For many of us, sugar cookies are a dessert staple during the holiday season, and decorating them is a family tradition. When food allergies are involved, traditions like these that used to be fun and easy can suddenly seem stressful and scary. But never fear! We've got some great tips for upgrading your cookie game this season to be 100% gluten-free and as allergen-friendly as possible.
The Perfect Cookie
The first step is, of course, making some cookies! Our sugar cooking baking mix takes a lot of the extra work out of the equation. Each bag of mix makes enough cookie dough for about 2 dozen cookies (depending on size). For the ultimate holiday cookie decorating party, we recommend starting with 2-3 bags. Pro Tip: If you don't have any other gluten-free flour on hand, make sure to save enough of the cookie mix to flour your board and rolling pin.
If you prefer to make your own cookie recipe from scratch, there are a few things to keep in mind. Different gluten-free flours have different weights and levels of starchiness, and the flour you choose can drastically affect the taste and texture of your cookies. If you are new to gluten-free baking and converting recipes, we recommend starting out with a 1:1 baking flour blend. These also tend to include xanthan gum, an ingredient that is commonly added to gluten-free baked goods as a thickener or stabilizer, so you won't need to shop for any other extra ingredients.
The next thing you'll need for allergen-friendly decorating is a good assortment of clean-label food coloring and sprinkles. Our go-to is a fellow Seattle-based brand, India Tree. Their "Nature's Colors" line of products is plant-based and colored with spices and vegetable juices (no pesky Red 40 or other dyes). A great starter set for holiday cookies would be their decorating color set, a few colors of decorating sugars, the Carnival Mix sprinkles, and the Peppermint Crunch or Snowflake sprinkles if you can get your hands on them. If you can't find them in a store near you, they are available online, or you can look for similar products from store brands such as Simple Truth Organics.
There are so many different ways to frost your cookies, from a basic sugar-and-water glaze to an elegant royal icing. One great option that allows for a lot of freedom in decorating without requiring expert-level skill is a buttercream frosting. It's a simple enough recipe, and very easy to convert to vegan if desired.
Buttercream Frosting Recipe
- 1 cup butter, softened
- 2 cups powdered sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- Dash of salt
- Cream butter.
- Mix in vanilla and salt.
- Gradually stir in powdered sugar until smooth.
To make a vegan frosting, use a vegan butter such as this one from Earth Balance. If you're feeling adventurous, trying adding up to a teaspoon of peppermint extract or any other flavor. Then divide your frosting into bowls, add food coloring, and it's time to get decorating!
With buttercream frosting, you can either spread and sprinkle, use a plastic bag to do basic piping, or use a full piping set to achieve more detailed designs. Here are just a few easy ideas to get you inspired and ready to unleash your creative side!
This is a great option if you want a minimalistic look with a lot of crunch, or if you're just getting tired and you're ready to put down the piping bag. Spread a nice, thick layer of frosting on your cookie. Then grab a bowl and a handful of decorating sugar. Place the cookie in the bowl and sprinkle the sugar over it. Pick the cookie up and lightly shake off excess sugar into the bowl. Pour that sugar from the bowl back into your hand, and repeat until the frosting is completely coated. To achieve a sparkling jewel-tone effect, use frosting and sugar of the same color, like we did with the red, green, and blue cookies above.
Snowflakes Two Ways
Unless you're shopping online and shopping early, snowflake-shaped cookie cutters can often be hard to find. A great tip is to use a hexagon or flower-shaped cookie cutter instead and create the snowflake design with piped frosting. Just be sure to get a flower with six petals. This will also be way more versatile and come in handy year-round. If all else fails, snowflakes look great on round cookies, too!
A beginner-level, more forgiving snowflake design can be made with white frosting and grated coconut. Use a wide round or star tip on your piping bag. Draw three straight lines across the cookie, intersecting in the middle. Then draw outward-facing V shapes at the end of each line. Add a small circle of extra frosting in the middle. Then sprinkle with finely grated coconut and lightly shake off excess. (If you only have shredded coconut, just throw a handful into a blender or food processor for a few seconds.) Simple and delicious!
If you're getting pretty handy with the piping bag and feeling artistic, try drawing with a finer line. First, spread a nice coat of blue frosting all over the cookie as smoothly as possible. Then use more white frosting in a piping bag with a narrow round tip. Draw the same pattern, but with more V shapes down the arms, or more arms ending in pearl-like dots instead of Vs, as shown below.
Flowers & Wreaths
Two designs that leave a ton of room for creativity are flowers and wreaths. I used the same round and flower-shaped cookie cutters as I did for my snowflakes. You can use a leaf tip to pipe red flower petals and rainbow sprinkles in the center to make a poinsettia like mine. And you could choose from a wide variety of tips to pipe a green wreath, and then decorate your wreath with whatever assortment of frosting or sprinkles you like! If you have a good set of piping bag tips, then the world is full of possibilities.