Royal Icing Recipe for Decorating Cookies

Royal icing on heart-shaped cookies

The Spruce / Leah Maroney

  • Total: 15 mins
  • Prep: 15 mins
  • Cook: 0 mins
  • Yield: 2 cups (24 servings)

Royal icing is a sweet, hard icing that's made from egg whites and confectioners' sugar (also called 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 pasteurized egg whites for making royal icing, but you can substitute powdered egg whites. Just reconstitute the egg whites according to the instructions on the package, using enough to equal four egg whites.

Besides adding flavor, lemon juice helps harden the icing, but you could substitute vanilla extract if you prefer.

A decorating kit with a piping bag and various tips are certainly useful, 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. If you're just trying this recipe for the first time or are an occasional baker, there's no need to invest in fancy or pricey equipment.

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, however, that this old-school trick is more difficult if you're trying to use parchment paper that's been treated with a nonstick coating—which is more or less the norm these days.)

1:35

Click Play to See This Recipe Come Together

Ingredients

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

Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    Royal icing ingredients
    The Spruce
  2.  In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whip attachment, beat the egg whites on high speed until foamy.

    Beat egg whites until foamy
    The Spruce
  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.

    Add sugar into egg whites
     The Spruce
  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 until soft peaks form
    The Spruce
  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 to royal icing
    The Spruce
  6. Now you can use royal icing to decorate your cookies.

Tips

  • If you want, you can thin the icing out with water. A good technique is to pipe the borders with the straight icing and then thin it out to fill in the centers. Watch the video link above for a demonstration.
  • 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.