There Is A Right Way To Add Sprinkles To Sugar Cookies

Gingerbread, butter cookies, and sufganiyot are all iconic holiday snacks, but for those who celebrate Christmas, perhaps no treat is more iconic than a colorful and festive sugar cookie. These easy-to-make desserts are a delicious blank canvas for both decorations and various flavor pairings. They're fun to bake, eat, trade at cookie swaps, and even pair with cheese. And for those of us who aren't very talented at frosting designs, sprinkles remain a favorite way to dress up cookies, popular with partygoers young and old. 

Using sprinkles may be an easy shortcut to a fun and festive-looking treat, but there is a right way to add sprinkles to your sugar cookies. The basic method is simple: Shape your cookie dough into balls, then fill a small bowl with sprinkles. Roll each ball of dough in the sprinkles so that one side is evenly coated in the colorful candies, then place the balls onto a baking sheet, plain side down. With this method, it's easier and neater to get a nice coating of sprinkles on top of each cookie, compared to putting the cookies on a baking sheet and then trying to pour sprinkles on top.

Once the cookies are all decorated, they're ready for the oven. If you really want your cookies to look spectacular, it's also important to note that some types of sprinkles are better equipped for decorating than others.

Choosing the best sprinkles

From sparkling, colorful sugars to rainbow confetti and round nonpareils, there are so many types of sprinkles that you can decorate with. Each type offers its own charms, but some are better for baking than others. This mostly depends on what your sprinkles are made of.

Most sprinkles are made of sweeteners, cornstarch, food-grade wax, and food coloring. Many brands are formulated to maintain their shape and color, whether you put them on top of cookies or mix them into the batter. You may also come across colored fine-grain sugars that are also made to resist melting, and add a beautiful sparkle to your treats. You might see more finely-milled sugars labeled as sanding sugar, whereas larger-grained sugars are often called sparkling sugar.

Both standard "straight" sprinkles — whether they be rainbow, chocolate, or some other variety — as well as colored sugars work well with the rolling technique, and they'll look great when you take the cookies out of the oven. However, proceed with caution when it comes to nonpareils, those small, crunchy ball-shaped sprinkles that usually come in white or rainbow colors. Their colorings tend to bleed and run, which makes them difficult to use with moist sugar cookie dough. We also recommend against using sugar pearls, also known as dragées, which are too crunchy and not very pleasant when eaten with thin or tender sugar cookies. 

Sugar, spice, and everything nice

Once you're an expert at creating perfect sprinkled cookies with the rolling technique, try a few other ideas to brighten up this sweet snack. Consider giving your cookies a dusting of powdered sugar to achieve a crackled top. Or, mix sprinkles into the dough and then roll in powdered sugar for a rainbow snowball look. If you like to use cookie cutters to cut your dough into shapes, the sprinkle-rolling method isn't the best idea, but you can decorate cutouts just as easily by mixing sprinkles directly into the batter.

If you care about more about the flavor of your cookies than their appearance, try livening up plain sugar cookie dough with spices, extracts, and other fun flavorings. You can make chai- or eggnog-inspired cookies by using spices commonly found in these cozy drinks, or add a pumpkin spice blend to powdered sugar or sanding sugar and use the mixture to roll your cookies.

Lastly, know that it's even possible to use the rolling method for slice-and-bake cookies. Instead of portioning and rolling individual balls of dough, just roll the entire log of dough — whether homemade or store-bought — in your colorful coating of choice. Slice, bake, and serve for a mature and beautiful-looking take on the classic treat.