Learning to Use Royal Icing

Cooked up on August 22, 2012 Filed under: baking, cookies, dessert, entertaining, holiday, under 1 hour
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You know how sugar cookies from a bakery have that perfect icing top? It is hard, lends itself to the most intricate designs and crackles a little when you bite into it? That would be royal icing.

And after wondering about it forever, I finally decided to try some myself. After all, who doesn’t want their cookies to be totally perfect-looking? Someday I will feel that way, but in the meantime, I just wanted to learn how to use it.

I’ve been doing a lot of learning lately – specifically with sourdough. Remember when I thought I had my sourdough boule perfected? Well, turns out that either Sam (the name Diane gave to our starter) is in a bit of a growth slump or this recipe just isn’t too great. Loaf after loaf keeps coming out of the oven wayyy too dense. Even with ridiculously long rise times – we’re talking rising for 8 hours in the fridge, then another hour outside the fridge – the loaves are coming out denser than they should. So I will continue to experiment. Thankfully this frosting recipe was actually quite easy, and I’m happy to say it worked out better than my last loaf of bread.

Depending on what you want to do, you can add more powdered sugar to a royal icing recipe to make it stiffer – this is a good idea if you’re going to be piping it onto the cookie. The pros will use a piping bag to draw an outline around the shape they want filled with icing, then squirt a bunch of icing in the middle and let it flow out to the icing outline, which will act as a border.

This time I did none of those things. I wanted to start really, really basic. I made the icing, and then I used a spoon to move the icing to the top of the cookies and spread it around.

So what’s the secret to that icing? Apparently it is something called meringue powder. I bought mine at Sur La Table. Here’s what you need:

  • 1/4 cup meringue powder
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • some cookies to ice

Using a stand mixer, a hand mixer or (NOT ideal) a whisk, beat the meringue powder and water together until the mixture forms soft peaks, just like if you were whipping up an egg. This took about 10 minutes in my stand mixer. I imagine it would be pretty similar with a hand mixer.

Add the powdered sugar one cup at a time, and continue to beat in at a LOW speed so the sugar doesn’t fly everywhere. Pretty soon it will start to actually look like frosting. The container for the meringue powder (my source for this recipe) says that you can add up to another 1/2 cup of sugar to make stiffer icing. Without adding extra, it seemed pretty stiff but really was just thick – it still ran for me! But that is OK – experiments, remember? Sometimes you have to learn stuff by doing!

Anyway, this icing will start to harden somewhat quickly. I used the back of a spoon, as I mentioned before, to just frost a round patch of icing on top of the cookies, and let them set up. The frosting hardened up within a few hours, and had a nice little crunch when I bit into it. I will definitely be busting this out around the holidays. I can’t wait!

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