How freaking cute are these Hand-Painted Sugar Cookies?!They’re a favorite from my nanny days. That’s right—this is one cookie decorating method that is surprisingly kid-friendly. No soon-to-be-hard-as-rock royal icing, just delicious, colorful sugar cookies with a little icing flourish.It all goes back to a sweet request from a seven year-old (who is now eleven, which is enough to make me want to cry). He and I had gotten into the rather enjoyable habit of baking together on Friday afternoons. I usually chose what we made, but then he asked if we could decorate cookies one day and…well, it sounded a little fun and a little insane and I like to think I’m a little of both of those things.I knew I was not going to give this kid a bag of royal icing—he had difficulty with basic motor skills, so giving him a bag of sugar-based concrete simply was not an option. Also, he had a two year-old little sister (who is now six…*sobs*) who was prone to very enthusiastic Taylor Swift dance parties and getting stuff everywhere (because she was, in fact, two). But I wanted to fulfill his request, so I spent that night baking a batch of plain sugar cookies and took five minutes the following day to whisk together a few different colors of sweetened condensed milk paint. I lined the breakfast table with wax paper, tied aprons around both kids and, with some real hesitation, gave them paintbrushes.While I was aware that this little culinary arts & crafts project could have gone very messy, it actually ended up being one of the happiest afternoons of my nannying career. Since both kids had handled a paintbrush before, they had the motor skills to paint the cookies the way they wanted. Once they were done with their masterpieces, I baked them a few minutes to set. Once the painted cookies were cool and no longer sticky, I piped on some icing with their direction.By far, the best part was that the kids were super excited and proud to show their work to their parents, and their parents and I were happy that they had spent an entire afternoon without asking for a screen, or worse, saying they were bored. #childcarewin After that, we had a cookie-painting party for every holiday, birthday, and sleepover. There was always a little mess, of course, but there’s also mess when I, a real-live adult, paint cookies too. In this case, it can be wiped away easily, instead of chiseled off counters and floors while saying every curse word I know (and I know a lot of them).Now, it has been a few years since I last nannied, and I don’t have kids or nieces and nephews, but I still love to decorate cookies this way. Painting with sweetened condensed milk paint is a very meditative process, and I can very happily while away a few hours with a few colors of paint and a pack of brushes. I’ve even considered having friends over for an afternoon of cookie painting instead of a more traditional swap. Doesn’t that sound fun?!I highly recommend using a fresh (or at least, food-dedicated) set of paintbrushes for painting cookies. Don’t use the cheapest you find—those tend to lose bristles in the painting process. The second-cheapest are totally okay though. The set I used here goes for $5 at Michaels.You could absolutely detail your Hand-Painted Sugar Cookies with royal icing, but I think a very thick batch of simple icing works just as well and is twice as easy to make. Whatever you choose to use, know that it will take several hours to fully dry.But like, you can definitely eat cookies with slightly damp icing. It’s the holidays. Live your best life.
Cream Cheese Sugar Cookies
makes 3-4 dozen medium cookies
3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
4 oz (1/2 brick) full-fat brick-style cream cheese, softened to room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 large egg, room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon pure almond extract
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
In a separate large mixing bowl, use an electric mixer to beat butter and cream cheese until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Cream in granulated and light brown sugars, followed by the egg, vanilla, and almond extract. Add dry ingredients in 3 installments, combining completely after each. Divide dough into quarters and wrap each in plastic wrap. Chill for at least 3 hours, or up to 3 days.
Preheat oven to 350F. Line two baking sheets with parchment. Set aside.
Lightly flour a surface and a rolling pin. Take one quarter of chilled dough at a time, roll it to 1/4-inch thickness, and cut with cookie cutters. Place cut cookies at least 1-inch apart on prepared baking sheets. Bake cookies 7-8 minutes, until no longer raw-looking. Let cookies cool on the pans for five minutes before removing to a rack to cool completely. Repeat rolling, cutting, and baking with any remaining dough.
Cookies will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for up to a week.
Sweetened Condensed Milk Cookie Paint
makes up to 14 colors
1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
food coloring (gel or liquid)
wax paper or parchment paper
To make one tablespoon of one color of paint:
Combine 1 tablespoon of sweetened condensed milk, 1/8 teaspoon (or more) of food coloring, and 1/8 teaspoon water in a small bowl. Use a fork to whisk until combined. Adjust color as necessary. Paint will be thick. Repeat until you have all your desired colors.
To paint a cookie:
Preheat oven to 350F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment.
Line a surface with wax paper or parchment paper. Using a clean paintbrush, apply 1 thin layer of cookie paint to the top of a baked & cooled sugar cookie. For a richer color, let set 5 minutes at room temperature before applying a second coat of paint. Rinse brushes well with water and blot with a towel before switching colors.
Bake cookies 5 minutes. Let cookies cool completely on a rack. Decorate with Simple Detail Icing (recipe below), if desired.
Simple Detail Icing
makes enough for one batch of sugar cookies
2 cups confectioners sugar
6-8 teaspoons milk
In a small bowl, use a fork to whisk together confectioners sugar and 6 teaspoons milk. Add milk by the 1/2 teaspoon until icing dribbled into the bowl forms a ribbon that fades within a few seconds. Place 1/2 cup of icing into a piping bag with a tip. Alternatively, load icing into a plastic sandwich bag and snip a very tiny corner. Decorate cookies as desired.
Icing will start to set within an hour, but will not completely harden for 12-24 hours.