This post may contain affiliate links. Please see our disclosure policy.
Royal icing is opaque, dries hard, and is versatile. It’s great for everything from gluing together a gingerbread house to creating detailed cookie designs. Royal icing should be piped with a pastry bag. A variety of textures can be achieved depending on consistency.
This image illustrates three different consistencies for using royal icing.
The top row is thick royal icing piped through a variety of star tips, or "detail" icing.
To make the icing, beat with a stand mixer until thick and glossy, and stiff peaks form. A stiff peak will stand in a point when a spoon is dipped in the icing. Be careful not to over-beat the icing: it’ll lose its glossy sheen and could result in icing that flakes off the cookie when dry. This stiff icing can be used to create detailed piped textures with pastry tips such as star, grass, and leaf. At this stage, icing can be used right away, or stored airtight for a few days. You can divide and color your icing at this step, or thin it slightly first to make the “outline” icing below.
The middle row is "outline" icing – the stiff icing from above, thinned with a little water so that it has the consistency of toothpaste. It holds its shape when piped through the star tip, but the details are softer. This is the icing to use for outlining, writing, and detailing on cookies. Color the icing using gel paste or food color a bit at a time until you achieve the desired shade. Sometimes a small amount of color can make a big difference; it’s MUCH easier to darken a color than to lighten it up. The color will deepen as it sets, especially for dark colors like red, black, or brown.
The bottom row is icing thinned to flooding consistency. It should be about the consistency of thick syrup; imagine cold molasses. Piped through the same star tip, it loses shape but stays in a nice bead. To create "flooding" icing, slowly add water a bit at time to your tinted outline icing, using a silicone spatula. Using a mixer at this stage would add unwanted air bubbles to the icing. Flooding icing should be used within a few hours, or it will start to separate. This icing is used to create a smooth surface on cookies.
This is the traditional icing for glazing cookies, piping decorations, or assembling the walls of a gingerbread house. It's light and fluffy; the more you beat it, the stiffer it becomes. For a thinner version, simply thin with a bit of water until you have a consistency that will flow evenly over the cookie. Let it dry to a hard, shiny surface, then you can pipe over it or use food-safe markers to decorate. To color the frosting, we recommend gel paste or powdered colors. Liquid food coloring can dilute the frosting so much it separates and becomes grainy. Be sure to store any frosting you're not using in a tightly covered container; it becomes quite hard as it dries. We make this big batch of frosting, then divide it into smaller amounts to tint different colors.
Hands-on time: 15 to 20 mins. | Yield: 3 cups
tips from our bakers
To make a hard cookie glaze, thin some of the frosting with a little more water. Dip the top of a cooled cookie into the frosting, then sweep across the top with a spatula to remove the excess. At this point you can sprinkle the wet glaze with colored sugar and let it dry, or put another color on top and swirl it through with a toothpick.
To keep the frosting in a pastry bag from hardening at the tip, place the pastry bag inside a second, uncut bag. This will shield the open tip from the air, and keep the frosting from leaking out.
When decorating, here are some of the tools you may find handy to have on hand: craft paintbrushes for spreading frosting; toothpicks for drawing one color through another; tweezers for placing sugar decorations, and colored sugars for sprinkling over wet icing.
Here is a royal icing recipe using egg white. It is from our 200th Anniversary Cook book.
nutrition information: Serving Size: 17g Servings Per Batch: 36 Amount Per Serving: Calories: 46 Calories from Fat: 0g Total Fat: 0g Saturated Fat: 0g Trans Fat: 0g Cholesterol: 0mg Sodium: 21mg Total Carbohydrate: 11g Dietary Fiber: 0g Sugars: 11g Protein: 0g
* The nutrition information provided for this recipe is determined by the ESHA Genesis R&D software program.
Substituting any ingredients may change the posted nutrition information.
Recipe and photo credit: King Arthur Flour.