Monday, May 28, 2012

How to Decorate Cookies with Wafer Papers

Each time I make a set of cookies with wafer papers, I get asked, "How do you make those?" Cookies with edible images look really impressive (and like you're a superhero of cookie decorating), when, in fact, they are super easy and require almost no skill. I always say, "If you know how to glue, you know how to make these." 


 1. Wafer Paper Images. Edible images printed on wafer paper are available at a few places. Through my Cookie Pixie Etsy Store, of course, but I've only a limited selection at present. They are also available through Fancy Flours, and searching for "wafer paper" at Etsy is always a good idea. Alternately, you can purchase a new inkjet printer, a set of edible ink cartridges, as well as blank wafer paper. It's quite an investment (and a pain in the patootie, if you ask me), though, so you might want to try your hand at it first and see if it's something you think you'll do a lot of before you make that kind of investment of time and money. If you do decide to go that route, spend the extra money and get the edible inks from Kopykake—my first set of inks, I didn't, and they ended up ruining my first edible printer.

2. The Cookies Themselves. You can make your own cookies, using any recipe you like. Gingerbread, shortbread, or sugar cookies are all great. My favorite at the moment is this sugar cookie recipe by Sugarbelle. The dough is not sticky (!), which makes getting the dough out from between even intricate shapes easy—not the usual hairpulling, stressful cookie prep most of us are used to. Furthermore, the cookies spread incredibly little in the oven and rarely lose their shape. The resulting cookies look uniform and smooth, perfect for decorating. Someone will really have to twist my arm to get me to ever try another sugar cookie recipe, I'm so in love with this one. 

Cheat: Instead of spending 1 day baking, you can use store-bought cookies. For the Medieval Alphabet Cookies in these photos, I used Lorna Doone shortbread cookies straight from my grocery store's cookie isle. 

3. The Icing. You will need Royal Icing in 2 consistencies—"piping" and "flooding" (see the icing post for recipe & clarification). For the Medieval Alphabet Cookies in these photos, I used beige Royal Icing in a thicker-than-usual "piping" consistency, because I needed the final gold border to really hold its shape. The "flooding" icing needs to be white, because that is the background for your wafer paper image, and anything other than white will not bring out the best in your wafer paper images. 

4. Light Corn Syrup. This will act as your glue for the paper and needs to be clear. I once tried with molasses and... well, it was a sad and sordid end result including lots of hairpulling and ruined cookies. 

5. A small brush. Some say to use a foam brush, but I prefer these synthetic children's paint brushes. I got them at Target (in the aisle with the crayons and kids' paints)—I've "glued" countless cookies with them and have never had a hair come loose. 

The rest of the ingredients you only need if you're making a gold border:

6. Wilton Pearl Dust in Gold. The gold dust comes in a little vial—you mix some with a few drops of lemon extract until you have a thin, gold "paint". You can get it through Amazon

7. Lemon Extract. You can use pretty much any clear (or nearly clear) alcohol-based baking extract. Lemon just happens to be my favorite—it adds a hint of flavor, without being overpowering. By the spices in just about any grocery store. 

8. Scissors. For cutting the wafer paper images to size/shape you need.


1. For a gold-bordered cookie, pipe a border on the cookie with the beige "piping" icing; for all other cookies, pipe border in whatever your icing color is. Then, fill with the white "flooding" icing. Even if your borders will be a different color, the flooding needs to be white, to serve as a backdrop for the wafer paper image. As you see from the picture, the piping edges don't have to be perfectly neat—all minor sins will be hidden under the wafer paper and border. 

 2. Wait at least 24 hrs for the icing to have dried perfectly hard. With small cookies, 24h will suffice, with larger I usually wait 36-48 hours. The waiting is the hardest part of this whole process. 

 3.Cut the wafer paper images to size—by this I mean the size of your iced square, not the size of the cookie. I like to snip off the corners.

4. "Paint" the whole back of the wafer paper image with corn syrup, making sure to cover the edges well. Careful not to get corn syrup on the image side—the corn syrup splotches will show up shiny (but not in a good way). If there is high humidity, or the wafer paper is not sticking down, the alternate method is to "paint" corn syrup directly onto the hardened royal icing, a few cookies at a time then waiting 5 minutes while the corn syrup dries some and gets stickier (it'll bead up and look weird, but don't worry), then paste the papers on.

5. Gently paste the wafer paper image on the cookie. You will have a couple of moments to wiggle it into place perfectly. Make sure to press down the edges well. You will need to return to the cookie a few times to press down the edges again. If/when your fingers get sticky from the corn syrup, wash your hands. Some days, I'm so clumsy I have to wash my hands between each cookie! Make sure your hands are completely dry before continuing--moisture on your hands will ruin your wafer paper images the second they come into contact.

  6. Wait for the corn syrup to dry. If you are in a huge hurry, an hour or so will be sufficient, but I like to wait until the next day.

7. For a gold border, pipe a border with super-stiff beige icing; for a non-gold border, pipe the border in any color you wish. For small cookies like these (1.5" square), I like to use a #13 star tip. For bigger cookies, bigger star tips or leaf tips—your choice, really. (I apologize for the poor focus on the photo—I was piping with my right hand, and my clumsy left hand was trying to snap the photo). For more on piping, see this piping post at Karen's Cookies.

8. You guessed it. Wait for the border to dry—depending on its thickness, a few hours to a half day.

If you are doing a plain white or colored border, that's it! The steps that follow are for a gold border:

9. When the border is dry, put only a few drops of clear(ish) extract (or Everclear, Vodka, or other super-strong clear alcohol) in a dish. Tap some edible gold powder into it and mix with your brush. This is the trial and error portion of the process—you don't need it to be thick or pasty, but too little gold powder and you won't be able to really "paint" with it. You'll get the hang of it really quickly. The alcohol will evaporate as you work, but don't worry: just add a drop more liquid when it happens and you're good to go again. The alcohol evaporates fully, by the time your border is dry; these will be safe to feed to infants as well as alcoholics in recovery.

For the love of all that is holy, do not add any water—water, even the tiniest hint of it, anywhere near the wafer paper, and it's game over. The wafer paper will curl and melt right in front of your eyes like the Wicked Witch in The Wizard of Oz. 

10. The fun part: PAINT! You don't have to press at all, just gentle strokes. As you see from the photo, in addition to the edges, I sometimes like to gild the parts in the manuscript, which would've been gilt in the original. Provided your "paint" isn't too wet, it's perfectly safe to gild wafer paper without it bubbling.

That's it, really. It doesn't take a lot of skill, just a lot of patience. If I make cookies from scratch and wait the proper amount of time for everything to be dry, it takes me about 4 days from beginning to end. If I have store-bought cookies & I'm impatient, I can do a set in 2+ days. I recommend trying it—it's fun and the end results really are worth it!

 Happy decorating!

Another post with step-by-step images is the Peter Rabbit Cookies post.

The Medieval manuscript wafer papers seen in these photos can be purchased here.


  • Leslie says:
    June 5, 2012 at 3:57 PM

    Awesome post! I have been anxious to try wafer paper cookies, but wasn't able to find step by step directions...yours are perfect! Thank you! :)

  • Juana Isabella/Donna says:
    June 13, 2012 at 11:56 AM

    I bought your wafer papers and followed your instructions. These are the coolest things ever :-)
    I will be taking them to a party with me this weekend and I'll let everyone know where I got them. I want to keep you in business.
    In case you haven't guessed, I'm a very happy customer :-)

  • Anniina says:
    June 13, 2012 at 1:57 PM

    I'm so happy you liked them! Thanks for letting me know :)

  • Justine says:
    December 31, 2012 at 12:22 PM

    Oh my gosh, these things are glorious! What a wonderful idea and a beautiful job! :)

  • Anniina says:
    January 5, 2013 at 1:15 PM

    Thanks, Justine!

  • Debbi says:
    June 13, 2013 at 12:59 PM

    I'm taking the plunge - I just ordered some lovely wafer sheets from your Etsy store and am anxiously awaiting their travel to my home :-) I'm so glad to see you have a post with complete instructions. I'm so excited!!!

  • Anniina says:
    June 15, 2013 at 5:54 PM

    Thanks, Debbi! They're actually pretty simple to make--careful you don't become a wafer paper addict, like me :D

  • Elizabeth Frasier says:
    November 23, 2013 at 11:16 PM

    I bought some papers from you and was hoping to make the cookies this weekend, but then I saw that you have to use something alcohol based. I'm not comfortable using alcohol (even if it evaporates or whatever). Do you have any solution to this or is it game-over?

  • Marcy Harris says:
    November 24, 2013 at 5:53 AM

    It looks to me like the alcohol is used only to mix the gold dust to paint the edges -- is that correct? I am also doing this for the first time (love the Thanksgivvukah wafer design!) and want to make sure I understand the process correctly. If I'm not going to put a painted gold border then the last steps don't apply, correct? Thanks

  • Anniina says:
    April 11, 2014 at 8:27 PM

    Please note that most flavorings, including the common lemon, raspberry, and vanilla extracts use alcohol. If you're making a border without using gold or silver dust, say in just white, you don't need the alcohol or extract at all. And yes, it evaporates within a minute--there is no alcohol left on the cookie, when it is dry.

  • Unknown says:
    November 4, 2015 at 10:47 PM

    wouldn't keeping the cookie out for so long until each step dries and till u ice all the cookies make it go stale and loose it's crispness? How do you store it untill the icing completely dries off ?

  • andrea chiu says:
    August 18, 2016 at 3:09 AM

    Anger is the most difficult and hard emotion to handle thus it is very manageable
    As a person it is normal so do not be hesitant.

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