Jason Ruiz, Melissa Evans,

Making Christmas cookies is way more fun with friends—especially the kind who don’t know what they’re doing.

I assembled a collection of our least-experienced bakers—columnist Tim Grobaty, City Hall reporter Jason Ruiz, and a semi-sober snowman who also doubles as our publisher, David Sommers—and we recently spent a festive hour in the Long Beach Post “test kitchen” decorating sugar cookies with royal icing.

If you’d like to follow along at home, here are the recipes we used for the cookies and the icing, along with some decorating tips (such as, do not “bam!” your sprinkles Emeril Lagasse-style or you’ll wind up with a very gaudy cookie).

I always at least double both recipes; this is a very messy, time-consuming process—if you’re going to do it, go big.

Sugar cookies

Cream together two-thirds cup softened unsalted butter and three-fourths cup granulated sugar until light and fluffy. Mix in a teaspoon of baking powder, a quarter-teaspoon salt, one tablespoon of whole milk, one egg and a teaspoon of vanilla. Blend in two cups of flour.

Separate the dough into two balls, wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate for two hours or more.

When ready, preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

Flour a cutting board or countertop surface and roll the balls out into an oval about a quarter-inch thick, one at a time. Tips on rolling: If you left the dough in the refrigerator for more than two hours, you may need to let it sit out for 15 minutes before attempting to roll it. Make sure the surface stays floured, and use a piece of wax or parchment paper between the top of the dough and your rolling pin to keep it from sticking.

Use a cookie cutter to make shapes (we used a Santa, star, angel and Christmas tree), placing the shapes on an ungreased cookie sheet. Roll the scraps and repeat until all the dough is used.

Bake for 7-10 minutes or until done.

Let them cool completely.

Royal icing

Stir together four cups of powdered sugar, a quarter-teaspoon salt, and three tablespoons meringue powder (this is a little tough to find, but it’s what gives the icing its stability; visit a craft store, or order it online). Add about nine tablespoons of water, and (this is optional) a half teaspoon of any extract (vanilla, peppermint, almond). Whisk quickly and firmly for about two minutes. Use a whisk to check the consistency: When you lift the whisk, the drizzle should keep its shape in the bowl for 5-10 seconds. The more you whisk, the thicker it will get. You can also add a bit more powdered sugar or water if it’s too thin or thick.

Put portions of the icing into bowls and add food coloring, then scrape each color into its own piping bag.

If you leave royal icing in a bowl, cover the bowl with a damp paper towel so it doesn’t dry out.

Decorating tips

Flood the edges of the cookie using a small-medium circular tip. If you want to use a different color for the inside, let the outer ring dry for about 15 minutes first. The beauty of royal icing is that it hardens and dries very quickly.

Use sprinkles immediately so they stick.

Use the smallest circular tip you have to detail work like buttons and hair. Use a wider opening for flooding large areas.

And, if you’re a perfectionist like me: remember they’re just Christmas cookies. It’s the flaws, and a few inexperienced associates, that make it worth doing.

Melissa Evans is the Chief Executive Officer of the Long Beach Post and Long Beach Business Journal. Reach her at [email protected], @melissaevansLBP or 562-512-6354.