easy Gingerbread Man Cookies. They start with Betty Crocker™ Limited Edition Gingerbread Cookie Mix so you know they’re going to be easy and delicious.

2. Bake Evenly Shaped Cookies

Gingerbread dough rolled out and cookie cutter used to cut out gingerbread men

Baking evenly shaped cookies comes down to how you roll out your dough. First, dust your rolling surface and rolling pin with flour to prevent the gingerbread dough from sticking. To make transferring the cutouts to a cookie sheet easier, roll the dough directly onto parchment paper. Make sure to roll out the dough to a consistent thickness, about 1/4 inch. Try to roll the dough out in as few passes as possible to avoid overworking it, which can make the cookies tough. Use your favorite cookie cutters—stars, snowflakes, trees, anything is fair game—to cut out the cookies and bake according to the recipe you’re using and let them cool completely before decorating.

Tip:

You can freeze undecorated gingerbread cookies in an airtight container for up to four weeks. Make a double batch then pull the backup out of the freezer when you need an activity for the kids or have company on the way.

3. Prepare Your Icing

Bowl of white icing with rubber spatula and measuring spoon of extract being poured in

Royal icing is the best for decorating gingerbread cookies because it dries hard. It's typically made from powdered sugar and egg whites though you can also make it using  meringue powder and water. Before decorating, make sure your royal icing is the right consistency—it should be like melted chocolate at room temp. Thicker icing is best for outlining cookies because it holds its shape better. For flooding or filling in your cookies, thinner icing is best. Add powdered sugar to thicken your icing or water to thin it. To add color to your icing, gel food coloring often works better vs. liquid or powdered coloring, just be sure to mix your coloring all the way through.

Tip:

Want to learn how to make gingerbread icing? Check out this easy Royal Icing recipe. For even more tips and tricks, read our How to Decorate Cookies with Royal Icing article.

What’s the Difference Between Royal Icing and Frosting?

Royal icing and frosting are both great choices for cookie decorating but there are a few differences to remember. Royal icing hardens quickly with a more glossy finish, which makes it better for more detailed decorations like borders and lettering. Frosting has a more creamy, spreadable texture but doesn’t harden like royal icing, so it’s better for more simple decorations. Frosting is also easier to work with, making it a great choice for kids and beginners.

Betty Crocker™ Frosting
Betty Crocker™ Frosting
Short on time or have your kiddos helping you in the kitchen? No problem! With so many colors and flavors to choose from, Betty Crocker™ Rich & Creamy frosting is the perfect choice. (Betty has ready-made icing too!) It goes on smoothly and easily for guaranteed decorating success.

4. Use Piping Bags and Tips

Baked gingerbread  men on a wire rack being decorated with white icing and red candies

For beginners, a small round tip is perfect for outlining and adding details. Larger tips work great for flooding or filling in. Before filling your piping bags, make sure that your icing is the desired consistency. Royal icing hardens quickly once exposed to air, so be sure the bag is sealed and all of the air bubbles are squeezed out. Consistent pressure is key when applying royal icing. Holding the piping bag with your dominant hand near the top, use your other hand to guide the tip and apply steady, even pressure for a uniform flow.

5. Plan and Practice Your Design

Maybe you’re planning a specific or more detailed design for your gingerbread cookies, or maybe you’re craving a little practice with the piping bag before getting started on the real deal. Try sketching out your designs on paper and practicing your piping skills on parchment paper or broken cookies. You can always scoop up the practice icing and reuse it on your cookies.

6. Outline and Flood Your Cookies

Always start by outlining the edges of your cookies with thicker icing first. This will prevent the center icing from spilling over the edges. Holding the tip slightly above the cookie surface, move at a steady pace to allow the icing to flow out and settle smoothly. Once the outline has set slightly, use a thinner icing to flood the inside. Applying light to medium pressure and using a back and forth motion, fill in the areas with a thin layer of icing. Use a toothpick or a small tool to spread the icing evenly and pop any air bubbles.

7. Add Designs and Details

Decorated gingerbread men placed on a wire rack with red candies being placed on one cookie

Once the icing you’ve used to outline and flood your cookies has set, you can use thicker icing to add designs and details. Start with simple designs like dots, lines and swirls, especially for beginner and younger bakers. As you get more comfortable, you can try more complex patterns like snowflakes, stars or even small characters. Use different colors to create intricate designs, patterns and embellishments. Have fun exploring and experimenting with different shapes, hues and patterns!

Tip:

To create simple dot decorations, hold your piping bag at a 90 degree angle to the cookie surface and lift the bag and tip straight up when closing off a dot.

8. Use Sprinkles and Candies

gingerbread cutouts placed on a baking sheet and some with red and green sanding sugar

You didn’t think we’d forget about the sprinkles and candies, did you?! You can embellish your gingerbread with sprinkles, colored sugars, small candies—the possibilities are endless! Plus, if you haven’t yet perfected your piping skills (it takes time and practice!) or you’re working with little baking beginners, sprinkles and candies are an easy way to add texture and color to your cookies. The key is to add your decorations while your icing is still wet so that they are sure to stick.

9. Let Icing Dry Completely

Once your gingerbread cookies are decorated, allow them to dry completely before handling or storing them. This can take several hours or overnight, depending on the thickness of the icing. Once decorated, gingerbread cookies will last up to two weeks in a covered, airtight container. To keep your cookies from sticking together, place sheets of wax paper in between each layer of cookies.

10. Share Your Gingerbread Cookies

Treat boxes wrapped in red and white ribbons and string

Now that you know how to decorate gingerbread cookies, as well as how to make gingerbread icing, it’s time to share them! With a little decorative packing, like festive boxes lined with parchment paper, clear cellophane bags tied with ribbon or even a mason jar with a decorated lid, you have an affordable, personalized, and thoughtful gift for family and friends. For an extra special touch, add a handwritten note, a card with a holiday greeting or the recipe you used to bake the cookies so the giftee can get in on the baking fun too.

More Gingerbread Recipes You’ll Love