Royal Icing

Perfect for Decorating Cookies

Royal icing recipe

The Spruce / Cara Cormack

Prep: 20 mins
Cook: 0 mins
Total: 20 mins
Servings: 24 servings
Yield: 2 cups
Nutrition Facts (per serving)
74 Calories
0g Fat
18g Carbs
1g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 24
Amount per serving
Calories 74
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 0g 0%
Saturated Fat 0g 0%
Cholesterol 0mg 0%
Sodium 9mg 0%
Total Carbohydrate 18g 7%
Dietary Fiber 0g 0%
Total Sugars 18g
Protein 1g
Vitamin C 0mg 0%
Calcium 1mg 0%
Iron 0mg 0%
Potassium 9mg 0%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)

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

Royal icing is great for decorating since it is easy to pipe and make intricate designs. You can also dilute it slightly to flood cookies with blocks of color. It's naturally bright white and is easy to color any shade you like; we recommend gel food coloring since it won't dilute the mixture.

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 or homemade piping bag. The icing will dry hard so that the cookies will keep looking great even if you pack them up for a potluck.

1:35

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"Royal icing is one of the items I would classify as 'pastry magic.' It’s smooth and shiny and can be used as glue or edible paint. This recipe is incredibly straightforward and once complete you can decorate really anything you would like. Easy and fun, this is a recipe the whole family can enjoy!" —Tracy Wilk

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A Note From Our Recipe Tester

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup pasteurized liquid egg whites (4 large egg whites)

  • 4 cups powdered sugar (1 pound)

  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice

  • Food coloring in desired colors, optional

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. You can also use a hand mixer.

    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. If you need more than one color, separate quantities of icing 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 foodborne illness.

How to Store and Freeze

  • Royal icing dries to a very hard consistency and it will begin setting as soon as it is made. Depending on the temperature, humidity, and amount of icing used, royal icing will dry within 15 to 60 minutes of application.
  • To prevent the icing from getting hard before you use it, thoroughly wet a paper towel and place it over the top of the icing in the bowl. It is very important to keep the icing covered. If you are using a pastry bag and piping tips with the icing, tightly twist the back end of the bag and wrap a wet paper towel around the tip when not in use.
  • To store leftover royal icing, press plastic wrap against the surface and refrigerate it. It'll keep for about three days, but you'll need to let warm it up to room temperature and whisk it again to get the right consistency.
  • You can freeze leftover royal icing in zip-top freezer bags for up to three months. Defrost in the fridge (still tightly covered) and then let it come to room temperature and re-whip before using.
  • Do not refrigerate products with hardened royal icing as the icing can become soft and sticky.

Recipe Variations

  • This recipe calls for pasteurized egg whites since they are safe for anyone to consume without cooking. Regular egg whites can be used, just note there is a slight chance of food poisoning and raw eggs are not recommended for pregnant women.
  • Pasteurized liquid egg whites are sold in cartons, often next to the eggs.
  • 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. Use clear vanilla to keep the color bright white.

How to Use Royal Icing

  • A decorating kit with a piping bag and various tips can be used for decorating or you can use a squeeze bottle or a zip-top 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.)
  • For piping outlines, details, and writing, the icing should be like toothpaste. It will flow smoothly from the piping bag tip with no breaks in lines.
  • A medium royal icing that's similar in consistency to ketchup is thick enough to do outlines and some lettering, but also thin enough to flood some areas.
  • The thinnest consistency is called flood royal icing. It flows like honey and is good for filling large areas and creating smooth, flat surfaces.
  • 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.

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.

Does Royal Icing Dry Shiny?

Royal icing is glossy when wet and typically dries with a finish that is somewhere between shiny and matte.