Royal Icing is a white icing that dries to a hard, smooth, matte finish, and is used for decorating and frosting cakes and cookies. Royal icing can also be used as the “glue” to attach decorations or when putting together a gingerbread house. Since it dries to a rock-hard, brittle texture, it is a crunchier texture than other frostings, but is still delicious. It is made with confectioners (powdered) sugar, either raw egg whites or powdered egg whites or meringue powder, and water. Royal icing decorations will last almost forever, as long as the icing doesn’t come into contact with grease, and the dried icing does not get wet.
Normally items that are not consumed, such as a decorated gingerbread house or cookies made and hung as Christmas tree ornaments, can use royal icing made with raw egg whites. Egg whites are less expensive to use but carry the risk of salmonella.
Desserts that will be eaten, such as cakes or cookies, should be decorated with a royal icing that is safe, made with either powdered egg whites or meringue powder. Meringue powder is made with dried egg whites, and both powdered egg whites and meringue powder can be found in most grocery stores, party stores, or craft stores.
Royal Icing Consistency
Royal icing can be made in different consistencies depending on how you are decorating and what the desired appearance is. Typically royal icing is used for piping or outlining, and dipping, flooding or glazing. Royal icing can be thickened by adding extra powdered sugar, or thinned adding extra water. A thicker icing is used for piping and outlining, a thinner icing is used for glazing, dipping, and flooding.
Piping: Piping uses a thicker icing, that holds its shape, for writing and making straight or curved lines or patterns. Piping should be just stiff enough that it does not drop off a spoon held upside down, like thick sour cream.
Outlining: Used to outline around the edges, or outline a design. Outlining is used to define the areas for flooding. Outlining consistency will hold its shape and should be just stiff enough that it does not drop off a spoon held upside down, like thick sour cream. After outlining, let dry for 10 to 15 minutes before flooding.
Flooding: After areas are outlined, the inside area can be filled in by flooding with a thinner icing that easily spreads to fill the area. Use the back of a spoon to spread the icing in large areas and a small artist paintbrush or toothpick to push the icing into the smaller areas. Flooding is approximately the consistency of unwhipped heavy cream or thick eggnog. After flooding, let dry without touching for approximately 24 hours.
Diping: The same consistency as flooding; the top of the cookie is dipped into the icing to coat, then inverted and allowed to dry.
Glazing: A thinner, watery icing that forms a hard shell, and may be used on cookies, cakes, and pastries. Along with other icings, glazes can be used on sweet pastries and coffee cakes. A glaze adds a sweet flavor while also helping to keep the baked goods moisture in, adding to the shelf life. Glaze consistency is somewhere between half and half cream and thin sour cream.
Royal Icing Recipes
The following are basic recipes to use for piping or outlining. Once made, the icing can be thinned with more water for glazing, dipping, or flooding.
Royal Icing Made with Meringue Powder (edible):
- 3 tablespoons meringue powder (or powdered egg whites)
- 4 cups confectioners (powdered) sugar
- ¼ to ½ cup warm water (or more if needed)
- Food coloring (optional)
- Flavoring (optional)
Tip: If using an extract for flavoring, use one that is clear so it does not add unwanted color to the finished icing, such as orange, lemon, mint, almond, and clear vanilla.
- In a medium bowl, and using an electric mixer or hand mixer, combine meringue powder and powdered sugar. Add water in small quantities, start with tablespoons of water, then when it’s getting close to the right consistency add water in teaspoonfuls or just drops of water at a time, until it is the desired consistency; for piping and outlining, the icing should be like a thick sour cream. Add food coloring and flavoring (optional.)
- Use immediately. Keep unused portions covered with plastic wrap, as exposed icing will start to thicken and harden. If the icing starts to become too thick, add a few drops of water and beat until the water is thoroughly combined.
- Place unused icing in an airtight container or resealable plastic bag and store in the refrigerator or at room temperature.
Royal Icing Made with Raw Egg Whites (non-edible)
- 2 large egg whites
- 3 cups confectioners (powdered) sugar
- 1 to 3 teaspoons warm water (or more if needed)
- Food coloring (optional)
- In a medium bowl, and using an electric mixer or hand mixer, beat egg whites until frothy. Add the powdered sugar, 1 cup at a time, beating after each cup until smooth. Add water, a few drops at a time, until it is the desired consistency; for piping and outlining, the icing should be like a thick sour cream. Add food coloring (optional.)
- Use icing immediately, keeping unused portions covered with plastic wrap, as exposed icing will start to thicken and harden. If the icing starts to become too thick, add a few drops of water and beat until water is thoroughly combined.
- Place unused icing in an airtight container or sealable plastic bagand store in the refrigerator.
Royal Icing Made with Egg Substitute (edible):
Marylou Saxton writes: “my daughter has just come up with an egg allergy. Every year we make a gingerbread house. Do you know of any substitute for the eggs we can use to glue the house together and stick the candy on the house.”
Marylou did some research and provided this recipe for those with egg allergies. “We found an egg substitute called Ener-G Egg Replacer. Our gingerbread house is made of real gingerbread, quite large and heavy. The Egg Replacer worked great! In fact, it was much easier to get the candy off when we wanted to eat it, and the house remained intact until all the candy was gone!
Here is the recipe we used and a picture of our finished house:
- 4 teaspoons Ener-G Egg Replacer
- 5 tablespoons water
- 2 cups confectioners (powdered) sugar, or more if needed
- Food coloring (optional)
- In a medium bowl, mix Egg Replacer and water together. Add powdered sugar and using an electric mixer or hand mixer, beat mixture with a whisk attachment until stiff peaks form.
- Cover unused icing with a wet cloth or plastic wrap to prevent hardening once you have made it to keep it soft. If the icing starts to become too thick, add a few drops of water and beat until water is thoroughly combined.
Royal Icing Decorating Tips
- I usually allow 3 days for making decorated sugar cookies. The 1st day is for making the dough, rolling and cutting out and baking the cookies. On the 2nd day decorate the cookies with outlining and flooding, and then let the cookies dry for 24 hours. On the 3rd day add any piping as extra decoration and sugar sprinkles if desired. Let dry overnight.
- Royal icing dries easily when exposed to air. Keep the bowl of icing covered with a damp towel or plastic wrap. While using, stir frequently. If it begins to get too thick, mix for 1 to 2 minutes to loosen it up, add a few drops of water while mixing if necessary. If you add too much water and it is too thin, add a small amount of sugar to thicken it up.
- Use a pastry bag with a frosting tip for piping and outlining. In place of a pastry bag, you can also use a plastic bag with a ziplock top; after the plastic bag is filled, cut a very small piece off one corner to pipe the icing out. To fill the pastry or plastic bag, place the bag, tip side down, in a glass, fold the top down over the edge of the glass. Spoon the icing into the bag, filling it no more than 2/3 full, unfold the top and secure with the ziplock top or with a twist tie. Keep the tip covered with a damp cloth when not using to prevent it from clogging.
- For flooding, place the icing in a plastic squeeze bottle, and squeeze the icing onto the surface of the cookie to fill in the outlined edges. Use the back of a spoon to spread the icing in the larger areas, and a toothpick to push or drag the icing into smaller areas.
- Dipping icing is placed in a flat container; dip the top of each cookie in the icing, let any excess icing run off, then invert the cookie and place on a wire rack to allow the icing to harden. To make cleanup easier, place a cookie sheet, paper towel, or piece of plastic wrap under the wire rack to collect icing drippings.
- A thin layer of glaze icing can be spread with a knife, rubber or metal spatula.
- If the same color icing is to be used for both outlining and flooding, prepare the icing to outline consistency and tint to the desired color and then divide the icing in half. Use ½ for outlining. Thin the 2nd half with additional water until the correct consistency for flooding.
- If you need several colors for decorating, divide the white royal icing into separate bowls; tint each bowl of icing to the desired color.
- Color or tint the icing with food coloring. I prefer gel paste as it is easier to use, easier to control the amount of color, and is available in many colors. Dip the end of a toothpick in the gel paste, and then add to the icing. Use a little bit for pastel colors; add more to achieve more vibrant colors. Liquid food coloring may also be used, although the addition of liquid color may make the icing a thinner consistency. When adding color, mix the icing well to eliminate streaks of color. After you have the desired color, stir the icing often to help prevent the color from separating or settling to the bottom of the bowl.