Easy Royal Icing gives your sugar cookies the royal treatment; the results are always pretty and polished. This tried-and-true recipe goes on like silk, dries firm, and tastes fantastic.
It may look impossibly perfect, but Royal Icing is actually a baker’s best friend. Once you get the consistency right, it’s just a matter of creativity and timing. Even beginning bakers will take a shine to its forgiving nature, watching in real time as the icing dries into glossy, smooth perfection within the hour.
You can tint this vanilla-scented Royal Icing into any color of the rainbow, then add coarse sugar, sprinkles, edible glitter, nonpareils—the icing holds everything in place and keeps it there until the very last bite.
Find all the basics, tips, and tricks for the best Royal icing right here. Also included are recipes for royal icing with egg whites, pasteurized egg whites, or powdered meringue are all included below. There’s even a recipe for eggless royal icing, in case you need it.
This recipe for Royal Icing makes a bunch, but don’t sweat it if you need more! Click and slide the number next to “servings” on the recipe card below to adjust the ingredients to match how many you’re feeding—the recipe does the math for you, it’s that easy.
Royal Icing ingredients:
- Confectioner's sugar. You can make your own powdered sugar from granulated sugar by whizzing it through a high-powered blender for a few pulses. (Measure it after you whizz it!)
- Vanilla. If you’re worried that the vanilla may tint the icing, try using a silver rum instead.
- Egg whites. Or pasteurized egg whites. Or meringue powder. (Recipes for using each below.)
How to make royal icing:
This recipe is just as great for piped outlining as it is for filling the outline. The recipe for Frosted Valentines Cookies leaves you enough leftover egg whites to make the icing.
If raw eggs aren’t an option, just substitute out an equal amount of pasteurized egg whites. They’re easy to find in the refrigerated dairy section of the grocery store. You can also make royal icing with powdered meringue— just scroll down a bit below.
- First, beat the egg whites with the vanilla on high speed using a stand mixer or hand mixer and the whisk attachment.
- Next, reduce the mixer to a low speed and add the powdered sugar until shiny and just incorporated.
- Then turn the mixer back on high speed and beat for 5 to 7 minutes, until the icing is glossy and forms thick peaks.
- At this point, add food coloring if you have it, then transfer to piping bags or spread with a spatula.
How to make royal icing with meringue powder:
This recipe for icing without raw egg whites still gives a shiny, glossy royal icing look and consistency.
Where can you buy meringue powder? Either online, in a grocery store in the baking aisle, or in craft stores that have a good baking section.
- 4 cups powdered sugar
- 3 tablespoons meringue powder
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 9-10 tablespoons water, at room temperature
- To begin, using a hand mixer or a standing mixer with a whisk attachment, beat all the ingredients together on high speed for 1 to 2 minutes.
- Next, lift the whisk attachment up off the icing in the bowl. It should come off the whisk with a drizzle that evens out within a few seconds. If it takes more than 10 seconds, then add a little more water. Mix the icing again and repeat the process. (If the air has low humidity, you may need a few more tablespoons of water.)
- Otherwise, if the icing is too thin, add a little more sifted powdered sugar.
Eggless royal icing:
No eggs? No problem. Royal Icing without eggs is a slightly different recipe, since you should use the icing immediately after making.
If making ahead, press a layer of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the icing and store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. This will prevent a skin from forming. Stir well before use.
If you try this recipe for royal icing (no egg), please write about how it went in the comments below.
- 4 cups confectioner’s sugar
- 9-10 teaspoons water, at room temperature
- 8 teaspoons light corn syrup
- 2 teaspoons lemon juice
- First, mix together the powdered sugar and the water in a bowl until smooth.
- Then, add the corn syrup.
- Next, stir in the lemon juice and adjust if needed for proper consistency.
Flavoring Royal Icing:
If you’re planning on adding coloring, flavoring, or lemon juice to the royal icing, keep it on the thick side. The added liquid may just be all it needs. The original recipe uses a touch of vanilla extract to subtly flavor the icing, but here are some other ideas.
- Because fat equals flavor, add a splash of milk or cream to the icing to boost the vanilla flavor up a little.
- In place of vanilla, which is brown and could tint light-colored icing, try a silver rum which flavors the icing without any color at all.
- McCormick brand flavor extracts can flavor royal icing even more. Try a few drops of lemon, orange, or strawberry extract instead of vanilla.
Coloring Royal Icing:
Traditional food coloring is easy to find and works great to give Royal Icing some color. A few drops mixed into the icing results in beautiful pastel colors. However, too much food coloring can alter the taste of the icing. Therefore if your goal is to decorate with deeper, more saturated colors, you may want to explore other food coloring options.
- For example, cookie bakers really seem to like gel-based icing colors. Wilton makes a set that’s easy to find online. Gel-based food color is more concentrated than liquid food coloring, so start with small amounts.
- In addition, colors like bright red can be tricky to achieve without using powdered color used by professional bakers. Sugar Art makes a line of master elite powder colors for royal icing that works well.
- Once you determine the colors you need, mix the icing into little containers and color it as you wish with food coloring.
- Then pipe stripes, zig zags, or outlines onto the sugar cookies. Write names or candy heart sayings. Mix up a couple colors with a toothpick to create a marbleized look. Each one an edible masterpiece!
How to decorate cookies with royal icing:
- Cool it. Make sure the cookies you plan on decorating are completely, 100% cool before you begin.
- Practice makes perfect! Don’t worry if your first few cookies look less than ideal. Chances are they’ll firm up beautifully, without a blemish, as they dry.
- Get glitzy. If you’re planning on decorating cookies with sprinkles, glitter, or sanded sugar, work quickly; the grabby surface of royal icing dries pretty fast. Maybe make just a few cookies at a time until you get into a flow, sprinkling the fairy dust while the icing is still wet.
- Any way you want it. Royal icing really is no-muss, no fuss. Instead of a piping bag, you can use a plain silicone spatula, an offset spatula, or even a pastry brush to paint on the icing.
- Loosen it up. If the frosting begins to get too stiff, you can thin it a bit with a few drops of hot water at a time. Then stir until the icing is well-blended.
- Take a break. A moist paper towel placed on the surface of the icing helps keep the icing from hardening. And if you’re using a piping bag, make a cup with a wadded-up wet paper towel in the bottom for the piping tip to rest on. That will keep the icing from hardening on the very tip.
- Plan ahead. Depending on how thick you slather it on, Royal Icing on cookies dries in about 4 hours but may not throughly set for about 6 to 8 hours.
Storing leftover Royal Icing:
Most Royal Icing can be made up to 3 days ahead, if stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator. It freezes well, too.
After your cookie decorating project, any icing leftovers can be frozen in zip-top plastic bags for up to 2 months. To thaw the icing, allow it to come up to room temperature, then give it a gentle stir before using.
How to Make Royal Icing
- 3 ounces pasteurized egg whites
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 4 cups powdered sugar
- In a standing mixer fit with the whisk attachment on medium-high speed, add the egg whites and vanilla and beat until foamy.
- Reduce mixer speed to low and add the powdered sugar until just incorporated and shiny. Beat on high for 5 to 7 minutes or until the mixture is thick and glossy with stiff peaks.
- Add food coloring if desired, then transfer to piping bags or spread with a spatula. If using sprinkles or sugar, add quickly before the frosting hardens.
- To make in advance, store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.