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Royal Icing 101

Learn how to frost royal icing cookies with this easy step-by-step tutorial. These helpful tips and tricks are perfect for beginners!

When it comes to decorating baked goods with frosting, I’ve shown how to frost the perfect cupcake and pipe on sugar cookie icing. I just recently experimented with royal icing and am sharing all my tips and tricks that I learned along the way.

heart shaped sugar cookie topped with white royal icing

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The basics

With the holidays around the corner, I thought I would do a little royal icing 101 “class” today. I have always seen those gorgeous iced cookies in bakeries and wanted to make them myself. They’re perfect for special occasions and everyone always goes crazy over them.

While I am certainly no professional, I’m here to tell you that it’s easier than it looks! Royal icing is simple to make and requires only 3 ingredients. And once you test on a few cookies, you’ll get the hang of it in no time. So here are the basics…

mixing together royal icing in a bowl

3 simple ingredients

  • Powdered sugar: Also known as confectioners sugar. If you’d prefer, you may sift it as well.
  • Liquid: For this frosting, you can use fresh lemon juice (which I prefer) or water. The lemon juice will help break up the sweetness from the powdered sugar and adds a great flavor.
  • Meringue powder: To make it easy you can add in meringue powder, however if you don’t have any you can replace with 2 egg whites (which is what I usually have on hand).

Instructions: In a large bowl, beat the powdered sugar, warm water and meringue powder until it forms peaks. This takes about 7-10 minutes on low with a standing mixer or about 10-12 minutes on high with a handheld mixer. The consistency should be fairly thick.

Outlining vs. flooding your cookies

Outline icing: This is the key to creating perfect royal icing cookies! You’ll first “outline” the cookies with the stiffer icing (it should not pour easily off the spoon). When you pipe it onto a cookie it will not spread.

Flood icing: This has a thicker liquid texture similar to honey and should run off the spoon. The outline helps to create a border, so that the flood icing doesn’t run off the sides of the cookies.

Now I will say that getting the icing to the right consistency is the hardest part. It just takes time! My advice would be to buy some store bought sugar cookies and practice on those first.

When you feel confident, make a batch of my favorite sugar cookies and go to town this holiday!

outlining and flooding sugar cookies with royal icing

How to decorate cookies with royal icing

  1. Add food coloring. Once you’ve made the icing, transfer the mixture to bowls and add food coloring if desired. Then transfer the icing into a frosting bag.
  2. Outline the cookie. Next outline your cookie with a stiffer frosting and a fine frosting tip (I used a #2 tip). This border basically creates a dam to make sure the “flood” icing doesn’t go off the sides of the cookies.
  3. Add the flood icing. Mix in 1 teaspoon of water or lemon juice to your icing to make the flood icing. The consistency will be a thick liquid like honey. Then using a frosting bottle, spread the frosting inside the “outlined” cookie.
  4. Spread and smooth the icing. Use a small knife or toothpick to spread the frosting. You can also use the tooth pick to pop any bubbles.
  5. Let cookies dry. Allow cookies to dry over night before packaging or adding more designs. It helps to dry the cookies in front of a heater fan to keep the icing shiny.

To add more designs on top: I haven’t played around with adding too many designs, but once the frosting is somewhat dry, you can use the stiffer frosting (in step #1) to pipe a design on top of your cookies.

sugar cookies with white and blue icing

Helpful cookie decorating tools

If this is your first time making royal icing, I’d recommend picking up the helpful materials below. Most of these tools you can find at your local craft store too. Make sure to bring your coupons!

Storage tips

This recipe will keep for up to 1 month. Simply cover the mixture with clear saran wrap and place in refrigerator until ready to use. Let sit out at room temperature until the consistency is smooth and ready to use.

heart shaped sugar cookie decorated with white royal icing

More frosting recipes to try:

heart sugar cookie with white icing on top

Royal Icing Recipe

5 from 9 votes
Learn how to frost royal icing cookies with this easy step-by-step tutorial. These helpful tips and tricks are perfect for beginners!
Prep Time: 30 mins
Total Time: 30 mins
Servings: 8

Ingredients 

  • 4 cups powdered sugar (more if needed)
  • 4 to 5 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice or water (more if needed)
  • 3 Tablespoons meringue powder

Instructions

  • Add the powdered sugar, fresh lemon juice (or water) and meringue powder in a large bowl. Beat on low for 1 minute and then scrape down the sides. Then beat on medium speed until icing forms a peak and is glossy. It will take about 5 to 7 minutes at low speed with a stand mixer and 10­-12 minutes at high speed with a handheld mixer. It should be fairly thick (and not fall off the paddle). If it's too thick add a little more lemon juice, if it runs off then you'll want to add a little more powdered sugar.
  • Once you've made the frosting, transfer to bowls for adding colors and then transfer into your frosting bag.
  • Next outline your cookie with a stiffer frosting and a fine frosting tip (I used a #2 tip). This border creates a dam to make sure the "flood" icing doesn't go off the sides of the cookies.
  • Mix in 1 teaspoon of water or fresh lemon juice to your frosting to make the flood icing. The consistency will be a thick liquid like honey. Then using an icing bottle, spread the frosting inside the "outlined" cookie.
  • Use a small knife or toothpick to spread the frosting. You can also use the tooth pick to pop any bubbles.
  • Allow cookies to dry over night on the counter until icing has hardened.

Video


Notes

Substitutes: You can use 2 egg whites in place of the meringue powder. 
For outlining: Use the thicker icing before adding extra liquid.
For the flood icing: Add an additional teaspoon of lemon juice or water at a time until you reach a good consistency (similar to honey), where it will drizzle off the spoon. 
Tip: When not working with the icing, place a damp paper towel over the bowl of icing so it doesn't dry out.
Drying: It helps to dry the cookies in front of a heater fan to keep the icing shiny. 
Storage: Royal icing will keep at least a month. Cover with clear wrap and refrigerate. Then bring to room temperature when ready to use. 

Calories: 245kcal | Carbohydrates: 62g | Sodium: 1mg | Sugar: 61g
Course: Dessert
Cuisine: American
Author: Jamielyn Nye

Good luck!! Let’s hear it…have any of you tried royal icing? How did it go?

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