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This is the best royal icing for cookies! It is easy to make, has amazing flavor and dries softer than other royal icings. I'm always getting compliments whenever I use this recipe to decorate my sugar cookies! I'm sharing everything I know on how to make royal icing, plus lots of tips!
I have been DYING to get this post up for the longest time! I'm so excited to FINALLY share my "famous" royal icing recipe! This is my go to royal icing to decorate my Perfect Sugar Cookie Cut Outs.
The thing I like about this royal icing recipe the most is...well, there are two things.
- This icing does not become TOO rock hard and crunchy. It has a softer bite but still dries plenty hard enough to decorate as you need.
- The flavor. I always add lemon to my royal icing. Not a lot, but just enough to give the icing a hint of sweetness and some mystery background notes. Paired with my sugar cookies, I always, always, always get compliments on the vanilla & lemon icing combo. The blend of those two flavors is seriously magnificent.
These two recipes are the perfect marriage. My sugar cookies are thick, supremely buttery, soft and delicious. This royal icing is sweet, a bit lemony and beautiful. The whole bite is just soft and lovely.
What is royal icing?
Royal icing is an icing that is mostly used to decorate sugar cookies.
Traditionally, royal icing is made from egg whites, powdered sugar and water. Meringue powder is a common ingredient used in place of the raw egg whites, as it is shelf stable and completely safe to eat without cooking.
Royal icing can be flavored and colored as desired. I prefer to always use a concentrated gel food coloring, like AmeriColor, as it doesn't alter the consistency of the icing. Similarly, I like to use lemon juice powder for my flavoring so that I can intensify the flavor without having to add more liquid. Regular extract can definitely be used but be sure to add less water to account for the extract.
What are the ingredients in royal icing?
- Meringue powder
- Lemon extract or lemon powder
- Powdered sugar
- Light corn syrup
Out of all the ingredients, meringue powder is most important.
It stiffens the icing, helps it dry and is absolutely essential to achieve the desired consistency. I've used plain sugar and water before and it does not dry right.
The other ingredient that I've found to be needed is light corn syrup. Light corn syrup is not as common among other recipes, but this is the secret ingredient to achieve that softer texture I was talking about. All you need is about one tablespoon per batch but it actually really does make a world of difference!!
Is royal icing hard to make?
Nope! I promise. Making royal icing for cookies is very easy!
You basically have to whip up the meringue powder with some warm water until it gets foamy.
Once foamy, add in your powdered sugar, corn syrup and flavoring.
Mix until the icing thickens and has grown in volume a bit. This will take a few minutes mixing at high speed.
And that's pretty much it!
The hard part is....
Getting the right consistency for cookie decorating
I feel like getting used to the proper consistency of royal icing is a never ending quest. I've decorated hundreds of cookies and it's still difficult to gauge.
It's one of those things where you need to experience the look and feel to know how to get it right. The consistency of royal icing will make or break your cookies.
If you're looking to cover the surface of your cookie, you want what is called, flood icing. This consistency is more runny and does not hold it's shape when piped; it melts back into itself completely.
If you're just making royal icing transfers or other details on top of the cookie, make the icing a thick, pipeable consistency. It should hold its shape but still be able to flow through the piping tip. Practice on the side before you start working on your cookies.
More water = thinner icing. Less water/more powdered sugar = thick icing. If you ever go too far with added water or sugar, know that royal icing is very forgivable.
You can always fix the consistency.
If you make the icing too thin, you can add a bit more powdered sugar...too thick, you can easily add a bit of water to thin it out.
This recipe will get you to the point of stiff icing. You'll need to add more water to it in order to achieve flood icing.
Icing consistencies are measured in seconds. The longer the time, the thicker the icing is. The shorter the time, the thinner and more wet the icing is.
For flood icing, I go with a 15-20 second consistency
That means, if you were to pick up your spoon and allow a stream of icing to fall back into the bowl, it would take 15-20 second for the icing to melt back into itself and go back to a smooth layer. I use the stop watch function on my smartphone to check the time.
Many people often use a thicker icing to outline their cookie and then they use a 10 second flood icing to flood the cookie. To be honest, the thought of having two separate icings and bags and piping tips for one color of icing really bothers me. It's a lot of extra work! It means if you wanted to flood cookies using 3 different colors, you'd need 6 bags of icing.
That's why I just go with the 15-20 second consistency. It's thick enough to not run off the sides of the cookie and thin enough to still level out and make a smooth surface. Less work and less waste!
Once I flood my cookies, I give them a gentle shake, side to side to help level out the icing.
Royal Icing Takes Practice
When I first started experimenting with icing and decorated cookies, I hated working with it. Absolutely hated it.
It was messy, my cookies always looked so sloppy and the icing never dried right (read on for more hateful experiences). In fact, there's a lot of annoying things about royal icing, which is why most people probably avoid it. That's what I did!
With some practice and lots of research, I've been able to overcome a lot of my icing fears. Thank goodness because these cookies, are worth it!
How to dry royal icing?
Ooof. I have battled this one for a long time. I have searched far and wide for tips, tricks and methods on how to dry royal icing and I'm always left with one answer.
Time is the only thing that will dry royal icing. Refrigerating royal icing does not work and freezing royal icing does not work to make it dry more quickly.
You have to let your cookies sit out on a tray on the counter for at least 12 hours (I just let them hang overnight).
At first, I was not cool with this. I was TERRIFIED that my cookies were going to dry out and taste like pieces of cardboard in the morning. But you know what? They were FINE!
My cookies have so much butter in them that they would actually probably stay perfectly moist for a few days out (not that I recommend that!)
But time is definitely the only way they will dry. I have heard rumors that you can speed up dry time using a dehydrator (still scared my cookies would dry out...) or, leaving the tray of cookies in the oven with the light turned on. Apparently, the light gives off just enough heat to speed up dry time. I haven't tried either of these methods.
BTW Royal Icing hates humidity
Royal icing is finicky. If it is very humid, the icing will have a hard time drying.
There's this thing called "butter bleed" that will absolutely ruin your day. This was something that kept happening to me and I found very little help on the internet.
Butter bleed occurs when the oils warm up in the cookie (from warm days or humidity) and seep up through the tops of the cookies, staining your beautiful icing. Yes, staining it. There's nothing wrong with the cookies per say, they just don't look pretty. And when it happens, I just want to cry.
Here's an example-
Note the yellow hue and discoloration.
How to prevent butter bleed
Luckily, I've found two tricks that seem to work very well against this awful, awful situation.
Here's what you can do to prevent butter bleed:
- Using corn syrup in the icing (the icing dries softer, therefore already retaining moisture, less room for oils to seep into)
- Allowing your cookies to dry on paper towels. They will soak up any excess oils and drag them to the bottom of the cookie, keeping your tops nice and beautiful!
Dealing with Air bubbles
Air bubbles are another sneaky little issue that can pop up when your icing is drying. Tiny, tiny air bubbles find their way into your icing which can wreck the surface of your cookies.
To combat air bubbles, I do a few things.
- After the icing is made, I let it rest for 30 minutes. This allows the icing to relax and helps keeps those pesky air bubbles to a minimum before you scoop it into the piping bag.
- When I go to thin the icing out with water, I only mix it by hand with a spatula. This reduces the creation of new bubbles.
- Once you pipe the icing on the cookie, use a scribe so that you can pop the air bubbles out of the icing before it sets.
Can royal icing be made ahead of time?
Yes! Yes it can. If you're making royal icing early, just be sure to wrap the bowl with plastic wrap tightly. It can be stored at room temp on the counter, royal icing does not need to be refrigerated. I wouldn't keep royal icing out for more than a couple of days because it will start to separate. You can always use a hand mixer to whip it back up.
If you make royal icing transfers (pipe royal icing directly onto parchment, dry completely and it never touches any other food), then you can keep those almost indefinitely. However, if they come into contact with grease, oils or water then they will get ruined.
Cookie Decorating Ideas
First, here are some links to some tools that are a huge help to achieve the look you're going for! At first, I didn't think I needed these things, but TRUST ME! Having the right tools is the first step to getting the hang of it!
- Sugar Needle, or Scribe (needed to get rid of air bubbles and do detail icing work)
- Cookie Turntable (so you don't need to fuss with the cookie)
- Specialty, extra fine piping tips for writing and details
- Piping bags
- Brushes, for painting/watercolor effect
- High Quality Food Coloring
- My favorite cookie cutters
- Tiered cooling rack (this is a huge space saver when you need to dry several trays of cookies overnight!)
Here are some examples of cookies I've done in the past. Hoping to get some decorating tutorials up for you all soon!
Which of these would you like to learn how to make? Leave a comment below!
There's a lot to know when making royal icing for cookies!!
Like I said at the start of this post, I actually really hated royal icing at first. I almost gave it up. But the challenge of conquering royal icing has been a fun adventure! It's just like anything else, you have to educate yourself and practice, practice, practice.
I still look forward to perfecting my skills. It's so fun and nothing brings a smile to someone's face like a decorated cookie!!Print
- 2 tbsp meringue powder
- 4 tbsp warm water
- 2 c powdered sugar
- 1 tbsp light corn syrup
- 2 tsp lemon extract (lemon juice powder is also a great ingredient to use here!)
- 1 tsp white food coloring (optional, but a very nice touch if you plan on using white icing for your designs!)
- desired food coloring
- additional water for thinning out the icing to flood consistency or more powdered sugar for thickening the icing
- In a large bowl (make sure there is no grease or oil residue in the bowl), mix the meringue powder and 4 tbsp of water using a hand mixer on high speed. Mix until completely dissolved and very frothy.
- Add half of the powdered sugar. Mix on low until incorporated.
- Add the other cup of powdered sugar along with the corn syrup and lemon powder (or extract). Mix on low until combined, and then switch the speed to high and mix for 2 minutes (no less!) Taste the icing and add more lemon flavor if desired.
- The icing should be thick and have a little more volume as well. It should hold a soft peak.
- Once mixed, grab a spatula and mix in the white food coloring or other colors as desired.
- To thin out the icing, add ½ tsp of warm water at a time until desired icing consistency is reached (15-20 seconds for flood icing). Mix with the spatula to avoid more air bubbles.
I usually make the entire batch flood consistency and then stiffen it up with more powdered sugar in smaller batches as needed.
- This step is optional but helps with air bubbles, cover bowl with plastic wrap and allow it to rest for 30 minutes. The majority of air bubbles will naturally release as the icing rests, giving you less trouble once your cookies are covered!
- Decorate your cookies and allow to dry uncovered overnight.
Recipe by Owlbbaking.com
*A quick note about adding the lemon flavor- when the lemon etract is first added to the thick icing, the flavor can be intense. Once you add water to create 15-20 second flood icing, the intensity of the lemon will decrease. The flavor of a vanilla cookie pairs very nicely with the flavor from the thinned out flood icing. If you are NOT making flood icing, feel free to adjust the amount and use less lemon.
If you think you might not enjoy lemon, swap out it out for vanilla extract. Be sure to either get clear vanilla extract or white food coloring though because normal vanilla extract will darken your icing.
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