Holiday Cookie Decorating Tips From Eleni Gianopulos of Eleni's New York


Chef and head baker Eleni Gianopulos

Eleni Gianopulos knows her way around decorated cookies. They are the signature item at her shop, Eleni's New York, and she sells them in every conceivable shape and style. (Need a fleet of cookie pirate ships, an edible "It bag", or cookies made for fans of Game of Thrones?—Eleni has you covered.)

As you'd expect, this time of year means a lot in the Gianopulos household. "Christmas in our house is filled with family, friends, and of course lots of cookies! Every year we have a ginger bread house decorating contest for both the kids and the adults," she says. "We line the entire dining room table with lots of candy and royal icing and let everyone create their own masterpiece. Of course the kids' houses are so much more fun and decadent than the adults! It's a fun tradition that we all look forward to."

So it's no surprise that when we needed advice for decorating our own holiday cookies, it was to Eleni that we'd turn. Here are her tips for timing, flood icing, keeping cookies in shape, and more.

Tip #1: Spice up the design of your cookie by adding sprinkles or white sanding sugar to give the cookie an added texture & crunch. Add the sugar or sprinkle when the icing is wet, so it sticks together. This is fun to add to snowflakes cookies to make them shimmer!

Tip #2: Cookies take time and patience to decorate, so don't wait until the night before your celebration! When icing a cookie with different colors, be sure to let certain areas set and dry (sometimes overnight) before adding the finishing touches of color and design.

Tip # 3: The royal icing frosting takes approximately 8-24 hours to set up fully and be firm to the touch. When icing a cookie, use an off-set spatula to spread the icing to the edges of the cookie shape. Use a toothpick to pop any visible air bubbles in the icing.


Outlining the cookie with stiff icing [Photograph: Lauren Weisenthal]

Tip #4: Make stiff icing (thicker royal icing that dries quickly) and outline the different areas of the cookie. If you are decorating a Santa Claus cookie, make sure you outline his beard in white and separately outline his hat in red. Outlining a cookie with stiff frosting will allow you to trap the flood icing and not combine the colors or lose the shape of the cookie. Allow about 20 minutes to set up the stiff outline then proceed to flood the different areas.

Tip #5: Bake cookies frozen to keep their shape defined!

Tip #6: Be creative! There are no rules to decorating cookies, and lucky for you, the mistakes still taste good. I love to decorate classic holiday shapes with a twist. Decorate your snowman with sunglasses or a Hawaiian shirt.

Tip #7: If you love the idea of decorating Christmas cookies, but are not all that familiar with baking and decorating, we offer an entire Color Me! line of cookies that allows you to decorate using edible ink markers! They have all the fun of decorating without the mess.


A classic Eleni's decorated cookie [Photograph: Carrie Vasios Mullins]

Tip #8: If you are sending holiday cookies as a gift, be sure to send at least a dozen cookies to a household. I usually send 3 cookies for each person in the house, and never send less than a dozen.

Tip #9: If you are decorating cookies with your kids, use a rubber band to tie off the end of each pastry bag of icing. This allows them to have more control over the icing bag & prevents a HUGE mess.

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