Royal Icing- Cookie Decorating Basics

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Royal icing

So obviously I have a thing for decorating cookies. I have shared a lot of the cookies I have made. But seeing photos of already finished cookies doesn’t help if you want to try making your own. I learned the basics of cookie decorating from a number of blogs*. So, it seems like sharing my process is the kind and friendly blogger thing to do. If you are interested in learning to decorate cookies, the first thing you need is a royal icing recipe (followed by a cookie recipe.)

Royal icing is the medium for a cookie artist (that sounds sort of pretentious, but I like it.) If you don’t have the icing, you don’t have the decorated cookie.  This is the royal icing recipe I use. I started with the recipe Sweet Sugar Belle shared on her site.

From there I began experimenting and tweaking. Mostly trying to solve problems I was having while decorating.

The first ingredient you will need is  Meringue Powder. You can find meringue powder at a lot of craft stores and kitchen stores and of course good old Amazon. I use the Americolor brand, but mostly because that is what I have easy access to.  Some people use Wilton and I’ve heard a lot of good things about CK. (And there’s happens to be least expensive brand on Amazon AND it’s on Prime, which I just discovered while writing this, so next time I’m buying CK.)

Next you will need powdered sugar. Lots of it. I make a lot of Costco runs for powdered sugar. I don’t sift my powdered sugar. Some people swear by it, but I haven’t had a lot of problems with clumps (at least from powdered sugar, I’ll explain more about that in a bit.)

Something that I have just started adding to my royal icing is glycerine. It is magical stuff. It allows the icing to dry, but it doesn’t dry rock hard. It can be found in craft stores in the cake decorating aisle. I also have found it at pharmacies, oddly enough. Don’t ask why they carry it, you don’t want to know. If I’m making royal icing transfers and I need the icing to dry and be very hard, I omit the glycerine. Honestly, you can try it without the glycerine if you don’t know if you want to commit to a bottle of glycerine quite yet.

You can choose any flavoring you want, but I would steer clear of colored flavorings including vanilla. Otherwise you will be battling to counteract the color of the extract.

You must, must, must avoid any flavorings with oil as an ingredient. Fat is the enemy to royal icing!!!

My favorite flavorings are coconutalmond and lemon. I like to use the LorAnn bakery emulsions. You can find them on occasion at Home Goods for cheap. Otherwise they carry them at a lot of craft stores. I know Hobby Lobby has at least a few of the varieties. Once I tricked myself into buying a banana flavor because it was really cheap. Why would I do that? Only 7-year-olds would think banana flavored cookies were delish. Also cotton candy, bubble gum and the confusing blue raspberry only appeal to 7-year-olds.

When I first started making royal icing using Sugar Belle’s recipe, I had a terrible problem with itty bitty chunks in the icing. Itty bitty chunks = HUGE FRUSTRATIONS. Sugar Belle’s method stirs the meringue powder and powdered sugar together and then adds the water and whips. I found that the itty bitty chunks were grains of granulated sugar in the meringue powder that weren’t dissolving properly. I solved the problem by adding the meringue powder and warm water first and whipping the meringue powder until it was frothy.

meringue powder and water

Then adding the powdered sugar, glycerine and flavorings and whipping until stiff.

There is some dispute over whether to use a whisk or paddle attachment. This stuff is thick. It bent my whisk attachment. That is how I made the decision to go for team paddle.

You can vary the amount of water you add for different consistencies. Adding less water makes a much stiffer icing. This seems to keep the icing from separating when storing, especially for longer periods. However, the thicker icing is much harder to work with. It takes patience and some forearm strength to thin it down and color it. But I tend to keep mine a little thicker unless I know I will be going through a whole batch quickly.

This is what it looks like when it’s all whipped up.

Royal icing base consistency

This recipe makes a lot of icing. Enough to decorate 6 dozen cookies, depending on their size and how much icing you use. But it makes quite a bit. It uses the four pound bags of powdered sugar I love getting from Costco. The icing keeps for a really long time,  if you store it properly. But you can always half the recipe if you don’t need a ton of icing.

Speaking of storing. This is how I store my icing. I have a dedicated Gladware container that I scoop the icing into. You need a tight fitting lid.

Storing Royal icing

Then I press a damp paper towel on the surface of the icing. If you don’t do this then the top layer crusts over. And that turns into mega frustration.  Chunks everywhere, trying to fit through little icing tips. Torture.

Storing Royal icing 2

Then I store it in the refrigerator until I need it. Make sure you take it out a good half hour before you are going to use it otherwise it will be hard as  a rock and almost impossible to work with.

Now, I will guarantee that everybody who makes royal icing has their own little tricks. Some people use corn syrup, some use cream of tartar. So, you are surely going to have to experiment and find out what works best for you. And don’t worry, you don’t have to tell anybody if you have a disaster or two during the early learning processes.

Thinning the icing to different consistencies and coloring it will be introduced in future posts. Stay tuned!

Let’s Recap

  • Royal icing is the basis for the style of cookies I decorate
  • You need meringue powder
  • Glycerine keeps the icing from drying rock hard, but you can skip it, if you aren’t willing yet to commit
  • Use any clear, oil-free flavoring
  • Always keep covered and a moist paper towel directly on the surface to keep it from drying out
  • Expect to experiment and find out what works best for you
  • Stay tuned for how to use royal icing

Royal Icing

Rating: 51

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Serving Size: Enough for approximately 6 dozen cookies

Royal Icing


  • 3/4 cup meringue powder
  • 1 1/4- 1 1/3 cup warm water
  • 4 pounds powdered sugar
  • 1 tablespoon oil free, clear flavoring
  • 1 tablespoon glyerine


  1. In a stand mixer using either a paddle or whisk attachment combine meringue powder and water. Whisk until frothy.
  2. Add half the powdered sugar slowly until well incorporated
  3. Add flavorings and glycerine.
  4. Add the remaining powdered sugar, until incorporated, then turn the mixer to high and beat until the icing is stiff and glossy.

*If you are curious about the cookie blogs I learned from, they are Sweet Sugar Belle, LilaLoa. They both have a lot of basic information for people just starting out.

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