The only royal icing recipe you’ll ever need! Perfect for decorating cookies, cakes, cupcakes, & gingerbread houses. Easy, pipes smooth, & dries hard.
Today I have a basic recipe for you that every good baker should know how to make: Royal Icing!
It’s a total staple. You’ll love this royal icing because it’s easy to make and perfect for so many things. You can use it to make transfers, pipe roses or intricate embroidery-like accents on cakes, to glue together a gingerbread house, or to make my favorite: decorated cookies.
I have a few great cookie recipes on this site that are just begging for a little royal icing embellishment! Be sure to check out my Cut-Out Cookies that Don’t Spread, Chocolate Cut-Out Cookies, Gingerbread Cookies, and Soft Cut-Out Sugar Cookies.
WHAT IS ROYAL ICING?
Royal icing is an easy to make icing that’s made from just 3 simple ingredients: meringue powder, water, and powdered sugar. (Some recipes call for egg whites instead of meringue powder, but I prefer to use the powder because the results are more consistent and it’s more safe to eat.)
As it dries, it hardens to the consistency of candy, similar to like button candy or a smarty. Hard enough to not smear, but not so hard you can’t bite it easily.
It’s perfect for piping decorations. Pipe out your image, flower, or whatever, then set it out to dry for a few hours or overnight.
WHAT DOES ROYAL ICING TASTE LIKE?
Royal icing mostly just tastes like sugar. It’s very sweet, and most meringue powders will also give it a subtle vanilla flavor.
You can jazz up the taste by adding lemon juice or any other kind of extract, but just be aware of how liquids affect the consistency. Decorating with royal icing is ALL about the consistency!
HOW TO TINT ROYAL ICING
Royal icing can be tinted in all sorts of colors. You can use any kind of food coloring you like, but I have a strong preference for gel paste icing colors. They are highly concentrated, so not only do you not need much, but you don’t have to worry about them diluting the consistency.
HOW TO GET THE RIGHT CONSISTENCY
Like I said, when it comes to royal icing, the consistency is so important!
You want to start out by making your icing as stiff as possible. Whip it for a long time so it gets lots of air in it.
Then, scoop a little into a small bowl, and tint it with your icing colors.
Last step: thin it down to the consistency you need.
If you are making a gingerbread house, you probably want it to be very stiff so that it can hold the structure together. Same goes for piping roses or any other kind of flower.
If you are making a royal icing transfer, or decorating cookies, it’s nice to have 2 different consistencies: one that’s pretty thin for flooding, and one that’s a little stiffer for outlining.
The flood icing will sort of self-level. In other words, when you pipe it out, it will naturally spread and smooth over perfectly flat.
The outline consistency icing will hold the flood icing within its barriers, so it doesn’t spill over the sides of the cookie. You can also use it for accents here and there, to give the decorated cookies a little more dimension.
Stir a few drops of water at a time into the bowl of tinted icing, until you get the thickness you’re after. If you’re not sure, take a peek at the video (just above the recipe card) to see what flooding icing and outlining icing should look like.
HOW TO DRY ROYAL ICING
Once your royal icing has been piped on, you can set it out to dry. After just 15 to 30 minutes, it will form a thin crust on the surface, but it generally will stay wet underneath for several hours.
I usually set my cookies out (in a single, flat layer, on parchment-lined baking sheets) overnight to dry. They won’t get stale that quickly, because the royal icing actually serves almost like a barrier from the air.
I would not recommend drying royal icing in the refrigerator or freezer. The humidity levels can be funny in there, so room temperature is best. If you need to speed up the process, just set up a fan nearby.
HOW LONG DOES ROYAL ICING LAST?
Royal icing really won’t ever spoil, because the sugar content is so high that bacteria can’t grow. It’s really a lot like candy. But having said that, you will notice the quality will degrade over time.
After 24 hours, the royal icing will become more thin and watery. It can be thickened back up with a little more powdered sugar, if needed.
After 36 hours, it may start to separate. You can stir it though, and it will come back together.
After about 48 hours, you might start to notice a grainy texture. I don’t think there’s any way to recover it from that state, so I generally try to either use up or throw away any leftover royal icing after 2 or 3 days.
A FEW TIPS/TRICKS TO MAKE ROYAL ICING DECORATING EASIER
I like to re-use my piping bags (even the disposable plastic ones sometimes), so I included a little trick in the video below that makes cleanup a snap! Basically you just enclose the icing in plastic wrap before placing it into the piping bag. That way, when you’re done, you just slide out the wrapped-up icing, and you really only have to clean your tips.
I also like to twist the end of the bag and secure it with a rubber band or twisty-tie. It keeps everything together nicely and if any icing comes up the top, it doesn’t harden and scatter dried icing crumbs everywhere.
If you’ve ever used royal icing before, you may remember feeling frustrated when it hardens at the tip. It only takes a few minutes for the icing in the little pinhole of your piping tip to harden, and then you can’t squeeze it out at all. You can break it up with a toothpick, but then sometimes you’re forcing hardened icing into your tip and creating a clog. So, try placing a damp towel in the bottom of a drinking glass, and keep your bags (tip side down) in there. That little bit of moisture in the paper towel will prevent those clogged tips from happening.
Do you like to decorate with royal icing? Have you ever made a recipe like this? Do you have any other great tips that make things easier? If so, I hope you’ll share in a comment below!
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- Place the meringue powder and water in a large mixing bowl, and whip (with the whisk attachment) until foamy (about 3 minutes).
- Add the powdered sugar, and whip on medium speed until very stiff and thick (the royal icing should hold a stiff peak).
- Tint as needed with gel paste icing colors.
- Thin with additional water, a drop at a time, to get the desired consistency.
This icing is perfect on: