Friday, May 9, 2014

How to Decorate Cookies with Royal Icing

Let me start off by saying that I love royal icing, but our relationship hasn't always been sunshine and rainbows. It has taken years of practice and lots of mistakes to make me feel like I truly know how to use it. 

But don't let this discourage you. I'm sharing my favorite royal icing recipe and tips and tricks so you don't make the same mistakes. Once you get the hang of it, the cookie decorating possibilities are endless. With royal icing, you can make absolutely beautiful and detailed cookies that can be stacked, packaged, and shipped. They can be customized for any occasion. And most of all, they are FUN to make!

So let's get started...

First, you have to begin with a recipe. I've experimented with multiple recipes and this one is my favorite: 

Royal Icing Recipe
Serving size: makes enough to cover 2 batches of these cookies

2 lb. powdered sugar
1/3 cup meringue powder (I use Ateco brand.)
3/4 cup warm water
1-2 tbsp. clear vanilla extract - add to taste (I use Wilton brand.)
Lemon juice or distilled vinegar for wiping out the bowl

Wipe down the insides of the mixing bowl, whisk attachment, and spatula with lemon juice or vinegar. Let dry completely. (Butter/oil is the enemy of royal icing. Lemon juice/vinegar removes any grease.)

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, mix the powdered sugar and meringue powder together on low. 

Slowly pour in the warm water and vanilla (to taste). Whisk on medium speed for 5 minutes.

Do you see the powdered sugar stuck to the sides of the bowl? Use a clean spray bottle filled with warm water, and lightly spray the powdered sugar.

Mix for another 3 minutes on high speed. This is what my icing looked like:

Check the thickness of the icing using the whisk attachment. The frosting should be able to hold up the whisk without any movement. See the picture below? The icing is not ready yet. The whisk is falling over. 

If the icing isn't ready, then whisk on high speed for 1 more minute. Check the icing again. Repeat these steps until the icing can hold the whisk and forms stiff peaks. Note: Do not over mix. The icing will not dry properly and will flake off the cookies. 

See the picture below? The icing is ready!

Immediately cover your bowl with a damp paper towel, and keep the bowl covered at all times. Royal icing will dry out very quickly, and once it forms a crust, it can not be used.

Prepare your coloring station. I like to use disposable bowls that I keep only for royal icing use. You can also color your icing in a glass measuring cup. 

Place the desired amount of icing in each bowl. (This comes with practice but take a guess. It all depends on how much of each color you will need.) Remember to keep the other bowls covered with a damp paper towel. 

Use gel coloring to color each icing. I like to use AmeriColor, but Wilton will also work. Start out with just a few drops. These are very concentrated and a little bit goes a long way. 

For the lemon meringue pie cookies, I used a mixture of lemon yellow and egg yolk yellow.

Stir with a spoon until evenly mixed. Note: This is about the thickness you need for stiff icing, or icing that will hold it's shape. (This is the thickness that you need for the white meringue stars on the lemon meringue pie cookies.)

To outline a cookie, fill/flood a cookie, or add most details, I use a 20-second icing. Some other cookie decorators like to have a separate consistency for outlining and flooding. They use a stiff icing for outlining and a 10-second icing for flooding. Do whatever feels comfortable to you. I make one consistency, 20-second, and use it for everything. 

Now you are probably wondering what I mean by 20-second icing. It means that if you drag a spoon through the top of the icing, it takes about 20 seconds to come back together and smooth out. Thicker icing will not come back together, and 10-second icing is much thinner and comes back together in 10 seconds. 

Consistency is KEY to royal icing, and will come with practice. If the icing is too thin, it will run off the cookie. If it is too thick, then it will not smooth out and you will end up with craters or peaks. If you have the 20-second icing just right, it will stay in a piping bag and not run out, and the top of a decorated cookie will be perfectly smooth. It will not run off the sides of the cookie.

To thin out the thick, stiff icing to a 20-second icing, use your handy squirt bottle filled with water. Spray some water and stir with a spoon. Start out with just a little. 

Then drag the back of the spoon through the top and start counting.

It is coming back together, but it isn't ready yet. It needs just a touch more water. 

The icing should come back together in 20 seconds. If it doesn't, then stir in more water. Continue adding water until the desired consistency is reached. Note: If you add too much water and the icing is too thin, you can stir in powdered sugar to thicken it.

Once you reach the desired consistency, cover the bowl with a damp paper towel, while you prepare your piping bags. 

I use plastic piping bags fitted with either Wilton, Ateco, or PME tips. I almost always use  a Wilton #2 tip. I will occasionally use a #1.5 PME tip for writing, or a special Ateco tip for decorating, such as a star tip, leaf tip, etc. I use the #2 tip for outlining and filling.

Place your piping bag fitted with a tip in a glass jar that has a damp paper towel in the bottom of it. The damp paper towel will keep the icing in the piping tip from drying out. 

Fill your piping bag with icing. Seal off the top with a rubber band. Remember to keep the extra frosting in the bowl covered with a damp paper towel. (Note: For the lemon meringue pie cookies, I also have a piping bag filled with stiff white icing, and fitted with a Wilton #12 tip. Picture not shown.)

Prepare your cookie decorating station. It is good to have toothpicks ready.

Begin by outlining the cookie.

Immediately fill in the cookie with icing. Use a toothpick to help spread the icing in an even layer. Sometimes it helps to shake the cookie a little bit to help the icing smooth out. Immediately pop any visible air bubbles with the tip of a toothpick. (Note: I ended up filling in this cookie with a little more icing before smoothing it.)

If using sprinkles, immediately add them while the icing is wet.

Let the cookies dry in front of a fan on low. This helps to keep the colors from bleeding into each other and sets the icing. Note: Let one color dry completely before adding another color next to it or on top of it. Do not cover the cookie while it is drying. Some cookie decorators leave their cookies out overnight to dry before adding final detail on top.

Once the cookies are completely dry, add the final detail. For the lemon meringue pie cookies, use the stiff white icing and #12 tip to add meringue stars.

Make sure to leave space between the meringue stars. Let these stars dry for 15-30 minutes before adding the remaining stars. This keep the stars from running into each other.

Voila! A completed lemon meringue pie cookie!

Let these dry completely before storing or packaging them. They can be kept for a long period of time in an air-tight container. They do not need to be refrigerated. 

I know this is A LOT of information to take in, but trust me, you can do it!! Look at how cute these turned out...

Please feel free to leave a comment below if you have any questions. I'm here to help! :)

Source: the royal icing recipe was adapted from Sweet SugarBelle, the lemon meringue pie cookies were inspired by these cookies from Sweet SugarBelle

Disclosure: Some of the links in the post above are "affiliate links." I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Regardless, I only recommend products that I use personally.

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