Royal Icing: The Basics

Despite my initial hesitations, I love decorating cookies with royal icing. It’s hard to beat the level of detail you can get with royal icing and the smooth finish that isn’t going to get messed up in transit. But I’ve noticed my posts getting long and repetitive as I try to explain the ins and outs of royal icing and consistency in each one. So rather than explain and re-explain, while glossing over some of the finer details of royal icing, here’s one, compact everything you need to know about royal icing and consistency. Let’s start with a basic recipe:

Basic Royal Icing
Yields enough icing to cover roughly 2 dozen cookies

4 tbsp. meringue powder or powdered egg whites
1/2 cup lukewarm water
1 lb. (~500 grams) powdered sugar

Making royal icing is relatively simple. To start, beat the meringue powder or powdered egg whites with the water until frothy and there are no longer any lumps of powder. I’ve used both egg white powder and meringue powder, and so far the only difference I can see is that the meringue powder icing tends to require less beating to thicken than the egg white powder icing. Once the water and powder become frothy, add the powdered sugar and beat on high until the icing forms stiff peaks (you should be able to turn the beaters upside down and have the icing stick almost straight up). This is your basic royal icing. At this point, you can divide it, tint it (preferably with gel food coloring), and add water a few teaspoons at a time to thin it into something workable.



So let’s talk consistencies:

Piping Icing: Piping icing is the thickest/stiffest consistency of icing you’ll use when decorating cookies. As with most things, everyone has a personal preference on how thick they like their icing to be. When I make piping icing, I like to thin mine with warm water down to just over a 20 second consistency. That means when I take a scoop of the icing and drop it back into the rest, it takes just over 20 seconds to completely reabsorb. I rarely count over 20 when I’m making my icing, but I estimate this one is somewhere around 25 seconds.



20 Second Consistency: As you might have guessed, 20 second consistency icing means that a scoop of the icing dropped back into the bowl will take 20 seconds to completely reabsorb into the rest. And by that, I mean the surface should be completely smooth at 20 seconds. If it takes longer than 20 seconds, just keep adding more water, a little at a time, until it reaches the right consistency. So how is this icing different than the piping icing? 20 second consistency icing is great for piping things that you don’t want to outline and then flood; It’s stiff enough to hold its shape, but thin enough to fill in smooth and be worked around with a toothpick.


Making royal icing owl

Flood Icing: The last type of icing is flood icing. This is the thinnest icing you’ll use when decorating your cookies and it’s used to fill in areas that have been outlined with the piping icing. Again, everyone has their own preference when making icing, but I like mine a little thicker, somewhere just under a 10 second consistency.


And those are the three basic consistencies I like to use in my cookie decorating. You can, of course, manipulate the icing to your needs by adding more or less water to make it thinner or thicker. The most important thing: finding consistencies that work for you and your decorating. Still hungry for some more royal icing tips? Check out these great links!

University of Cookie: Icing Consistency
Sweet Sugarbelle: Consistency is Key
Annie’s Eats: How to Decorate with Royal Icing
SweetAmbs: Royal Icing Consistencies and Troubleshooting Tips

Happy baking!


Recipe from Bake at 350

One thought on “Royal Icing: The Basics

  1. Pingback: Having a Hoot! | The Simple, Sweet Life

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