Easy Royal Icing gives your sugar cookies the royal treatment; the results are pretty and polished. This tried-and-true icing recipe goes on like silk, dries firm, and tastes fantastic.

Someone frosting heart sugar cookies with pink royal icing.
Table of Contents
  1. Recipe ingredients
  2. Ingredient notes
  3. Step-by-step instructions
  4. Recipe tips and variations
  5. Recipe FAQs
  6. How to Make Royal Icing Recipe

Recipe ingredients

Labeled ingredients for royal icing.

At a Glance: Here is a quick snapshot of what ingredients are in this recipe.
Please see the recipe card below for specific quantities.

Ingredient notes

  • Egg whites: Cartons of pasteurized egg whites are available at most grocery stores. Or swap in meringue powder. (Check out Recipe Tips and Variations for how to make Royal Icing with meringue powder instead.)
  • Vanilla: Use clear vanilla if you are worried regular vanilla may tint your icing.

Step-by-step instructions

  1. In a stand mixer fit with the whisk attachment on medium-high speed, add the egg whites and vanilla and beat until foamy.
Egg whites whipped in a mixing bowl.
  1. 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.
Sugar added to egg whites in a mixing bowl to make royal icing.
  1. 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.
A bowl of pink royal icing next to bowls of sprinkles.

Recipe tips and variations

  • Storage: Place in an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 3 days.
  • Make ahead: 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.
  • Freezer: Transfer any extra Royal Icing to a zip-top plastic bag and freeze 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.
  • Color it: A few drops of traditional food coloring 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. Gel-based food color is more concentrated than liquid food coloring, so start with small amounts. Worth noting: Vivid 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 work well. Once you determine the colors you need, mix the icing into little containers and color it as you wish with food coloring to tint each hue.
  • Cool it: Make sure the cookies you plan on decorating are completely, 100% cool before you begin.
  • Flavor variations: 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, almond, maple, or strawberry extract instead of vanilla, if desired.
  • 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 surface of Royal Icing dries fairly quickly. Ice a few cookies at a time, then decorate before moving on to the next few.
  • Apply as desired: Royal icing can be added to cookies in a variety of ways, each with stellar results. Instead of a piping bag, employ a plain silicone spatula, an offset spatula, or even a pastry brush to paint on the icing if you like.
  • Loosen it up: If the frosting begins to get too stiff, thin it out with a few drops of hot water at a time. Then stir until the icing is well-blended and proceed with your Royal Icing adventures.
  • 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 fully in about 4 hours but may not throughly set for about 6 to 8 hours. Wait 8 hours before stacking or packaging your cookies.
Heart-shaped sugar cookies frosted with Royal Icing and sprinkles.

Recipe FAQs

What is the difference between royal icing and regular icing?

The most noticeable difference is the texture: buttercream icing is (and stays) soft and pliable, while royal icing hardens to the touch.

Can I make royal icing without egg whites?

You can substitute meringue powder for the raw egg whites: Use a hand mixer or stand mixer with a whisk attachment to beat 4 cups of powdered sugar with 3 tablespoons of meringue powder, 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract and 9 tablespoons of water on high speed for 1 to 2 minutes. Buy meringue powder online or at most larger supermarkets in the baking aisle, or in craft stores that have a good baking section.

How long does royal icing take to harden?

At room temperature, a thin layer of royal icing will dry in about 2 hours. It can take longer if the icing is too runny or if your kitchen is excessively humid.

Frosted Valentine Cookies

These adorable Frosted Valentine Cookies are decorated with royal icing and lots of glitz. Underneath it all is the best sugar cookie dough you’ll ever taste. Homemade heart cookies, especially on Valentine’s Day, are a…

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Put your royal icing to work

Someone frosting heart sugar cookies with pink royal icing.

How to Make Royal Icing

Easy Royal Icing gives your sugar cookies the royal treatment; the results are pretty and polished. This tried-and-true icing recipe goes on like silk, dries firm, and tastes fantastic.
5 from 1 vote
Prep Time 3 mins
Cook Time 7 mins
Total Time 10 mins
Servings 24 servings
Course Dessert
Cuisine American
Calories 80

Ingredients 

  • 3 ounces pasteurized egg whites (see note 1)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (see note 2)
  • 4 cups powdered sugar

Instructions 

  • 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.

Notes

  1. Egg whites: Cartons of pasteurized egg whites are available at most grocery stores. Or swap in meringue powder. (Check out Recipe Tips and Variations for how to make Royal Icing with meringue powder instead.)
  2. Vanilla: Use clear vanilla if you are worried regular vanilla may tint your icing.
  3. Storage: Place in an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 3 days.
  4. Make ahead: 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.
  5. Freezer: Transfer any extra Royal Icing to a zip-top plastic bag and freeze 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.

Nutrition

Calories: 80kcalCarbohydrates: 20gProtein: 1gFat: 1gSodium: 6mgPotassium: 6mgSugar: 20gCalcium: 1mgIron: 1mg
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Meggan Hill

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Comments

  1. Help!! I have your Valentine cookie dough chilling in the fridge. I have to use the egg whites for the icing. I have the whites from the 2 eggs used in the dough. Is that enough or should I use 3 egg whites?

    1. Hi Barbara, I see the issue! There is a mismatch between the number of egg whites you get from the cookies vs. how many egg whites are needed for the royal icing. I have only tested the royal icing with 3 egg whites, so I think you should pull a third egg white. I’m really sorry about that, that’s just the way it worked out. It would be difficult to try to scale them royal icing down to 2 egg whites, and I don’t know what would happen if we threw a third yolk in to the cookies. LOL. Probably not good! I hope this helps, sorry about that and thank you! -Meggan