Sugar cookies are a seasonal treat that can be enjoyed by kids of all ages for holidays and any other special day. This yummy sugar cookie frosting recipe will give you a smooth and thick vanilla frosting. You can get creative with this frosting and use food coloring gels to make any color you like. Toss on some colorful sprinkles for even more fun.
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It’s easy to pick up a can of store-bought frosting to make gorgeous cakes and sugar cookies, but when homemade frosting is so easy to make, why not give it a go? With homemade frosting, you get a super creamy spread that you can customize. Best of all, when you make your own frosting, you have control of the ingredients.
This sugar cookie frosting recipe calls for ingredients you probably already have in your fridge and pantry, including powdered sugar, unsalted butter, whole milk, and pure vanilla extract. When you buy store-bought frosting, it’s loaded with additives, syrups, and oils.
To make the perfect sugar cookie frosting, we use softened unsalted butter that’s whipped until it’s fluffy. A tiny bit of pure vanilla extract gives you all the flavor you need, and you can substitute almond extract if you want an almond-flavored frosting.
With this frosting recipe, you can use the base to make a rainbow of colored frosting. Portion the frosting out into ramekins and then color as desired.
Select Your Equipment
A stand mixer is perfect for making this frosting because it does most of the work for you. The paddle attachment works best, but you can also use the whisk attachment.
If you don’t have a stand mixer, that’s OK. You can use your hand mixer to make this easy sugar cookie frosting recipe. It only takes five minutes to create the perfect creamy frosting.
Other helpful equipment includes ramekins (for making colored frosting), a pastry bag and plain pastry tip, spatulas, and gel-based food coloring.
Use Softened Butter
We recommend laying out your butter on the countertop 30 minutes to an hour before you plan to make your frosting. This will allow the butter to soften to room temperature naturally. Be sure to use unsalted butter, not salted butter.
It’s important not to skip this step because heating the butter to soften it usually makes it too warm if you’re not super careful. If your microwave has a butter-softening setting, you can use that.
Unsalted butter should be softened until it reaches a temperature between 64 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit. This is the perfect temperature range for prime fat crystals to hold their shape.
Why is this important? It helps create air pockets inside the butter, and that’s what makes the sugar cookie frosting spread more easily. If the butter becomes too warm, it won’t whip up as you want it to, and it will be too dense and soft.
How do you know your butter is ready? Poke it gently. If it indents just slightly, it’s ready to whip.
Use Powdered Confectioners Sugar
White powdered sugar is also known as confectioner’s sugar. This is regular granulated sugar that has been finely ground into tiny sugar crystals. The crystals are mixed with a tiny amount of cornstarch that helps keep them from clumping when the sugar is stored.
Because the particles are so small, they create the smooth texture that’s needed for frosting. Additionally, the sugar helps create a thick and sturdy consistency that stands up well for frosting.
When you frost your cookies, the icing will dry at room temperature and set. While this icing attracts moisture from the surface of the frosting, it’s not sticky. It won’t become hard like royal icing. Royal icing isn’t ideal for cookies.
Add Milk to Adjust Your Frosting’s Consistency
Milk is added gradually to the butter and sugar mixture so that it becomes creamy. The whole milk will hydrate the sugar and help the butter and sugar combine. The reason we suggest adding 1 tablespoon at a time is that it makes it easier to incorporate air into the sugar and butter mixture.
At the end of your mixing time, add your last tablespoon of milk. This will smooth out the consistency of the frosting and at the same time, stay fluffy.
Are you looking for a creamy buttercream frosting for a frosted cookie? You can use heavy cream (heavy whipping cream) instead of milk to make buttercream frosting. If you’re interested in other frosting recipes, adapt this recipe to make cream cheese frosting, chocolate buttercream frosting, and more.
Whip the Frosting (But Don’t Over-Whip It)
We mix the butter by itself first so that the fat breaks down and becomes aerated. Then, we mix the milk, powdered sugar, and pure vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste using low speed. Mix the frosting on low speed at first, then switch to medium-high speed for a few minutes.
Mixing your sugar cookie frosting this way will ensure that the best sugar cookie icing becomes fluffy and light as air is incorporated into the mixture. If you whip the mixture too much, air pockets can form, and while that’s a great frosting for cakes, it’s not ideal for cookies.
You can adjust the consistency of your frosting so that it’s thinner. Just add in more milk, a teaspoon at a time, until it’s exactly how you want it. Is your frosting too thin? No problem. Add some more powdered sugar.
Make Colored Frosting
The homemade frosting is perfect for a soft sugar cookie, just as it is, and plain vanilla frosting is great for chocolate chip cookies. To keep your frosting pure white, you can use clear vanilla extract. However, if you want to make things more colorful and festive, you can use gel food coloring to make frosting in every color imaginable.
Why gel food colorings for iced sugar cookies? Gel food coloring is concentrated, so you need just a tiny bit. Also, because it’s a gel, it doesn’t dilute the frosting as liquid food coloring does. Can you use liquid food coloring for this recipe? Sure! Just be aware that your colors probably won’t be as bright and vibrant.
To make the colored frosting, use a spatula to spoon frosting into your ramekins or small bowls. Slowly mix the food coloring gel into the bowls of frosting, and be sure to cover them when you’re finished, so the frosting doesn’t become dry.
Customize the Flavor
Traditionally, vanilla is used to flavor easy sugar cookie icing However, you can use all sorts of extracts and flavorings to make this frosting. For example, consider flavors such as maple, anise, peppermint, almond extract, or honey.
To customize your frosting’s flavor, begin with 1/4 teaspoon of your desired extract. Then, add more gradually until you get the perfect flavor you want. Various flavorings have different concentrations, so start small and add more as needed.
Decorate Your Cookies
To create iced sugar cookies with your favorite sugar cookie recipe, you can use a butter knife or spatula if you want to keep things simple. Gently spread the frosting on all of the cookies.
For more intricate designs, you can use a frosting bag with a piping tip. Consider stars, rosettes, round shapes, and more. After you’ve frosted your cookies, top them with colorful sprinkles to make them gorgeous.
Storing Leftover Frosting
If you have leftover sugar cookie frosting, store it in the refrigerator in an airtight container. Keep in mind that this frosting is made with milk, so it needs to be kept cold or at room temperature for no more than two hours.
When you’re ready to use your frosting, pull it from the fridge and allow it to sit at room temperature for 2 hours. Stir well before frosting your cookies.
How to Use Your Frosting
Now that you know how to make the perfect cookie frosting, how can you use it? Of course, you can use it to make frosted sugar cookies any time of the year, and it’s wonderful for holidays (who doesn’t love an iced Christmas cookie?). Use a cookie cutter to create fun shapes, Christmas cookies, cutout sugar cookies using a baking sheet.
In addition to soft sugar cookies, you can also use this cookie frosting to frost other types of cookies, including sugar cookie bars.
Sugar Cookie Frosting Recipe
- 8-ounce Ramekins
- Stand Mixer
- Pastry Bag
- Gel-Based Food Coloring
- Offset Spatula
- Plain Pastry Tip
- 3 cups confectioner's sugar powdered sugar
- 6 Tbsp. softened unsalted butter
- 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
- 3 Tbsp. whole milk divided
- Attach the paddle attachment to your stand mixer. Add the softened butter to the mixing bowl and mix on medium-high speed for about 30 seconds or until the butter is smooth and creamy. Scrape the butter down the sides of the mixing bowl.
- Add the pure vanilla extract, powdered sugar, and 2 tablespoons of milk to the mixing bowl. On the lowest speed, mix these ingredients into the butter until it's well combined. This will take about 15 seconds.
- Increase the mixer speed to medium and continue mixing until the mixture becomes fluffy. This will take about 2 minutes. Halfway through the mixing time, scrape down the sides of the bowl.
- Add 1 more tablespoon of the milk and continue mixing on medium-high speed for between 15 and 30 seconds until the frosting is fluffy and smooth.
- Use the frosting as it is, or you can color it with food coloring or gel food color. Mix until you have the color you desire.
- If you don't use the frosting immediately, cover it with plastic wrap and refrigerate it.
- For a thicker icing: If you want thicker sugar cookie frosting, add an extra tablespoon of powdered sugar. Continue mixing the frosting on medium-high until your frosting is smooth. Continue adding powdered sugar 1 teaspoon at a time until the frosting is as thick as you want.
- For a thinner frosting: If you want a thinner frosting, add a teaspoon of whole milk and continue mixing on medium-high speed for about 15 seconds. Continue adding milk until it's the consistency you desire.