Here's my 3-day plan to host a cookie decorating party for 25 kids (or more!). I hope this shows you exactly how to host a cookie decorating party with ease!
Cookie Decorating Ideas
Lest you think I belong in a mental institution, let me first start out by saying that this huge cookie decorating party was entirely my idea. And yes, I knew just how many kids I was getting into when I made the invite list on Facebook. That said, I have too many friends with 3+ kids, and I'm afraid I have to cut back. Only kidding.
Earlier this year, Camille had her 3rd birthday while we were in Seattle for a family wedding. We just kind of winged it: The morning of her birthday, we gave her a few presents to unwrap and went to get donuts. She was as happy as could be, and thought that birthdays were great. She hadn't been to many birthday parties before, and didn't really know what she was missing.
Then, we moved to a social neighborhood and she started getting invited to other kids' birthday parties. She soon began to understand such things as 'party favors,' 'theme parties' and large, brightly colored birthday cakes with sprinkles. Presents were also on her mind.
So, this cookie decorating party was sort of her half birthday party, to make up for the birthday party she never had. I invited 15 of my dearest friends and 25 kids came.
To sum it up: I made 300 cookies (half gingerbread men and half cut-out sugar cookies), 20 small bags of royal icing (using 8 pounds of powdered sugar), and a hot chocolate bar. And I didn't lose my mind even once!
I let the kids run wild, and I did not give any guidance on how to decorate the cookies. All of the shapes I used were very recognizable, and they usually outlined the shape and filled it in and topped it with sprinkles. I have some pretty snowflake cookies here, if you want a simple guide.
Tips for hosting a cookie decorating party:
-use plastic card tables and chairs to make room for everyone
Count up the number of kids that will be attending, and ensure each kid has a place to decorate. We had one plastic table with chairs, and I borrowed a few more from my parents and friends. I did, however, let kids decorate on my dining room table with cloth chairs, because we needed the space. I'm happy to report that my dining room table and chairs didn't sustain any injuries.
About half way through the party, some of the kids moved upstairs to the playroom, but I still think it's important for every kid to have a place at the beginning of the party.
-set each table for success
On each table, place sturdy paper plates, plastic knives, and a roll of paper towels. Then, place the sprinkles and frosting bags in the center of the table. Have each kid go through a buffet line and select the cookies they want to decorate. My goal was to make enough cookies for each kid to decorate 6 (which is 150 cookies, but I ended up making even more in case the adults wanted to decorate some. My friend Tracy hosted a cookie decorating party a few days before me, and she passed on that tip. And yes, adults did decorate cookies, including me!
-pull up the rugs in the house
In our case, we didn't think about it until the last minute, when I had a vision of green icing smeared into the white parts of our rug. Because if there are white and black designs on a rug, the frosting finds its way to the white parts, doesn't it? Remove all of the rugs to prevent stains and to make vacuuming easier.
-have each guest bring a jar of sprinkles
For our party, I made all of the cookies and frosting, and simply asked each guest to bring a jar of their favorite sprinkles. We had more than enough sprinkles to go around. Someone brought googly eyes leftover from Halloween, and they were the biggest hit! The kids loved putting eyes on the gingerbread men, the doves, and the snowmen.
-use crockpots to keep the hot chocolate warm
I knew I wanted to make a hot chocolate bar for the party. So, I borrowed a slow cooker from a friend (because I ditched mine in favor of my instant pot mini). I also set up my instant pot and used the 'slow cooker' setting. In addition to having 2 big vessels of hot chocolate warming on the bar, I had a stock pot of hot chocolate on the stove just in case.
In total, I made 2 gallons of hot chocolate for 25 kids and 20 adults (some spouses came, some didn't), and I had about half of it leftover. I credit the leftovers to the fact that our fridge was well-stocked with beer and cider. The adults went for the booze more than I thought they would.
I had 2 big cans of spray whipped cream, 3 boxes of candy canes, and 2 bags of mini marshmallows. Not pictured: peppermint vodka for the adults. Only kidding. (Or am I?)
I grabbed these thick plastic cups from Hobby Lobby. I bought 40, and I think I should have bought 50 more. Also, next time I will put a sharpie out so kids can write their names on cups. I feel like kids lost their cup when they wanted a second cup of hot chocolate, so we had a lot of duplicates.
3 day plan for hosting a Cookie Party
-2 days before the party: grocery shop! Buy all of the ingredients to make the cookies, frosting, and hot chocolate. If you're feeling up for it, make the cookie doughs and refrigerate them. You're going to need to go to a regular grocery store and a store that carries party supplies. Unless you can find meringue powder and small piping bags at your regular grocery store, that is. I recommend Hobby Lobby, Michael's or a well-stocked Walmart with a great cake decorating section. Or, you can buy your piping bags online and your meringue powder, too. I linked to a 4-ounce jar of meringue powder, and each jar contains about 10-11 tablespoons (if I'm remembering correctly), and you need 24 tablespoons for this size of party (order 3 jars).
-1 day before the party: bake the cookies! Today, you will make the cookie doughs (if you didn't yesterday), roll and cut out all of the cookies. Make sure you have a plan for how to keep the cookies fresh. Use your largest serving platters to store the cookies and plenty of plastic wrap to wrap them tightly to preserve freshness. It took me about 6 hours to make 300 cookies. I'll share my recipes below.
-the day of the party: make the frosting and hot chocolate. When you're making the royal icing, you can portion it into disposable bags about 4 hours in advance, as long as it's tightly sealed. Don't cut the tips off the pastry bags until the party begins.
I used the simplest royal icing recipe that doesn't require the use of raw egg whites. I did this because when you're serving kids, it's best not to use raw eggs. Sure, you can buy pasteurized eggs which is what I use for my Christmas Lights Cookies and Christmas Tree Cookies but in this case, I went with meringue powder. I keep it in my pantry all of the time for making small batch macarons, and it makes a fantastic royal icing. This royal icing dries in about an hour, it's so perfect! Again, here's the meringue powder I use and love; buy 3 jars for this size of party.
The best way to fill a pastry bag is to drape it inside a small glass jar for stability. This way, you can fill each bag easily without much mess. I drape each small 12" piping bag (get a big bag of them at the hobby, or order these online), and then scrape a generous scoop into each bag. Then, I roll up the edges, remove the bag from the glass, and twist to close and secure with a clip. It's so easy, and mess-free!
For my party, I used 8 pounds of powdered sugar to make 3 different colors of royal icing that I portioned into 20 bags. I figured each kid didn't need their own frosting bag at all times--they would spend a lot of time decorating and eating sprinkles. I had a small amount of frosting leftover after the party, so I think 20 bags was the right call.
Make the white or un-dyed royal icing first. Clean out the mixer, and then make the green. Clean the mixer, and then make the red. I use gel food coloring for baking because it requires such little gel for results.
I placed a little clothes pin type clip on each bag, and placed a few bags on each table for the kids. Right when the party started, my Mom and I went around and snipped the tip off of the piping bags so the frosting could flow freely.
Since everyone was bringing sprinkles, I bought gum drops, cinnamon candies, and festive M&Ms.
Cookie Decorating Station tips
I like to place a roll of paper towels, at least one jar of sprinkles per kid, and a paper plate at each chair at each table. I also have at least 3 different colors of frosting on each table, usually 2-3 bags of each color. That way, kids always have a color to use and they’re never waiting on a friend to finish using a color. Each table had 3 bags of white frosting, 3 bags of green frosting, and 3 bags of red frosting for 5-6 kids.
Cookie Party Ideas I learned
Most kids don't like gingerbread. Almost every kid went for the sugar cookies, and I made more gingerbread than sugar cookies. Next year, I will make all sugar cookies and skip the gingerbread men (or just make them for myself). This gingerbread recipe is insanely delicious with just the right amount of snap but still being chewy. The cookies were soft and yummy 5 days later, too.
There's an art for holding a pastry bag full of frosting, and I should have done a little demo. Some of the clips came off the top of the bags, and within minutes of the party starting, I had a parent looking at me feeling helpless while their kid had the entire bag of frosting all over their hands. Next time, I'll be more careful about getting the air bubble out of the bag before clamping it closed. Good thing I put a roll of paper towels on each table!
The final thing that I learned was that I had so much fun. I absolutely love opening up my house to kids and letting them make a mess and have fun. I know that many people cringe at the thought of decorating cookies with their kids (the mess! the stickiness! the stains!), and I was so happy to be able to allow it with abandon in my house.
Honestly, the mess wasn't that terrible! I have all white furniture and all white walls in my house, and we didn't have any casualties! We used all plastic tables, so everything wiped clean quickly. Then, since we pull up all of the rugs, all we had to do was vacuum the floor. Plus, our little dogs helped clean up the mess (heh).
In full disclosure, my husband did most of the clean-up while I put Camille to bed, so maybe I should let him speak to the mess level in the house. I also have very SWEET friends who insisted on collecting all of the frosting bags and wiping down the tables themselves. Try as I might, I couldn't convince my friends not to help with the clean-up.
So, if you're thinking of hosting a cookie decorating party, do it! Follow my 3-day plan of how to host a cookie decorating party, and remember to set yourself up for success by removing rugs, using paper plates, and plastic tables.
The recipes are below, and be sure to check the serving sizes and scale up or down depending on the number of kids you're hosting.
The gingerbread cookies and royal icing are from this month's Southern Living magazine. The sugar cookies are from Katrina's Kitchen; I tripled her recipe. The crockpot hot chocolate recipe is one I've been working on for a while now. I think I have it perfect!
I hope you feel confident in how to host a cookie decorating party with your friends and family!
- 2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- ½ cup hot water
- 2 cups molasses (not blackstrap)
- 11 cups all-purpose flour
- 3 tablespoons ground ginger
- 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon ground allspice
For the royal icing:
- 8 pounds of powdered sugar
- 24 tablespoons of meringue powder
- 48 tablespoons of warm water
- food coloring gels in desired colors (optional)
- festive sprinkles
- Make the cookie dough: beat the butter and sugar with heavy-duty electric stand mixer until creamy and fluffy, about 4-5 minutes.
- Next, in a large bowl, whisk together the baking soda, hot water and molasses in a bowl until dissolved and slightly foamy.
- In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, ginger, cinnamon, salt and allspice.
- Add the flour to the butter mixture, alternating with the molasses mixture in 3 parts, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Beat on medium speed until incorporated after each addition.
- Divide the dough into 4 pieces, wrap in plastic wrap, press it in a disk and refrigerate for one hour.
- Preheat the oven to 350. Flour a surface, and roll out the dough into between ⅛-1/4" thick, and use a gingerbread cookie cutter to cut out shapes.
- Place the shapes on a parchment-lined cookie sheet, and bake each sheet in the oven for 11-12 minutes, until the edges are just starting to brown. You can do 2 sheets at a time in the oven if you have room, but rotate the sheets half way through.
- Let the cookies cool on a wire rack.
- To make the royal icing, place 2 pounds of powdered sugar in a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Add 6 tablespoons of meringue powder, followed by 12 tablespoons (¾ cup) of warm water. Turn the mixer on slowly and then gradually increase the speed until a smooth frosting forms. It shouldn't be thick or paste like, it should flow freely (but not be too runny). Add additional water, if needed.
- Place a 12" piping bag inside a tall glass, and fold the edges over the cup. Place one scoop of frosting in the bag, and then pick up the bag, fold the edges in and twist close. Secure with a clothes pin or other clamp.
- Repeat with the remaining powdered sugar (2 pounds at a time), meringue powder and water, adding food coloring, if desired.
- Cut the tips off the piping bags, and decorate the cookies with icing and sprinkles.
This royal icing recipe makes enough for the sugar cookies, too!
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Amount Per Serving: Calories: 173Total Fat: 2gSaturated Fat: 1gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 1gCholesterol: 6mgSodium: 19mgCarbohydrates: 37gFiber: 0gSugar: 30gProtein: 1g
- 3 cups (6 sticks) unsalted butter
- 3 cups granulated sugar
- 3 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 ½ teaspoons almond extract
- 3 large eggs
- 6 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 ½ teaspoon salt
- 9 cups all-purpose flour
- Preheat the oven to 350.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 4-5 minutes.
- Add the vanilla extract and almond extract. Beat briefly and then add the eggs, one at a time.
- In a separate bowl, whisk together the baking powder, salt and flour.
- Gradually add the flour mixture to the mixer while running, until a soft dough forms.
- Divide the dough into 3 equal pieces. Roll out each piece between ⅛-1/4" thick, and cut out shapes and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet.
- Bake the cookies for 7-8 minutes, until the edges are just beginning to brown.
- Let the cookies cool on the baking sheet for 1 minute before moving to a cooling rack.
- Frost with royal icing from the gingerbread cookies recipe!
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 92Total Fat: 5gSaturated Fat: 3gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 2gCholesterol: 16mgSodium: 51mgCarbohydrates: 12gFiber: 0gSugar: 5gProtein: 1g