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How to Make Royal Icing

Royal Icing is perfect for decorating cookies and cakes as well as other sweets like muffins, cupcakes, and candy, without being sticky. Royal icing hardens so it looks, feels, and tastes like your cookies came from a fancy bakery. That way you can create beautifully decorated cookies that will not smudge or make little fingers sticky. This easy royal icing recipe is easy to make with just three ingredients including powdered sugar, egg whites, and vanilla extract. This is a must-try Christmas recipe that you will use over and over again!

We have all probably made sugar cookies for the holidays and other celebrations, but have you ever wondered who invented them? According to the experts, sugar cookies have been around since the 7th century in Persia. However, the traditional sugar cookie recipe did not appear until the 1600s when Protestant settlers made them. They were called Nazareth cookies because they were made in Nazareth, Pennsylvania.

Ingredients needed:

  • Powdered sugar: Also known as confectioners’ sugar or icing sugar, this soft sugar is the only way to get the right consistency.
  • Raw egg whites: You can use meringue powder or egg white powder, but it is more difficult to find.
  • Pure vanilla extract: Be sure to use 100% vanilla extract. Artificial vanilla flavoring will not give you the best taste.

How to make royal icing from scratch?

  1. Beat the egg whites: First, use the whisk attachment or paddle attachment on your stand mixer to beat the egg whites at medium speed until they are frothy. This should take about a minute.
  2. Add the sugar and vanilla: Then, turn the mixer to medium-low speed and slowly add the vanilla and powdered sugar. Just add the sugar a little bit at a time to let it incorporate slowly.
  3. Beat until stiff: After it is completely mixed, turn the mixer up to medium-high speed and beat until stiff peaks form and it is the desired consistency. Add more powdered sugar if it is not thick enough.
  4. Mix icing and food coloring: Now, divide the icing into small bowls, mix in a few drops of food coloring, and stir until it is the color you like. Cover with plastic wrap if you are not ready to use it right away.
  5. Decorate cookies: If you are ready to start decorating cookies, spoon the icing into the piping bags and use it right away.

Recipe variations:

  • Meringue powder: Instead of egg whites, you can use meringue powder or egg white powder.
  • Lemon juice: A teaspoon of lemon juice added to your royal icing makes it taste fresher.
  • Other extracts: To flavor your icing, use a different kind of extract such as maple, chocolate, birthday cake, or whatever you like. Almond extract would give your cookies a delicious taste.
  • Outlining and flooding cookies: Use this foolproof royal icing recipe for making sugar cookies. Just outline cookies with royal icing and then flood icing in the middle of the cookie afterward. Then, let it dry until it is the proper consistency.
  • Add fruit juice: Instead of food coloring, try using fruit juice for natural coloring. Try strawberry or raspberry for pink. Cranberry and pomegranate will give you red. And you can use blueberry juice to make purple.
  • Different consistency: You can use the basic recipe for any kind of cookies and cakes. Try experimenting with different consistencies for other uses.

Frequently asked questions

Why isn’t my icing shiny?

As royal icing dries, the smoother it becomes. But if your kitchen is too humid or warm, it may cause it to dry too slowly. This will lead to a dull look. Put your cookies with royal icing on them in front of a fan to help them dry faster. It could also be that you mixed your icing too long. Only mix until it is the desired consistency. You want it to dry harder than regular buttercream frosting would do.

Why did my icing not harden?

You may not have waited long enough. It takes about six to eight hours to dry at room temperature. You may have too much liquid in your icing. Add more powdered sugar to make it thicker. Some traditional royal icing recipes call for meringue powder, which would help with the hardening process too. However, it can be difficult to find meringue powder. You may be able to find it at craft stores.

What can I do with leftover icing?

There are many fun uses for leftover royal icing. For example, it is great for decorating a gingerbread house (or gingerbread houses). You can also use it for cake decorating, making special cupcakes, or with any dessert cuisine. I have known people using royal icing to decorate donuts too. Or spread some between two cookies or graham crackers for a cookie sandwich.

How to store leftovers:

  • Store: You can store your leftover royal icing in an airtight container for up to two weeks.
  • Freeze: For longer storage, freeze royal icing in a freezer bag. It will be good for up to 60 days.
  • Thaw: Thaw your icing overnight before using it for the best results.

More Christmas recipes to try:

Royal Icing

Royal Icing is perfect for decorating cookies and cakes as well as other sweets like muffins, cupcakes, and candy, without being sticky.

four piping bags filled with colorful royal icing: greed red white black on a table with cookies in the background
  • Prep Time5 MIN
  • Cook Time
  • Servings 32 servings


  • 3 egg whites
  • 1 pound confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice


  • Add the egg whites to the bowl of a stand mixer or large mixing bowl, and beat on medium-low speed until frothy, about 1 minute.
    craving an egg on top of a large bowl with egg whites in it
  • Next, reduce the speed to low, and slowly add in the confectioners’ sugar, vanilla, and lemon juice.
    pouring vanilla extract into a bowl with fluffy egg whites
  • Beat the mixture until fully incorporated, and after that increase the speed to medium-high and beat until stiff peaks form. The mixture should be stiff with shiny peaks.
    a bowl of fluffy egg white with a mixer in it
  • If you want to color your icing, it is better to use gel food coloring. First, divide the icing among small bowls, and stir in gel food coloring. Transfer to piping bags and decorate cookies.
    four piping bags filled with colorful royal icing: greed red white black on a table with cookies in the background
  • Either store the icing in piping bags or add it to a bowl and cover it with plastic wrap as it dries out very quickly.
    pouring royal icing into a small bowl

Nutrition Facts

Recipe tips:

  • Since eggs separate easier when cold and whites whip easier when at room temperature, it is best to separate your eggs ahead of time.
  • If you do not have a stand mixer, you can use an electric mixer or hand mixer in a large mixing bowl. You could even mix it by hand, but it will take some time.
  • Do not go too quickly. You have to add powdered sugar slowly so the icing rises.
  • It is also best to whip the eggs at a low speed to let the protein break down better. It helps you get thicker icing that is more elastic.
  • Make sure your mixing bowl is clean and dry because any fat or water will prevent the egg whites from getting fluffy.
  • Gel food coloring is more concentrated so you can use less, and liquid food coloring can thin out the icing. Thin icing can cause air bubbles.
  • If your icing gets hard while you are using it, add a couple of drops of water to thin it out as needed. You can also keep it moist by covering it with a damp paper towel.
  • For the best results, use a piping bag to outline the cookie first and then fill it by flooding it.
  • Instead of piping bags and piping tips, you can use plastic baggies with the corner cut off.

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Christy G

Christy G

I’ve made royal icing once before and it wasn’t very easy to make. I prefer making buttercream or whipped frosting instead.

Monidipa Dutta

Monidipa Dutta

Loved your icing recipe! Super easy to follow, even for a non-cook like me. The steps were clear, and the end result was impressive. Didn't actually make it, but your instructions make me want to give it a shot!



This brought back memories. My Mom had a cake business when I was young and I would always watch her prepare icing. It was fun to watch.

Melanie E

Melanie E

Oh wow, I never though to make Royal icing from scratch for my cakes. I normally buy the ready made stuff. I'd love to give this a try myself. It would look so good on my Christmas cookies and I bet it tastes so much better too.

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