Don’t you just love the smooth and sweet vanilla icing that glazes over a buttery sugar cookie? Oh the delight! This easy royal icing recipe turns cookies into a dream come true. Traditional royal icing is made with egg whites―although it is totally delicious, the resulting icing isn’t shelf stable and requires a lot of guesswork to get the texture and consistency right. Also, not everyone is comfortable using raw eggs for icing. Instead, we can use meringue powder, a mixture of egg whites and stabilizers that makes mixing royal icing not only easier, but also shelf stable at room temperature.
WHY YOU’LL LOVE THIS RECIPE
- Requires no egg whites
- Fast and easy to make
- Easily adjustable for piping and flooding
- Shelf stable for up to 2 weeks
- Can be made ahead and frozen
I used to only make royal icing with egg whites, but I decided to change my mind and try using meringue powder when I learned that I could keep my cookies at room temperature for several days. This is important for me because some cookies dry out when left in the refrigerator instead of on the counter. Also, this makes it possible to be able to chip the cookies out to friends and family. We just can’t do that with egg whites!
Royal icing’s origins are shrouded in mystery. Although it is difficult to pinpoint how it came into existence, the Oxford English Dictionary credits Borella’s Court and Country Confectioner (1770) with the first mention of the icing.
Cookbooks such as The Italian Confectioner (1827) by William Jarrin mention the use of royal icing when making various renditions of rock sugar or rock candy (1). The term had widespread use by the 1800s, and by the 1840s, German cooks and bakers had made decorating with piped royal icing more popular.
In cake decorating, the icing had a functional purpose as well as an aesthetic one. The icing helped to keep the shape of tiered cakes by preventing the layers from sinking into each other (2). The icing could also be used to completely cover the cake to keep it moist.
Royal icing’s popularity reached its peak when it was used to decorate Queen Victoria’s flamboyant wedding cake in 1840. Traditional English wedding cakes had only a single layer with fruit with royal icing to coat the exterior. However, since French culinary practices marked sophistication during that time, the influence of French style cakes permeated the English upper class (3).
Cakes ended up being massive, elegant, and frilly with sculptured toppers and pipework to resemble embroidery and lace. Most of this was done in royal icing. It is thought that the term “Royal Icing” came as a result of these cakes fit for royalty. However, the term had been around before Queen Victoria; she simply sensationalized it. By the 1980s fondant replaced royal icing because it could be easily sculpted into various coverings and decorations. Today, royal icing is used more to decorate cookies and simpler confections rather than elaborate cakes. Despite this, it is not totally obsolete.
RECIPE QUALITIES Even though this icing is mostly made with sugar, the taste is quite dreamy and not too sweet once set on the cookies. Add small quantities of food coloring to create custom colors to decorate your treats. This recipe makes enough icing to cover approximately 20 to 25 medium sized cookies.
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10” Piping Bags – Use these piping bags to hold and direct the icing. They come in disposable and cloth varieties. Even though disposable is very convenient, cloth is better for the environment.
#3 Decorating Tips – An assortment of decorating tips is helpful to create clean, crisp lines as you decorate your cookies. #3 decorating tips are not too small and not too large for basic decorating.
Small Mixing Bowls and spatulas – Use small mixing bowls to mix your colors. After mixing all of your colors, transfer them into the piping bags so that the icing remains in liquid form.
- 1 1/2 lbs (680g) confectioner’s sugar, sifted
- 1/2 cup (100ml) water
- 1/2 cup (60g) meringue powder
- 1 tsp (5g) vanilla extract
- optional: food coloring
In a stand mixer with a whisk attachment, add all icing ingredients and mix on the lowest speed until all of the ingredients have been fully incorporated. This should take no more than a minute. Do not over-mix or else the mixture will destabilize.
If the icing seems too thick, add water a tablespoon at a time until the consistency is like honey. If the icing seems too loose, add more confectioner’s sugar a tablespoon at a time until consistency is like honey.
Pour the icing into a clean container and cover the icing with plastic wrap to prevent the icing from crusting over. The icing keeps in an airtight container at room temperature for 14 days; 1 month in the refrigerator; 4 months frozen.
After icing the cookies, the icing requires 24 hours to set.
- To set the icing, align your cookies on a tray lined with parchment paper or aluminum foil. Allow the iced cookies to set for at least 1 hour. Then, loosely lay plastic wrap over the cookies so that they are safe from dust. Allow the icing to rest for 24 hours. If you do not allow the appropriate amount of time to set, then the icing will smudge.
- If using my Cut-Out Sugar Cookie recipe, the cookies will stay fresh and soft as the royal icing sets.
Davidson, Alan (2014). The Oxford Companion to Food. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780199677337
Blakemore, Erin. “England’s Obsession with Queen Victoria’s Wedding Cake” JSTOR. 2018-05-06. Retrieved 12-20-20.
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