How To Work With Royal Icing

updated Jan 21, 2020
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Post Image
(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Royal Icing can be used on everything from sugar cookies to cakes and is a staple in the world of baking. Once dry, the look is flawless and will leave your friends and families amazed. Most think it’s overly difficult, but in all reality it’s quite simple, it just requires a little time.

1 / 13

What You Need

4 tablespoons meringue powder
1/2 cup water
1 pound powdered sugar
3/4 teaspoon light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon butter extract (optional)
Food coloring (optional)

Stand mixer (or hand mixer)
Piping bags or squeeze bottles
Plastic Wrap
Mesh sifter


1. Mix Meringue Powder
We prefer to use meringue powder over egg whites any day of the week because of it’s consistent results. Place meringue powder in the bowl of your mixer and add in water. Mix on low until combined with the paddle attachment — the mixture will turn slightly foamy or bubbly.

2. Sift Baby Sift!
Although it’s easy to skip sifting ingredients, this time it’s extra important. You want the overall look to be creamy and smooth and sifting is what does that for you. Sift your powdered sugar (either first onto parchment paper, or sift straight in) and add to the bowl. Mix on low until mixture is combined. You might require a towel to hold over the bowl if your powdered sugar wants to keep jumping out.

3. Syrup & Extract (optional)
For those that don’t wish to use corn syrup, you’re in luck, you can go without, the bad news is your results won’t be as perfect and consistent every time. Add it to the bowl along with extract if you wish. Instead of butter you could also use an extract that might be more to your liking.

4. Faster! Faster!
Increase the speed of your mixture to medium high or high (especially if using a hand mixer) and walk away. That’s right, just walk away. Set a timer for 4 minutes. At the end of 4 minutes, watch the mixture finish up. Your goal is to achieve a peak that is stiff and doesn’t fall over but is still glossy. Over beating is a no-no and will lose a bit of it’s luster.

5. Time To Color
Add colorings in very small amounts (think 1/8 teaspoon or less). Many colorings will effect the taste of the icing, especially depending on their age (which is why we usually add in an extract to help balance things out). Separate out 1-2 cups of mixture into a separate bowl and cover the original white (or main color) with plastic wrap. Color additional bowls as desired and cover until ready to use.

6. Pipe Borders
Using a piping bag or squeeze bottle, pipe the borders and edges of your cookies. This will act as a dam for the remaining frosting that will essentially flood the cookie until set.

7. Dry
Allow icing to dry completely, usually around 10-30 minutes depending on your air flow. If you have a ceiling fan or (clean) box fan, now is a good time to turn it on.

8. Re-Mixing
Add water to the mixture you’d like to flood the cookie with 1/2 teaspoon at a time. This is not the time to try and hurry up, literally mix it in 1/2 teaspoon at a time, and mix well! Once it’s ready, the mixture will pull away from the surface and rest on top of the rest of the mixture before sinking back in for 2 seconds. It should feel like syrup consistency wise. You can also do this step before piping the border if you are sure on the amount of icing you’ll need.

9. Flooding
Apply new mixture via piping bag or bottle to the surface of your cookie. You don’t have to fill every last spot, a chop stick or toothpick (or end of skewer) can help you work it into the nooks and crannies. Add embellishments such as extra lines, dots or stripes.

10. Dry Again!
Allow cookies to dry for several hours. This isn’t a make and run out the door snack, we find it best if cookies are left overnight even so we’re not tempted to move them before they’re truly ready. The frosting can crack, dimple or get fingerprints in it if it isn’t ready. Plan on this activity taking over your tabletops and countertops for the better part of the afternoon.

Want more smart tutorials for getting things done around the home?

We’re looking for great examples of your own household intelligence too!