Why Royal Icing?
There are so many different reasons to choose royal icing over buttercream for cookie decorating, but the most obvious is that you can get so much more out of it! You can create designs you never imagined with buttercream. And with the addition of gel food coloring? Well, the possibilities are endless!
Wet on Wet Polka Dots
You can do a simple wet-on-wet technique, as illustrated with the polka-dots below. . .
Here’s a quick illustration of the wet on wet technique:
Wet on Wet Hearts
You can create hearts by dragging a toothpick through those circles and they look like this…
Wet on Wet Animal Prints
And what about these animal prints, which are (mostly) done with a simple wet on wet action (just laying one wet color over another). . .
Wet on Wet Flowers
In this simple technique you use a toothpick to drag through the icing to create fun and pretty looks. (I love making roses/flowers but putting a few dots and dragging a toothpick through them!) And how fun, to make those blue and white teacups with just two colors of (very wet) icing!
Wet on Wet Tie-Dye Effect
This one is also done by dragging a toothpick through the colors of icing.
(Isn’t it cool, how the colors on top pop?)
With a little patience, you can rest colors side-by-side without any bleeding.
And with piping consistency you can do amazing detail work!
Easy Royal Icing is the Bomb!
Not to bash buttercream! I’ve iced many a sugar cookie with my Dreamy Buttercream over the years, but I much prefer the unlimited use of royal icing. You’ll see me posting tons of these on Valentine’s Day and at Christmas. My Holiday Christmas Cookies are so much fun!
Ready to Frost Some Cookies?
So, you’re ready to give it a try, you say? Great! It all starts with an easy recipe. The only ingredient you might not have on hand is the meringue powder. I happen to use Wilton brand and I buy it at Walmart. They even carry it at my local grocery store.
You’ll need these items to make the royal icing:
- meringue powder
- 2 tsp vanilla extract (clear extracts are best)
- 1/2 tsp real almond extract
- One bag powdered sugar (7 – 8 cups)
That’s it, y’all!
If you’re not using Wilton brand meringue powder you should throw in a teaspoon of cream of tartar. Other brands usually require it.
The Role of Meringue Powder in Easy Royal Icing.
So, let’s talk for a minute about the meringue powder and what it does. My mama made what she called a “glaze” for her sugar cookies. There’s really only one big difference between a traditional glaze (powdered sugar/water/extracts) and royal icing. . .and that’s the meringue powder.
What is Meringue Powder?
Meringue powdered is powdered egg whites. And it’s safe for consumption, which isn’t really the case with raw eggs (though some would argue that the whipping process makes the whites safe for consumption). Me? I err on the side of caution and use the powder. It’s so easy!
What Does Meringue Powder Do?
It firms up the icing and gives it more of a body, but it also makes it thicker and creamier. It also gives the cookie that luscious “bite” with a bit of a crunch that you just can’t get with a simple glaze. You will find it at most local craft stores.
How to Make Easy Royal Icing
It’s a lot easier than you think! Let’s break it down:
Put all items except powdered sugar into a mixing bowl.
Mix until frothy (less than a minute).
Add full bag confectioners’ sugar and mix until incorporated (a few seconds). Turn mixer on medium-low speed and beat for five minutes non-stop until the icing is meringue-like in texture and nearly reaches the stiff peaks stage. (You can use your whisk attachment for this if you like.)
Immediately cover with plastic wrap (touching the icing) and a damp towel above that. Store in an airtight container.
Color your icing!
Now it’s time to color your icing. Scoop out about a cup of the icing into a bowl (I use small bowls) and add your coloring gel. (Note: Don’t use a liquid food coloring, as it will upset the balance of moisture in the recipe.) Mix thoroughly.
Make Piping Consistency Icing:
Add tiny drops of water until you get the colored icing to piping (toothpaste) consistency. Scoop out half of this thicker consistency and put it into a piping bag with #2 piping tip.
Make Flood Consistency Icing:
With the remaining icing in the bowl, add tiny bits of water (stirring non-stop by hand) until it reaches honey consistency. You know you’ve reached the right consistency when you can drag a knife through it and it takes about 10 – 15 seconds for the line to close up again. (Hint: You can add a few drops of lemon juice if you like, to make this a thinner icing!)
(Anything less than 10 seconds will result in a runny icing that will run over the edges of the cookie.)
Place Royal Icing in bags or bottles.
You can either put this flood consistency icing in a piping bag with a #2 tip or a tipless bag. You can also use a food-safe craft squeeze bottle with tip to flood, but be aware that flooding with the bottle method often leads to air bubbles in the icing.
Repeat the above process making different colors. (I use Americolor gel colors.)
Create a Work Station to Paint Your Cookies
This is what mine looks like. You’ll notice that I’ve place my flood icing (the white and the yellow) in tipless bags and the piping icing (the blue and purple) in bags with specific decorating tips. I plan to make special designs with those. (Pics to come!)
I use a Pampered Chef mat to work on but you could use waxed paper if you don’t have something similar. I always keep paper towels and toothpicks on hand, as well.
Getting the Bags of Royal Icing Ready
Before you cut the tips off (photo below) “swoosh” the bag 20-25 times. Basically, hold it at the rubber band point and swing it around multiple times. This will work out any air bubbles.
Cut the Tips if You’re Using Tipless Bags!
Start small. Cut a teensy-tiny bit and squeeze some icing out onto your mat. It should flow in a smooth line. If the hole is too bit it will flood out too fast. if it’s too small, you’ll need to cut it a smidgeon bigger.
If you mess up the size of the hole you can put this bag inside of another bag and try again! If you discover your icing is too runny, you can always add more powdered sugar. If it’s too thick, put it back in a bowl and add a couple of drops of water.
Time to Pipe the Edges of Your Cookie!
Go around the edges of the cookie. Don’t touch the bag (or tip) to the cookie. Let gravity do the work. Just guide the line around. In this case I wasn’t trying to fill the whole cookie. (You’ll see a photo of the final cookie down below.)
I Used to Pipe the Edges with Piping Consistency
But most of the time I just outline with flood icing now, making sure the tip/opening isn’t too big. Then it’s an easy matter of squeezing the bag a little harder to flood the inside. Which usually results in. . .
Messy Royal Icing!
And that’s exactly what you should expect at this stage if you’re using 10-15 second icing! You might need to use a toothpick to spread the icing around a bit. Sometimes when I’m lazy I use the tip of the bag. But it will usually end up looking like this, until. . .
Tap, Tap, Tap!
I tap the cookie on the mat and then shake it a little to get the icing to settle.
Once my yellow icing set up (about an hour or so) I did the white on the other side. Then, when the whole cookie was dry, I came on top of it with some blue designs. (This was done with a #2 tip.) The little flower was a tiny star tip. Oh, and the white leaves? I thickened some white icing with powdered sugar and put it in a bag with a leaf tip.
The Finished Product
Breaking Down the Techniques
Let’s talk about how I did some of those techniques that you saw in the photos at the top of this post. Whether you want to pull off a simple or intricate designs, this is the best icing to accomplish that!
Wet on Wet Polka-Dots
Start by flooding the entire cookie in the color you want. Then (while it’s still wet) add tiny dots of other/contrasting colors. (Note: the dots will spread a bit so go small!)
Wet on Wet Hearts
Flood the cookie. Place dots in contrasting color(s) and then use a toothpick to drag through them to create the effect.
Wet on Wet Animal Print
Flood the cut-out cookie. Use a contrasting color to place a large (jagged) center dot, then (using a smaller tip) come around the edges in black. I don’t make a complete circle with the black. See other photos for different animal techniques. All are wet-on-wet.
Wet on Wet Flower Rose Technique
Flood the cookie. Place three dots of a contracting color fairly close together then drag a toothpick through them, swirling until you get a flower-like effect.
Wet on Wet Tie-Dye effect:
Flood the cookie. Add rows of thin lines in contrasting color then drag toothpick through them.
To make the Tie-Dye effect more exciting make the lines in a variety of colors and drag the toothpick both down and up.
Layered Colors Technique:
Flood the cookie and allow it to set up at least an hour, maybe longer. Come on top of dried icing with a second icing, making the design of your choice. (In photo below I went with blots.)
This isn’t as hard as it looks! Flood the cookie in the color of your choice using flood consistency then let it dry completely (at least an hour or two). Use a piping (toothpaste consistency) icing in a bag with a #2 tip to pipe the designs on the dried cookie.
Intricate piping using special tips
These little flowers are done with a tiny star tip and the greenery is done with a #2 tip. The possibilities are endless!
Singing the Praise of Easy Royal Icing
I love this recipe so much that I’ve dedicated a couple of posts to it already, including my Holiday Sugar Cookie post. Check it out when you’re ready for some Christmas Cookies! It’s perfect for gingerbread houses or gingerbread cookies, too!
When you’re ready to store your icing, you can keep leftover royal icing in an airtight container at room temperature or in the refrigerator. I often keep mine sealed in piping bags, making sure there are no air bubbles inside.
For more on cookie decorating with my Easy Royal Icing Recipe
Check out my post Tips for Cookie Decorating. A few things have changed since I made that post. I usually use tipless piping bags these days instead of bottles. Also, I use a slightly thicker flood icing for both outlining and flooding and don’t wait for the outlining to dry before flooding. I’ve learned that this makes for a more seamless product in the end!
I hope you enjoy this recipe and find these tips/tricks helpful. If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments below. And while you’re here, don’t forget to check out my Cut-Out Sugar Cookies Recipe. You’ll need that when you’re ready to go!
Oh! And if you really want to see some terrific recipes that are trending, check out Full Plate Thursday at Miz Helen’s Country Cottage!
About the Author
Janice Thompson is an author, baker, and all-around mischief maker! She has overcome a host of baking catastrophes, including a toppled wedding cake, to learn more about the baking process. Janice has published over 150 books for the Christian market but particularly enjoys writing recipes and baking devotions. To learn more about Janice or to drop her a note, visit her About the Author page.
- 3 tbl meringue powder
- 1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons water
- 1 tsp cream of tartar (omit this if you’re using Wilton’s meringue powder)
- 2 tsp clear vanilla extract
- 1/2 tsp real almond extract
- One bag powdered sugar (7 – 8 cups)
- Put all items except powdered sugar into a mixing bowl. Mix until frothy (less than a minute).
- Add full bag powdered sugar and mix until incorporated (a few seconds).
Turn mixer on low and beat for five minutes non-stop until the icing is meringue-like in texture. Immediately cover with plastic wrap (touching the icing) and a damp towel above that.
- Now it’s time to color your icing. Scoop out about a cup of the icing into a small bowl and add your coloring gel.
- (Note: Don’t use water-based food colorings, as they add liquid to the recipe.) Mix thoroughly.
- Add tiny drops of water until you get the colored icing to piping (toothpaste) consistency.
- Scoop out half of it and put it into a piping bag with #2 tip. With the remaining icing in the bowl, add tiny bits of water (stirring non-stop by hand) until it reaches honey consistency.
- You know you’ve reached the right consistency when you can drag a knife through it and it takes about 10 seconds for the line to close up again.
- You can either put this flood consistency icing in a piping bag with a #2 tip or a tipless bag. You can also use a food-safe craft bottle with tip, but be aware that flooding with the bottle method often leads to air bubbles in the icing.
- Repeat the above process making different colors.
For more on the decorating process, see my Tips for Cookie Decorating post.