Stress Free Royal Icing (WFMW)

Last week, as I was decorating cookies for Halloween, I was reminded of the fact that I’ve been meaning to share my tips for making royal icing with no stress. After all, everyone wants to decorate beautiful cookies during the holiday season, but no one wants to fight with the royal icing. Between shopping for gifts, decorating the house, and lots of friends and family dropping in, there’s enough stress already!

This is one of those blog posts that has been writing itself in the back of my mind for quite a while.  Almost every time I post about cookies that I have decorated, I get a few emails or comments asking me about my royal icing. I usually either give a quick reply with the ratio of meringue powder, powdered sugar, and water that I use… Or I direct the question to these posts from Bridget and Gail. They are both brilliant when it comes to cookies… And, they have taught me most of what I know. Want to see where their two worlds collide? Check out this fantastic video about royal icing over at the University of Cookie. They are the masters, and I cannot even begin to pretend that I know more about cookies or royal icing than they do.

But, here’s the thing… When it comes to royal icing, I think you have to do what works for you. I’ve made royal using Bridget’s method and meringue powder. I have also gone the egg white powder route and followed Gail’s thorough instructions. My problem is that no matter what I do, I end up with clumpy bits in my royal icing. And, those clumpy bits always end up getting stuck in my pastry tips and causing me quite a bit of stress. And, believe me, when you have a big batch of cookies sitting on the counter just waiting to be decorated, you don’t want the royal icing acting up.

I am pretty sure the problem lies with me 100%. I take full responsibility for the lumps in my royal icing. But, after having the same problem time and time again, I developed a new method that works for me. And, so far it has been 100% clump free.

My Stress Free Method…

Eventually, I realized that I was introducing all of the clumps into my icing when I was reconstituting either the meringue powder or the egg whites. I had issues both ways. I would always have gooey little clumps that just would wreak havoc on my icing and poor pastry tips. I tried pouring the mixtures through a strainer before adding them to the powdered sugar, but then I’d have a sticky strainer to deal with. No fun.

So, the one day, I had some extra time, and I decided to attempt making a batch of icing without reconstituting the meringue powder (I usually use meringue powder for no great reason other than that’s what I like to do). Instead, I whisked the dry meringue powder into the powdered sugar. Then, I added the water, popped the bowl into the mixer and went about my way. No. Clumps.  I thought maybe it was a fluke, so I tried it again the next time I made royal icing, and sure enough, it turned out perfectly smooth with no clumps.

It’s been almost a year that I’ve been making my royal this way, and I don’t think I’ve had any issues with clumpy royal icing since then. Coincidence? I think not!

The Royal Recipe…

My recipe for royal icing certainly isn’t unique to me. I’ve referenced plenty of blogs, cookbooks, and even packages of meringue powder… And, this is the one I’ve kind of settled into. As I mentioned before, I do typically use meringue powder, so that’s what is included in my recipe. Just be sure to use a good tasting, good quality meringue powder for your royal!

This recipe for royal icing uses only one pound of powdered sugar.  The number of cookies that it will cover will certainly depend on the type of decorating you are doing and the size of the cookies. It’s easy to double or triple, though… And, it’s usually better to err on the side of too much royal vs. not enough. I typically end up making a double batch.

Royal Icing

  • 1 pound powdered (confectioner’s) sugar
  • 3 rounded tablespoons of meringue powder
  • 6 – 8 tablespoons of warm water
  • 1/2 teaspoon of fresh lemon juice or clear vanilla extract (optional)

In the bowl of your stand mixer, combine the powdered sugar and the meringue powder. Whisk the two together by hand. Add 6 tablespoons of water to the mixture and add the lemon juice or vanilla extract, if desired.

Fit the mixer with the beater blade/paddle, and start mixing on the slowest speed until everything comes together and there are no visible pockets of dry powdered sugar. Gradually turn the mixer up to medium/medium-high speed and beat until the icing is fluffy. Adjust the amount of water, as necessary, adding just a few drops at a time, until you reach the desired consistency.

Use immediately or transfer to an airtight container to avoid the icing crusting over before you use it.

Happy decorating!

29 Responses to Stress Free Royal Icing (WFMW)

  1. Well, I’ll be a monkey’s uncle. This is really interesting. When I reconstitute my egg white powder, I always let it sit for a while to get fully hydrated before I mix it up. I don’t get clumps that way. BUT, your way saves washing another bowl, which, as we all know, is wonderful.

  2. This is wonderful! i was looking for a great icing recipe and tutorial. Royal icing and I seem to never mix well together. This recipe gives me hope and the confidence that I can do it! So glad I stumbled upon you.

  3. Have always loved your cookies! You don’t even need the whisk, I use the stand mixer to do a quick mix of the meringue powder and powdered sugar and then add your warm water and extract.

  4. This post is really helpful! I only did cookies once and it was around Fourth of July. I have been thinking I really want to make some Christmas cookies. I’m totally trying this method!

  5. I wish I had the patience to decorate with royal icing more often – the end product is so worth the effort. Your cookies always look wonderful :)

    • Hi, Nicole!

      Great question… I’m sure lots of others could use this info too.

      I don’t personally have a lot of experience with it, but quite a few other cookie decorators make an egg free glaze icing instead of using royal icing… And, they have some pretty fantastic results. Here’s a recipe and tutorial from Cookie Crazie. You may also want to check out this video from Amanda of i am baker over at the University of Cookie.

      Hope that helps!!

  6. Oh what an AWESOME tip! I was getting annoyed when I was decorating my pumpkin cookies, because I kept getting clogged icing bags in the middle of it. I’m definitely going to try this next time!!

  7. An additional suggestion: when making royal icing using meringue powder it helps to mix the powder and water, refrigerate for 24hours, then proceed to add the sifted sugar. For some reason this also prevents lumps.

  8. Hi there,

    The icing looks so smooth and flawless! How much does your recipe make? Would it be enough to ice a 9in round cake? I am from the Caribbean and during Christmas we make a rum cake that is iced with royal icing and it’s slathered on there pretty thick, about the thickness of of frosting a regular bday cake with buttercream frosting. So do you think I’d need to double or triple your recipe to ice an 8in or 9in cake? Thanks so much!

    • Hi, Crissandra – I generally don’t measure the icing in cups, so I’m not actually sure. It makes enough to decorate 2 – 3 dozen cookies. I would think a single batch would cover a cake. Just be sure to make it a bit on the thick side.

  9. Do you need a stand mixer to make RI? I only have a hand mixer and I am planning on making some this weekend.

    • Hi, Katie – I have not had great success with making royal icing with a hand mixer, but it can be done. Just start out slow and work with a small batch. Wait until the icing starts to really come together and the sugar has been incorporated before turning up the speed. Best of luck!