Updated: Jan 31, 2020
For many amateur bakers, the go-to decorating kit will be a box of standard icing sugar, a jug of water and a spoon. Don't get me wrong, water icing has it's place lightly drizzled on a loaf cake, but it's almost impossible to get any solid colour or definition unless you make it super thick, in which case any flavour in your lovely biscuit will be smothered by sugar and always taste disappointing. There are far tastier and more satisfying ways to prettify your bakes. Even better, these techniques are less messy and more small-friendly ways too. Here are three of my favourite methods.
1. Paint with Royal Icing
The easiest way to make royal icing is to buy a packet mix that just needs water, but unlike standard icing sugar this stuff sets hard and adds a nice texture contrast with the biscuit underneath. You can add a little lemon juice too if you like to cut through the sweetness. If you're decorating yourself for an occasion, it will pipe to make boarders and details, or flood a big area if you water it down to pouring consistency, but you can also make it into a brilliant, easy to use paint for the smalls to decorate with.
Make a batch of royal icing, separate into as many bowls as you want colours. To colour the icing, use gel paste colours if you can as you only need the tiniest amount, so they are the best value for money and don't add liquid to the icing making it too runny. I like the range from Sugar Flair, it's worth having a stock of a few colours in the cupboard. You can just stir the colour in with a bit of colour on the end of a cocktail stick or the wrong end of a spoon.
To make the paint, take a couple of teaspoons of the coloured royal icing and put on a plate or into a small, clean pot. Mix with just enough water to make it the consistency of poster paint. When you have done this with each colour you can put these pots of 'paint' out on a table with your biscuits and let your little ones 'paint' their designs. Use a brand new or exceptionally clean paintbrush - but stay away from the cheap ones that will shed bristles into the icing. If you bake regularly, a set of culinary paint brushes might be a good investment. Mine have seen some serious use and still as good as new about 10 years later.
You can use sprinkles to add to your design if you wish. I like these little jazzy chocolate buttons, but if you give the little ones enough colour options, they won't miss the extra adornments. The colours on royal icing will stay far more vibrant that with water icing and the consistency of the 'paint' means less running off the biscuit and onto your table and a more defined design.
Pop the biscuits on a chopping board or tray on top of a sheet of greaseproof to be sure to catch the drips. Get the smalls as close to the decorating surface as possible or do the whole thing on the floor in a Tuff Tray.
2. Biscuit Glaze
I only recently discovered the technique and I LOVE it. I think this is the tastiest way to decorate biscuits and it's so quick to make and do. The vanilla in this glaze will give enough flavour to the biscuit without you adding anything to the dough, but it's not so overpowering as to dominate. Perfect on sugar cookies.
500g normal icing sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
a tiny, tiny dash of salt.
Mix the milk and vanilla extract before adding the icing sugar and salt and whisking into a thick, but spoonable mixture. Dip biscuits face down to cover their entire surface with a sparkly pale white glaze, or dip a portion of the biscuit to create a design. You can also paint with the glaze and then add sprinkles - a bit like glue and sequins! Alternatively, you can use a tiny bit of gel food colouring to colour the glaze. This is great for animal shapes etc. Once dry older children might enjoy using icing pens to add details or sprinkles.
3. Chocolate and Sprinkles
There's almost nothing nicer that biting through set chocolate and into a nice, soft cookie underneath. It's so satisfying. Use chocolate buttons to speed up the melting and then let the smalls dunk biscuits to their hearts' content. You'll need about 2 bags of giant chocolate buttons to do a big bath of biscuits. Once the biscuits have been dunked they can be plunged into any number of lovely toppings. Cheerful sprinkles. Desiccated coconut or crushed up flaked almonds create an awesome fur texture for making little animals. Chocolate strands. The possibilities are endless. Coordinated little ones can also use a cocktail stick or paintbrush to add details with the chocolate - a nose, eyes, buttons. Lay the biscuits to dry and the chocolate to set. This is best done on a wire rack with a sheet of greaseproof underneath to catch any drips.
These decorating activities are great as part of an all day baking plan, or stand-alone for a quick creative blast. Remember, biscuit dough can be made in advance and stored in the fridge, so you could just cut out shapes, bake and decorate or bake the biscuits the night before and get the kids to decorate them after dinner to make their own pudding. Also a great part activity, giving them something to take home in their party bag at the end.