While I enjoy icing cookies by hand, drawing little designs and other decorations (especially for gingerbread cookies), I always use a fair amount of colored sanding sugar around the holidays. Colored sugars are perfect for finishing off sugar cookies and butter cookies, giving them a fun and festive look for the holidays. In fact, it has always been a bit of a tradition for my family to make butter cookies and dress them up with red, green and blue sugars, then serve them with coffee and tea – whether we’re having breakfast or dinner/dessert – around the holidays.
I have lots of store-bought sugars and they can’t be beat for convenience, but it is really easy to make your own colored sugars at home, as well. And doing so gives you a lot of flexibility for colors and flavors that you wouldn’t ordinarily get. To make the sugar, all you need is food coloring and sugar. A coarser sugar (organic types tend to have larger grains) will give you the best look and mouthfeel in the finished product. Simply pour some sugar into a bowl and add a couple drops of food coloring. Mix the food coloring in well with a fork and add more as needed until you get the color you want. Then, just let the sugar dry out (an hour or so at room temperature) before storing it in an airtight container.
For flavorings, you can use vanilla sugaror add a pinch of ground spice (cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, etc.) to the sugar before adding in the food coloring. The moisture from the coloring allows the spices to adhere to the sugar much better than simply stirring some in to pre-colored or plain sugars, so you get a little more flavor in your finished product.