Royal Icing Recipe for Decorating Cookies

Royal icing recipe

The Spruce / Cara Cormack

  • Total: 15 mins
  • Prep: 15 mins
  • Cook: 0 mins
  • Servings: 24 servings
  • Yields: 2 cups

Royal icing is a sweet, hard, shiny icing that's made from egg whites and confectioners' sugar (also known as powdered sugar). It's the perfect icing for decorating cookies, and you can use all kinds of colors to achieve pretty much any effect you can imagine. It's best to use liquid pastured egg whites for making royal icing, but you can substitute powdered egg whites.

This recipe makes two cups of icing, plenty to decorate a huge batch of cookies. A decorating kit with a piping bag and various tips are certainly useful, or you can use a squeeze bottle, a storage bag with a corner removed, or parchment paper rolled into a cone. If you're coloring your icing, we recommend gel food coloring, since it won't dilute the mixture.

1:35

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Ingredients

  • 1 pound powdered sugar (about 450 grams or 4 cups)
  • 4 egg whites (or 1/2 cup pasteurized liquid egg whites)
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • Optional: food coloring in desired colors

Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    Ingrediens for royal icing
    The Spruce / Cara Cormack
  2.  In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whip attachment, beat the egg whites on high speed until foamy.

    Stand mixer
    The Spruce / Cara Cormack
  3. Switch to low speed and gradually sift the sugar into the egg whites until it's completely incorporated. Because both ingredients are white, it's easy to miss lumps. Look carefully.

    Switch to a low speed
    The Spruce / Cara Cormack
  4. Add the lemon juice and beat on high speed until the icing is very thick and forms stiff peaks, about 5 to 10 minutes.

    Add lemon juice
    The Spruce / Cara Cormack
  5. At this point, you can add the food coloring if you're only going to need a full batch of one color. But if you need more than one color, separate whatever quantities of icing you need into individual bowls and just stir in the coloring you want.

    Add food coloring
    The Spruce / Cara Cormack
  6. Use the royal icing to decorate your cookies. Enjoy!

    Royal icing
    The Spruce / Cara Cormack

Raw Egg Warning

Consuming raw and lightly-cooked eggs poses a risk for food-borne illness.

How to Use

  • A decorating kit with a piping bag and various tips can be used for decorating, or you can use a squeeze bottle or a zippered storage bag with a corner cut off.
  • You can also cut out a triangle of ordinary parchment paper, wrap it into a cone, and use that. Just spoon some of the icing into the wide end of the cone, fold the top over, and then squeeze the icing out the pointy end. You can snip off the tip of the cone to adjust the size of the opening. (Note that this old-school trick is more difficult if you're trying to use parchment paper that's been treated with a nonstick coating.)
  • If you'd like to use the royal icing to flood and make blocks of solid color, draw the borders first and let them dry for a few minutes. Thin out the royal icing a bit with water and use it to fill in the centers.
  • You should use the royal icing right away or store it in an airtight container because it will harden quickly when exposed to the air. You can store it for a few days in the fridge, as long as it's in an airtight container with plastic wrap pressed against the surface.

Recipe Variations

  • If using powdered egg whites, reconstitute the egg whites according to the instructions on the package, using enough to equal four liquid egg whites.
  • Besides adding flavor, lemon juice helps harden the icing, but you could substitute vanilla extract if you prefer.

What is the difference between royal icing and regular icing?

Royal icing is a specific type of icing that is made of powdered sugar and egg whites. It sets up glossy and hard, making it good for decorating cookies. Other types of icings often never fully harden, which may be more desirable for cakes and other sweets.