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Royal icing can be a super tricky thing. You have to get the recipe just right or else it comes out lumpy, cracks, or dries weird. When I decided to make “fancy cookies,” as we call them, for Addilyn’s First Birthday, I knew that I needed to try a few and create something that was just right! I started by testing out cookie recipes until I found the perfect one that made them firm enough to decorate but still chewy and delicious. Grab that recipe here.
Then it was on to the royal icing, which was honestly the one I was more nervous about. A few of my trials left me with icing that tasted good, but didn’t hold up or harden. Other attempts left me with a layer of stone (kidding) on my cookies that could chip a tooth. I took bits and pieces of all of these and combined them until I found one that was just right!
First off, I learned that it actually is best to use the paddle attachment on your mixer versus the whisk. I never would have thought to do it this way, but it supposedly helps keep the icing from separating if you don’t use it right away. Knowing that I would be decorating these in stages, that sounded like a good thing to me! So that’s what I did.
First, I rounded up my ingredients. You will need a 2lb bag of powdered sugar, vanilla extract (or you can add almond extract!), warm water and meringue powder. I like the Wilton Brand the best!
Next you will add your bag of sugar to your mixer bowl and then add the meringue powder to that. Mix on low until it is well combined. While that is stirring, I like to take about half of my warm water (maybe 1/2 cup total) and go ahead and add the extract to that. For this batch, I wanted it to be sweet! So I put 3 teaspoons of vanilla extract.
From here, you will want to slowly add your water mixture to the dry ingredients with the mixer on low-medium. Make sure you scrape the sides a bit so that there isn’t a lot of powder left. Your mixture should start to take on a thick, sticky appearance almost like honey. If it’s still not quite that texture, you can add up to another 1/4 of water. I wanted my icing a bit on the thick side (more on that below) so I didn’t add the full 3/4 cup. I totally forgot to take a picture of this step for you guys….fail! SO sorry!
Anyways, once you have that honey-like goop, turn that puppy up to medium-high and whip it for 2-3 minutes. It should look about like this when you are done.
From here, you can either use it right away or store it in an airtight container right on your counter top! I will add some further icing steps below, but here is the recipe for those of you who are just ready for me to get to the point!
The Perfect Royal Icing
- 2lb bag of powdered sugar
- 5.5 Tablespoons Meringue Powder
- 3 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/2-3/4 cup warm water
- Add your sugar and meringue powder to your mixer and combine on low using the paddle attachment.
- While the sugar is mixing, add your extract to 1/2 cup of warm water.
- With the mixer on Low-Medium, gradually add your water, scraping the sides. You want the mixture to reach a honey-like consistency, and can add up to another 1/4 warm water to get it there. Make sure you don’t get it too runny!
- Once your icing is goopy and honey-like, turn the mixer up to medium-high and whip it for 2-3 minutes!
- Use immediately or store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.
Okay now that I gave you what you came here for, here are a few other things I learned along the way!
First off, I tried to make thinner icing initially as my “base” icing. What I found was that when I added sugar to thicken it for details, it got crusty and lumpy. I was not a fan of that approach! So what I discovered from a few wise cookiers that I know was that it’s better to make your icing a little more on the thick side and then just add water to smaller batches to thin it for flooding your cookies
I also learned to do a “knife test” for the icing that I wanted to flood with. That means to thin down your icing and add any coloring that you want (gel coloring is best), and then run a butter knife through it. Once you run your knife through, count how many seconds it takes for your icing to come back together and make that line disappear. I found that the best flood consistency icing had about a 10-12 second delay.
You will want to allow an hour or two of dry time when doing sections that touch each other. For the banners below, I did the outer two sections and then once they were mostly dry, I went back and did the middle section. If you are going to use a stencil or anything that applies pressure, its best to let them dry overnight between layers. The plaques, for example, I went back and added detail to the next day.
If you want your icing to have a shiny surface (and not take 10 years to dry) its great to put them in front of a fan when you finish flooding them. I just use a couple of small tabletop fans like this one.
Here is an incredibly satisfying video (I could seriously watch it on repeat!) of the flood process! As you can see me do in the video, be sure to work quickly to get any dents and bubbles out! I just use a toothpick to work them out. If you don’t do this before your icing starts to crust over, it will make a mess. So be sure and work quickly!
Here are my finished cookies! They tasted and held up great! I just ate one a week after the party and it still tasted every bit as delicious as the day I made them!