This recipe for Royal Icing with meringue powder is the only one you’ll need for decorating cookies! I’ll give you the recipe and my best royal icing tips and tricks so that decorating cookies will be easy and fun.
If you like making cut out sugar cookies, you are going to want to have this easy and fail-proof royal icing recipe in your pocket. It’s perfect for outlining and flooding cookies, and creating as much detail as you can imagine.
Royal icing can also be used for making intricate piped designs for cakes and other confections. It dries hard and sturdy, making it the best choice for cut-out cookies. Royal icing is also the glue that holds gingerbread houses together!
Check out the Royal Icing Decorations on my Valentine’s Day Cookies and Easter Egg Sugar Cookies! These Caramel Apple decorated cookies are perfect for fall too. Learn this recipe for cookie icing and you’ll be able to decorate any shape of cut-outs that you want.
Why You’ll Love This Royal Icing Recipe
- Simple Ingredients: 4 ingredients are needed for royal icing, and one of them is water.
- No Raw Eggs: Traditional royal icing uses raw egg whites to stabilize it. There’s no need for risking food-borne illness though because we have the modern magic of meringue powder.
- Quick and Easy: It takes very little time or effort to whip up a batch of royal icing in your mixer. You can even make it with a handheld mixer. The trickiest part is getting the icing to the right consistency, but I’ll share some tips to help.
- A Versatile Cookie Icing – Royal icing takes colors beautifully, and can be made thick to pipe roses, or thinned to create smooth cut-out cookie backgrounds.
Ingredients in Royal Icing
- Powdered Sugar: Sometimes called icing sugar or confectioners’ sugar, depending on where you live, this superfine sugar is used in all sorts of frosting and icing recipes. It blends and melts into the other ingredients easily to create super smooth royal icing.
- Meringue Powder: Meringue powder is essentially dehydrated egg whites. The benefit of using this product instead of actual egg whites is that the risk of foodborne illness from consuming raw eggs is eliminated since the eggs have been cooked and processed to create the powder.
- Water: Water moistens the sugar and blends all of the ingredients together. With royal icing, adding more or less water is how we can control the consistency.
- Pure Vanilla Extract: This common flavoring makes royal icing taste delicious and perfect for topping vanilla sugar cookies. You can use different extracts, or leave the extract out if you prefer.
- Food Coloring: Gel food coloring is the ideal type for icing recipes. Pick up a pack of 12 colors online. A little goes a long way with these food colors; a set will last forever.
How to Make Royal Icing
- Sift: Sift the powdered sugar and meringue powder together into a bowl. You could use a flour sifter, but a fine-mesh sieve works much better and faster.
- Mix: Add vanilla extract, and gradually add water, starting with 6 tablespoons and adding more if needed. Whisk until combined, but do not overmix.
- Adjust: Add more water to get the icing to the proper consistency for outlining cookies.
How to Ice Cookies Using Royal Icing
- Divide: Divide the royal icing among bowls, depending on how many colors you plan to make. Add gel food coloring with a toothpick, and stir to get an evenly colored frosting. Add more food coloring as needed.
- Fill Bags: Place the icings into separate disposable piping bags, and secure the open ends of the bags with small rubber bands. If you’re using piping tips, insert a coupler into the bag before adding the icing. This keeps the tip from being pushed inside and lets you swap out different tips as needed. You can also simply cut a small bit off of the end of the bag.
- Outline and Fill: Outline each cookie using a 15-second royal icing (see below), Then fill in (or flood) the background of the cookie using a slightly thinner royal icing.
- Add Details: Allow the background to dry partially for at least 30 minutes, before going back to add details. If you add wet royal icing on top of wet royal icing, the second color will sink into the first. This can be useful for certain designs, but most often you’ll want to add details after the base layer has dried.
These Christmas Shortbread Cookies can be decorated with royal icing, and they don’t even need a base layer of frosting. White icing details are all they need.
Royal Icing Tips
- Use the tools that you have. You can make royal icing in a stand mixer, with a handheld electric mixer, or by hand with a whisk! If you plan to make lots of royal icing on a regular basis, investing in a stand mixer might be worth it.
- Use gel food coloring to get the best, brightest colors. Liquid food coloring will add too much moisture to your icing.
- Learn the right consistency. Take some time to play with your icing to really learn what the best consistency is for you. I’ll talk more about this below because it’s important!
- If you want the background of the cookies to have a visible outline, you should outline the cookies and allow the outline to dry before flooding.
- Instead of a piping bag, you can add the flood-consistency icing to your cookies using a squeeze bottle, or you can add a dollop of icing and spread it out using a small spatula, spoon, or brush.
All About Royal Icing Consistency
Depending on what you’re using your royal icing for, you’ll want it at different consistencies. Thicker icing is best for decorations that will stand up, like flowers and details, while thinner icing is ideal for outlining, flooding, and piping thin, smooth lines.
We can measure the consistency of royal icing by time. So you will see things like “10-second icing” or “15-second icing” What we are measuring is the amount of time that it takes for a drizzle of icing to disappear back into the bowl.
So, lift a spoon out of your bowl of icing and make a line on top of the rest of the icing, you’ll then start counting. Whatever number you end on is the number of seconds that the icing would be labeled.
For cookies, we are generally going to be working with medium consistency royal icing. Specifically, I use a 15-second royal icing for outlining the cookies and adding details, and an 8-10-second icing for flooding.
Royal Icing Consistency Counts:
Extra Stiff or Extra Thick: This icing is too thick to flow or drizzle.
Stiff or Thick Icing: takes 20-25 seconds to smooth out, and the lines you make may not fully disappear.
Medium Thick Icing: 18-19 seconds to smooth out.
Medium Icing: This is what I use for outlining. It takes 15 seconds to settle mostly flat into the bowl.
Flood Icing: takes from 8 to 10 seconds to disappear.
Runny Icing: This is very thin, and lines will disappear completely in about 4 seconds.
To Make Royal Icing Thinner
You just add more water to it! Using an eyedropper or a spray bottle can help you add very small amounts of water at a time.
To Thicken Royal Icing
Add more powdered sugar. It’s easier to thin the icing out than it is to thicken it, so keep that in mind. If you need to add additional powdered sugar, please sift it first so that you aren’t adding any lumps to the icing. lumps of sugar will clog up your piping tips.
How to Store Royal Icing
Royal icing made with meringue powder can be stored for a pretty long time. Most sources say that it will stay fresh at room temperature for at least 2 weeks, and up to 4 weeks.
Because this icing dries and hardens quickly, it’s important to keep it sealed up airtight. It can be helpful to place plastic wrap directly on the surface of the icing so that no air gets to it.
When you’re ready to use your stored icing, mix it up with a hand mixer so that it’s smooth again.
How to Store Cookies Decorated with Royal Icing
Sugar Cookies decorated with royal icing can be stored for at least two weeks. To keep them as fresh as possible, store them in an airtight container or bag at room temperature.
- Refrigerating and freezing decorated cookies is not recommended, as the colors can bleed when they warm back up.
- It’s important to let decorated cookies harden completely before storing them. It takes at least six hours for thin or medium-consistency royal icing to harden fully.
- It’s also important to avoid directly stacking them. Place parchment paper or wax paper in between layers.
- Cut-out cookies decorated with royal icing can be stored for a fairly long time. As long as the cookie is still edible, the icing will be too! My rule of thumb is that after 2 weeks they’re probably not as fresh as they should be, but I’ve heard that some people store decorated cookies for up to 4 weeks. It’s best to keep the cookies sealed up air-tight, at room temperature.
How Long Should I Let Royal Icing Decorated Cookies Dry?
Royal icing on cookies will dry rock solid. All it needs is a little bit of time in an open space.
After decorating your cookies, leave them out at room temperature for at least six hours to harden. I usually leave them overnight to be safe.
Keep in mind that if your icing is on the thick side, it may take a bit longer than 8 hours.
To dry the icing on your cut-outs more quickly, you can circulate air using a fan set on low speed.
Cut Out Cookie Inspiration
We’re making new cut-out cookie designs to share with you all the time! Here are a few that will get your imagination working for the next festive occasion:
- Classic Gingerbread Men
- Pumpkin Sugar Cookies with Maple Icing
- Caramel Apple Decorated Cookies
- Christmas Shortbread Cookies with Icing
- Halloween Skull Sugar Cookies
- Easter Bunny Cookies
- Easter Egg Cookies
- Easy Valentines Day Cut Outs
Having the right tools to work with royal icing is important! Here are the tools and supplies that I love to use to decorate cookies.
- Stand Mixer: For large batches of royal icing, a countertop stand mixer makes easy work of it.
- Hand Mixer: My Kitchenaid hand mixer is the best. It has the ability to mix at low speeds, which is perfect for adding powdered sugar to recipes like this one.
- Mixing Bowls: There’s something about these clear glass Pyrex mixing bowls that brings me back to baking with my mother. They are a must for me, even though I’ve tried other bowls, I still come back to these every time.
- Measuring Cups and Spoons: This set from OXO is just so well designed! There are magnets in the handles so they stack and stick to each other perfectly.
- Piping Bags: Wilton disposable piping bags are strong and easy to use. Along with couplers and small round piping tips, they’ll be your favorite thing!
- Cookie Decorating Kit: This is a great kit for a beginner cookie decorator. It includes meringue powder, food coloring, decorating tools, and an icing squeeze bottle that is perfect for flooding.
- Gel Food Coloring: Use this to give your royal icing the brightest and boldest colors.
Royal icing tastes like sugar, and if you add vanilla extract, it will taste like vanilla sugar. Some people can taste a slight bitterness from meringue powder. Some food colorings can also increase this bitterness. Specifically, if you’re using red food coloring, you may want to add extra flavor extracts.
If you’re a person who dislikes the simple flavor of royal icing, you can add flavor extracts to give it a more specific flavor. To hide the flavor that some might notice of the meringue powder, a small amount of lemon juice can be added.
This cookie icing recipe requires meringue powder. There are other recipes available that use raw egg whites or egg white powder, but I recommend using this meringue powder royal icing instead.
Cream of tartar is added to egg whites when making traditional meringue, macarons, or traditional royal icing. It acts as a stabilizer and lets the egg whites whip up perfectly. This recipe doesn’t use any raw egg whites, so cream of tartar is unnecessary.
More Cookie Recipes to Bake
- Raspberry Thumbprint Cookies with Lemon Glaze
- Banana Bread Cookies
- Italian Cookies
- Butterscotch Oatmeal Cookies
- Cinnamon Roll Cookies
- Christmas Sprinkle Sugar Cookies