A few days ago, I shared my recipe for perfect cut-out cookies, so today I’m posting my royal icing recipe. It’s simple to make and perfect for decorating cut-out cookies, gluing together gingerbread houses, and piping intricate lace-like accents on cookies and cakes.
What is royal icing?
Royal icing is a simple icing that’s made from just 3 simple ingredients: meringue powder, water, and powdered sugar (some recipes call for egg whites in place of meringue powder, but I prefer to use the powder consistent quality every time — and it’s safer to consume (I’ll take a hard pass on the salmonella).
It hardens like candy; stiff enough that it won’t smear, but not too hard to bite into. It’s also perfect for piping decorations.
What does royal icing taste like?
The main ingredient in royal icing is sugar, so guess what it tastes like? You got it, sugar. That said and most meringue powders have a slight flavor to them and you can add any extract or emulsion you’d like, but beware — decorating with royal icing is ALL about consistency, so be careful about adding stuff to the mix.
Speaking of adding stuff to the mix…
How to color royal icing?
Royal icing can be tinted any color you can imagine. While you can use any food coloring you’d like, I prefer gel. They are highly concentrated, and won’t dilute the icing.
How to get the perfect consistency?
There are three different consistencies of royal icing, you need to know about: super stiff (perfect for gluing gingerbread houses together), medium (for outlining designs and achieving professional-looking results), and thin (for filling in your designs, also known as flooding).
First, begin by mixing all the ingredients in a standing mixer using the paddle attachment, until it comes together. Then separate it into different bowls. I know most recipes tell you to whip the icing with the whisk attachment but in my experience, icing mixed with a paddle won’t separate as quickly as icing mixed with a whisk. My experience could be anecdotal, but I’ve made royal icing hundreds of times, and the paddle method is by far, the best.
If you need your royal icing to be super stiff for holding structures together like a gingerbread house, or piping flowers, you’ll defer from the recipe below by only adding 1/4 cup of water to your mixing bowl, then stir a couple of drops of water in, one at a time until you reach a consistency similar to caulk. It should be just thin enough to spread with a butter knife (or pipe with a tip with a larger opening) but thick enough to act as a glue.
If you’re decorating cookies, you’ll need two consistencies of royal icing to work with — one that’s pretty thin to cover (or flood) your cookies, and one that’s a little stiffer to outline your cookie. For both these consistencies, use the recipe exactly as it reads below.
The flooding icing should be thin enough to fill your outline and self-level without having to spread it with a tool. I do keep toothpicks on hand for air bubbles though.
The icing for flooding should be just thick enough to hold around the parameter of your design, so your flooding icing doesn’t spillover. It’s also great to use it to give more dimension to decorated cookies.
For both consistencies, stir a couple of drops of water, one at a time until you reach the consistency you’re look ing for.
Remember, outlining icing should have a medium consistency like a squeezable tube of lip balm — think Carmex. Flooding icing should be thin (not watery), kind of like heavy cream versus milk. Make sense?
How to dry royal icing?
This one is simple — leave it alone. I usually set my cookies out overnight, in a single layer (duh, right?) on parchment-lined baking sheets to dry.
How long does it take royal icing to dry?
Royal icing will form a thin crust after 15 to 20 minutes, but it will still be wet underneath for hours and will need to set out overnight (or at least 8 hours) to fully dry. If you need to speed up the drying process you can use a fan. Be prepared to leave your cookies untouched, in front of the fan for at least an hour and a half.
How long does royal icing last?
Unused royal icing will keep in an airtight container on your counter for up to 2 weeks. It will not spoil. There’s so much sugar content in it that bacteria can not grow, and since there are no egg whites in it, you don’t have to worry about daily spoilage either! However, after about a week I start to notice the quality begins to degrade.
Now, we both know what you came here for so let’s get to it. Check out the recipe below!
This is the only recipe you'll ever need for royal icing.
- 2 pounds confectioner's sugar
- 5 tablespoons meringue powder
- 2 teaspoons any flavor emulsion or extract (I prefer almond emulsion)
- 1/2 - 3/4 cups warm water
- Combine the emulsion or extract with 1/2 cup of water.
- In your mixing bowl with a paddle attachment, mix sugar and meringue powder.
- With the mixer on the lowest setting, slowly add the water/flavoring mix to the dry ingredients. The icing will become thick and lumpy.
- Continue to add remaining water little by little, until the mixture reaches a thick consistency that resembles honey. Turn the mixer to medium speed and mix for 3 minutes, until icing forms soft peaks.