Besides making free-form designs, letters, and shapes, this satiny smooth icing is perfect for icing cookies when you want just a bit of sweetness. It’s not good used as an icing on cakes, but it is the perfect ‘cement’ when needed to attach pieces together like in a gingerbread house.
There are several different recipes for making royal icing depending on what ingredients you want to use.
Because raw egg whites can be used to make the icing, there can be an issue of health safety. If you are concerned with eating raw eggs, use pasteurized eggs, egg white powder, or meringue powder – they all work equally well.
If the icing is left to sit for several hours (covered with a damp towel, or sealed in a container) it may separate. Just stir it well to combine it again, although try not to whisk it too vigorously or you will introduce air bubbles into the icing.
Types of Icing
There are 3 different consistencies for royal icing you can make, depending on what you’re needing it for.
Stiff: used for creating designs or decorations, and outlining cookies. It is thick enough that when piped, it doesn’t spread out and its shape is maintained. Free hand designs onto parchment paper, or draw on the underside of the paper and pipe out the icing as you trace along your lines. Allow to dry 24 hours or until fully hardened then carefully transfer to your baked goods.
Medium: to use as ‘cement’ when attaching pieces together, like for a gingerbread house. You want the icing just a bit loose so it adheres to both pieces really well, then it will set up within a few minutes.
Flood: this is the thinnest consistency where once you spread it, it smooths itself out within about 10 seconds. For frosting cookies, you would pipe an outline on the cookie with the stiff frosting first, then use an offset spatula to add in the flood icing. Pushing the icing around so it completely fills the outline.
To test that you have the right consistency for the flood icing, let it sit for about 10 minutes (cover the bowl with a damp cloth to prevent it from drying out) to allow any air bubbles to rise up. If the mixture is too thin, air bubbles will form immediately.
If the mixture is just thick enough, the air bubbles won’t have time to get to the surface before the icing hardens. You can easily pop any air bubbles with a toothpick, but it is easier to get the icing the right consistency to start with.
Click here for our Royal Icing recipe.
This type of design is done when all the colors are of flood consistency, and are still wet.
Prepare a few different colors of flood consistency icing, and place in a pastry bag with a fine tip, or use Zip-Loc bags with the corner snipped.
Once you have piped a stiff outline, fill everything in with the flood icing of the same color. Immediately pipe in other colors onto the wet icing, then use a toothpick to pull, push, or drag through the icing to create a variety of designs. Swirling colors together will create a marbleized effect.
Once you are happy with your design, allow to dry at room temperature until icing surface is dry and hard.
A heart is created by pulling the toothpick through a drop. By placing your drops of icing in a line, you can create a whole string of hearts in this way.
Once the cookie has been outlined/flooded and has dried to a smooth hard finish, it’s ready to ‘paint’.
Gel colors are the best since they contain very little water. Any water on the cookies’ hardened frosting will penetrate and make a mess of the smooth finish.
In a small dish add about 1 Tbsp of clear tasteless alcohol (like vodka). Use a toothpick to pick up some of the gel color and swirl in the vodka to mix completely. Mix up any more colors you’d like to use in separate dishes. Your ‘paint’ is now ready to use.
Use a variety of good-quality, fine paintbrushes and paint on your design. Allow one color to dry before adding another, unless you want to create a water color effect. Take care not to oversaturate the cookie with the ‘paint’. Although the vodka will quickly evaporate, if you have to much on at one time it can start to dissolve the hardened icing.
For a gingham pattern effect, brush on vertical and horizontal strips. There is no need to let the ‘paint’ dry before you switch directions.