It’s easier than you might think to make royal icing for bakery-worthy sugar cookies. If I can do it, you can too! This version uses meringue powder for a perfect consistency every time. This icing is super smooth and is firm but easy to bite into after it sets.
If sourdough bread was the project of 2020, let’s make 2021 the year of royal icing! If you’ve ever seen The Great British Baking Show you might have, like me, developed a bit of curiosity about this icing that sets into a firm glossy layer and makes professional-looking frosted cookies.
And while the traditional method for making royal icing uses raw egg whites and can be pretty finicky, a lot of experimenting this winter taught me that there is an easier way. The secret is meringue powder. Meringue powder stabilizes the frosting, can be measured consistently (unlike egg whites), and makes a beautiful, glossy icing.
If I (and my six-year-old helpers) can make this icing, I am confident than anyone can master it. Here’s all you need to know.
To make this icing, all you need is these four ingredients:
- Meringue Powder – Look for this shelf-stable ingredient at craft stores or order it online. It is made from dehydrated / dried egg whites. (I buy mine on Amazon).
- Powdered Sugar – You’ll need powdered / confectioners sugar. For the right consistency, be sure to measure this ingredient by weight. It can be easily compressed into a measuring cup which will make measuring by volume much less consistent. To keep things really simple, my recipe calls for one 32-oz bag of powdered sugar. Just put the whole bag in the mixer and go!
- Gel Icing Colors – It’s really important to use gel icing colors (instead of water-based food coloring) in royal icing. Gel icing colors won’t change the consistency of the icing after it’s mixed and will give you the most vivid colors. I buy Wilton brand on Amazon.
Note: If you would like to use raw egg whites to make royal icing, look for pasteurized egg whites as in Alton Brown’s recipe.
How to Make Royal Icing
- Combine water, meringue powder, and powdered sugar in a standing mixer (or use a large bowl if using a handheld mixer).
- Mix on low until combined and then increase to medium-high for one minute.
- Continue mixing on medium-high, stopping to check the consistency every 30 seconds. The icing is ready when it holds a design for 10 seconds before returning to a smooth, glossy surface. (I compare it to wet Elmer’s glue.)
- Divide and stir in icing colors. Transfer to piping bags and use!
Consistency of Royal Icing
When this icing is the right consistency to decorate cookies it should be thick but pourable. The consistency resembles wet Elmer’s glue. You can tell it’s ready when it holds a shape 10 seconds before returning to a completely smooth, glossy surface.
What is Meringue Powder?
Meringue powder is a shelf-stable fine, white powder made mostly of dried egg whites. Look for it in craft stores or online. It can be stored at cool room temperature for up to 2 years.
While there are many ways to make royal icing, meringue powder is the “secret” to consistent, beautiful, easy icing every time.
Tips for Great Icing
- Measure precisely. If you use the exact measurements in the recipe below, you will get a frosting that stays put on cookies and is firm but not rock hard when it sets.
- Don’t over mix. As you are mixing the icing, stop and check it frequently so that you don’t over mix. See tips above to determine when it is the right consistency.
How to Decorate Cookies With Royal Icing
To decorate cookies with this icing, outlining and then filling is the key. First create an outline with icing of the area you want to fill with color. Then go back in and fill or “flood” the center of the outlined area. Gently jiggle the cookie to help the icing to spread out and fill the entire area. You can create layers of icing, but let each layer dry before adding more icing on top.
Once the icing has been used to decorate cookies, let it rest at room temperature until fully set. This can take 1 to 4 hours, depending on the humidity and temperature in the room.
How to Freeze Royal Icing
This icing can be frozen for up to 2 months. Transfer the icing to freezer-safe bags and seal well before freezing. Let the icing come to room temperature when you’re ready to use.
More of our Favorite Dessert Recipes
- Banana Layer Cake
- Mini Cheesecakes
- Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookie Bars
- Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Snack Cake
- Frozen Peanut Butter Cheesecake Pie
- Muffin Pan Strawberry Shortcakes
- Crispy and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies
- Chocolate Brownie Crackle Cookies
- Easy Vanilla Snack Cake
- No-Bake Strawberry Cream Pie
- Stand or Handheld Mixer
- Mixing Bowls
- Piping Bags
- 1 cup Water (room temperature)
- 6 Tbsp Meringue Powder
- 1 32 oz bag Powdered Sugar (see note)
- Gel Icing Colors (be sure to use a gel-based icing colors coloring; water-based food coloring can change the consistency of the icing)
- Pour water in the bowl of a standing mixer or a large mixer (if using a hand mixer). Gently swirl the water around to coat the sides of the bowl (this will help to prevent the dried ingredients from sticking).
- Add meringue powder and powdered sugar all at once.
- Start mixing on low, scraping down the bowl as needed, until everything is evenly combined.
- Increase speed to medium-high and beat for 1 minute.
- Continue mixing on medium-high in 30 second intervals, stopping to check the consistency after each interval. To check the consistency, use a spatula or spoon to scoop and drizzle some icing over the surface. Watch the design you drew as you count to 10. The icing is done when it takes 10 seconds for the surface of the icing to turn completely smooth.
- Divide icing between bowls and stir in icing colors as desired. Transfer to piping bags. Icing can be refrigerated for up to 2 days or frozen for up to 2 months.
- Make sure that cookies have cooled completely before using the frosting to decorate. Let decorated cookies sit at room temperature until the icing is fully set (this can take 1 to 4 hours, depending on the temperature and humidity of the room).
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