Here’s the Easiest Way to Make Your Holiday Cookies Stand Out

We love beautifully frosted Christmas cookies, but they can be hard work! But we found the easiest way to decorate your cookies this holiday: food pens!

For me, it’s just not the holidays until I’ve whipped up a few batches of Christmas cookies. These treats are what make the holidays feel so special to me—not to mention they bring on all those wonderfully nostalgic feelings. And you can bet that on my list of must-have bakes includes some classic cutouts and gingerbread cookies. After all, decorating Christmas cookies is one of the most fun holiday traditions at my house. If I’m being honest, though, frosting all those cookies can be pretty fussy work. Well, it used to be until I discovered the easiest way to decorate cookies without sacrificing any of the festive results: food pens!

What are food pens?

Now, before we get into how much I love using these fun tools to decorate, let me explain what food pens are in case you’ve never used them before. Essentially, they’re felt-tipped pens that use concentrated food dyes in place of ink. They’re just as easy to use as a normal marker and they work great on any firm surface like a plain cookie or royal icing. Just like traditional markers, food pens come in a whole assortment of colors and with all kinds of points (fine, wide and otherwise).

You can buy food color pens at most cake decorating shops, but you can always find them online, too. This five-piece set is a great option for beginners, though if you’re artistically inclined, you can opt for a 20-piece collection (this would be a great gift, too).

What cookies are best to use with food pens?

Before you start decorating, make sure you’re choosing the right cookie foundation. Sugar cookies and gingerbread cookies are always good options because they bake up nice and flat, plus you can choose whatever shape you like. I’m partial to this gingerbread recipe—it’s so perfectly seasonal with the hint of spice. Plus, the royal icing on top is the perfect blank slate for all your decorating desires.

Be sure you’re making the best cutouts possible with these tips.

How to decorate cookies with food pens

Once the cookies are cut out, baked and cooled, you can start decorating. If you choose to make a plain sugar cookie, you can decorate the cookie with the food pens even without frosting! The vibrant ink will show up well on a pale cookie.

However, food pens stand out best when used on a nice royal icing which sets up glossy and firm. This icing is easy to make—it’s just a blend of powdered sugar, meringue powder and water—and it firms up quite nicely making it the perfect foundation for your food pens. Once the royal icing is totally dry on your cookies, you can draw on any design you like. It’s as easy as sketching with a marker!

I love the idea of making Christmas card-like cookies adorned with a pretty scene, but you can sketch anything you like. Suddenly fine details, like doodling on Santa’s face or adding Rudolph’s shiny nose, are made simple. And these markers are a great way to personalize your holiday treats. A cutout cookie with your friend’s name on it will make the treat platter feel really special. (Be sure to follow these time-saving cookie tray tricks, too.)

With this simple addition to your decorating arsenal, you can create wonderfully creative but deceptively simple treats to share through the holiday season and beyond! And if you need some more decorating ideas, don’t worry—we’ve got you covered!

Get in the Christmas spirit and make all the cookies on our list.
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Lisa Kaminski
Lisa is an associate editor at Taste of Home where she gets to embrace her passion for baking. She pours this love of all things sweet (and sometimes savory) into Bakeable, Taste of Home's baking club. At home, you'll find her working on embroidery and other crafts.