No-Fail Homemade Royal Icing for Sugar Cookies

The best no-fail, homemade, 3 ingredient royal icing recipe for decorating sugar cookies. Use for gingerbread cookies and houses!

I love to make homemade sugar cookies and decorate them all fancy and personalized for all of my kiddos various events (I’m an overachiever in that way!) They are super easy to make and usually a big hit!

I’ve written a FULL tutorial of Everything You Need To Know About Royal Icing from what royal icing is used for, how to use it, how it compares to other frostings, and more! Royal icing is perfect for decorating holiday cookies.

I’ve received a lot of questions related to“what is royal icing”, and “why is it used for sugar cookies?” So before I get started showing the step-by-step tutorial, I feel it’s best to explain a little bit about royal icing and when you would use it.

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Royal icing is really easy to make but can definitely be intimidating when you are not sure how the process goes. So let’s make this no fail, 3 ingredient royal icing recipe together!

Royal icing is a versatile icing made from egg whites (or meringue powder), powdered sugar, and occasionally added flavorings. It is commonly used for sugar cookies because it can be colored, it dries to a smooth, yet hard-like finish, making it ideal for decorating and creating intricate designs on cookies.

Cookies I Use Royal Icing On

SUGAR COOKIES: I use my mom’s sugar cookie recipe which is my most favorite! Roll out thinner and bake at 400 degrees for crispier sugar cookies or roll thicker and bake at 350 degrees for more soft and fluffy sugar cookies!

GINGERBREAD COOKIES: I use my grandma’s recipe. This recipe also makes perfect gingerbread houses because it’s firm.


Kitchen Supplies

The Process

NOTE: The images I show below are with cream of tartar. I have recently switched to using 1/2tsp of vanilla extra in place of cream of tartar.

1. Separate egg whites from yolks. Discard egg yolks and put egg whites in a mixing bowl. Measure out 3 ounces (typically around 3 eggs)

2. Mix/whip with hand held mixer with whisk attachment until light and fluffy

3. Add 1/2 tsp cream of tartar **or substitute cream of tartar for 1/2 tsp vanilla extract (use clear, imitation vanilla extract if you need a bright white royal icing color)

4. Add 4 cups powdered sugar

5. Mix/whip until you reach a toothpaste-like consistency.

6. If making colored royal icing, now is the time to add your food coloring. **a little goes a long way so start by adding a few drops at a time and then mixing. Add more food coloring as needed.

Adding vibrant liquid food coloring to a bowl of pristine white royal icing, creates beautifully colored cookie designs.

7. Using handheld mixer, blend food coloring into the royal icing

8. Scoop icing into decorating bags (I prefer the reusable Wilton Piping Bags) and with your decorator tip of choice, pipe around the outline of your cookie and then fill the inside

9. Have fun getting creative!!

Decorating with royal icing can be super fun! The creative possibilities are endless! I have a whole Pinterest board with sugar cookie decorating ideas! Come follow along for great inspiration!

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I substitute cream of tartar with vanilla extract in royal icing?

Yes, you can substitute cream of tartar with vanilla extract if you prefer. Simply use 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract instead of cream of tartar. Clear, imitation vanilla extract is recommended for achieving a bright white royal icing color.

What is the perfect consistency for sugar cookie royal icing?

To achieve the right consistency for royal icing, you’ll want it to be similar to toothpaste. Add powdered sugar gradually while mixing until you reach the desired consistency. If it’s too thick, add a bit of water; if it’s too thin, add more powdered sugar.

How long does it take for royal icing to dry on sugar cookies?

The drying time for royal icing can vary depending on humidity and thickness it was piped on the cookie. Generally, it takes about 4 to 6 hours for royal icing to dry to the touch. For completely firm icing, allow it to dry overnight or for 12-24 hours. I always recommend making the cookies one day ahead of time and storing them in the refrigerator to ensure that the cookies are set and ready for your event.

Everything You Need To Know About Royal Icing

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Recipe Card

The best no-fail, homemade, 3 ingredient royal icing recipe for decorating sugar cookies. Use for gingerbread cookies and houses! | Gathered In The Kitchen

Royal Icing Recipe

Stephanie | Gathered In The Kitchen
The best royal icing recipe for decorating sugar cookies.
5 from 5 vote
Prep Time 10 minutes
Course Dessert
Cuisine American
Servings 24 cookies
Calories 80 kcal


  • 4 cup Pyrex measuring cup
  • Hand held Mixer with whisk
  • Piping bag and tips



  • Separate egg whites from yolks. Place egg whites into a mixing bowl
  • Mix eggs until fluffy and airy
  • Add in vanilla extract
  • Mix in powdered sugar
  • Mix until icing reaching a consistency of toothpaste *don't over mix


Calories: 80kcalCarbohydrates: 20gProtein: 0.4gFat: 0.01gSodium: 6mgPotassium: 6mgSugar: 20gCalcium: 0.5mgIron: 0.01mg
Keyword christmas cookies, cookies,, royal icing recipe
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!
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  1. Didn’t taste very good, using vanilla. I also must have over mixed because it was very thick!

  2. Can you use this icing on a coconut cake?

    1. I don’t see why not! This icing recipe is really good on just about everything!!

    2. Royal icing isn’t meant for cakes, just cookies.

  3. is it gonna be harden? or i have to put it in to freezers first?

    1. It shouldn’t get hard-hard. It is the consistency of toothpaste essentially while you are piping it on the cookie, and then it will firm up. Definitely wouldn’t put it in the freezer to harden it. If it’s too runny, slowly add more powdered sugar.

  4. Hi! I’m confused…I added half the amount of powdered sugar, and it looks like marshmallow! What did I do?

    1. Hi Allison, no worries. Did you use the egg whites? Sometimes eggs can run on the smaller side and the icing comes out a tad too thick.. what you can do to fix this is add a little water. Add a drop at a time and mix. Happy piping!

  5. Charlene DeForest says:

    question: can I use my egg beater egg whites purchased at gocery store? Also can I spread on the cookies with a knife or do you have to pipe it?

    1. Hi Charlene, I’m really not sure about using egg beater whites, I’ve never used those before. You could give it a try though!
      Royal icing works great piping…but yes, you can use a knife to spread it. It won’t give the same look, but if that’s not of importance, than yes.

  6. Pat Baerwolf says:

    Can I prepare this ahead of time, like a day ahead?

    1. Hi Pat – you can….but make sure that it is in a VERY tight air-tight container. You may need to add a few drops of water to the icing the next day if it has hardened some. Happy baking!

  7. Jenny Anderson says:

    Is it safe to eat perishable egg whites? Is that the same as pasturized? Do not want to make anyone sick. I found your recipe as i do not want to run to the store for corn syrup, thanks!

    1. Michele R says:

      If the egg whites are not from pasteurized eggs, it is best to use meringue powder or liquid eggs whites you can buy from the store.

  8. How come you’re not cooking the egg whites? That’s not safe. I use meringue powder, which is egg whites.

    1. Michele R says:

      In response to your first comment about royal icing is only for cookies… wrong! It is most definitely for cakes too and in fact was originally done for cakes first. Royal icing was used to coat wedding cakes served at celebrations hosted by the British royal family, hence the name, “royal icing”, which was graced Queen Victoria’s wedding cake. In response to your second comment about cooking egg whites, etc. meringue power has more than just egg whites; egg whites must be used from pasteurized eggs, if one chooses to use them fresh, otherwise liquid egg whites can be purchased at the store(also uncooked, but pasteurized).

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