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 my favorite way: as a cookie icing.
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 safer 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 on cookies. 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 cookie 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 cookie 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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- 2 tablespoons meringue powder
- 6 tablespoons (88.72 g) water
- 2 2/3 cups (320 g) powdered sugar
- gel paste icing colors, for tinting (optional)
- additional water, for thinning (optional)
- 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.
Hi! If I wanted to ice my cookies ahead of time and then freeze for a few days, will the icing be ok or will it crack?
I would think they’d be ok, but honestly I don’t know that you’d even have to bother freezing them if you’re only talking about a few days. The icing kinda seals them, they shouldn’t go bad that quickly.
Generally how long does it take for them to harden? I am loving this recipe so far! It is so smooth and fluffy!
Yay! The drying time depends on the humidity in your kitchen, but I usually find that an overnight dry is enough.
Recipe looks amazing and all your recipes that I’ve done are always perfect, so I know this will be no different! So I’m having a cookie decorating party with my nieces on Monday. I think I read the recipe right but if I want to make the royal icing in advance, how would I store it? Can I make Sunday?
Sorry for the late reply but yes, I think that would work just fine and you can store it in an airtight container at room temperature.
As a first time user of Royal Icing, the comments and instructions are very helpful. I made shortbread circles and tried to ice them in a couple ways. I did the outlining and filling method, which worked ok. It takes a steady hand to outline evenly (and practice). I also tried using a very small silicone pastry brush to spread the filling icing. I even tried it without outlining first and it worked. I worked from the center out and nudged it into place. But I did leave about and 1/8 inch edge unfrosted. Consistency is everything! I did notice some tiny bubbles forming as it set up. Not sure it was the brushing or air just coming out of the meringue. Any suggestions??? I also tried red gel coloring, but I couldn’t get a true red, it was more like a deep salmon color. I tried with liquid coloring also, same thing. Maybe I didn’t use enough?? Then I thinned some frosting way down and brushed it over some molded cookies. It gave a nice washed look. Something new to play around with. Less intimidated now, Thanks.
So glad it worked well for you! As for your questions, I often use a toothpick to prick any bubbles open, and when tinting the icing red it’s good to allow it to sit for an hour or so after tinting. The color will deepen a lot as it sits. Thanks for the great feedback!
I am attempting cookies for my daughters first birthday! Does this icing harden? I am wanting to do cookies in little goody bags and send them on there way. I wanna make sure it hardens and isnt a sticky consistency.
Yes it says so right in the first paragraph. Good luck!
I tried Royal icing for the first time and used your recipe. I thought it was a success but I had one little issue that I hope you can help me with. I found that the outline and flooding mixtures were slightly different in color. Do you know why this happened? Thanks so much!
Hey Jamie! Thanks for trying my recipe. The only thing I can think of is maybe the color was diluted from when you thinned it to get it to the flooding consistency? Does that make sense?
Your recipes are easy, simple and delicious! Thank you for sharing! Bake on!
Thanks so much for the awesome feedback!
Hi~ can I omit meringue powder in this recipe?
What’s the brand of meringue powder do you use?
I have used Wilton as well as CK Kitchens and they both work very well! Good luck!
I do all the steps you do accept I do my outlining and flooding with the same consistency (it’s about 12-15 second icing)’. Saves on making 2 bags of icing for each color. Sometimes Im using 7 or 8 colors (for details)
Filling bags as you demonstrate is a real time saver. I usually use Plastic wrap (like Saran Wrap) but I must try your wax paper option.
The only other difference is I use a needle like tool that has a long handle and gives me more control THAN A TOOTHPICK. It’s a MUST in my tool kit. I got it at a craft store. Looks like a metal toothpick with a handle (measures about 6 or 7 inches total)
My issue is the consistency issue but it’s all about “practice, practice, practice”.
Brilliant! Thanks for the great ideas!
This royal icing is wonderful. Never decorated before. This is foolproof. Thank you for sharing.
You mentioned sugar powder in cups, can you please let me know how many grams do you use, since I find that cups can be different. Thank you.
Yes just click the “Metric” button just below the list of ingredients. Good luck!
I hate sifting through recipes for royal icing. I don’t like wasting ingredients. This one was PERFECT. I wish it were rated higher so that it would come up before the “sally’s baking addiction” recipe because tbh that one sucks.
This is perfect, follow instructions and logic for consistency. meringue powder gives it a great flavor. A touch of almond extract too. Add salt! no one likes flat flavored frosting.
Will be saving this.
Will this work with a regular hand mixer and beaters?
I would think so, but if your hand mixer has a whisk attachment that would be even better. Good luck!
Whipped it for 15 minutes and still super runny. Woud you add more sugar?
No I would not- it sounds like some fat must have got in there.
Can you tell me what brand of plastic wrap you use and the thickness? I have cling wrap but yours looked a lot thicker.
I use Press n Seal wrap.
Hi I have a question.When you do your outline on the cookies before adding the filling do you let that sit a bit first or no thanks
Hi I have another question What tips do you use for the outline and what tip do you use for the filling for the flooding. Thanks
If you want the outline to be visible, then you let that dry before flooding. If you want it seamless, then you flood immediately after outlining. I use a #2 tip for outline and a #5 for flooding, but you can use any tips that you like. Good luck!
Can I use the same consistency of icing for both outlining and flooding?
I would not recommend it. You’ll need a stiffer consistency for outlining, and a thinner, more liquid consistency for flooding. Good luck!