Royal icing is the go-to stuff for picture-perfect sugar cookies, because it makes a neat, hard and glossy finish that professional bakers and home chefs love.
This icing is rich and thick and may take a little bit of practice, but once you have decorated a few cookies, you should get the hang of it pretty quickly! And don’t worry — if the first few don’t turn out perfectly, eating the evidence is pretty darned enjoyable!
We used meringue powder, lots of powdered sugar, and a little flavoring (vanilla in this case) to create the shiny and opaque icing.
How thick should your icing be?
Royal icing is typically made in one or more of these three consistencies:
Thick: Stiff enough to hold the details from a star icing tip. This thick paste can also be used to hold together the walls and roof on a gingerbread house.
Outline: Slightly thinner than the thick icing, used for writing and outlining shapes.
Thin: For “flood” filling the outlined shapes drawn on cookies, as shown below.
If you want to decorate your cookies like ours here, when you’re preparing this icing, use the “6-second pull test” to determine if it is the correct consistency. The test is simple: Pull a spoon across the batch of icing, and if the spoon’s trail disappears by the time you count to six, the icing is ready.
You can leave the icing snow white like we did, or choose from a rainbow of pretty colors.
To color your royal icing — and all kinds of other food treats — we recommend this gel paste colors for vibrant food coloring that won’t make your icing too thin.
Tips for using the icing
This icing can dry out and harden quickly, so always keep it covered with a wet kitchen towel, and/or put it into piping tubes/icing bags right away.
You might also want to have some drinking glasses lined with damp paper towels nearby, so you can place your icing bags in them and keep your work area (and your hands) neat and tidy.
Let your imagination run free while decorating, and experiment with different consistencies, a variety of colors, a range of piping tips, adding colored sugar and sprinkles, and any other decorating techniques you can imagine.