What is Royal Icing?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Royal icing is a type of dessert icing which dries to a hard, glossy finish. It will be solid white when dry, unless it is colored. This simple icing can be used for cakes, cookies, cupcakes, and a range of other baked goods, and in addition to being spread onto desserts, it can also be piped into fanciful shapes. This icing is extremely easy to make at home, and it is useful to know how to make this icing, because it is fast and extremely versatile.

Royal icing dries to a hard finish, making it convenient for cookies.
Royal icing dries to a hard finish, making it convenient for cookies.

There are two different recipes for royal icing. The traditional recipe uses raw egg whites, and it has been utilized for quite a long time. For people who are concerned about the health risks of raw eggs, an alternative recipe uses meringue powder, a pasteurized and dried egg product which behaves much like the egg whites in the finished product. In both cases, be aware that this type of icing dries out very quickly, so it needs to be made right before it will be used, and handled with care.

To test consistency of royal icing, dip a spoon into a bowl of it and then drizzle the icing slowly off the edge of the spoon. A small ribbon of icing should form, subsiding back into the bowl after around five seconds. If you have trouble making workable icing or your icing gets crusty, add a few drops of glycerin to the icing as you make it to keep it from getting brittle.

To make traditional royal icing, combine three cups of sifted confectioner's sugar with two beaten egg whites and two teaspoons of lemon. If you wish to color the icing, you can add food coloring once it has been combined. Many people like to separate their royal icing into a number of small bowls, coloring each individually and using the icing to create various designs on their baked goods; make sure to cover any icing which is not in use.

To make royal icing with meringue powder, sift together four cups of powdered sugar and three tablespoons of meringue powder. Add one half teaspoon of an extract such as almond, orange, lemon, or vanilla, and then up to ¾ cup water. Add the water slowly, testing the icing to see when it has reached the ideal spreadable consistency. This safe version is highly recommended if you are icing baked goods for people with compromised immune systems, as it ensures that there is no trace of potentially dangerous bacteria.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


@anon186934: You *could* use royal icing on a cake, but why would you want to? In general, royal icing is more for decorative purposes, or for sturdy baked goods like cookies.

If your goal is a decorative cake, then royal icing might be all right. However, if the cake is being judged on taste as well, you might want to go with a buttercream frosting, which is always a winner in the taste category.

If you're decorating cookies, then certainly, royal icing is a good choice.


I'm in the 4H fair in my town and this is my first year using royal icing. my instructor told me that you could use it to frost your cake but from what I've read online you can't. is this true? please help.


@anon56057 -- I'm not sure if it's the same for every kind of storage container, but I have heard that you can keep royal icing for up to a week or two in a sealed plastic container. I would imagine a plastic airtight bag would be the same, as long as you make sure to get all of the air out before sealing it.

The problem is that the quality probably won't be the same as if it is freshly made, and you may have to make a few adjustments to it, before it can be used.


Would you use this icing for frosting an entire cake, or is it just for making smaller, decorative, designs?

The recipe sounds very simple -- I'm not too worried about the egg white -- and I'd like to try it, but I want to make sure I'm using it for the correct purpose.


how long does it keep in an air tight bag?

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