You’ve seen royal icing even if you’re not familiar with the term. It’s that shiny, firm, colorful icing used for intricate (or sometimes more minimal) cookie decorating. While the decorating techniques themselves are an art form that require a bit of time and practice to perfect, royal icing is actually quite simple to prepare! In mere minutes you can have a vibrant icing that is perfect for both beginners and more skilled cookie decorators alike.

Things You’ll Need

1/4 cup meringue powder
1/2 cup water
1 pound confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon light corn syrup
Optional: 1 teaspoon almond extract
Gel food coloring
Stand mixer
Fine mesh strainer
Spatulas and mixing bowls

A Note About Ingredients

While you will sometimes see recipes for royal icing that omit meringue powder and gel food coloring, I highly recommend using them.

Royal icing is meringue-based, and it was originally made using beaten egg whites. Since the egg whites are not cooked and pasteurized eggs are not always easy to come by (or are not properly labeled at the store), meringue powder is a reasonably priced, reliable method for making royal icing that is safe to consume. Also, meringue powder is not perishable like eggs so it will last for quite some time in the pantry. You can find meringue powder in the baking section of craft shops, food stores, as well as online.

If you want to achieve bright, vibrant colors, gel food coloring is also a must. Just a few drops will dramatically transform white icing without changing the consistency, which is not the case with standard food coloring from the grocery store. Consistency is important while decorating cookies, and you don’t want to water the icing down more than necessary.

Royal icing doesn’t taste wonderful compared to other buttercreams and frostings, so I recommend adding some almond extract for flavor, though this is an optional ingredient. Peppermint extract would also work. Vanilla extract is usually darker in color, and I recommend sticking with a clear extract in this instance. Corn syrup will add shine to the icing.

Let’s Get Mixing!

Step 1: Add meringue powder and water to stand mixer.
Place the meringue powder and 1/2 cup of water in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.

Step 2: Combine on medium to medium-high speed for 2 minutes.
Mix until the meringue starts to become frothy and bubbly, and there are no lumps.

Step 3: Sift in the powdered sugar.
Sift in the powdered sugar. Do not skip the sifting step or you will wind up with lumpy icing!

Step 4: Continue mixing.
Mix on low speed until the sugar has mostly incorporated. Add in the corn syrup and extract.

Step 5: Whip the meringue.
Turn the speed to medium-high and mix for 4 to 5 minutes until a still peak has formed.

Step 6: Divide, add food coloring.
Divide into smaller bowls and add gel food coloring as desired. Store any unused icing in a bowl with plastic wrap pressed directly against the surface to keep it from drying out.