Everything You Need To Know About Royal Icing

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Royal icing is a frosting used to decorate sugar cookies, cakes, gingerbread houses and more. Royal icing can be made with or without meringue powder and can be made ahead of time or stored in the freezer. In this article we will discuss everything there is to know about royal icing from recipes, how does it taste, how to use, and how to store and more.

homemade white royal icing

I absolutely love making royal icing … and my kids absolutely love eating my royal icing! We always have so much fun making various colors and then decorating our homemade cookies! Letting the kids get all creative is always fun…and if I’m being totally honest, a bit anxiety ridden! HA! I am always paranoid that they are going to make a mess with the colored frosting that doesn’t always come out of clothes!

What Is Royal Icing and What Is It Used For?

Royal icing is a sugary icing that is made from beaten egg whites, confectioners sugar and sometimes vanilla extract or lemon juice. It has a smooth, semi-solid consistency when made and then dries hard. Royal icing can be tinted with food coloring or gel and is often used to decorate sugar cookies, gingerbread houses, wedding cakes, Christmas cakes, biscuits and more. 

easter sugar cookies decorated with royal icing

How To Decorate Sugar Cookies with Royal Icing

Royal icing is often applied using pastry bags or bags sometimes referred to as bakers piping bags and interchangeable decorator tips to create different designs and thicknesses. Royal icing can also be applied in a spreading fashion using a spatula or a butter knife. The design possibilities with royal icing are endless! Many bakers prefer to work with royal icing because it is so customizable.

royal icing decorating egg shaped sugar cookie

What Does Royal Icing Taste Like?

Royal icing is sweet and tastes like sugar, as the main ingredient is sugar. Depending on the ingredients used to make the royal icing, the flavor may change subtly. If vanilla extract is used, then the royal icing will have a slight hint of vanilla flavor. Lemon juice can also be added, which will then give the royal icing a lemon flavor. Hint: if using vanilla extract is preferred, a clear vanilla extract may be used to ensure the white color of the royal icing is not altered.

How To Tint / Color Royal Icing?

All royal icing is white when it is first made. In order to change or add colors, food coloring or gel needs to be added. Depending on the shade / tint you want the color of your royal icing to be, the amount of food coloring or gel will vary. Note: a little food coloring or gel goes a long way. Always start with the motto “less is more” and add more color if needed. If you have achieved too dark or rich of a color, simply add in more plain white royal icing to lighten your color.

pink, blue and yellow royal icing in glass containers

How To Dry Royal Icing?

Royal icing dries to a “softer” hard. Not hard candy-like hard, but rather a very cold stick of butter hardness. Once royal icing has been applied to your cookies, cakes, biscuits, etc it will dry on its own from the air within minutes to a few hours. However, royal icing can sometimes take a while to dry or actually never fully “hardened” and is easily maneuvered by simply touching the royal icing. There are a few factors that can make royal icing not dry / harden properly. If the room is humid, the drying time will be much longer. You may need to use a fan or dehumidifier to help dry the cookies faster. If the consistency of your royal icing was too runny / liquid-y then this will also increase the dry time. Try adding more confectioners sugar to your royal icing to help thicken the consistency to help it dry faster / stiffer.

How Long Is Royal Icing Good For / How Long Does It Keep?

Royal icing stored in the refrigerator can be used for up to one week. Royal icing can be stored in piping bags or in ziplock baggies or lid tight containers.

Can I Freeze Royal Icing?

Yes, royal icing can be placed in the freezer and kept for up to three months. Be sure to to store your royal icing properly in an air-tight bag or container to help avoid freeze burn. It is also helpful to store your royal icing flat. Note: colored or tinted royal icing may separate in the freezer and will need to be stirred again when removed from the freezer. 

How To Thaw Frozen Royal Icing?

Thawing royal icing is quite easy. Remove from the freezer and set on a flat surface, ideally a kitchen counter. Allow to defrost at room temperature. Once the royal icing has become malleable, you can remove it from the bags or container and use.

Royal Icing Consistency – How To Get The Right Consistency?

Royal icing consistencies are described generally in three different categories.

Piping: Generally used for writing letters or creating designs. Piping consistency is often compared to the same consistency as  toothpaste, pudding or soft-served ice cream.

Medium: Generally used for outlining. Medium consistency is often compared to the same consistency as ketchup or ranch dressing.

Flood: Generally used to fill in the outlining. Flood consistency is often compared to the same consistency as shampoo or honey.

Making homemade royal icing with eggs and confectioners sugar. Mixing with electric hand mixer

What is The Difference Between Royal Icing and Fondant?

Royal icing and fondant are two types of icings typically used for cookie and cake decorating. While they are both sweet in taste and can be used in similar situations, there are specific times in which one or the other should be chosen. 

Royal icing is primarily made with confectioners sugar and egg whites. Royal icing is typically applied using piping bags and decorator tips. It is more of a liquid substance that dries hard. Royal icing is often times used as “edible glue” to hold together gingerbread house walls.

Fondant is primarily made of confectioners sugar, corn syrup, water, and gelatin. Fondant is typically rolled out with a rolling pin and used to cover an entire cake layer, etc. 

What is The Difference Between Royal Icing and Buttercream Frosting?

Royal icing and buttercream frosting can both be used for decorating cakes or cookies, however, there are some major differences.

Royal icing, as described above, is thin and stiff and is often used for smaller, more intricate, decorative purposes. 

Buttercream frosting is made from confectioners sugar, milk or cream, butter and extract. Buttercream is often used to cover an entire cake or cookie, similar to fondant. Buttercream does not dry hard / stiff as royal icing, instead it dries like typical cake frosting.

Tools / Supplies to Use For Royal Icing

Many tools and supplies can be used to achieve the desired look and effect of royal icing. 

  • Piping bags: a cone-shaped pastry bag that is made from cloth, paper or plastic and is used to pipe semi-solid foods through the narrow opening on one end.
  • Decorator tips: interchangeable sizes and designed tips that comes in either plastic or metal that twist on to a piping bag using a coupler system. 

Best Royal Icing Recipe Without Meringue Powder

The Best Royal Icing Recipe Without Meringue Powder

Stephanie | Gathered In The Kitchen
The best no fail, 3 ingredient royal icing recipe for decorating sugar cookies.
No ratings yet
Prep Time 15 mins
Cook Time 0 mins
Course Dessert
Cuisine American
Servings 24 cookies

Equipment

  • electric mixer with whisk attachment

Ingredients
  

Instructions
 

  • Separate egg whites from yolks. Place egg whites into a mixing bowl
  • Mix eggs until fluffy and airy
  • Add in vanilla extract
  • Mix in confectioners sugar
  • Mix until icing reaching a "toothpaste" like consistency
Keyword cookie frosting, cookie icing, frosting for sugar cookies, icing for cookies, royal icing recipe, sugar cookie recipe
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Royal icing vs frosting, what does royal icing taste like, royal icing drying time, royal icing recipe with egg whites

2 Comments

  1. Suzanne Accardo says:

    Help!
    I dropped royal icing on the floor and some on my counter. By the time I could get to clean it, it had dried rock solid.
    How can I clean it?
    I tried applying hot water, but that didn’t work.

    1. Hi Suzanne, I’m sorry that happened. It’s best practice to keep a wet rag or paper towel nearby when preparing any kind of food so you can quickly clean up any messes made when making meals. I’m honestly not sure why or how hot water would not have cleaned up the royal icing. I have never had this happen. My only suggestion would be to use a plastic scraper (ie: a spatula, bench scraper, etc). Try to get under the icing on one side and then push the scraper through to the other side. Best of luck cleaning.

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