How to Decorate Shortbread Cookies

Updated November 21, 2016

Shortbread cookies are an all-time favourite with many families. They are made of the simplest of ingredients: sugar, flour, butter and salt. These cookies can be decorated by using either butter cream frosting or royal icing. You can pipe on a design using decorator tips, sprinkle with coloured granulated sugar and nonpareils, or dip them in melted chocolate.

Bake shortbread cookies and cut into shapes, using cookie cutters. Cool them.

Combine ingredients to make either royal icing or butter cream frosting. For butter cream frosting, combine 1 cup softened butter, 1 tsp vanilla extract, 2 tbsp milk, and 4 cups confectioner's sugar. Cream butter, vanilla and milk together. Add the icing sugar, beating it in one cup at a time. Separate the icing into bowls and tint with different food colourings. Keep the unused portions covered to avoid drying out. To make royal icing, gather 4 egg whites, 4 cups of confectioner's sugar, and 1 tsp lemon extract or lemon juice. Beat the egg whites on high speed until foamy and stiff. Gradually add the icing sugar and lemon juice. Colour and use the icing immediately, or cover it well in an airtight container to avoid hardening.

Spread the cookies with frosting using a rubber spatula or table knife. If you prefer the texture of royal icing, apply it by piping it onto the edges of the cookie, using a pastry bag. Fill in the centre.

Add other decorations to the cookies, such as multicoloured or chocolate sprinkles or coloured granulated sugar, while the topping is still moist and sticky. Butter cream frosting is the perfect consistency for creating flowery rosettes or decorative lines. Use a pastry bag with decorator tips for this technique.


Butter cream frosting is thick and easily spreads with a knife. Royal icing results in a smoother, glassy surface that is attractive but harder to work with,due to its thin consistency. It is best to pipe it through a pastry bag and work quickly. Royal icing is fast-drying. When using melted chocolate as a topping, simply dip the end of the cookie into a bowl of melted chocolate chips mixed with a bit of shortening. Dip and lay out on a wire rack to solidify.

Things You'll Need

  • Royal icing or butter cream frosting recipe
  • Confectioner's sugar
  • Butter or shortening
  • Egg whites
  • Lemon juice
  • Vanilla extract
  • Food colouring
  • Large mixing Bowl
  • Measuring cups and spoons
  • Rubber spatula
  • Pastry bag
  • Decorator tips
  • Coloured sprinkles
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