So you’ve looked up some royal icing recipes and instructions and your head hurts from all this talk of consistencies, piping, flooding, does and don’ts and you’re thinking “what in the world, it’s just icing so how hard can it really be?” And trust me, I was that person and thought the same too until I sat in front of cookies with icing running off the sides and designs that looked like my 5 year old could have done better. Well friends, royal icing is an animal of it’s own and does take time to master, BUT with some practise, patience and the ability to overcome wanting to throw all of your messed up cookies to the dog, you WILL get it and find what works for you!
I love helping others which is why I’ve chosen to start teaching classes and blogging. Some people find so much more joy and meaning in making things themselves and others simply prefer to buy it - kind of how I feel about cooking - give me all the convenience I can get! So for those who wish to learn, I have no problem sharing my Royal Icing Recipe, and many people ask me why. “Aren’t you giving away your secret? You’re going to ruin your business!” - and I don’t feel that way at all. Pretty much all royal icing recipes are the same and like some other things in life, it’s not what it is, but what you do with it! The main difference in my recipe to others is the addition of light corn syrup. Traditional royal icing can dry very hard and almost crunchy, but adding a few tablespoons of corn syrup is going to keep your icing soft to the bite and give it a much glossier finish as an added bonus! Below is the recipe:
Royal Icing Recipe
1/2 cup of warm water
1/2 tsp oil free flavouring
5 tbsp meringue powder
5 cups powdered sugar
2 tbsp light corn syrup
Whisk together the water, meringue powder and flavouring in your mixer bowl
Gradually add in the powdered sugar on low with your mixers paddle attachment.
Once combined, add the light corn syrup and mix on high for 3 minutes - do not overmix.
-This recipe can be tripled in a 5 quart mixer.
“So it’s made... now what do you want me to do with it??”... Unfortunately there is no scientific method for creating Royal Icing consistencies, annoying right? I do have some general guidelines and tips to help you.
I recommend using two consistencies for decorating, pipe and flood consistency. Piping consistency for me is just straight out of the mixer consistency. Its thick but still flexible like toothpaste. It’s what you're going to use for creating the outlines that are going to hold your thinner flood consistency. When you apply it to the cookie, you want it to hold its form and not run off. It’s your Great Wall of China, it’s not going anywhere!
Now to create your flooding consistency, you will add SMALL amounts of water at a time. For beginners, I recommend using a spray bottle to add small even amounts of water and not over do it. Once you’ve mixed the water in with your spatula, lift it from the bowl to see how well it runs off. A good flood consistency should be JUST smooth enough to glide perfectly off of the spatula, but not too runny. Am I confusing you yet?? The whole point is that when you apply it to the cookie, you want it to settle on its own flat without any lumps. It should not be even close to liquid form so if you have added too much water, you can simply add small amounts of powdered sugar to your bowl to thicken it back up.
I am no videographer, but here is one to give you some visuals!
If you struggle with air bubbles in your icing, let it sit covered for about 10 minutes so that the existing bubbles rise to the top and you can pop them prior to using.
You can use bottles or disposable piping bags to decorate, it is a personal preference. You will want decorating tips 1 - 4 for basic applications. I recommend a 2 for borders and a 3 and 4 for flooding. A 1 is great for small details and the 2 for writing and other details. There are a variety of other tips for texture, florals, leaves etc. that a thick icing works best with - but baby steps for now! When adding basic details to your cookies, you can use your piping consistency or add a bit of water for a medium consistency that will settle smoother, but not run and still hold its shape.
Another great tool to have is a scribe, you can also use a toothpick. Because no matter what, you are bound to have air bubbles and other little mistakes that these will help to correct with minimal impact to other areas of your cookie and your sanity.
When colouring icing, darker colours like red, blue and black need time to develop so should be made in advance with time to deepen. You want to colour your icing when it is at the piping consistency phase. Then you will add some of the same icing to a separate bowl to create the flood. This way you are ensuring the colours are the same as opposed to colouring your consistencies separately.
Refrigerate your unused icing to repurpose when possible. The shelf life of royal icing is usually around 2 weeks before it loses its structure beyond the point of mixing back together smoothly. If you wouldn’t eat it yourself, it’s time to say goodbye. To repurpose, simply add your older icing into your new one. It will also weigh down your new icing, reducing bubbles and making it nicer to work with!
**Update - see my Royal Icing Troubleshooting blog post for a detailed list of common problems and solutions**
Now you’re thinking “Wow, really? All this just to make icing for a cookie?”... Trust me, it’s like riding a bike. Sketchy and slightly confusing at first, but once you’ve got it you’re golden! Give it some time and practise and PLEASE don’t decide the night before little Johnny’s birthday that you’re going to whip him up some awesome race car cookies, because I can tell you right now it won’t be pretty. Give yourself some time to master your skills and you’ll be whipping up the coolest cookies on the block in no time! Best of luck!