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How to make Royal Icing - Easy icing recipe for decorating cookies and cakes.

How to Make Royal Icing

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Finally take charge of all that tasty treat decorating you’ve wanted to do and learn How to Make Royal Icing!


Hi Bold Bakers!

Royal icing is a really easy frosting used for decorating cakes and cookies. You know when you see those beautifully decorated cookies or gingerbread houses at Christmas? That is royal icing doing its job.

Just like a really great builder has lots of tools in his tool box, every Bold Baker needs to know how to make all kinds of frostings, fillings, and garnishes. My method for making How to Make Royal Icing is a must-have in your decorating arsenal. Besides my royal icing being super easy to make, it’s a flexible recipe that can be altered to fit either cookies OR cakes. The recipe in this article will teach you How to Make Royal Icing used mainly for cookies — but if you want to make some for decorating cakes, stay tuned, because that’s coming on Sunday with my new Bold Baking Basics video!

 

What is Royal Icing and What is it Used for?

This type of icing is used for different things, so it can be made either runny or stiff for its different uses. In Ireland, we use it a lot around the holidays to cover our traditional Irish Christmas Cake.

The icing itself is made of the same ingredients no matter what the use. Made of only egg whites, powdered sugar, and lemon juice, there’s a reason this icing is a baker’s best friend. When it comes to cookie decorating, it has slightly less sugar than when used for cakes. For cookies, it’s traditionally a thinner texture — which is perfect for evenly covering larger cookies. You can even add coloring to get the vibe you want.

How to Decorate Cookies with Royal Icing

My recipe below gives you the perfect consistency for a thinner royal icing great for decorating cookies as it can be used to get very specific, creating line-based designs or even writing.

Another way to use this thinner type of royal icing is for filling in larger areas or covering a cookie with an even shiny layer of icing. This is called “flooding” cookies. The runny icing will spread out evenly on your cookie making the finished product look like they came from a bakery. To test if you have the right consistency you should be able to pipe a line between two fingertips and it should not break.

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How Long Does It Take To Dry?

The reason royal icing is used to decorate cookies like my Gingerbread Men and Best Ever Sugar Cookies is because the icing actually drys to a smooth and shiny finish. This makes for a super professional look, like you get from bakeries. While the icing hardens, it will begin to form a skin and harden in about an hour and will be fully dry after 4-6. Don’t be too tempted by your creations if the cookies have just been iced!

Why Won’t My Royal Icing Harden?

If your royal icing is not properly firming up it may be because of the moisture in the air where you live. If this is something you run into, you can add more sugar to the icing 1/2 cup at a time until it’s a bit stiffer. After stiffening the icing a bit, you can use it as normal and it will dry.

How to Heat Treat Egg Whites

If you’re weary of using raw egg whites, you can heat treat the eggs before beating them. To do this, you simply mildly cook the eggs over a bain marie on low heat for 2-3 minutes, just until the egg whites have become warm but are not cooking. This extra step in NOT necessary but is a great method to know. Plus, with my addition of lemon juice, the acidity will take care of any lingering bacteria anyway!

How to Store Royal Icing

Once your royal icing is made, cover it with cling wrap directly on the surface of the icing to stop it from getting hard and drying out. It will keep happily for a few weeks at room temperature.

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Piping tips/tricks?

I like to think my recipe is pretty foolproof, and not just in the making! The icing itself is perfect for thin drizzling, writing, drawing, and “flooding” cookies. I myself am not a pro at decorating, and it’s the recipe here that does the work making me look like a pro.

For cakes the best way to use royal icing is with a small or large offset spatula depending on the surface are of the cake. This will create and even look. If I want to create fun texture, I use the offset to swirl and streak away. Find out how to make my Easy Royal Icing For Christmas Cake Decorating this Sunday Dec 9!

Also, don’t miss my Gingerbread Log Cabin recipe for a great way to use your freshly made royal icing!

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4.7 from 10 votes
How to make Royal Icing - Easy icing recipe for decorating cookies and cakes.
How to Make Royal Icing

Finally take charge of all that tasty treat decorating you've wanted to do and learn How to Make Royal Icing!

Course: Dessert
Cuisine: American
Author: Gemma Stafford
Ingredients
  • 4 (4oz/160g) egg whites
  • 4 cups (16oz/460g) icing sugar, sifted
  • 2 teaspoon lemon juice
Instructions
  1. First heat treat the egg whites if you choose to do so. Cook 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, ensuring them safe to use when raw.

  2. On a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, beat egg whites in a clean, large bowl with the mixer at high speed until foamy, around 2 minutes.

  3. Gradually add sifted sugar spoonful by spoonful followed by the lemon juice.
  4. Beat at high speed until thickened.
  5. 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.
  6. Place the icing into a bowl and cover 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.
  7. Use it straight away or store at room temperature for up to 4 weeks. This will be enough to cover 1 large cake.

 

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Meet Gemma

Hi Bold Bakers! I’m Gemma Stafford, a professional chef originally from Ireland, and I’m passionate about sharing my years of experience to show you how to make game-changing baking recipes with over-the-top results! Join more than 1 Million other Bold Bakers in the community for new video recipes every week!

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77 Comments

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  1. Chinonso Ezeji on December 7, 2018 at 11:02 pm

    Having been watching most of your recipe you inspired me a lot I really love baking and will be trying out some your recipe

    • Gemma Stafford on December 8, 2018 at 4:15 am

      Hi there,
      Thank you for your kind words, it is good to have you here with us,
      Gemma 🙂

  2. Christina Markwell on November 18, 2018 at 5:37 pm

    Hey, Gemma, for the egg whites to be at room temp. for this recipe how long do they need to be set out to be room temp?

    • Gemma Stafford on November 20, 2018 at 4:20 am

      Hi Christina,
      Really an hour or so, though I tend to leave them out overnight when I know I will need them.
      You can speed this up by popping them into warm/not HOT, water for about 20 minutes.
      I hope this is of help,
      Gemma 🙂

  3. Allison on November 11, 2018 at 9:16 pm

    Hello, is it ok to color the royal icing. And what coloring should.be used? Thanks

    • Gemma Stafford on November 12, 2018 at 9:44 am

      Yes, great idea! You can add any food coloring brand you like. Enjoy!

  4. Ester abuel on November 9, 2018 at 6:28 am

    Hi gemma is this 4 eggs ( whites) i hope you can share recipe of sugar cookies to go well with royal icing. Thank you in advance. Btw, i hv clippings of your recipe. Im from the Philippines.

    • Gemma Stafford on November 11, 2018 at 5:12 pm

      Hi Ester,

      Yes 4 egg whites. I have sugar cookies coming really soon so stay tuned :).

      P.s really glad you like my recipes.
      Gemma.

  5. GinaTressler on October 26, 2018 at 5:14 pm

    This is a stupid question, but what is icing sugar? Is it confectionery sugar?

    • Gemma Stafford on October 27, 2018 at 7:48 am

      Hi Gina! It’s a good question. Icing sugar is the same as confectioners sugar which is the same as powdered sugar. So there you go! 🙂

      • Audry on December 1, 2018 at 5:43 am

        Thank you Gemma. I was so comfused about these sugars. 😀 This was a big help! 😀

      • Ramona Robuck on December 7, 2018 at 8:46 am

        I had the same question! Thanks for answering.

  6. Desynee on September 17, 2018 at 9:24 am

    Hi Gemma,

    Is there any egg substitute for this recipe? I saw that gelatin and hot water can be use..will it work?

    Thank you

    Desynee

    • Gemma Stafford on September 18, 2018 at 3:39 pm

      Here’s my egg substitute chart, I hope this helps!

  7. smilesalltheway on June 6, 2018 at 11:30 am

    So simple and easy to follow.Thank so much for the love in sharing. Much love.Mary

    • Gemma Stafford on June 6, 2018 at 11:55 am

      Hi Mary,
      Thank you for your very kind words, it is good to have you with us,
      Gemma 🙂

  8. Turtlerocks399 on February 27, 2018 at 3:41 pm

    Dear Gemma, I am afraid of using eggs whites as one of my family members got sick from salmonella. I live in Wisconsin. Is it OK to use eggs whites?

    Thanks!!!

    • Gemma Stafford on February 28, 2018 at 4:33 am

      Hi there,
      This is an unusual thing in the US, and certified eggs should not be problematic.
      Royal icing is always made like this, it is traditional. There is not another way that I know of.
      Salmonella is a health hazard, a bacterial infection, passed through the food chain, and not just from chickens. Unless the food she eat was tested it is hard to say where it came from. Food hygiene standards in the US food industry are high, but it happens. Can be from water/meats/eggs poor hygiene etc.
      Check your eggs, know the source, and if you are worried about it do not make this frosting,
      Gemma 🙂

  9. Eleanore on January 30, 2018 at 8:40 am

    Hi Gemma, can I use this recipe to make simple cupcake toppers with letters/greetings? Also, should the eggs and lemon be cold or room temp when I whip them? Thank you!

    • Gemma Stafford on January 31, 2018 at 7:37 am

      Hi Eleanor,
      Royal icing is a great thing, it works really well on a rich, heavy fruit cake. Fondant is more usually used for cupcakes, however the royal icing will whip up, use room temperature eggs, and it does not matter so much about the lemon. It sets really hard after a few days, but in this case a fine topping, followed by the piping when it is slightly set will do. I have fondant recipes here for you, and a few more ideas too (https://www.biggerbolderbaking.com/?s=Fondant).
      Thank you for being in touch,
      Gemma 🙂

  10. Rollande on December 16, 2017 at 1:59 pm

    I would like to wish you and your family a very merry Christmas and happy New Year and how much I love your site your the best. You know how to explain the why ,how and because of everything you do. Thank you

    • Gemma Stafford on December 17, 2017 at 3:37 am

      Thank you Rollande,
      It would be of not use if you guys were not here with us.
      Happy Christmas, and very best wishes for 2018 to you and yours, lots more to come,
      Gemma 🙂

  11. Uche on December 3, 2017 at 3:25 am

    Hi Gemma,
    Just wanted to say I love the way you make baking so easy, explaining every tiny detail. I would love to be a pastry chef like you someday. Love ya!

    • Gemma Stafford on December 4, 2017 at 3:46 am

      Thank you, that is very kind Uche.
      We live in a time when a lot of people can do what they choose if they stay focused, and work hard. I am a professional chef, and the training after college, in good kitchens, really helped, but it was hard work!
      Thank you for being in touch,
      Gemma 🙂

  12. Ashita on December 1, 2017 at 2:05 pm

    Hi Gemma is it ok to use raw egg white for royal icing?

    • Gemma Stafford on December 2, 2017 at 2:48 am

      Hi Ashita,
      Royal icing always uses raw egg white. If the eggs where you live are regarded as safe to eat raw, then all will be well. Most countries where food production is regulated and safe have standards for egg production which make the eggs safe to eat. If you have any concerns about this where you live then this is not a recipe for you.
      I hope this is of help,
      Gemma 🙂

    • Chillibibi on October 16, 2018 at 12:43 pm

      you can use pasterized egg whites or meringue powder. I also saw a recipe with someone cooking the royal icing on teh stove

  13. Jennifer Villarin on November 7, 2017 at 6:51 am

    Hi Gemma! Thank you so much for all the videos and recipes you shared..everytime i open my facebook, i see to it that i visit your facebook page to see if you have new videos uploaded..thank you so much..i learned a lot from you, im not a professional baker, but i love baking..you’re tricks and tips made my life easier…thank you again..Godspeed Gemma!! 😘😘😘

    • Gemma Stafford on November 8, 2017 at 12:51 pm

      Thank you Jennifer, I am delighted to see your kind comments today, you made me smile. I am lucky to have all of you lovely Bold Bakers with me on this journey,
      Gemma 🙂

  14. Mariha on June 17, 2017 at 8:35 am

    Hi gemma,
    Why is lemon juice used in this recipe

    • Gemma Stafford on June 19, 2017 at 11:33 am

      Hi there,
      An acid ingredient reacts with egg whites and firms them up, bonding the protein and keeping the whipped egg whites from separating, as can happen if over whipped, the acid keeps it smooth, and delicious.
      That is about it really,
      Gemma 🙂

  15. Mia on February 17, 2017 at 4:16 am

    Can I replace the lemon juice with lime juice? Cause in our place there’s just no lemon :((
    And I have one more question. How long can the icing sugar last? And how can we store it best?

    • Gemma Stafford on February 17, 2017 at 7:30 am

      Hi Mia,
      Icing sugar tends to absorb moisture and clump in a humid atmosphere.
      It is best to store this in a cool dry place in an airtight container. Do not make more than you need at one time, this will help too.
      If you do not have lemon juice you can leave it out, it is not essential for this recipe,
      Gemma 🙂

  16. Aaliyah on December 22, 2016 at 10:39 am

    Hi Gemma,
    Can I replace the lemon juice for another flavouring like vanilla?

    • Gemma Stafford on December 23, 2016 at 2:57 am

      Hi there,
      Not really, though it is good in Royal icing, it keeps it white too!
      Gemma 🙂

  17. Denise on December 16, 2016 at 10:37 am

    I don’t have a stand mixer, so I was wondering if I could do this by hand.

    • Gemma Stafford on December 17, 2016 at 3:22 am

      Yes you can!
      You will get a workout, but it is possible to do this easily enough. give yourself a good big bowl to work in ,and a balloon whisk, and away you go, the old wat, elbow grease!
      Gemma 🙂

  18. Urooba on December 9, 2016 at 7:29 pm

    Do you have a sugar cookie recipe? I couldn’t find a recipe on the website. I have this cookie press that I am trying to put to use, and the recipe it came with was for vanilla cookies (spritz cookies). I want to omit the cardamom, but I don’t want the cookies to go to waste.

  19. Olivia on December 9, 2016 at 12:13 pm

    Hi, I was wondering if you could substitute lime juice instead of lemon just cause I don’t happen to have any lemon. If not is there anymore substitutes possible? Thanks
    Olivia 🙂

  20. supriya on December 9, 2016 at 2:38 am

    Hi Gemma,

    Thank you for sharing these recipes, they are awesome so are you.
    Do I need to add the lemon juice to the Aqua Faba too?
    And when should I colour the icing?

    Thanks a ton

    • Gemma Stafford on December 9, 2016 at 12:45 pm

      No, you do not need the lemon juice in the aqua faba, though it will do no harm, it stabilizes the protein.
      Yo uadd the color to any frosting when it is just about finished, and adjust it until it is to your liking, slowly!
      Gemma 🙂

  21. Jen on December 8, 2016 at 7:22 am

    Hi Gemma, thank you for this. You are my go to ‘guy’/person for recipes. Wondering though if I can add cocoa powder to make chocolate royal icing, will it work or will it mess it up?

    • Gemma Stafford on December 9, 2016 at 1:45 pm

      Hi Jen, cocoa contains a natural oil, which will not work so well with this recipe. That does not mean that this will be a problem, and I did not try it.
      If you wish to try this, add the cocoa to the icing sugar and mix it thoroughly before adding to the egg whites. I have read about this working, but using meringue powder, you can research this online, Gemma 🙂

  22. Wanda Waybright on December 7, 2016 at 11:49 am

    Hi Gemma, is icing sugar the same as powdered sugar?

    • Gemma Stafford on December 8, 2016 at 2:08 am

      Hi Wanda,
      Yes! I forget to say that. In Ireland we have three grades of white sugar, coarse granulated. fine caster and powdered icing. In The US the granulated is fine ground, and the icing is called powdered, sorry to confuse,
      Gemma 🙂

      • Wanda on December 9, 2016 at 5:24 pm

        Thank you for responding Gemma. I thought it was, but I wanted to make sure. Can you make some Irish dishes? I have watched Keith Harkin cook and love the things he has made. Thank you and I hope you and your husband have a very Merry Christmas.

        • Gemma Stafford on December 10, 2016 at 2:38 am

          Hi Wanda,
          I did not know Keith Harkin cooked!! I wil look this up.
          Irish dishes, from a traditional perspective were very plain, natural, locally grown foods. This has changed considerably over the last 40 years or so. now Irish cusine is a blend of all sorts of styles, using our home grown meats and produce a lot of which is now grown under glass, which has changed the way we cook. We are great travellers too, and this has also changed the way we look at food. I will add some recipes as time goes on, Gemma 🙂

  23. SyasyaFarzana on December 7, 2016 at 4:25 am

    hi gemma! I was wondering….if u can make graham cracker.pretty pls!?

  24. SyasyaFarzana on December 7, 2016 at 4:11 am

    hi gemma! I was wondering. have u ever made homemade graham crakers. I really want u to make those.

  25. Nana Osei-Tutu on December 6, 2016 at 5:08 pm

    Hi Gemma, why do you put lemon juice into the royal icing? I’ve never heard of this being done before.

    • Gemma Stafford on December 7, 2016 at 1:27 am

      Hi there, this has two purposes, firstly to stabilize the egg whites, and secondly to keep the royal icing white when stored for a long time. Some people will say that it will also kill bacteria, but I have no evidence of this.
      Gemma 🙂

  26. Kathryn L. on December 6, 2016 at 3:33 pm

    Hi Gemma, first I just wanted to say thank you for all your videos. I love them!
    I have a question: is there a vegan alternative to royal icing? Thanks! 🙂

    • Gemma Stafford on December 7, 2016 at 1:37 am

      Hi Katherine,
      Yes! I really need to get to this magic thing called Aqua Faba! Do look this up on google.
      This is the water remaining after the process of cooking pulses, like chick peas, kidney beans etc. it is reduced and whipped. You can use the water in a can of chick peas for this purpose too. Then you use it in much the same way as here, adding icing sugar until the mix is where you want it to be. Do not over whip the aqua faba or it will turn to meringue. The principle of this is that the water contains sufficient quantity of leaked protein from the pulses, and so replicates egg white!. The mlder the bean the lighter the flavor too! Try it and let us all konw how it worked for you,
      Gemma 🙂

      • Suoriya on December 8, 2016 at 9:03 am

        Hi Gemma,
        Thank you for sharing such wonderful recipes with us, they are amazing and so are you.
        Do we need to add lemon to the aqua faba too? And at which stage should we add colour to the icing?
        Also could you please share the recipe for marzipan.

        Thanks a ton

  27. Elizabeth on December 6, 2016 at 1:27 pm

    Can make Sierra turkey or strawberry poppyseed salad from Panera bread it is so delicious you have to try it

    • Gemma Stafford on December 7, 2016 at 1:39 am

      Hi Elizabeth, I know you told me this before, and I have it on my list, thank you, Gemma 🙂

      • elizabeth on December 7, 2016 at 5:01 am

        perfect thank you

  28. Kenny on December 6, 2016 at 1:22 am

    Hi Emma, can royal icing dry after put some coloring on it and which is suitable, oil based or water based.

    • Gemma Stafford on December 6, 2016 at 2:34 am

      Hi Kenny,
      Yes, either really as long as it is not too much. A gel will work well for this.
      You can thicken this too with more powdered sugar, then it can be piped really well, and hold its’ form,
      Gemma 🙂

  29. RavijotKaur on December 6, 2016 at 12:02 am

    any eggless variant? I actually wish to make chocolate cookies, the ones which are like mounds, topped with a dollop of chocolate. we get it in the bakeries here. It resembles chocolate dropped on the cookies, to make heaps. but i don’t know whether i should use chocolate directly, or should i make an icing like this. please suggest something, if the meaning of what i said is clear…. which i have doubts about!

    • Gemma Stafford on December 6, 2016 at 1:00 am

      Hi there,
      This sounds like a whipped ganache. This does not require egg.
      2 Cups/12oz/340g chocolate chips
      1 Cup/8oz/240g heavy whipping cream
      2 tsp. vanilla extract
      1/2 Cup/6oz/180g powdered sugar. (this is to taste, you can add all of this, or none or a little. I find about 4oz works for me)
      Melt the chocolate in the cream in a double boiler, or the microwave, carefully, just until the chocolate melts, mix well.
      Allow to go cold, refrigerate it. Then when it is cold whisk it in your stand mixer, or with an electric hand mixer, adding the vanilla extract and sugar to taste. This will take a few minutes to thicken up, then it can be piped, dolloped, covered with a layer of tempered chocolate, or however you wish to use it. This is a handy one to know, it is part of the oreo cheesecake recipe too, where it is used as a thin pouring ganach, get to know it!
      Gemma 🙂

      Directions

      • RavijotKaur on December 6, 2016 at 1:37 am

        Thank you Gemma! I will surely try this out. only one point here, the chocolate dollop which i am talking about is very hard and firm. and not gooey at all. does this ganache turn hard?

        • Gemma Stafford on December 6, 2016 at 2:28 am

          Hi Ravi,
          This sounds like it is just chocolate so! sometimes this is used with Nutella too, lots of options, but if it hard it will be chocolate, perhaps tempered if it is shiny and crisp,
          Gemma 🙂

          • RavijotKaur on December 6, 2016 at 2:30 am

            🙂 i will try and let you know!

            • Gemma Stafford on December 7, 2016 at 1:49 am

              That is great Ravi, Gemma 🙂



  30. Norma on December 5, 2016 at 5:43 pm

    I’ve always heard that we shouldn’t eat raw eggs.

    • Gemma Stafford on December 5, 2016 at 9:44 pm

      use fresh eggs from a good source.

  31. Glaecey on December 5, 2016 at 2:27 pm

    Hi Gemma, thank you for all your delicious recipes! You are so talented! I am wondering if this is the icing recipe I’m searching for that hardens and dries very quickly to a shiny finish on the cookies? I want to be able to do them up and stack them in my freezer box without them sticking together. I had a recipe like that once.

    • Gemma Stafford on December 6, 2016 at 1:23 am

      Hi Glaecey,
      Yes, this is the one! you can make this a bit thicker if you wish by adding more icing sugar, but it will harden at room temperature, and store for ages. On Christmas cakes in Ireland this was really used as a way of preserving the cake, with a marzipan layer in between. The cake is stored at room temperature, and lasts until it is gone!!
      Gemma 🙂

  32. Dorothy on December 5, 2016 at 12:02 pm

    I was wondering, don’t you have to cook the egg whites? How does it stay good at room temperature with the egg whites in it?

    • Gemma Stafford on December 6, 2016 at 1:29 am

      Hi Dorothy,
      This is an ancient recipe, used through the ages. The lemonjuice stabilizes it, and the high sugar level preserves it. My Mum found a portion of her Christmas cake in a cake box, which had been put in the wrong place, in July this year, and it looked perfect, though we decided not to try it!
      Gemma 🙂

  33. Nazima yezdani on December 5, 2016 at 9:51 am

    Woah this is great? but is it okay to eat raw egg white?

    • Gemma Stafford on December 5, 2016 at 9:45 pm

      Use fresh eggs from a good source. The lemon juice also works to kill any bacteria.

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