This is my royal icing recipe that I have used to decorate tens of thousands of cookies over the years. It’s just 3 simple, easy to find ingredients: powdered sugar, meringue powder, and water. After you get the hang of mastering consistencies (the most difficult part of cookie decorating) this is the easiest royal icing I’ve ever worked with, it sets up quickly, and won’t break your teeth after it dries. It makes the best icing for cookies.
- My royal icing journey!
- What is Royal Icing?
- What is Meringue Powder?
- What is “flooding”?
- Icing Consistencies
- Flooding Icing
- What is the trick for the perfect flooding consistency royal icing?
- 10 – 20 Second Royal Icing Demonstration Video
- Medium/Detail Consistency Icing
- Stiff Consistency Icing
- Why do you add whitener to your royal icing?
- How much water do I use to thin down my icing if it’s too thick?
- How much powdered sugar do I use to thicken up my icing if it’s too thin?
- Can I add extract/flavor to my royal icing?
- How long does royal icing take to dry?
- Why won’t my royal icing dry or harden?
- Does royal icing dry hard?
- Do I have to use meringue powder to make royal icing?
- How much icing do I need to make?
- How do I make different colors of icing?
- What happens if my royal icing separates?
- How do I store royal icing?
- What can I do with leftover icing?
- What if I don’t have a Kitchenaid or other stand mixer?
- How to Make Royal Icing Recipe
My royal icing journey!
When I took my first stab at cookie decorating I was TERRIBLE. No, really, it was that bad. I had been decorating cakes for a couple years and figured if I could master fondant, I could immediately master royal icing. So I did no research, I watched no videos, didn’t obsessively read any cookie blogs. I just quickly looked up a royal icing recipe and got to decorating. When my husband saw my sad little cookies he quietly said “Those are cute…but maybe you just stick to cakes?” Oops!
Then I did my research. I scoured the internet and read every cookie blog. I enrolled in the University of YouTube and watched countless cookie decorating videos. And I practiced… and practiced… and practiced…
My initial attempt, and subsequent epic fail, wasn’t entirely my fault. Royal icing is a jerk. It dries when you don’t want it to. It doesn’t dry when you want it to. You get a speck of oil in it and it’ll never dry. Too thin and it’ll drip down the sides of your cookies. A little too thick and it will never fully smooth out. You bump the table while your cookies are drying and you’ll get these little speed-bump wrinkle thingies on the surface. You finally get everything perfect, the consistency is just right, the weather is ideal, the planets are aligned, Mercury is not in retrograde, you flood the cookie like a pro, everything is smooth and pretty…and then you accidentally stick your finger into partially dried icing, it cracks, and there is no way to fix it. So yeah, royal icing is a jerk.
If you Google “royal icing recipe” or “how to make royal icing” you’ll get over 20 million results. And they’re all a little different. Some will say to sift your sugar, some say don’t bother. Use a whisk attachment. Never use a whisk attachment. Add corn syrup. Don’t add corn syrup. You’ll find recipes with anywhere from 5-10 tablespoons per 2 lbs of sugar. Or recipes that use raw egg whites instead of meringue powder. Start with a thick consistency and thin it down. Start with a flooding consistency and add more powdered sugar to thicken it. After experimenting with a few dozen of those 20 million recipes, I found what works for me.
The All Access Online Cookie Class Pass will give you access to over 24+ current and future online cookie decorating classes for one low price. Your subscription never expires, and you will have access to every online cookie decorating class, including my cookie decorating masterclass.
Let’s start with a little vocab lesson…
What is Royal Icing?
Royal icing is an icing made from powdered sugar, meringue powder and water. The egg allows the icing to dry to a hard consistency. You can also use egg whites instead of meringue powder and water, but meringue powder is going to be safer AND you can leave it out at room temperature longer than icing made with raw eggs.
What is Meringue Powder?
Meringue powder is a powdered egg white substitute used in baking. It also has cornstarch, vanilla flavoring, sugar and some stabilizers (like cream of tartar). I prefer CK Products or Fat Daddio’s meringue powder, but Wilton will work just fine and is more readily available at craft stores and retailers like Walmart.
What is “flooding”?
Flooding a cookie is the process by which you apply a smooth layer of icing to the surface of a cookie. Flooding icing should be thin enough so that it smooths out, but not so thin that it’ll run off the surface of your cookie. You might also see flooding consistency icing referred to as “10-20 second icing.” More on that in 3…2…1
There are 3 different consistencies that I use when decorating cookies. Flood consistency, medium consistency and stiff consistency. The same ingredients are used for all 3 consistencies, the only difference is the ratio of water to powdered sugar. You add a little more water to thin the icing down, and more powdered sugar to thicken it up.
This is the consistency of icing used to create that super smooth layer of icing on a cookie. It’s the consistency that comes right off the mixer when I make a batch of royal icing. Some cookie decorators start with a stiff icing and then thin it down, but since I use flooding icing the most, and because flooding a cookie is typically the first step in decorating a cookie, I start with a flooding consistency and then thicken it as needed.
The consistency of flooding icing should be similar to honey. You want flooding icing to be a little runny, not watery, and just thick enough to smooth out, but not so thin that it’ll run off your cookie. Easy, right?
What is the trick for the perfect flooding consistency royal icing?
To achieve this perfect runny-but-not-too-runny consistency, I use the 10-20 second icing rule. Take your bowl off the mixer, smooth out the icing, pick up your paddle, drizzle a ribbon of icing along the surface, and then start counting. The ribbon of icing should smooth out on it’s own somewhere between 10-20 seconds.
Tah-dah! Flooding icing. If it’s too thick, use a spray bottle and spray a few squirts of water, mix it up, and test it again. If it’s a little too thin, just let it mix for a couple of more minutes and it’ll thicken up a bit. If it’s WAY too thin, you can add a little more powdered sugar, a tablespoon at a time, until you reach the desired consistency.
10 – 20 Second Royal Icing Demonstration Video
Medium/Detail Consistency Icing
This is the consistency of icing I use to pipe outlines, details and flowing script. I also use this consistency for things like eyeballs and smiley mouths. You want this icing to be the consistency of soft-peak whipped egg whites. I’ve also compared it to the consistency of toothpaste. It should hold it’s shape a little and not spread, but you can smooth it out with a scribe tool.
If your detail icing is too thick, the line tends to break when you are piping a design. If your detail icing is too thin, then it will spread, not hold its shape, and you will sometimes end up with little air bubble holes once it dries.
Stiff Consistency Icing
Stiff icing should be the consistency of stiff-peak whipped egg whites. It’s spreadable, but able to hold it’s shape. I use this icing for piping shapes like flowers and leaves, as well for making basket weave patterns, brush embroidery, and ruffles.
Why do you add whitener to your royal icing?
Number one rule in coloring royal icing: start with an icing tinted with white food coloring. No matter what color you’re making. Even if you’re making black icing, add white to it first. Why? Since royal icing is just powdered sugar, meringue powder and water, it ends up being a slightly off-white color. You want to start with a true white icing if you want your colors to turn out right. I’ve noticed that adding a whitener to my icing also helps keep everything homogenized and prevents the icing from separating as quickly.
If you’ve ever made a glaze for a cake or donuts, you’ll recognize that the ingredients are very similar to royal icing, minus the meringue powder. And glaze tends to be slightly translucent. If you don’t add whitener, your royal icing will also be slightly translucent, so adding whitener will bring it to a nice, flat, white, opaque color.
I just add a teaspoon or so to my royal icing when I very first start mixing it. I actually never measure it out, because I don’t want to waste any that gets left on the measuring spoon, so I just squirt a little bit in.
How much water do I use to thin down my icing if it’s too thick?
It really depends on how thick your icing is, and how much icing you have. If you have an entire batch of icing that’s very thick, you might need to use ½ cup of water to get it to the correct flooding consistency. Or you might just need a few squirts of water from your spray bottle to thin it down enough. If you have a small amount of icing that needs to be thinned down, you might only need a few drops of water.
My suggestion is to always add a little at a time. You don’t want to add too much water, and then end up having to add more powdered sugar because you watered it down too much.
How much powdered sugar do I use to thicken up my icing if it’s too thin?
It really depends on how thin your icing is, and how much icing you have. If you have an entire batch of icing that’s very thin and watery, you might need to use ½ cup of powdered sugar to get it to the correct consistency. Or you might just need to add a teaspoon more to get it to the perfect consistency.
My suggestion is to always add a little at a time. You don’t want to add too much powdered sugar, and then end up having to add more water because you’ve thickened it up too much.
Can I add extract/flavor to my royal icing?
Because royal icing won’t harden and dry if you get any oil in it, I avoid using extracts. I flavor the cookies, and since meringue powder is already vanilla flavored, I don’t feel the need to also flavor the icing. If you want to flavor your royal icing, make sure that you only use an oil free extract. You can also replace the water in royal icing with lemon juice, but be careful not to get any oil from the lemon rind in your royal icing.
I flavor my cookies and not my royal icing.
How long does royal icing take to dry?
Decorated cookies typically take 12-24 hours to fully dry. They’ll dry faster in dry climates, and slower in humidity. You can use a fan or food dehydrator to speed up the drying process.
Why won’t my royal icing dry or harden?
If your icing isn’t drying, you might have gotten oil into your icing, which will prevent it from setting. Sometimes humidity will also affect your icing and it’ll take longer to dry. If it’s raining, or very humid, you can give your cookies a little longer to dry. If your cookies aren’t dry after 24 hours, chances are they aren’t going to dry, and the only thing you can do is scrape off the icing and start over.
Does royal icing dry hard?
My recipe “hardens” so you can package and stack your cookies, but it doesn’t dry so hard that you’ll break your teeth biting into it once it is dry.
Do I have to use meringue powder to make royal icing?
If you have an egg allergy/sensitivity, or you want a vegan alternative, there are recipes available online that use aquafaba instead of egg whites. You can also use “glaze icing” that uses corn syrup instead of meringue powder. I don’t have much experience with either, so I would not consider myself an expert, but there are tons of blogs and recipes if you do a little research online.
How much icing do I need to make?
My royal icing recipe will yield enough icing to flood 50-60 large sized (3.5” diameter circle) cookies.
How do I make different colors of icing?
If you’re decorating hundreds of cookies, you’ll probably need an entire batch of icing for each color that you’re using.
If you only plan to decorate a couple dozen cookies, you just need to make one batch of white royal icing, and then you can separate smaller amounts into different bowls and color it different colors.
What happens if my royal icing separates?
If you have left your icing out at room temperature for more than a few hours, you’ll notice that it will have started to settle and separate. This it totally normal and you did nothing wrong. One of the reasons I like to store my icing in piping bags is that I can easily remix the icing by kneading the bag and not have to wash even more dishes by dirtying spoons and spatulas and storage containers to store and stir my icing. If you do store your icing in containers, you can simply mix it back up with a spatula, or throw it back on your KitchenAid.
How do I store royal icing?
Royal icing is shelf stable and can be kept at room temperature for several days. Always store your icing in an airtight container to prevent it from drying. I keep all of my icing in large pastry bags so I can easily knead them if the icing has separated.
What can I do with leftover icing?
You can freeze leftover icing for several months. Just let it come to room temperature in it’s container before you use it. You can also use leftover icing to make royal icing transfers or decorations. When I have icing leftover from projects, and I have the time, I make lots of pretty rosettes that, once dried, I organize and store in compartment craft boxes. Once they are dried, they last for ages and then I have ready-to-use rosettes when I need them.
What if I don’t have a Kitchenaid or other stand mixer?
If you don’t have a stand mixer, you can still make royal icing. You can use a hand mixer, on the lowest setting, and use the same recipe and instructions.
How to Make Royal Icing Recipe
Now, without further ado, here is my professional royal icing recipe.
Royal Icing Recipe
- 2 lbs powdered sugar
- 7 tablespoons meringue powder
- ¾ cup warm water
- Fit your stand mixer with the paddle attachment. Be sure that bowl and attachment are free of any oil or butter residue.
- Dissolve meringue powder in ¾ cup of warm water.
- Place powdered sugar into mixing bowl, turn on lowest setting and slowly drizzle in water/meringue mixture.
- Add food colouring and mix for 8 minutes on lowest speed.
- Add water as needed for a flood consistency (10-20 second icing) or powdered sugar as needed for medium or stiff consistency.
- Immediately cover icing in an airtight container or transfer to piping bags/bottles.
- The icing will keep for up to 3 days at room temp and for 2 months in the freezer.
- Do not get any oil/grease in royal icing or it will not dry properly. You can wipe your bowl, spatula and paddle attachment down with vinegar or some lemon juice to remove any oil residue.
- Do not use any oil-based extracts if you want to flavor the icing, use only water-based extracts.