Royal Icing Problem Solving
Royal icing is what gives the WOW factor to decorated cookies. It gives depth, dimension, and color, and can transform a plain sugar cookie into a work of art. Royal icing is also one of the most tricky things to get right in the beginning.
There are so many different recipes out there that give vague terms and amounts that are open to your own interpretation. If you are making a recipe for the first time, like royal icing, how do you know when enough water has been added? When is it over mixed? Does it need to be mixed? When I try to make a recipe, I want to know exactly what to do to replicate what’s in the picture. That’s what we’ll tackle today, making a great royal icing the first time!
Royal icing consistency is a whole other blog post, so I won’t be going over that here. I will be adding my own recipe and instructions at the bottom of the post.
What is Royal Icing?
Royal icing is an icing that gets hard as it dries. Its used in decorating cakes, cookies, and other confections.
Here are the basic ingredients that all Royal icing recipes include:
- Confectioners Sugar
- Meringue Powder or egg whites
The ingredients all serve a different purpose in the recipe:
- Confectioners sugar ( or powdered sugar) is the base of the recipe. It’s what gives the icing its sweetness and body.
- Meringue powder or egg whites cause the icing to harden.
- The extract gives the icing its flavor. You can use any flavor to change up your recipes, although vanilla is the most commonly used flavor.
- Water combines all the ingredients together.
- Food grade vegetable glycerin or corn syrup is also added to some recipes to keep the icing from getting too hard as it dries.
The recipe is a balancing act of ratios. Most recipes call for a 2 lb. bag of powdered sugar to 5-6 Tbsp. of meringue powder. Two to Three Tbsp. of extract is used for 2 lbs of sugar, and if you are using corn syrup or glycerin, it’s usually 1 Tbsp. per 1 lbs of sugar. I like to add 2 tbsp. per batch.
How to Mix:
There are several different ways you can mix up the icing.
- Sift the sugar and meringue powder together, then add wet ingredients and mix
- Combine the meringue powder and water until powder is dissolved, then add to the sugar and mix
- Add the extract to the water, then in the mixing bowl, mix the sugar and meringue powder together, then combine them slowly together and mix.
I’ve tried all of them and I prefer to mix the meringue powder and water together until the meringue powder is dissolved. I don’t sift the powdered sugar because it dissolves so quickly in the water I’ve never had a problem with it being lumpy. Then I add the water mixture to the sugar, add the extract, and right before I turn up the mixer I add my corn syrup.
There is nothing more frustrating than making a recipe, messing it up, and not being able to figure out what went wrong. Here are some common royal icing problems and how to fix them.
Icing won’t harden
The easiest solution for this would be not enough meringue powder and there’s not much you can do about it at that point. The ratio of sugar to meringue powder has to stay in that 1 lb. to 3 Tbsp. range.
Icing didn’t become “stiff”
Stiff icing is a must for certain types of decorating techniques, and most recipes will give you an end result of stiff icing. It’s a lot easier to thin it out than to go the other way. I had this problem multiple times, and I was under mixing my icing. The meringue powder has to be mixed on medium speed for about 4-5 minutes to get that stiff texture. When I was first making RI I was thinking it had to be like a glaze, where you just mix the liquid and sugar and it’s done. Royal icing has to be mixed for it to get stiff.
Icing crumbled after it dried
This could be a result of over mixing. If you mix for more than 5 minutes your icing will probably be crumbly and fall off the cookie after it dries. Again, not a lot to be done at this point.
This is a really common problem that all decorators deal with. It’s so frustrating to decorate a beautiful cookie and see an air bubble rising to the surface! The best way to deal with this is before it’s even put in the piping bag or bottle. Let the icing sit for a while, tap the container on a solid surface to bring those bubbles up, then pop them. I use a spatula to wipe the surface and pop as many as I can without creating more.
Icing too thin
If you started out with thick icing and thinned it too much for flooding, this is a pretty easy fix. The easiest way is to add more stiff icing. If your whole batch is too thin, you can add some powdered sugar but you have to be careful of your ratios. If you just add sugar your icing won’t harden. A good thing to keep on hand is a small bag of sugar/meringue powder mix. You can do 1/2 lb. of sugar with 1 1/2 tbsp. meringue powder. You can add this to thinned icing and not worry about your ratios being off.
The Simple Cookie’s Royal Icing Recipe
- 2 lbs powdered sugar
- 6 tbsp. meringue powder
- 2-3 tsp vanilla extract
- 3/4 cup warm water
- 2 Tbsp corn syrup
In a small bowl, combine the meringue powder and water. Wisk until combined.
- In a large mixing bowl, add the powdered sugar and water/meringue powder mixture.
- Turn mixer on low and combine.
- Add extract and combine until ingredients come together.
- While the mixer is still mixing on low, add the corn syrup.
- Turn mixer on medium and mix for 4-5 minutes. The icing will form stiff peaks when mixed enough. Do not mix for more than 5 minutes.
A few tips…
This royal icing recipe is easy to make! I’ve tried to take the guess work out of it for you.
Don’t be afraid to experiment with flavors and extracts, the sky is the limit!
This royal icing recipe will keep for about 3 weeks in the fridge. Place plastic wrap on the icing, pressing down to get out all the air bubbles, then cover with an air tight lid. This keeps the icing from drying out and crusting over.
Stir the royal icing after it has been stored, it will separate but is still good to use.
Let the royal icing come to room temperature before using or coloring.
I recommend Americolor food gel paste for coloring royal icing. You can find that here.
Will you try it?
I really hope I’ve inspired you to try this recipe! I’m a firm believer that you don’t have to own a bakery or have an art degree to create beautiful cookies.
Thanks for reading and I would love to know if you tried my recipe!