Bold Baking Basics, Homemade Ingredients

Easy Royal Icing For Cake Decorating

4.64 from 238 votes
My Easy Royal Icing For Cake Decorating guide provides you with an easy 3-ingredient recipe and all my favorite decorating tips and tricks.
A homemade royal icing is presented in a clear bowl next to five round cookies.

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Hi Bold Bakers!

WHO THIS RECIPE IS PERFECT FOR: This exquisite Royal Icing for Cake Decorating recipe is meticulously crafted to deliver unparalleled smoothness, shine, and precision. Whether you’re a seasoned baker seeking to enchant intricate designs or a novice eager to embark on a journey of sugar-spun artistry, this Royal Icing formula promises to be your steadfast companion, transforming every cake into a masterpiece fit for royalty with ONLY 3 ingredients and in 20 minutes!

I won’t claim to be a professional cake decorator, but I do have enough tricks up my sleeve to make you think I might be one!

  • This is one of the EASIEST royal icing recipes and its method ensures that every step along the way to making a cake look beautiful is as simple as possible. All you need are eggs, powdered sugar, and a touch of lemon juice!
  • If eggs aren’t part of your diet, be sure to see my notes below for the best egg substitute to make royal icing.

I love to use this thicker form of royal icing to smooth over cakes and create a blank snowy slate for other decorations. Additionally, my easy royal icing is the perfect consistency for creating a really fun texture. To do this, I get creative with an offset spatula and go to town, creating lovely swirls and peaks.

IMPORTANT NOTE: This recipe was improved and updated on 4/28/2024, to include explanations of key ingredients, answers to the most frequently asked questions, and Pro Chef Tips.

Table of Contents

A bowl of homemade white royal icing is presented in a clear bowl on top of a floral napkin. A plate of round cookies is served in the bottom left of the photo.

What is Royal Icing for Cake Decorating?

Royal icing is made of egg whitespowdered sugar, and a dash of lemon juice.

  • This ratio of egg white to powdered sugar, when whipped to perfection, transforms into a light and sturdy icing. You could even use my royal icing to build gingerbread houses and cakes like my Irish Christmas Cake.
  • Based on these ingredients, you can probably assume what royal icing tastes like — a lot like sugar.
  • The main difference between Royal Icing and Buttercream Frosting is the texture. Buttercream is creamy, but royal icing will harden and hold its shape.

Tools You Need to Make Royal Icing for Cake Decorating

Key Ingredients and Why

  • Egg whites

    • Binding Agent: Egg whites serve as a crucial binding agent in royal icing, helping to create its characteristic smooth and firm texture.
    • Volume and Stability: When whipped, egg whites create stability and volume, allowing the icing to hold its shape once applied to cakes or cookies.
    • Glossy Finish: Egg whites contribute to the icing’s glossy finish, adding a beautiful sheen to decorated confections.
    • Hardening Agent: Egg whites help the icing dry to a hard, candy-like consistency, making it ideal for intricate piping and detailed designs in cake decorating.
  • Powdered sugar

    • Powdered sugar also known as confectioners’ sugar or icing sugar, serves several essential functions in royal icing:
      • Texture: Powdered sugar provides the bulk of the dry ingredients in royal icing, contributing to its smooth, spreadable consistency when mixed with liquids such as egg whites or water.
      • Sweetness: Powdered sugar adds sweetness to the icing, balancing the flavor and making it palatable for decorating purposes.
      • Stiffening Agent: The fine particles of powdered sugar help thicken the icing when mixed with the liquid components, allowing it to hold its shape when piped onto cakes or cookies.
      • Smoothness: Powdered sugar helps create a smooth finish in royal icing, ensuring that it spreads evenly and coats surfaces uniformly.
      • Whiteness: The white color of powdered sugar contributes to the bright, pristine appearance of royal icing, making it an ideal choice for decorating purposes.
    • Be sure to check out How To Make Powdered Sugar (With Video!) so you always have it on hand.
  • Lemon juice

    • Flavor: Lemon juice adds a subtle citrus flavor to the icing, enhancing its taste and providing a refreshing contrast to the sweetness of the sugar.
    • Stabilizer: Lemon juice helps to stabilize the egg whites, aiding in the formation of a firm and stable texture.
      • When egg whites are beaten, the proteins unfold and form bonds, creating a foam structure.
      • The acid in lemon juice interacts with the proteins and prevents them from forming excessively tight bonds. This allows the foam to maintain flexibility and stability, resulting in a smooth whipped mixture that holds its shape better and is less likely to deflate.
    • Preservative: The acidic nature of lemon juice can help prolong the shelf life of royal icing by inhibiting the growth of bacteria and mold.
  • Egg Alternatives For Royal Icing

If you don’t want to use egg whites, there are a few alternatives for making royal icing.

    • You can use aquafaba (the liquid from a can of chickpeas!) in place of egg whites for vegan royal icing.
    • You can also use meringue powder instead of egg whites in this recipe. Use 2 teaspoons of meringue powder and 2 tablespoons of water to substitute 1 egg white. For this recipe, you will need 8 teaspoons of meringue powder and 1/2 cup water.

How to Make Royal Icing for Cake Decorating

  • First, heat-treat the egg whites (optional): Warm the eggs in a bain-marie over low heat for 2-3 minutes, whisking constantly. Do this just until the egg whites have become warm but are not cooking. This will kill any bacteria in the eggs, making them even safer to use when raw.
  • Beat egg whites: On a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat egg whites in a clean, large bowl with the mixer at high speed until foamy, around 2 minutes.
  • Stream in sugar: Gradually add sifted sugar spoonful by spoonful, followed by the lemon juice. Beat at high speed until thickened, about 2 – 3 minutes.
    • The icing at this stage will be at a good consistency for flood icing sugar cookies.
    • If you want a thicker icing for frosting a cake or writing on or outlining cookies, add more icing sugar until you get the right consistency you desire.
  • Store: Place the icing into a bowl and cover it with cling wrap. Make sure you allow the cling wrap to touch the icing so there is no air in the bowl. This stops it from going hard while you are waiting to use it.
    • Use it straight away or store it in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 weeks. This will be enough to cover 1 large cake.

How Long Does Royal Icing Last and How to Store Royal Icing for Cake Decorating

  • Before using icing, keep it covered tightly at room temperature (cling wrap works wonders, just make sure it’s touching the surface). Use it straight away or store leftover royal icing at room temperature for up to 2 weeks. Once used and dried, royal icing will remain intact for up to one month, preserving all of your beautiful decorations.
  • Refrigerator: Royal icing can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. Before using, allow it to come to room temperature and then re-whip it gently to restore its consistency.
  • Freezer: Royal icing can also be frozen for longer-term storage.
    • Transfer it to an airtight container, ensuring there’s no excess air trapped inside, and freeze for up to three months.
    • When ready to use, thaw the icing in the refrigerator overnight, then bring it to room temperature and re-whip gently before decorating.

Are Raw Egg Whites In Royal Icing Safe? How To Heat Treat Egg Whites

There is a very slight risk of contracting food-borne pathogens, like Salmonella, while using egg whites in royal icing, but it is very low.

If this makes you nervous, I suggest heat-treating your eggs prior to use. This step is not necessary while making homemade royal icing, but it’s a good method to know when working with raw egg whites.

To heat treat egg whites, cook them in a bain-marie over low heat for 2-3 minutes, whisking constantly. Do this just until the egg whites become warm — not hot. You don’t want to cook the eggs. Heating the water over a pot of simmering water (not in the pot) will kill any potential bacteria.

With the addition of lemon juice, you’ll be as safe as can be!

FAQs and Troubleshooting Royal Icing

How long does it take for royal icing to dry?

The royal icing will begin to set after one hour, forming a nice skin.

After 4-6 hours, the icing will harden completely — holding whatever form you give it while decorating.

Why isn’t my royal icing stiff enough?

If your royal icing is the consistency you’d like, add a little more sifted powdered sugar. If it is too stiff, add a bit more water!

Can you flavor royal icing?

If you’d like to make flavored royal icing for your cake, use alcohol or water-based flavoring, like my homemade vanilla extract!

Can you color royal icing?

Yes! You can add food coloring to your royal icing. I like to use gel food coloring as it will give you the most color and contains just a little liquid so that it won’t throw off your icing consistency.

Gemma’s Pro Chef Tips for Making Royal Icing

More Icing Recipes

IMPORTANT NOTE: This recipe was improved and updated on 4/28/2024, to include explanations of key ingredients, answers to the most frequently asked questions, and Pro Chef Tips.

Watch The Recipe Video!

Easy Royal Icing For Cake Decorating

4.64 from 238 votes
My Easy Royal Icing For Cake Decorating guide provides you with an easy 3-ingredient recipe and all my favorite decorating tips and tricks.
Author: Gemma Stafford
Servings: 2 cups
Prep Time 20 minutes
Total Time 20 minutes
My Easy Royal Icing For Cake Decorating guide provides you with an easy 3-ingredient recipe and all my favorite decorating tips and tricks.
Author: Gemma Stafford
Servings: 2 cups

Ingredients

  • 4 (5 ½ oz/160 g) large egg whites
  • 6 cups (24 oz/690 g) powdered sugar, sifted
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice

Instructions

  • First, heat-treat the egg whites: Warm the eggs in a bain-marie over low heat for 2-3 minutes, whisking constantly. Do this just until the egg whites have become warm but are not cooking. This will kill any bacteria in the eggs, making them even safer to use when raw.
  • On a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat egg whites in a clean, large bowl with the mixer at high speed until foamy, around 2 minutes.
  • Gradually add sifted sugar spoonful by spoonful, followed by the lemon juice. Beat at high speed until thickened, about 2 - 3 minutes.
  • The icing at this stage will be at a good consistency for flooding cookies. If you want it stiffer for frosting a cake, or writing on cookies, add more icing sugar until you get the consistency you desire.
  • Place the icing into a bowl and cover it with cling wrap. Make sure you allow the cling wrap to touch the icing so there is no air in the bowl. This stops it from going hard while you are waiting to use it.
  • Use it straight away or store it at room temperature for up to 2 weeks. This will be enough to cover 1 large cake.

Recipe Notes

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Jo Al Eisri
Jo Al Eisri
4 years ago

Hi Gemma. Merry Christmas. I want to ice my Christmas cake, but the icing I need for that is a rolled icing. Do you have a video or a recipe for that? xx

Shalywealth venture
4 years ago

It’s compulsory to coat cake with butter icing before use royal icing on the cake

Rachel
Rachel
3 years ago

Hi Gemma,
I’m planning on making a birthday cake for my husband. I was wondering if I can use this recipe for piping “Happy Birthday”? If so, should I reduce the recipe by half or further?

Pooja
Pooja
4 years ago

Hi Gemma,
Its a give a pleasure to watch ur videos with sharing each and every small details related to baking.

Can you give the subsitute of egg white for royal icing ?

I do not egg as am vegetarian.

Maria Salerno
Maria Salerno
4 years ago

Hi Gemma, Just ran onto your site and so far I love it, I may try several of your recipes.
However I have a couple of questions. would the Royal Icing for cakes harden to much on a cake?
I have never seen a cake with a hard icing and I use royal icing for my cookies and in my opinion its to hard for a cake.
Or is it that the way you make your royal icing for cakes not harden as much?

Eileen Johnston
Eileen Johnston
4 years ago

Hi Gemma. The recipe I have for fruitcake uses almond paste as a base for the royal icing. Do you recommend this? If so, should I use flour or powdered sugar to prevent the almond paste from sticking?

Marilee Wright
Marilee Wright
3 years ago

Hi, thanks so much for this recipe! My cake layers are frozen. i would like to ice w/royal icing then refreeze. Is that a mistake? Can I do it? Thanks again.

mannal
mannal
3 years ago

Can I use royalnicing directly to decorate cupcakes and also the loose consistency icing for cake pops?

Gloria
Gloria
3 years ago

What else could be used if there is no lemon juice

Oreoluwa
Oreoluwa
1 year ago

Thanks very much. Please is it possible to make half of this recipe?

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About Us

Meet Gemma

About Us

Meet Gemma

Hi Bold Bakers! I’m Gemma Stafford, a professional chef originally from Ireland, a cookbook author, and the creator of Bigger Bolder Baking. I want to help you bake with confidence anytime, anywhere with my trusted and tested recipes and baking tips. You may have seen one of my 500+ videos on YouTube & TikTok or as a guest judge on Nailed It! on Netflix or the Best Baker in America on Food Network. No matter your skills, my Bold Baking Team & I want to be your #1 go-to baking authority.

 

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