How to make royal icing

Royal icing is the go-to stuff for picture-perfect sugar cookies, because it makes a neat, hard and glossy finish that professional bakers and home chefs love. 

This icing is rich and thick and may take a little bit of practice, but once you have decorated a few cookies, you should get the hang of it pretty quickly! And don’t worry — if the first few don’t turn out perfectly, eating the evidence is pretty darned enjoyable!

How to make royal icing

We used meringue powder, lots of powdered sugar, and a little flavoring (vanilla in this case) to create the shiny and opaque icing.

Making royal icing

How thick should your icing be?

Royal icing is typically made in one or more of these three consistencies:

Thick: Stiff enough to hold the details from a star icing tip. This thick paste can also be used to hold together the walls and roof on a gingerbread house.

Outline: Slightly thinner than the thick icing, used for writing and outlining shapes.

Thin: For “flood” filling the outlined shapes drawn on cookies, as shown below.

If you want to decorate your cookies like ours here, when you’re preparing this icing, use the “6-second pull test” to determine if it is the correct consistency. The test is simple: Pull a spoon across the batch of icing, and if the spoon’s trail disappears by the time you count to six, the icing is ready.

White royal icing on sugar cookies

You can leave the icing snow white like we did, or choose from a rainbow of pretty colors.

To color your royal icing — and all kinds of other food treats — we recommend this gel paste colors for vibrant food coloring that won’t make your icing too thin.

Outlining royal icing on sugar cookie

Tips for using the icing

This icing can dry out and harden quickly, so always keep it covered with a wet kitchen towel, and/or put it into piping tubes/icing bags right away.

You might also want to have some drinking glasses lined with damp paper towels nearby, so you can place your icing bags in them and keep your work area (and your hands) neat and tidy.

Decorating cookies with royal icing

Let your imagination run free while decorating, and experiment with different consistencies, a variety of colors, a range of piping tips, adding colored sugar and sprinkles, and any other decorating techniques you can imagine.

Iced and decorated cookies

How to make royal icing

Yield 2 cups

Ingredients

  • 5 tablespoons meringue powder
  • 3/4 cup very warm water
  • 1 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 2-1/4 pounds (36 ounces) powdered sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • Food coloring

Instructions

  1. Ensure that the kitchen tools you use are grease free and dry.
  2. In a stand mixer, using the whisk tool, blend 5 tablespoons of meringue powder and 3/4 cup of warm water until mixture is foamy.  Add 1 teaspoon cream of tartar and whisk again by hand.
  3. Place bowl back on mixing stand and add powdered sugar one cup at a time.  Once all powdered sugar has been added, blend together for 9 minutes.
  4. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add vanilla extract. Continue to blend together for another minute.
  5. The icing will be very thick. If you want to use food coloring, remove part of the icing to another bowl so you can color only as much as you need.
  6. Add any desired food coloring, and continue mixing until well-blended. Add a small amount of water (1/2 teaspoon at a time) until the desired consistency is reached.
  7. Repeat this process for the remainder of the frosting until are colors are completed.
  8. Frost cookies using a piping bag and piping tips.