Royal Icing Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Royal icing is one of the recipes I get the most questions about. Not only is it the most popular recipe on my site, but it can be tricky for some people to master.
Since we are in the season of decorating lots and lots of cookies, I thought I would pool together the most frequently asked questions about royal icing to help you out as you embark on your own cookie decorating fun!
Q: How do you get the various consistencies of icing?
A: To get stiff, piping, and flood consistency of icing it all depends on the amount of water added to the the powdered sugar and meringue powder. I always recommend starting with stiff consistency (the consistency of a thick frosting, keeps relatively stiff peaks) then adding more water to get piping or flood consistency. Unfortunately, I can’t give you an exact measurement because it depends on how much icing you are working with and how humid your kitchen is. However, my rule of thumb is that piping consistency icing flows off a spoon in large globs and forms soft peaks that never fully settle back into a flat surface. Piping consistency icing settles back into a completely flat surface within 10-15 seconds. Refer to this post for more information.
Q: Can I freeze the cookies after they have been iced?
A: I do not recommend freezing the cookies with the icing. The icing can get discolored or deteriorate due to the moisture. You have a couple options: 1) freeze the cookie dough that has already been cut out and bake/decorate in batches. 2) freeze the already baked cookies and decorate shortly before the party. The cookies will stay good for several days at room temperature.
Q: What is the consistency of the icing after it has dried?
A: It dries completely hard, so you can stack and pack the cookies without risking ruining your hard work. But it’s not so hard that it will break your teeth when you bit into it.
Q: Are there any substitutes for meringue powder in the recipe?
A: Yes, you can substitute either powdered egg whites or regular egg whites. Powdered egg whites is essentially the same thing as meringue powder. The difference is that there is a little flavoring and sugar incorporated into the mixture. If using regular egg whites, I recommend using pasteurized eggs. I have never made royal icing this way, so please refer to this recipe.
Q: How do I prevent colors from bleeding into one another? For instance, if I pipe white icing on top of red icing, or yellow icing on top of blue, the white icing turns pink and the yellow icing turns green.
A: The easiest solution is to layer darker colors over lighter colors, but even then, you risk the dark color transferring. To prevent bleeding as much as possible when using very pigmented colors (red, blue, black, green, etc.), make sure the bottom layer of icing is completely dry before piping on the top layer. If using white icing, actually “color” your icing with white food coloring. This will prevent too much of the color being absorbed into the white icing.
Q: My icing tasted horrible when I was finished with it. What did I do wrong!?
A: Bad tasting icing is very disappointing. It is likely caused by bad powdered sugar or vanilla extract. Not all powdered sugars are created equal. Make sure you use a good quality powdered or confectioners sugar that only contains cane sugar and corn starch. If it contains anything else, it will affect the taste and the texture. However, the bad taste could also be due to old vanilla extract. While it doesn’t typically “go bad”, if it has been around a while and not stored properly, it could “spoil”.
Q: How many cookies will one batch of icing cover?
A: Unfortunately, the short answer is “it depends” It depends on the size of the cookies and the amount of detail. For a cookie about 2-3 inches big, this is enough icing to cover approx. 18 to 24 cookies with one layer of icing and some details.
Q: Can I freeze this royal icing after mixing?
A: Yes, you can absolutely freeze the royal icing after it’s been mixed. I recommend freezing the icing while it’s still in stiff consistency. Make sure to cover the icing completely so that there is no air exposed to the surface. You can freeze the icing for up to a month, and let it thaw in the fridge for a few hours. Make sure to mix the icing after it has thawed, then you can thin it down to your desired consistency.
Q: I noticed that after the icing had dried, the surface was hard, but the icing underneath was not. Is that normal?
A: If the icing underneath is still soft it means that it has not dried all the way. Depending on the humidity of your kitchen (or even if it’s a really rainy day outside), it could take even longer for the icing to dry. I recommend letting the icing dry for at least 4 hours, or overnight (for those really humid days) before packaging the cookies.
Q: I find the meringue powder really messy to work with since it’s so fine. Is there a way to incorporate it into the icing without getting it all over my kitchen?
A: Meringue powder does tend to fly everywhere if you whisk it a little too aggressively. It may also help to add meringue powder to the bowl then pour water in on top so there isn't any dry powder on top. Then slowly mix it until it's fully saturated. Another alternative is to whisk it into the powdered sugar first, then pour in the water.
Q: I don’t know what I did wrong, but I could never get to the right consistency of icing. I kept adding water and mixing, but it just got really whipped up and never fully dried. What did I do wrong?
A: Even though you may have followed the recipe exactly, know that you may need to use more or less water depending on how humid your kitchen is. I recommend starting out by mixing in just enough water that the powdered sugar, meringue powder, and water is the consistency of a thick frosting. Mix it on medium-low speed until it’s light and airy, but don’t mix it any faster. The faster you mix it, the more air gets incorporated. Finally, add water little by little until get to your desired consistency. Again, depending on the humidity, you may have to add more water than you think.
Q: Can I use another extract other than vanilla in my icing?
A: Yes, absolutely! I love using lemon juice or lemon extract in the Summer. Sometimes I will even add almond extract in addition to vanilla extract. I give a lot of other recommendations of flavors you can use in my Ultimate Christmas Cookie Guide.
If you still have questions about royal icing, please leave a comment or email me and I will get back to you with the answer and add it here!