Royal icing is a hard white icing made from egg whites and confectioners’ sugar. It is described as a “hard” icing because it dries hard, unlike buttercream frostings which remain soft even after they have sat out for a long period of time. It is typically made from meringue powder, rather than fresh egg whites, because the eggs are uncooked in this type of frosting and many people are reluctant to use fresh egg whites. Meringue powder, which is primarily dried egg whites, is also very easy to work with and allows you to scale your recipe up or down with ease to ensure that you are able to make as much or as little frosting as you need.
Royal icing is primary used as a decorating icing, for piping complex designs on cookies or cakes that you can’t quite achieve with other types of icing. Since it dries hard, your icing will be completely firm after you have piped it into place and you don’t need to worry about your details getting smudged as you transport your baked goods. It does take some time to dry, however, so you’ll need to allow some time for your decorations to dry before you can store your goodies. Small decorations may only take an hour or two to set up, while thick floods of icing – where you fill an entire surface with a layer of icing to create a smooth look – can take up to 24 hours to dry.
This icing is one that I usually use for decorating batches of cookies. I’ll make a big batch and then divide it up into smaller portions to add coloring. I prefer to use gel colorings when tinting my royal icing because they create more vivid colors and I don’t need as much coloring; with liquid colorings, it is possible to thin the frosting too much if you keep adding more and more color in.
Basic Royal Icing
3/4 cup water, slightly warm
5 tbsp meringue powder
2 lbs confectioners’ sugar, sifted
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp almond extract
In the bowl of a stand mixer (or another large bowl, if working with a hand mixer), combine water and meringue powder. Add in about 1 cup of the confectioners sugar and start to beat the mixer, with a paddle attachment or a whisk attachment, at low speed.
Gradually add in all of the confectioners’ sugar and continue to mix until frosting is thick and sugar is completely moistened. Turn the mixer up to medium high and beat until frosting is thick, glossy and meringe-like, about 5-6 minutes. Blend in vanilla and almond extracts.
Divide into smaller portions and add coloring as desired. Store unused frosting at room temperature, covered with plastic wrap to keep it moist.
Makes about 5-6 cups.
Note: Icing can be piped from this consistency for a “puffy” look. For a thinner icing appropriate for flooding cookies or the top of a cake, take a smaller portion of the icing and thin it slightly by adding very small amounts or water until it reaches a thick, but pourable consistency.