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My hope is to inspire you to be fearless in the kitchen, to try new things, to take the time to make things the homemade way and most importantly, to have fun doing it!

Sugar Cookies with Royal Icing

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“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”  This is the phrase that ran on a loop through my head as I decorated my fourth batch of these cookies.  My parents used to say this to me often as I was growing up, and while making these cookies, I was so glad that they did.  Royal icing started out as a royal pain, but now I feel comfortable working with it and am in LOVE with the results!

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My holiday goody packages included a lot of treats, and the variety of items is different from year to year but the one thing that is always included is these sugar cookies.  In the past I have used store-bought frosting to decorate them but I always wanted to try my hand at some cookies with beautiful royal icing.  Herein lies my first mistake – deciding to try royal icing for the first time while preparing cookies for 18 goody bags – what was I thinking?!  The second mistake?  Well, that would be leaving this as the last item to complete for the packages.  I was already exhausted from making the various other treats, and then found myself staring at 120-ish undecorated sugar cookies and two more balls of dough in the refrigerator.  I made my first batch of royal icing and piped it around the edges of the cookies – this took F.O.R.E.V.E.R.  Then, I had to flood them with thinned out icing.  This also took a ridiculous amount of time.  And after all that, I finally admitted that I probably couldn’t make 100 more of these cookies that same night, and so decided that only half of the recipients would get sugar cookies in their bags.  I was incredibly disappointed because I had envisioned these gorgeous snowflake cookies with pretty blue detailing, but there wasn’t even time to do the detailing.  In the end, I just sprinkled with some edible sparkles and left them plain white.  I was defeated.

royal-icing-4(The cookies from my first attempt.  Boring, plain white, but in such cute packages!)

BUT, luckily I just happened to have my annual holiday party coming up and was planning on serving sugar cookies then as well, so I decided to give it another go.  SO MUCH BETTER!  This is when I really got the hang of royal icing.  I learned that if it is at all difficult to pipe onto the edges, it’s still too thick.  Add just a tiny bit more water to thin it out and things will go much more quickly.  I had the edges piped, the cookies flooded, and the detailing done in no time.  Now, I am crazy about royal icing for multiple reasons.  Mainly:

1. It is gorgeous.  This icing can make some truly beautiful cookies.
2. You can save it in an airtight container and reuse it later, no need to refrigerate.
3. If it seems too thick, add a small amount of liquid at a time until it thins to the consistency you want.  Too thin?  Just add more powdered sugar.  So adaptable!

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Since this post is already quite lengthy, one more word about the sugar cookies.  These have never failed me.  They taste incredible, are firm enough to decorate but soft when you bite into them, and keep well for quite some time.  It just would not be Christmas in my house without these cookies.  And since I still have one more ball of dough in the fridge, I think I’m off to continue my love affair with royal icing….

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Royal Icing
Ingredients:
4 cups powdered sugar, sifted
2 tbsp. meringue powder
5 tbsp. water

Directions:
Combine all ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.  Mix on low speed until the sheen has disappeared and the icing has a matte appearance (about 7-10 minutes).  Transfer the contents of the mixing bowl to an air-tight container.  This will be the stiffest consistency of the icing, and at this point it is still too stiff to use for decorating.  Add water a very small amount at a time and stir by hand until fully incorporated.  Continue until the icing has reached a consistency appropriate for piping.  (Remember, if you are having any difficulty piping, it is still too thick.  Add a little more liquid and try again.)  Using a pastry bag, pipe around the edges of each cookie.  Let stand so the icing will set.  Make sure to keep the leftover icing covered at all times when not in use so that it does not begin to harden.

Once all the cookies have been edged, transfer some of the remaining icing to a separate air-tight container.  Thin out by incorporating a small amount of water at a time, until the icing drips off the spoon easily when lifted and then smooths in with that still in the bowl.  If you go too far and the icing is too thin, add more sifted powdered sugar to thicken it again.  Once the icing has reached the desired consistency, transfer it to a squeeze bottle (or a plastic bag with a hole in one corner), and flood the area surrounded by the piping on each cookie.  If it does not completely spread to the edges, use a toothpick to help it along.  Allow to set.

Use the remaining thicker icing for piping decoration as desired.  Gel icing color is best as it does not add a significant amount of liquid.  Liquid food coloring can be used as well – add powdered sugar as needed to compensate for any thinning that occurs.

Source: adapted from Katie of Good Things Catered

  • http://centralcooking.blogspot.com Kayla

    These are incredibly gorgeous! I’m really impressed that this was your first time using royal icing, it looks like you’ve been doing it for years!

  • http://erinkristine.blogspot.com Erin

    WOW – these turned out amazing! This was my first year even baking sugar cookies, so maybe next will be the year I try royal icing :) Way to go!

  • joelen

    Beautiful Job!

  • http://familyfriendsandfood.blogspot.com patsyk

    Oh, now I really need to get my courage up and make an attempt at decorating sugar cookies! Yours turned out so nice, and I appreciate you sharing your experience.

    Happy Holidays!

  • http://dinneranddessert.wordpress.com Erin

    I’ve been wanting to make these for a while. Yours look beautiful!

  • http://goodthingscatered.blogspot.com/ Katie

    OH MY GOODNESS Annie!! They look AMAAAAAAAZING! They are so gorgeous! I’m covered in sugar making more now and knowing they won’t be as pretty as these. GREAT JOB! And what patience!!

  • http://togetherbetter.wordpress.com/ Alissa

    Those are beautiful cookies!!!! Great job!!!!

  • Erin K.

    Wow! These really are the most beautiful cookies I’ve ever seen. Almost too pretty to eat…. almost. :)

  • http://chewonthatblog.com Hillary

    Beautiful cookies! You should submit these to our holiday cookie contest! :)

  • http://yesdessertmenu.blogspot.com/ annie

    These are stunning! I love the shade of blue that you got!

  • Avi

    Gorgeous cookies! I love the shade of blue and the whimsical scrollwork on the snowflakes :)

  • evelyn

    Hi! ur cookies looked so pretty! ened ur advice on smthng- do u thnk i can make royal icing without a mixer? it doesnt sound so feasible to me! help!

    Merry christmas!! (:

  • http://delishfood.wordpress.com ash

    they came out beautiful!

  • http://yumninja.blogspot.com susan

    ur cookies look so perfect! and im lovin the new blog look :]

  • http://www.mysweetandsaucy.com My Sweet & Saucy

    Love how they turned out!

  • http://www.eatfordinner.blogspot.com giz

    So pretty – although I’m not a royal icing fan, they do give baked goods the very special appearance don’t they. Love the colours.

  • http://sweetsavorysouthern.wordpress.com Renea(MrsSchoon)

    I love the snowflake ones. So adorable!

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  • http://www.ohsheglows.com Angela

    Oh these are fabulous! Wow. This is my goal to be able to make these.

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  • http://theadventuresofroryandjess.blogspot.com/ Jessica

    where did you find the meringue powder?

  • Annie

    Hi Jessica,
    Meringue powder can be found wherever Wilton products are sold (Michael’s, Joann’s, etc.)
    :) Annie

  • http://stephaniecooks.blogspot.com Stephanie

    I made these and they were perfect! Thank you so much!

  • http://www.nevera-dull-moment.blogspot.com Mandy

    I was wondering if you have any problems w/ air bubbles when you flood. I used royal icing for the first time tonight and there are tons of air bubbles in the icing. I tried putting them on a cookie sheet and whacking it on the table to release the bubbles but it didn’t help. Any ideas!

    By the way – I love this sight! I just found it a few days ago and I keep adding recipes to my list. Everything looks amazing

  • Annie

    Hi Mandy,
    Having little air bubbles in your royal icing is a common problem caused by the air that is incorporated into your icing as you mix it for thinning or coloring. The best thing to do to prevent this is to just let your icing sit for about 10 to 15 minutes after mixing to let the air bubbles rise to the surface. It has worked well for me. Hope that helps!
    :) Annie

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  • http://selfishlyhappy.blogspot.com christina

    Hi! Love your blog and just wanted to tell you I made these cookies and they are fantstic. I bloged about them here :http://selfishlyhappy.blogspot.com/2009/12/christina-vs-royal-icing.html

    Thanks so much for the recipe!

  • Selena

    Hi,
    Great cookies- where did you get those great boxes! They are amazing!
    Thanks for the info!

  • Jenn

    A friend recommended this to me after I posted a desperate plea on Facebook looking for a good royal icing recipe. I tried it and it was PERFECT. Thanks so much.

  • Annie

    Hi Selena,
    The boxes are from Nashville Wraps. I love them!

  • http://www.not-just-vanilla.com/ Kate

    Annie, I made these cookies today and they came out beautifully! I have never had cookies turn out more lovely or more perfect. The icing on the other hand was a disaster. I kept adding the water, small bit by bit and it really never took any consistency other than a marshmallow-like paste that dried very quickly. Help! I don’t know what went wrong. I got the meringue powder fresh today and the gel food coloring at Kitchen Art in West Lafayette. Is there somewhere better in Indy? Kate

  • Annie

    Hi Kate,
    Glad the cookies turned out well! Sorry the royal icing wasn’t as much of a success. It is impossible for me to tell you exactly what went wrong since I wasn’t there, but it sounds to me like you just didn’t add enough water. You really have to keep adding it until it gets to a workable consistency. I’m sure the supplies weren’t the problem because I’m not at all discriminating about where or when I buy mine.
    Good luck!

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  • Erika

    What type of gel coloring do you use? Thanks!!!

  • Annie

    Erika,
    I use Wilton but any gel coloring should work.

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  • Amber

    Hi Annie,
    These look awesome and I am in the process of attempting some sugar cookies of my own. I do not have a stand mixer, however. Would using a whisk or just stirring work too?
    Thanks!

  • Annie

    Hi Amber,
    You don’t have to have a stand mixer, but you definitely need an electric mixer. The dough is really too thick to come together with a whisk – it would probably break it! Good luck!

  • Washington Mom

    Hi Annie!
    Thanks so much for your great blog!! I just made a huge batch of the beautiful cookies and royal icing for Valentine’s Day. Can you tell me if the unused icing can be put in the refrigerator for a later use or do you find that it all needs to be used up within a day or two? I’ve had such great success w/your tips and tricks for using this icing…SO great!!! I do add a little clear vanilla just to give it a super yummy flavor! Thanks again!

  • Annie

    Hi Washington Mom,
    I have answered this question in the comments section of the royal icing tutorial post. The icing keeps for at least a week, and probably longer as long as it is stored correctly.

  • Lisa

    Hi Annie,
    A friend of mine recently made sugar cookies with royal icing and they looked so pretty I just had to try making a batch. While doing some research on royal icing I came across your web site (which is fantastic by the way) and used your sugar cookie recipe (also fantastic). Everything seemed to be going swimmingly until I added the gel food coloring (Wilton) to the royal icing; it suddenly had a distinct synthetic flavor to it, no doubt from the coloring. My question is this: is the gel food coloring supposed to have a strange smell to it and does it go away after the frosting has dried?

    Thank you!
    Lisa

  • Annie

    Hi Lisa,
    Did you use red coloring? Red tends to the be only gel coloring I have ever noticed to have a taste, which is why Wilton specifically makes a “no taste” red. If you don’t use it, you can definitely taste the coloring. But with other colors, I never notice any flavor.

  • Shannon

    Annie,
    First, your cookies are beautiful- I’m inspired! I just got an issue of Cook’s Illustrated and I noticed in the Notes from Readers that someone asked about meringue powder. Of course they did a zillion tests and found that using egg whites work better. Have you ever tried a royal icing with egg whites? If so, does it taste any better?

  • Annie

    No, I only use meringue powder. I love the convenience of it and it always works perfectly for me.

  • Liiyah

    Hi, How will you store the left over ones?

  • Annie

    In an airtight container.

  • Angie

    I made the valentine cookies with marbled royal icing…while they look great, I’m not impressed by the taste of the icing. It just tastes like powdered sugar. Did I do something wrong? Do you have any other icing recipes that might taste better, though not as pretty?

    Thanks,

  • Annie

    It is just powdered sugar and water. This icing is made for looks, not taste. There are lots of other frostings out there but they will not harden and are not used for decorative purposes, which is the whole point of royal icing.

  • Reme89

    Omg :O thoosee cookies are AWESOME !!! Im sooo gonna do em :)
    Btw … How long can I save them? Cuz ive party next week n i wanna do them before 2 or 3 days

    Thank u soo muchhh

  • Annie

    Please see the FAQ page.

  • jayme

    I don’t know what I did wrong, but my icing is just a brick in the mixer. Not any where close to liquid. Arg!

  • Annie

    Add more water.

  • http://itwasinjuly.blogspot.com Mimi

    Do you know if I can substitute the meringue powder by usual egg whites as I’m not able to buy meringue powder here except for buying it for a lot of money from the US?

  • Annie

    You definitely can but I’m not familiar with the ratios. You’ll want to Google for more info. Good luck!

  • michelle

    Made Easter sugar cookies with this royal icing yesturday and it is the best royal icing i had, dries fast and leaves a nice shiny look, everyone loves them

  • Sarah

    Hi Annie. I wanted to know how much does this recipe of royal icing make?

  • Annie

    I’m not sure, I’ve never measured it.

  • Robyn

    Hello Annie!!
    Your cookies look “delish”!!! I can see the love and joy you put into your baking through your pictures. I also love to bake and decorate cookies — but recently stumbled across a little headache… when I thin out the royal icing and fill in the cookies, the icing does not completely dry, and is tacky/sticky. So I was wondering if you have ran across this — and/or maybe can help me with some tips. Thanks again, keep up the wonderful work. :)

  • Annie

    Have you read my tutorial on royal icing? That should have all the info you need to know. I have heard that royal icing made with egg whites rather than meringue powder may not dry as well, so that could be an issue.

  • Debbie

    Is it really important to add the water to thin the icing a little at a time, or can more be added at once and folded gently in . . .?

  • Annie

    You definitely have to do it gradually. Please see the royal icing tutorial.

  • Debbie

    I just made your cookie recipe. My first comment to myself as I rolled it out was ‘this is beautiful dough!’ Thank you!
    I also tried RI with real egg whites . . . we’ll see tomorrow how it holds up . . .

  • Annie

    I guarantee the meringue powder is not your issue. I can’t tell you how many batches of this icing I have made and it has always worked wonderfully. I’m glad you like the dough though!

  • Tesni

    How long does the royal icing keep in the airtight containers? I know it keeps for yonks once set, as our christmas cake is always covered in it and that keeps for months.

  • Annie

    Your guess is as good as mine. It seems to keep a while, but I don’t have any specifics.

  • Jasmine

    Hi, oh my goodness im soo glad i found your website!! i have been looking for the perfect recipe for sugar cookies and frosting, because this is the first time in making cookies for Halloween for my friends. i was wondering, when im going to make the sugar cookies do i need an electric mixer, or can i just mix the ingreidients with a wooden spoon? also when im making the royal icing can i just use and electric hand mixer?

  • Annie

    Please see the FAQ page. Thanks!

  • Jasmine

    Awesome, i found what i was looking for!!

  • http://www.whenrommetcom.com Liz

    This royal icing recipe was awesome – I only had to add 1 tablespoon of water for it to pipe beautifully, on to your gingerbread cookie recipe. Thanks, Annie!

  • khristine

    i am a vegetarian so i can’t use meringue powder. any substitutes? Love your blog!!!

  • Anonymous

    My vegetarian friends use meringue powder. Please see the FAQ page regarding substitutions. Thanks!

  • Sweettoothduo

    I don’t use any meringue powder at all. I mix my conf. sugar with half water/half lemon juice for yummy flavor, but just water works too. Mine look fabulous, taste fabulous, and have the same consistency. Just make sure you have a good consistency. It is easy to add too much liquid and end up with a runny frosting. I let them harden overnight before stacking.

  • Jane

    Any suggestions for making the icing a little shinier when it dries? Corn syrup?

  • Anonymous

    The nature of royal icing is that it dries with a matte finish. Any additions made such as corn syrup will affect the end result including the consistency and the ability to dry hard. You could certainly do further research if you are inclined. Good luck!

  • Nelly

    Annie, I can’t possibly thank you enough for this recipe and tutorial. I am not very artistic but my Valentine cookies came out SO very perfect thanks to you. This royal icing is fool proof. I made several batches these past two weeks and had no issues whatsoever with any of them. Now I feel like my cookies are worth showing off! Forever grateful! Nelly

  • Louisabjohnson

    I made royal icing with lemon juice instead of meringue powder and it dried pretty shiny. It did have a distinctly lemony flavor, though, so if you don’t want that, it’s not a good idea. It tasted great on sugar cookies :)

  • Sandrafloreshenriod

    hi annie!. if i dont find meringue powder could i use something as a substitute?

  • annieseats

    Please see the FAQ page regarding substitutions. Thanks!

  • http://thesweetprimadonna.wordpress.com/ Brooke B.

    This recipe looks great! Thanks for sharing!

  • Linda Adams

    annie, i made your sugar cookies and royal iced them. I didn’t ice all the way to the edge. I let them dry overnight and when I put them in plastic bags, the fluted edges stated breaking off and they are too soft! Help, please! How can I harden then up again?

  • annieseats

    The edges of the icing broke off or the cookies?

  • Mel A

    I made a practice batch of these for a Hens party & they held their shape beautifully except they all broke in half. I’m wondering if it’s because of the size or shape of cutter I’m using, 15cm long 7cm wide….um…..”manly” shape? ;) They taste amazing but mine were more like a shortbread then a cookie. What are your thoughts? Cheers

  • annieseats

    It’s probably the shape and size of the cookies you made. I’ve never had a problem with them breaking. You could try rolling the dough out a bit thicker.

  • Amberluv

    Hi! Could you make this without an electric mixer and just do it by hand?

  • annieseats

    Please see the FAQ page. Thanks!

  • http://www.facebook.com/terisa.smart Teri Smart

    How does this taste on the cookies? I made one similar to this and it didn’t taste so good, is there a way to put a peppermint (or other) extract in it for flavor?

  • http://www.facebook.com/terisa.smart Teri Smart

    Another question, how will these cookies store and/or ship? good idea or no?

  • David Nicholson

    Can you weigh the powdered sugar? Or do you use scoop and dip method? TIA

  • annieseats

    You could, but I am not sure exactly what weight to use. I always measure by volume for this recipe.

  • David Nicholson

    Do you pack it in? Or ~ scooping flour then sift? can you tell I’m already worried? Thanks for the quick reply! If I weigh it, I’ll let you know the amount

  • annieseats

    I scoop but trust me, there is no need to worry here. Royal icing is super flexible. If you make it too thick, add a little more water. If it is too thin, add a little more sugar. It’s tough to mess up.

  • annieseats

    Royal icing is basically just powdered sugar, so it doesn’t taste like much of anything. You can add a small amount of extract to it but don’t add too much or it could affect the consistency of the icing.

  • annieseats

    They keep well. See the FAQ page for more info.

  • nicole kerns-baldwin

    I am trying to imagine the texture and consistency of royal icing. I know it is kept overnight to harden, but how hard is it exactly? Is it more for looks or is it also enjoyable to eat without the fear of breaking a tooth? :)

  • annieseats

    It’s more like a delicate hardened surface, but still soft feeling underneath. The taste isn’t anything amazing since it’s basically just sugar, but the texture definitely doesn’t make it unpleasant to eat (and won’t break a tooth ;)

  • Annie

    Hi, I’ve been following for a long time and have also been meaning to try this recipe along with your sugar cookies recipe, just made them today with my kids and they turned out fantastic!!!!! Not sure why I didn’t think of yours sooner, tried a lot of other recipes that were not good at all but this one was easy and turned out beautifully!!!! The sugar cookies were easy to make and had a delicious taste that was not floury at all. And yes royal icing is definitely not made to taste good but more to look good, although I might add a smidgen of vanilla for a bit of a better taste, what do you think?

    Thanks again for sharing and love love love all your stuff, you also have an amazing name too!! ;-)

  • Annie

    Oh forgot to mention that I couldn’t get meringue powder but substituted egg white powder which worked out just fine. Also halved the recipe and had no problem either as well as used Wilton food gel with the icing once separated into different containers for different colors. Then I just scooped into little bags and cut tiny holes so that the kids could pipe them onto cookies.

  • Allie

    I made these last night for a Valentine’s Day party, and they came out BEAUTIFULLY! I was a little nervous for my first go with royal icing (and marbling) but I am so proud of the result. I couldn’t find meringue powder anywhere, so I used egg white powder like you suggested with no problem. My icing was almost doughy at first, even with the 5 tbsp. of water, but I added a little extra and it loosened up super easily. Thanks for the awesome recipe and tutorial – I will be using them for all future sugar cookies!!!