Somewhat Simple

Royal Icing – Sugar Cookie Workshop Week 2

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Welcome to week 2 of our Sugar Cookie Workshop! Today we’re talking about frosting your sugar cookies with some royal icing tips and tricks.

Looking for the entire Sugar Cookie Workshop? Week 1 is how to bake the best sugar cookies, week 3 dives into cookie design tips, and week 4 will teach you what to do with those cookie masterpieces – how to best give them as gifts or sell them for your own cookie business!

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I like to use royal icing on my sugar cookies because it looks good and tastes great!  I love that it is nice and smooth and dries hard, so I can stack them and bag them for gifts or for selling them. There are many different royal icing recipes and techniques, but I’m going to share what works for me!

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Recipe for Royal Icing

INGREDIENTS: 

  • 1 cup water
  • 6 Tbsp. meringue powder
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract (use clear vanilla if you want white icing)
  • 1/2 tsp. lemon extract
  • 2 lb. bag of powdered sugar

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Mix the water and meringue powder in your mixer until it is incorporated and slightly foamy.
  2. Add the extracts and mix.
  3. Add the whole bag of powdered sugar and mix on low until it is all incorporated, then switch to high speed for a few minutes until it becomes fairly stiff.

CONSISTENCY: 

For different types of cookie decorating techniques, you need different consistencies of icing.

  • For piping words and details, you want to stick with the stiff consistency that I showed you above.
  • For other decorating details, you need to thin it out a little by adding more water, 1 teaspoon at a time.
  • I can explain this best by referring to the frosting as a #4, or #7 or #15.  The number refers to how many seconds it takes for the icing to get smooth.  To test it, make a blemish in your bowl, and count how long it takes for it to become (essentially) smooth. (The image below illustrates this.) If you’ve thinned it too much, you can add a little more powdered sugar. I will refer to the # of seconds your frosting consistency should be as I walk you through the decorating process below.

Royal Icing 1

COLORING YOUR ICING:

Once you have your icing to the consistency you need, it is time to tint it. I like to use the soft gel paste coloring. I’ve had success with a few different brands, but my favorite is Americolor.

  1. In another bowl, separate the amount of frosting you want to use from the big bowl you mixed the frosting in.
  2. Cover your main bowl with a damp dishtowel or it will dry out really quickly and set it aside.
  3. The trick to getting the perfect color is to think very conservatively – it is easier to add more color if you need it than it is to add more frosting if you need to tone the color down. Start by getting a little gel paste on a toothpick and then dip the toothpick into the frosting. If you are coloring something red or black, or you know you want the color to be very bold and dark, you can add the coloring drop by drop.
  4. Be sure to mix it thoroughly!  It will end up streaky/marble-y if you don’t and this has happened to me so many times when I’m in a rush.  One solid color is prettiest!

Royal Icing 2

THINGS TO CONSIDER:

Bags vs. Bottles:  Many decorators use piping bags and tips, but I prefer to use squeezie bottles.  They are so easy to work with and they can wash up when you’re done and reused over and over. I think it is cheaper than buying several disposable piping bags every time I decorate cookies.

Royal Icing 3

I have several different types of bottle, and my favorites are the ones that you can attach a decorating tip to. They range from about $0.75 to a few dollars each. The basic bottles are about the equivalent to a size 3/4 decorating tip.  They are very useful too!

Royal Icing 4

  1. Fill the bottles by spooning the icing in, then tapping the bottle on the counter.
  2. As you prepare the other colors, it is important to cover the top with the little lid, or if you’ve lost them in the disposal (like me), then just put a toothpick in it.  Remember how fast royal icing dries out.   No one likes a clogged and crusty squeezie bottle.

Royal Icing 6

Bubbles: Bubbles are the enemy to smooth cookies.  After you fill a cookie with royal icing, you will notice slight bumps.  Take a toothpick and pop them, and do it right away!  As it starts to dry, it will leave a mark that won’t smooth over, and that’s worse than a bubble!

To show you how important this is, I spooned out some frosting onto some parchment.  I left the one on the left, untouched.  To the one on the right, I went through and quickly popped the bubbles before it dried.  It looks wayyyyyy better, right?!

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DECORATING!!

Now that we know how to prepare the royal icing, lets use it on a cookie! There are a zillion different ways of decorating and it all depends on how you want the end result to look.  I’m going to show you a few ways of decorating this cute turtle cookie.

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Directions:

  1. Start by piping a border our outlining all the areas you want to be defined (15 seconds or above on the consistency). This icing is too stiff to get really flat and smooth, but if you used the thinner stuff, it would just slide right off the cookie and wouldn’t look good at all.  So piping the edge keeps the edges looking neat and tidy. If you don’t want the black outline like I am showing, you can use the same color icing in two different consistencies.
  2. Let the border dry for at least about 10 minutes. If you fill it right away, without letting the outline dry, it will meld together and you won’t end up seeing the outline. By the time you do all of your cookies, the first one will be ready to fill.
  3. Fill inside the border with the thinner icing (a 3-7 second consistency).
    Things to consider:

    • The higher the number, the more coaxing you have to do to get it flat.
    • Use a toothpick, or shake the cookie a little to flatten it out.
    • Don’t forget to pop those bubbles!
    • Any higher than a 7, and it won’t smooth out completely flat.
    • The higher # consistencies will make the frosting look a little fuller.
    • As you fill and smooth it out with the tip of your squeezie bottles, they will get a little messy.  I keep a damp paper towel by me and wipe it off as I go.  Otherwise, the crusty pieces can fall off into your wet icing.  Also, It keeps your decorating more precise.
  4. After your first layer is dry, add detail and fun to your cookie!  (More on this in next week’s post!)

Royal Icing 10

REMEMBER: 

Even though royal icing starts to dry really fast, it takes several hours to dry completely.  I don’t attempt to stack them, or put them in bags until they’ve dried overnight.  Leave plenty of extra time in your planning.  Each step is a bit time consuming as you are learning.  As with most things in life, the more you practice, the better you get!

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Now you know all of the basics of cookies and royal icing! Next week we’ll share some more fun decorating techniques, so stay tuned!

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Ashleigh is a creative mom of three and the blogger from Bee in Our Bonnet. Ashleigh spent a few years blogging on Somewhat Simple as our Baking Contributor.

This post originally published on Crazy Domestic in February 2011. It was imported to Somewhat Simple with the close of that site and updated in February 2016.

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