Black cocoa is a magical ingredient. It's not an ingredient that is too common to home bakers, but is definitely one to keep in the pantry. Black cocoa powder creates really dark, and chocolatey baked goods. It's perfect for making black buttercream, blackout cakes, and these black cocoa sugar cookies. These sugar cookies have an intense black color, delicious cocoa flavor, hold their shape when baking and are the perfect black canvas for Halloween cookies, like these decorated pumpkin and Jack O'Lantern cookies.
What is black cocoa?
There are two types of cocoa we use most often for baking - Dutch process and natural. Natural cocoa powder is the most common, most likely the cocoa powder grandma baked with. It's the most natural of cocoa powders, hence its name. Natural cocoa powder is lighter in color and used in recipes with baking soda, where the acid in the cocoa is neutralized, enhancing the cocoa flavor.
Dutch processed cocoa powder is alkalized to reduce the acidity. It makes the cocoa powder darker, smoother and more mild in flavor. This type of cocoa powder does not need baking soda to neutralize, so it is commonly used in recipes with baking powder.
Black cocoa powder is similar to Dutch process, except that it is heavily alkalized. It's the same powder used to make Oreos, so that should give you an idea of color and taste. It's deep and bittersweet in flavor, though, depending on the recipe, black cocoa is often used in conjunction with another cocoa powder to give the baked good more of a balanced, multi-faceted chocolate flavor.
How do you make black cocoa sugar cookies?
This sugar cookie is similar to my go-to sugar cookie recipe, but with the addition of black cocoa. Note that not a lot of black cocoa is used in this recipe. It doesn't take much to make these cookies black and the flavor strong enough. My favorite brand of black cocoa to use is by King Arthur Flour. This recipe comes together fast and easily, and can be made in advance and frozen. Bonus, especially if you're planning on making a lot of cookies.
Room temperature butter is beaten with sugar until just combined. A room temperature egg and vanilla are mixed in, followed by black cocoa powder, salt and flour. Be sure to just beat your butter and sugar together until combined. No need for “light and fluffy” for these cookies. Incorporating air during the beating process contributes to spread as it causes the cookies to puff up and deflate and spread while baking. Chilling the dough before baking is also an important step to help keep the cookies from spreading.
Keep in mind the thinner you roll and cut out the cookies, the more crispy they will be. I like to roll my dough out to about ¼" thick to make sure they're softer towards the center, and crispy on the outside.
About the icing
I decorated the cookies with my go-to royal icing. My royal icing is a bit unique because it contains corn syrup, which gives the icing a bit of shine when it dries, but also gives it a bit more elasticity when when piping. Additionally, it helps the royal icing to be a bit softer and not as rock hard when it's dried.
I used Artisan Accents colors to color my icing. I used orange and a little bit of brown for the pumpkin color. The brown tames down the brightness of the orange a bit and gives it more of a true pumpkin color. I used the same brown gel color for the pumpkin stem along with a little bit of black to make a darker brown. I used leaf green and a smidge of black for the vines.
I used the same icing consistency (15-20 second icing) to outline and fill in my cookies. Color your icing the desired color. Then thin out stiff royal icing with a few drops of water at a time until a toothpick or spatula that is ran through the icing creates a line that fills up and flattens out within 15-20 seconds. For this consistency, the icing has to be thin enough to flow, while remaining thick enough that it doesn’t fall off the side of the cookie.
Tips on how to make Jack O'Lantern and Pumpkin decorated cookies:
Well, I'll admit it, I made a mistake while making these cookies, and instead of remaking them, I decided I'm going to share with you my mistake so you can see what should be done differently. You can see in the photo (the third photo from the top) that alternating parts of the cookies are filled in with icing, which is the correct thing to BUT I outlined the cookies entirely first. This gave the outline time to dry, so that when the icing is filled in, it isn't able to blend in and look cohesive. Instead you're left with defined lines. These are easier to see on the Jack O'Lantern cookies. I iced over the outlines of the eyes, nose and mouth to hide the mess, but...well... it it what it is.
- Since these cookies are so dark, tracing a design onto the cookies to pipe over with an edible marker isn't really an option, unless you have a white marker. Instead, use a scribe tool to etch your design into the cookies.
- Outline and fill alternate sections and allow the sections to set before outlining and filling the remaining two sections. Be sure to pipe the outline of the eyes, nose and mouth for the Jack O'Lantern's as you go
- For the stems, I used a small star tip and brown royal icing to give them more a stem-like texture.
- I used #2 piping tips for outlining and filling in, as well as for the vines.
- Let the cookies dry until set before piping on the vines, then the stems.
I hope you enjoy these black cocoa sugar cookies! If you make any decorated cookies with this recipe, tag me on Instagram. I love seeing what you guys create with my recipes!
For more decorated cookie tutorials, check out these posts:
Black Cocoa Sugar Cookies
Black Cocoa Sugar Cookies
- 1 cup (230g) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1 cup (200g) granulated sugar
- 1 large egg, room temperature
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 2 ½ cups (312g) all purpose flour
- ½ cup (50g) black cocoa powder
- ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
- 4 cups (480g) confectioner's sugar, sifted
- 3 tablespoons meringue powder
- 4 tablespoons warm water
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 2 teaspoons light corn syrup
Make the cookies:
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa and salt until combined. Set aside.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the butter and sugar until thoroughly combined.
- Add the egg, followed by the vanilla extract beating until just combined.
- Scrape down the bowl. With the mixer on low speed, gradually add the flour/cocoa mixture and beat until just combined.
- Turn the dough out onto a work surface sprinkled lightly with confectioner's sugar. Pat the dough into a disc shape.
- Wrap tightly with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.
- Heat the oven to 350F. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.
- Place the chilled dough on a work surface that has been sprinkled with confectioner's sugar. Sprinkle the top of the dough and the rolling pin lightly with confectioner's sugar to prevent any sticking.
- Roll out the dough to ⅛-3/8" thick, depending on your preference, rotating the dough as you roll to prevent the dough from sticking.
- Cut out desired shapes and place the cookies 2" apart on the cookie sheets.
- Place the cookie sheets into the refrigerator for 20-30 minutes to chill.
- Bake the cookies for 17-20 minutes. Rotate the cookie sheets, halfway through baking. You're looking for the cookies to be soft when touched in the center, but fully cooked. Baking the cookies longer will result in a crispier cookie while baking them to just cooked will keep them soft.
- Let the cookies cool on the cookie sheets for 10 minutes, before transferring them to a cooling rack to cool completely.
Make the royal icing:
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the confectioner's sugar and meringue powder.
- Add the warm water, corn syrup and vanilla extract.
- Beat on low until everything is blended. Turn the mixer to medium-high speed and mix until the icing forms stiff, glossy peaks, about 5-7 minutes.
- Icing can be thinned with water depending on the desired consistency. Gel or powder food color can be used to color the icing. Keep the icing covered with a damp towel to keep from drying out. Decorate your cookies as you wish.