Search the Site Navigation

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!

Decorating with Royal Icing: Recipe and Step-by-Step Tutorial Cooking View

One of the downsides to blogging for over six years now is that some really great recipes and techniques get buried in the archives.  A step-by-step post describing how to decorate with royal icing was one of my earlier posts that became really popular.  But after so many years, even it has gotten buried.  This holiday season I decided to bring it back for my newer readers and update it with new photos and slightly revised instructions.

Before we get to the decorating, let me just reiterate why I am so fond of royal icing.  First and foremost, it looks beautiful and professional.  Before I knew the technique, I would see beautifully iced cookies and marvel in wonder.  Surely, I could never make something like that myself.  All these years later, I’m still excited every time I decorate with royal icing to see the finished product look so pretty and polished.  Second, the cookies keep really well.  The royal icing helps seal in the moisture of the cookie and also adds some integrity, so they hold up well when transported or even shipped (provided they are carefully packaged.)  Finally, the design possibilities are nearly endless.  I think of royal icing as a sort of edible art supply, and the cookie is the canvas.  It is so fun to be creative and see what sort of designs come to mind as you go.

I know this may seem daunting.  You look at these cookies and think you could never do it.  Trust me, if I can, anyone can.  I also just have to say that I have been thoroughly impressed seeing readers’ photos on blogs, Facebook and Instagram of their first attempts with royal icing.  Some of the first attempts I see look better than the cookies I was making after  two to three years of practice.  You guys are a talented bunch!  Alright, enough talking.  Let’s do this.

Royal Icing

Ingredients

For the icing:

  • 4 cups powdered sugar, sifted
  • 2 tbsp. meringue powder
  • 5 tbsp. water, plus more for thinning

Equipment needed: 

  • Sugar cookies
  • Icing gel colors
  • Small airtight containers for each color of icing you plan to use
  • Spoons
  • Toothpicks
  • Disposable pastry bags fitted with small round tips
  • Squeeze bottles
Cooking View

Directions

  • Combine the powdered sugar, meringue powder, and water 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 5 minutes).  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 each addition until fully incorporated.  Continue until the icing has reached a consistency appropriate for piping.  (If you aren’t sure whether your icing is too thick or thin, test out a small amount.  If you are having any difficulty piping, it is still too thick.  Add a little more liquid and try again – you do not want to be struggling with icing that is too thick so don’t be afraid to add a little more water when necessary.)

  • Once you have reached the appropriate piping consistency, tint your icing if desired with gel coloring. I prefer Americolor brand gels because they seem more concentrated and require far less color than other brands I have tried.  Whatever you do, if you are aiming for a pastel or light color, add the coloring a very small amount at a time.  You can always add more but you can’t take it away.

  • Using a pastry bag, pipe a border around the edges of each cookie.  (I like a Wilton #2 small round tip for edging.)  Let stand so the icing will set.  Make sure to keep any icing not in use covered at all times so that it does not begin to harden.

  • Any time that a bag of icing is not in use, stand upright, tip down, in a very small amount of water.  This prevents the icing in the tip of the pastry bag from hardening up and clogging the tip.

  • Once all the cookies have been edged, transfer some of the remaining icing to a separate bowl or 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.  Did you go too far and now the icing is too thin?  Good news!  If you over-thin the icing, stir in a bit more powdered sugar to thicken it again.

  • When the icing has been thinned to the desired consistency, let stand about 5 minutes to allow the air incorporated during the thinning process to bubble up to the surface.  Give the icing a gentle stir, popping the bubbles (but not incorporating new ones!)

  • Transfer the thinned icing 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 on its own, use a toothpick to help it along.  If any small air bubbles arise at this point, you can pop them with a toothpick and they should disappear.  Allow to set at least 8 hours or overnight, uncovered.

  • Use the remaining thicker icing for piping decoration as desired. If you make a mistake, it’s okay!  Just wipe it off with a clean towel or paper towel and try again.  The matte flooded surface will be unharmed.  Let dry at least 1 hour before packaging.

  • A few frequently asked questions, answered:

    How far in advance can the cookies be made?
    Sugar cookies (at least this recipe) decorated with royal icing tend to keep very well when stored airtight at room temperature.  The royal icing helps to seal in the moisture of the cookie.  I typically make and decorate cookies up to a week in advance of when I plan to serve them.

    Can the cookies be frozen at some point in the process?
    The cookie dough can be frozen and used at a later time.  Additionally, the cut and baked undecorated cookies can be frozen.  However, once decorated, cookies with royal icing should not be refrigerated or frozen.  Condensation can form on the icing during the thaw process and cause flaws in the icing design.

    Do you cover the cookies when you leave them out to dry overnight?
    No, covering the cookies has the potential to mess up the pretty design you worked so hard on.  The cookies won’t dry out in the course of one night.

    How much icing will I need to decorate a batch of cookies?
    This is a tough question because it depends on many factors, including the size of the cookies, the number of colors of icing needed, and complexity of design.  Even after years of decorating, I am not great at estimating this.  Thankfully it only takes a few minutes to mix up extra icing.

  • Dena Snyder

    Is it possible to freeze cookies decorated with royal icing for an upcoming occasion?

  • Susan

    Funny thing … I popped in to look at your tortellini soup recipe and found this great tutorial on holiday cookies! Last night I dog-eared a page in this month’s better Homes for snowflake cookies with beautiful decorations and NOIW I have found your excellent instructions! Thanks for re-posting this, Annie!

  • julie515

    Great tutorial! One question though.. can I use egg whites in place of the meringue powder? If so, how much?

  • Lauren Ochoa

    Annie, I have been following your blog for about 4 years now and I have to tell you, my own evolution as a cook and baker has been just a step or two behind you all the way. In your first holiday sugar cookie post you used store bought frosting because you just didn’t have the time or energy for royal icing. By the following year you were whipping up the royal icing like a pro and so did I, and have never looked back. Along the way as you have blogged about giving up canned beans in favor of dried, baking your own bread, brewing your own Starbucks-worthy drinks and so many other things, I have found inspiration for doing it myself as well. I was recently looking back at an older post about truffles where you said that you preferred to keep them in the fridge because tempering chocolate was too much of a hassle etc… And I thought, well, it’s only a matter of time before Annie posts a step by step for fool proof tempering every time! Here’s to doing even more from scratch in 2014!

  • Angela

    Great tutorial! I’ll be honest, the biggest reason I have not tried royal icing yet is because of the taste. I have a family sugar cookie that I just love (as well as my husband and kids) that uses a nice buttery icing and it just tastes so good how can I give that up? Look vs. taste debate I guess. Do you have a trick to making royal icing taste better? Is some meringue powder better than others? If I add vanilla to it, will it ruin the consistency?

  • Blair Adams

    I absolutely love your blog – everything I’ve made turns out fantastic and I get rave reviews. I decided to try to frost with royal icing this year and I’m so thankful for your tutorial! I already have my tips and bags!

  • annieseats

    I don’t think it has much taste at all, so I personally think as long as it is on a good cookie, it tastes fine. I have heard some people mention that certain brands of meringue powder taste better than others but I have never tried the different types so I can’t comment on that. You can add some vanilla.

  • annieseats

    Have you been reading my mind? Or maybe my planner? Because, you called it – that tempered chocolate post is coming sooner than you might think :) Thanks for being such a loyal friend and reader!

  • annieseats

    Please see the FAQ portion at the bottom of the post. Thanks!

  • annieseats

    I haven’t been happy with the results when I have used egg whites so I can’t comment on that. You could look for a recipe that uses egg whites instead.

  • http://www.onepreppycookie.blogspot.com/ amy

    Try adding a little clear vanilla extract – it’s a game changer! :)

  • http://www.onepreppycookie.blogspot.com/ amy

    Great tutorial as always Annie! I direct a lot of people to the original tutorial on your blog. :)

  • Angela

    Which brand of meringue powder do you use? Thanks for your input. I will give it a try and see if it passes the husband/kids test for taste! :-) BTW…I really appreciate all of the time you take to give your readers a great experience and for sharing your knowledge. You have definitely helped me find my love of the kitchen.

  • Maddie

    Annie – I found your sugar cookies, royal icing, and tutorial a few years ago and I make the cookies all the time, especially during this time of year. I’ve tried so many of your recipes and everything always comes out perfect! You have become my go-to blog for inspiration and ideas, and I’m so grateful to have you as a resource. To many more blog posts and creations! :)

  • Molly Bennett

    How do you deal with the endpoint of a line of piping icing? When I make a line with my piping icing, the end always sticks up, all pointy/pokey. Is there a trick to getting the ends to sit down?

  • annieseats

    The best way to avoid that is to make the piping icing a thinner consistency to begin with. There is a spectrum of consistencies that can work for piping, and the more fluid it is, the less issue you will have with those pesky pokey ends. I used to have that problem all the time but then realized that just adding a touch more water made a big difference.

  • Molly Bennett

    Thanks!

  • Robyn MacDonald

    A tip that has helped me along my personal royal icing journey is that the consistency of the piping icing should be like toothpaste. I aim for that and adjust if needed.

  • http://joanne-eatswellwithothers.com/ Joanne (eats well with others)

    One of these Christmases I will have the patience to make cookies this pretty…one day.

  • Sarah Webster

    I’ve been following your blog for years now and have always been in awe of your royal icing decorated cookies. Last year I even bought a squeeze bottle and cookie cutters thinking I’d give it a try but I lost the nerve. This holiday season it just might be time. This tutorial may have pushed me over the hump!

  • Maria McCloud

    Annie, a friend introduced me to your vanilla bean lemon sugar cookie recipe a few years ago, and I have loved decorating cookies ever since. I have been thrilled with my evolution in cookie art, too, and still get excited every time I create decorated cookies. I’ve been meaning to request for a couple years now if you could someday create a post about how you pack sugar cookies for mailing since you send out gift packages of baked treats (by the way, I sure miss those posts about all the goodies you put into the treat packages).

  • Sarah S

    How do you store the thicker royal icing overnight while the flooded royal icing is drying overnight? Do you store it covered at room temperature or if it’s in a pastry bag with the tip in water?

  • annieseats

    If it is in pastry bags, I just store it as pictured with the tip in a bit of water to prevent hardening. If I still have plain icing in a bowl, I cover with a layer of plastic wrap laying directly on the surface of the icing so that it does not form a hard top layer.

  • annieseats

    Thanks for the suggestion! I will be posting about holiday baking a bit this week, but maybe I’ll do more next week with specific packaging tips. I don’t usually post about specifically what goes into my goody bags any more mainly because most of the recipients read my blog and I don’t want to spoil the surprise :) I am so glad that you have come to enjoy cookie decorating too. I love to hear that from my readers!

  • annieseats

    You can do it! Really, you can! Trust me – worst case scenario, you end up with some less than attractive but still tasty cookies. Best case, you have pretty cookies and maybe even some fun! And either way you will learn something :) Go for it!

  • Meg

    I’ve been making your royal iced vanilla/lemon sugar cookie recipe for three years now. I look forward to reasons to make them because they never fail to impress, and I love the challenge of improving my decorating skills each time. I recently made my cousin a batch of IU themed cookies to celebrate her acceptance letter, and it was so fun to see her reaction. And I’m looking forward to having my little cousins over to decorate Christmas cookies to hang on my newly purchased ornament tree (couldn’t get that idea out of my head after seeing it here last year). Thank you for inspiration and confidence to try royal icing.

  • Chelsea Grinols

    I’m so glad someone asked this question! I have had this issue every time I’ve attempted decorating! Thanks for the tip!

  • Mimi

    I love this post! Your cookies are stunning, Annie!

  • http://2sister2citiies.com/ Keelin

    Love the redo, the cookies and pictures look beautiful (not that the original ones didn’t)! Your original post on how to decorate cookies with royal icing was how I started following your blog and how I learned to decorate cookies. I taught all my sisters how last Christmas Eve. Thanks Annie!

  • Michele Diminuco

    Hi Annie! Several years ago I used one of your sugar cookie recipes, and read a previous royal icing tutorial and tested it out. I haven’t looked back since, and thanks to you, I make friends and family the most beautiful cookies! You’re right…anyone can do it! Thanks for all the time you put into this site. I love it!

  • annieseats

    I love to hear that – makes me so happy :) Thanks for reading!

  • annieseats

    That is awesome! I am so glad you have become so well practiced and learned to love royal icing too!

  • annieseats

    I use Wilton brand just because it’s what is available at my store.

  • Barbara

    Do you fine the meringue powder in the spice aisle or with the baking items? I am having trouble finding it in my area of Indiana?

  • annieseats

    At Meijer, I have seen it both in the baking aisle and with their Wilton stuff. If your store doesn’t have it, Joann’s or Michael’s does.

  • SK

    SO i finally conjured-up the courage to make these, bought meringue powder, and was planning on making these tomorrow and while reading this post I just realized the colors i have is the wilton candy color, do you know if that will work? TIA.

  • Cheryl Duss

    Hi Annie! I have read this post / tutorial at least 5 times now, and like Sarah Webster’s post, this holiday season might just be the time to give this a try. I keep losing my nerve, re-reading the tutorial, and hoping that it will be as easy as you suggest it is to do. Cross your fingers for me and wish me luck, because I think that today is going to be the day that I finally try it! You are definitely an inspiration!!

  • annieseats

    You can do it! It is fun! Let me know how it goes :) Even if it’s not perfectly smooth sailing, you’ll only get better from here.

  • annieseats

    Oh darn! I just saw this now. Candy colorings are not the best to use for this since they are typically oil based and likely wouldn’t blend in well. Gels are water based so they work better. I hope you figured something out!

  • SK

    Hey no worries, I was so impatient to try these that I made the cookies (which were fantastic BTW) and I decorated them with candy melts since I had those!!! He,he, he aint I a genius? ;-) They came out adorable, considering my first time decorating/icing!!! Best of all my kids (4 yrs and 2 yrs) loved them. SO worth it!!! Thank you. I also brought Gel colors, I only baked half the batch and froze the others. When I bake the other half I will try Royal icing. Wish me luck!!!

  • SK

    One more question, what size tip do you use for the decoration, the same #2 as you use for making the outline? Sorry for the silly questions, this is all new to me… if it wasn’t for your extremely tempting pictures, wonderful tutorials, I don’t think I would have even tried making them ;-)Thanks in advance.

  • annieseats

    It really depends on what type of decoration I am doing. For most things, I use the #2. Almost any time I am writing, I use a #1 because the #2 looks just slightly sloppy to my eye.

  • annieseats

    Good luck! You’re halfway there :)

  • Kathy Miller

    Hi Annie. Thank you for the detailed printable instructions (with pictures). I made some snowflake cookies for my husband’s holiday party and everyone absolutely loved them!

  • annieseats

    Awesome! So glad you made them and that they were a hit :)

  • SK

    I DID it!! Didn’t think I could but there it was.. beautiful, delicious royal frosted sugar cookies, wish I could show you the pics… was pretty happy for how they turned out at the very first attempt!!! Thank you!! Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you and your family!!!

  • annieseats

    Bam! Congrats on your royal icing success. Doesn’t it feel good?

  • SK

    It feels amazing… am on a roll now… just made my 2nd batch .. will do the icing tomorrow… to take for a dinner at a friends on Christmas day. Thank you once again!!

  • Abi Hunter

    fab tutorial! thanks for sharing, pics of my first attempt are here http://abimakes.blogspot.co.uk/2014/04/iced-sugar-cookies-wedding-favour.html

  • SinSam20

    Hi Annie, We are attempting out first try at sugar cookies with royal icing, what brand of food coloring do you recommend to get that rich color? we’ve used Wiltons but we feel its not as for example red as we want it to be … any suggestions?

  • annieseats

    I recommend Americolor gels. I have tried many brands and theirs are the only ones that I get a vibrant true red color. I buy them online but I believe you can also find them at Hobby Lobby. Hope that helps!

  • annieseats

    I have not but I know that you can add various extracts if you prefer.