The usual assortment of naturally colorful pure fruit-juice concentrates normally sold in supermarket freezer cases works well in this recipe. However, be sure to read labels, as some frozen juice products are tinted with the same commercial petrochemical food dyes you’re trying to avoid! I’ve found cranberry, orange, Concord grape, raspberry-white grape and cherry-grape all produce lovely, unique shades. Many more hues can be created by blending the shades together or adding a tiny amount of cocoa powder. I’ve provided a starter list of blends and the resulting colors they produce below, but, like an artist, you can mix and experiment to create many more custom hues.
The directions call for using the maximum amount of juice to produce the brightest colors, but if paler shades are preferred, simply substitute some water for part of the juice concentrate called for. In case you’re wondering, the juices do flavor as well as color these icings—most tasters find this actually enhances and adds dimension to the frostings. Note that bottled juice concentrates often stocked on shelves in health food stores are not a good choice. The au naturel color pigments tend to fade at room temperature, so the frozen concentrates are much better for decorating.
On the assumption that you’ll want to make several colors of icing at once, the basic recipe yields enough to fully decorate around 12 to 15 cookies. I normally make up at least three or four colors to provide an appealing “rainbow” array for decorating a batch of sugar cookies. But feel free to double, triple or even quadruple the recipe to decorate an entire batch in a single color.
Recipe from Simply Sensational Cookies (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) by Nancy Baggett. Photography by Diane Cu and Todd Porter. Copyright 2012.
- 1 cup powdered sugar, sifted after measuring, if lumpy, plus more if needed
- 1 teaspoon commercial meringue powder or pure dried egg white powder, optional (omit if preparing sprinkles to be added before baking)
- 2 tablespoons frozen (thawed) cranberry, orange, Concord grape, raspberry-white grape, or cherry-grape juice concentrate (or a combination), plus more if needed
- 1⁄2 teaspoon light corn syrup
- 1⁄2 to 3 teaspoons unsweetened natural (non-alkalized) cocoa powder or Dutch-process cocoa powder, sifted after measuring, if lumpy, optional
- In a small deep bowl, vigorously stir together the powdered sugar and meringue powder, if using. Stir in the juice concentrate (or desired blend of concentrates) and corn syrup until very well blended and completely smooth. If a brown color or brownish tint is desired, stir in cocoa powder as needed at the same time. Adjust the consistency by adding more juice concentrate to thin the icing, or powdered sugar to stiffen it. Adjust the color by adding in more of the desired juice or cocoa powder or by incorporating a little water for a less intense shade.
- Thoroughly stir in the juice concentrate until the mixture flows readily but is not runny; be sure any added liquid is fully incorporated or the icing may look streaky. Using a table knife, small pastry brush, or clean artist’s paintbrush, spread a thin, but even, layer of icing over flat cookie surfaces. (If you’re an “advanced” decorator, feel free to pipe outlines that can be flooded, first.) Domed cookies may also be dipped in the icing; shake off the excess and let it drip back into the bowl.
- Stir in more powdered sugar until the mixture is completely smooth and has some body; it needs to be stiff enough not to run but thin enough to pipe through the small opening. Put the icing in a piping cone; or a piping bag fitted with the desired tip; or for simple piping or drizzling, into a sturdy baggie with a corner snipped off. Fill the bag or cone only half full. Pipe accents such as fine zig-zags and squiggles or outlines that can then be flooded, as desired. For accents that blend into the base color, pipe or brush on while the first layer of icing is still wet. For accents that stand out and hold their shape, wait until the base layer completely dries.
- Pipe very fine lines of icing lengthwise onto a long sheet of baking parchment, spacing them far enough apart that they don’t run together. Let stand uncovered at least 12 hours and 18 hours if the weather is humid. Slide the parchment sheet with icing lines onto a cutting board. Using a large knife or a pizza wheel and working across the piped lines, chop the lines into ¼-inch or shorter sprinkles. Let the sprinkles stand at least 4 hours longer, or until completely dry. Then pack into airtight bottles or storage jars. Note that because their colors fade with long exposure to intense heat, they are best sprinkled on as cookies are being iced, although they can be sprinkled on sugar cookies (and other kinds that bake at low heat and quickly) before baking with satisfactory results. If you wish to top any icing with sprinkles or similar accents, do it right away while the surface is still wet. Let iced cookies stand after decorating at least 1 hour and up to 8 hours until the icing sets and firms.
- The icings will keep, airtight and refrigerated, for up 1 week. Stored icing may thicken, so thin with a small amount of water, if necessary; stir it in very thoroughly. Store the sprinkles airtight in a cool spot, away from bright light, for up to 6 months.
- Bright fuchsia: Cranberry juice concentrate
- Light yellow: Orange juice concentrate
- Light orange or peach: About half orange and half cranberry juice concentrates
- Purple red: Concord grape juice concentrate
- Lavender Pink: 1 to 3 teaspoons Concord grape juice concentrate combined with water
- Burgundy red: About 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon Concord grape juice concentrate and 2 to 3 teaspoons cranberry juice concentrate
- Maroon: Concord grape juice concentrate plus 1⁄2 to 1 teaspoon cocoa powder
- Bright medium pink: Raspberry-white grape juice concentrate or cherry-white grape juice concentrate
- Mahogany: Cranberry juice concentrate, plus 1⁄2 to 11⁄2 teaspoons cocoa powder as desired
- Cocoa brown: Cranberry juice concentrate plus 21⁄2 teaspoons cocoa powder
- Tan or golden brown: Orange juice concentrate plus 1⁄2 to 11⁄2 teaspoons cocoa powder as desired