Royal icing is a bit of a beast when it comes to learning how to decorate with it. It takes a lot of practice and patience but if you stick with it you’ll get the hang of it!
In my opinion, the hardest part of decorating cookies with royal icing is mastering the different types of icing consistencies. If you add too much water to your icing, it will be too runny and flow off the cookie. If you add too little, it won’t settle and won’t dry smooth (or at all).
I use a medium consistency icing that allows me to use the same icing to outline the cookie’s edge, as well as flood (fill in) the cookie. There is a fine line for this type of icing as if you make it too thin, it will run off the cookie. If you make it too thick, it won’t settle properly and your cookie won’t be smooth. This has taken practice to figure out but I love it because you don’t have to bag two separate icing consistencies for each color.
It’s also important to remember that every cookier does it a different way and this is just what works for me. Some cookiers like to make two consistencies for each color- one being their outline icing which is thicker and it’s main purpose is to outline the cookie like a barrier so the flood icing doesn’t fall off the edge. Then they mix a flood icing in the same color to fill in the cookie.
Detail icing is going to be much thicker and I use this for piping flowers or stenciling words onto a cookie.
Check out this post for my sugar cookie recipe.
Things you need to get started with royal icing decorating:
- Food coloring
- Piping bags
Here’s a full list of the tools I use both to bake cookies and decorate them.
If you’re just starting out and want to use the basic food coloring from the grocery store, that’s okay but you need to adjust your expectations when using those. The colors will not be very vibrant. I recommend checking out if your local Walmart has a cookie decorating aisle (near where the craft supplies are). My small town one does and you may be able to find some affordable colorings there that would be a step up from the basic food coloring found in the normal grocery store baking aisle (i.e. the 4 pack ones in the little squeeze bottles).
If you want to invest a bit and get some really awesome, vibrant colors, I have two favorite coloring options. The first is the Sugar Art Master Elite powdered food coloring. The powder makes it so your icing doesn’t get thinned out from color and the colors are SO vibrant.
I also love Americolor Soft Gel Paste. There are so many color options. Both of these are a bit expensive if you need a lot of colors but they are worth it if you want to stick with cookie decorating or are looking for a really specific color.
Check out this post for links to my favorite food colorings.
Mixing Medium Consistency Icing (aka 15 second flood)
After making the recipe, I will first scoop out some icing into a bowl, how much will depend on how much I’ll be using this color. I then add my color in just in case the gel thins the icing out at all (this is irrelevant when using a powder color). I then add small amounts of water until I reach the consistency I’m looking for. When I say small amounts, I mean small! I will often add 1/4-1/2tsp tsp at a time. You want your consistency to smooth out in 15 seconds, so to test this, take a butterknife and drag it through the icing. It should take about 15 seconds to smooth back out. If it smooths out too quickly, add a bit more powdered sugar. If it smooths out too slowly (or not at all), add a little bit more water.
When you’ve reached your 15 second consistency, put the icing in piping bags. The easiest way to do this is to get a tall cup, put the piping bag in it and fold the top of the bag over the edge so you have a nice big opening to add icing. Then add your icing. You can either tie the bag shut or I like to use chip bag clips.
When you try your icing on your first cookie, if it is too thin or thick, STOP. I promise it’s better to take the time to remix your icing than to try and ice all your cookies with icing you know isn’t going to work well. For example, if it’s starting to go over the edges, it’s too thin and you need to add more powdered sugar. If it’s hard to pipe and isn’t smoothing out, its too thick and you should put it back in the bowl to add more water. I know this may waste a piping bag but i promise you will regret not remixing when all your cookies don’t turn out well.
Decorating with Royal Icing
If you’re a beginner, keep it basic to start with. Cut a small opening in the end of your piping bag and start filling your cookie in. I like to make an outline around the cookie then work my way in, but do it however you like! I use a scribe to smooth out any areas that need it or to pop any air bubbles that may surface.
Stay tuned for more posts on royal icing decorating techniques.
Storing Royal Icing
If you’re decorating over the course of a couple days, refrigerate your icing over night. I store mine in the fridge for up to a week.
If you have excess icing when your done decorating, I put the excess icing in a freezer bag and freeze for up to 2 months. I will squeeze each color into a sandwich bag then put those bags in a big freezer bag.
Do not leave royal icing out and exposed to the air as it will become hard and crusty and will leave chunks in your icing. If you still have icing left in your mixing bowl, put a dish towel over the top while not in use.
Dry Times & Storing Cookies Decorated with Royal Icing
Once your cookie is decorated with royal icing, you’ll want to leave them out on cooling racks to fully dry. This feels weird at first to leave your cookies sitting out but royal icing can take up to 24 hours to dry, depending on your house/climate. If i’m adding detail on top on the base icing, I’ll usually let the base dry overnight and then add the detail on top and then allow time for that to dry.
Once they are fully dry, cookies can be stored in Tupperware or individually packaged in bags. These are still delicate so still be mindful of packaging or stacking gently.
- 1 Handheld or stand mixer
- 1 Large Mixing Bowl
- Several Small Mixing Bowls (depends on how many colors you're mixing)
- Spatulas/spoons to mix various colors
- Piping Bags
- 6 tbsp Meringue Powder
- 3/4 cup Warm Water
- 2 tsp Clear Vanilla Extract
- 2 lb Bag of Powdered Sugar
- 2 tbsp Clear Corn Syrup
Mixing the Icing
- Mix together the meringue powder, water and vanilla extract until meringue powder is dissolved.
- Slowly add in the bag of powdered sugar, beating until the sugar is completely mixed in (i.e. you can no longer see any sugar)
- Add in the corn syrup and mix for an additional 2-3 minutes.
Coloring the Icing and Diluting
- Next, you'll want to separate out icing into different bowls based on how many different colors you are going to be using. Allocate less icing for colors you won't be using as much of.
- Add in the food coloring and thoroughly mix until the coloring is completely mixed in. Start off with small amounts of coloring as you can always add more if you want to make it darker/more vibrant.
- Begin adding VERY small amounts of water to get a medium icing consistency (see notes at the top of this post for more info on medium consistency.
- Once you've achieved your desired consistency, transfer your icing to piping bags. Tie the bag shut or use a clip to close the bag.
- I use Wilton brand meringue powder
- Using clear vanilla extract is important so you’re icing stays white
- Do not leave royal icing out and exposed to the air as it will become hard and crusty and will leave chunks in your icing. If you still have icing left in your mixing bowl, put a dish towel over the top.
- Clear Corn Syrup is used as it helps the icing dry harder and shinier!
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