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Royal Icing: Recipe and Instructions

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Like most cookie decorators, I started out with a tried a true royal icing recipe I found on the internet. I went through about four bags of powdered sugar before I got it right. Even then it was hit or miss for a while and I always had to be sure to keep extra powdered sugar around to start over with because once you ruin royal icing, there’s no going back. Now that I’ve been doing this for a while, the recipe I use is one that has been modified to suit my needs and as I’ll explain later, my climate.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • 1 2lb bag of confectioner’s sugar
  • 5-6 tbsp of merengue powder
  • 1/2 − 3/4 cups of room temperature water
  • 1-2 tsp of the oil-free flavoring of the your choice
  • 1/2 tbsp of light corn syrup (optional)

To begin pour about 1/2 cup of water and the flavoring into the mixing bowl. I usually use two teaspoons of vanilla. You can use lemon, almond, etc. but if you use something like orange, the natural oil in the extract will prevent your icing from setting because royal icing’s arch nemesis is oil. If I’m using a stronger flavoring, I just use one teaspoon but that’s up to your personal preference. RI-1

Then pour in corn syrup if you want  your icing to dry not quite so hard and the merengue powder. Usually, I use 5 tablespoon but when it’s humid or hot out and I feel like my icing will need a little help setting, I add the additional tablespoon.

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Now whisk the water, merengue powder, and optional corn syrup until you have a foamy fluffy mixture.

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Note: at this point, if I know a lot of the icing will remain white for my project, I will add a few drops of white food color. You can do this later for the same effect but I’m lazy efficient so I do it early.

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Now you’re ready to add the powdered sugar. Go ahead and pour in the whole bag. Don’t be shy. But try not to be messy. Here are some tips to help keep you from getting sugar all over your kitchen or up your nose. ;)

When you pour the sugar, hold the bag as far into the bowl as you can. This keeps the sugar from mushrooming out of the bowl and into your face. I know you know what I’m talking about… Then, use the paddle to softly pre-mix the sugar into the liquid at the bottom of the bowl.

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Now, many stand mixers come with a splash guard to keep food stuff from flying out of the bowl, etc. but for me that’s just not enough. So what I do is lightly moisten two paper towels with my spray bottle and place them over the splash guard just until the sugar stops trying to escape the mixer and make its way to every corner of my kitchen. I know this is crazy but when I make big batches of royal icing this is even more critical to keeping my clean up to a minimum.

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I allow the mixer the run on the lowest speed until I hear what resembles a clunking sound. (Note: Mixing the icing a higher speed won’t necessarily help move things along faster but it will incorporate a lot of unwanted air into your icing. So I don’t recommend it.) Then I remove the paper towels and splash guard and use a rubber spatula to push the icing on the sides of the bowl down.

This is what it will look like at this point:

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Before restarting the mixer, I add about two tablespoons of water to the icing. Now the icing will start to look like this:

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You can’t tell from this picture but the icing will be shiny. If I know I’m going to pipe royal icing flowers or leaves, I won’t add any additional water at this point because I want the icing to remain stiff and thick in consistency. Usually, for decorating cookies, I need medium or thin consistency so I’ll spray more water over this icing before restarting the mixer. (Usually about four good sprays is enough for me.) Because my paddle attachment has a rubber scraper on one side, I don’t have to worry too much about scraping the sides of bowl down to make sure they are mixed properly. But if you’re using the standard paddle attachment, you should do that at this point. Then let the mixer run on low for a few more minutes until it’s no longer shiny.

RI-13You can see in this picture that the icing is thinner than it was before because it is no longer sticking to the paddle as much as it was before.  Now you’re done.

You have to move quickly to store your icing so it doesn’t start to dry on you. What I do is use my rubber spatula to get as much icing off the paddle as I can. Once that’s done, I pour the icing into the large plastic containers I have designated for storing icing and screw on the lids. Make sure whatever you use has a secure lid and will keep air out of your icing until you’re ready to use it. I usually keep my icing for two to three weeks before I’ll toss it in favor of a new batch. It does not need to be refrigerated but you can do that if it helps you sleep better at night. Either way, if you’re icing has been sitting for a while, you’ll have to stir it well  before use.

Here are a few additional tidbits that will help you find just the right method for making and using royal icing for your projects:

Ingredients: 

Confectioner’s Sugar: Many decorators sift their powdered sugar to prevent clumps in their royal icing. These are a pain when you are piping and can cause quite the headache so I definitely understand. I’m always trying to save time, so to get around this problem I’m comfortable spending a few more cents per bag to buy Domino brand confectioner’s sugar which I find is already sifted enough for my needs straight out of the bag. I don’t have the same luck with store brand confectioner’s sugar so I only use it when I’m making buttercream for my cakes.

Merengue Powder: I use Wilton brand merengue powder. You can find it at Michael’s or Joanne’s. I have never been able to find it in in my local grocery stores but I hear it’s available in other areas. There are a few other brands out there on Amazon as well but I haven’t tried them.

Water: I find my results are most consistent when I use room temperature water. I used to use cold water but found that once, I started piping and my hands warmed the icing, the consistency would suddenly change on me. The same is true with icing that has been stored in the refrigerator. It’s best to let it come to room temperature before adjusting the consistency or using it on cookies. LilaLoa does a great job explaining this on her blog here.

Corn Syrup: This addition is fairly new for me. Some people really enjoy the contrast between a crunchy icing and soft cookie. Others don’t. For them, there is corn syrup. Somehow, corn syrup magically prevents the icing from drying crunchy hard but still allows it to set hard enough to stack decorated cookies without damaging the icing. I use less than most corn syrup users because i find it makes it harder to pipe long lines of icing without breakage. If I’m using my icing to pipe string work on a cake, for example, I definitely won’t add corn syrup.

Handling:

Storage: Royal Icing does not need to be refrigerated. I leave mine out on the counter in airtight containers. I find it keeps best in stiff consistency. Any royal icing that has been left sitting for a while will start to separate so it’s important that you give it a good stir before using it again. If you do refrigerate your icing, the separation will happen more slowly but you’ll have to wait for it to come back to room temperature before using it.

Clean Up: Royal icing dissolves in water so clean up is really easy before it’s had a chance to dry. Once I’ve put my icing in the airtight containers, I immediately wash my bowl and paddle attachment. It’s just so much easier and quicker that way. If you wait, no big deal. Just allow whatever you are trying to wash to soak for a few minutes and the icing will come right off.

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