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Like most bakers, Marisol Morley of New York City cookie company Tiny Kitchen Treats learned the ropes as a child. Her mother introduced her to parva (a sweet Colombian dough) and her father taught her how to play with color while making meringue and flan. But it wasn’t until a group of friends, years later, raved over her homemade cookies that Morley ever considered pursuing baking as a career. “I quit my job two months before Christmas bonuses came in,” she says. 

At the core of her business: refreshingly modern, graphic, and addictively delicious sugar cookies, browned ever so slightly for maximum flavor. When December rolls around, Morely takes her contemporary edible art to a new level. Who says you can’t give a classic tree a Jackson Pollock-inspired spin? Her nine tips for holiday cookie decorating:

Don’t Overcomplicate It

Photography by CODY GUILFOYLE

When you’re baking for loved ones, they’re just going to be happy you made something for them, so focus on the flavor. Make a recipe you’ve made before; something that says home to you. If it doesn’t feel Christmas-y (say, it’s a sugar cookie), add crushed peppermint to the dough for a festive touch. Our sugar cookies and icing have a little bit of almond extract in them, which makes them so luxurious.

Prep, Prep, Prep

The worst thing is when you want to start baking and you realize you’re missing a key ingredient. Do exactly what you would see someone on TV do: Measure everything and have it ready to go in bowls.

Think Beyond Gold, Red, and Green

If you told me I can do whatever I want, chances are I’m going to put teal or turquoise in your cookie. I love that, even for the holidays: Red, gray, and a cool teal-turquoise. It’s unexpected.

Create a Cohesive Color Scheme

Say your palette is lime green, yellow, and blue. The best way to make all of those feel like one is to actually take a little bit of each of those colors and blend them into each other. So, instead of cleaning whatever is left in my bowl, I’ll mix my new hues in there so it’s just enough to infuse it with that feeling.

Start with a Clean Slate

Photography by CODY GUILFOYLE

Make sure that the base is perfectly smooth. We use egg white, which makes it look like there’s glitter in the cookies, but there isn’t—it’s just the protein that makes it shimmer.

Sketch Out Your Design

Take the shape of your cookie cutter, trace it onto paper, and draw out what you want to do with it on paper first, so you won’t get discouraged. You can also take a piece of parchment or wax paper and pipe onto the paper to practice before you do it on a cookie.

Get to Know Your Tools

We use a scribe tool, which is a fancy word for a sharp toothpick, and long skewers (kind of like the ones you use for grilling veggies). What’s fun about those is you can do wet-on-wet icing. Flood your cookie and then add either dots or lines. You can drag through and create hearts or a zigzag border, too. Basically, you’re doing a design within the cookie that dries and looks completely flat. 

Go Big on Embellishments

Sprinkles are a nice way of making a cookie look pretty, even if you don’t have a ton of experience. Edible markers are also really fun because you can draw or write a note. I’ll have a snowman, but instead of the traditional shape, he’ll be dancing and his arms will be flailing in all directions and his smile is sideways so he’s more whimsical.

Let It Rest If You Mess Up

If you’re working with royal icing and absolutely hate everything you did, just put the cookie down, walk away, go grab yourself a cup of tea, and let the cookie crust over. Then, an hour or two later, take a knife or an offset spatula and scrape it off. You’ll have a brand new cookie to work with.

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