My Favorite Royal Icing

Here is my classic easy royal icing made with meringue powder. It’s easy to work with, sets quickly, and won’t break your teeth when it dries. It has the most delicious taste and texture and makes decorating sugar cookies FUN and SIMPLE. Use this traditional royal icing recipe for both flooding and outlining your sugar cookies!

royal icing in mixing bowl

This is the only traditional royal icing I use. It’s my favorite because it’s easy to work with, sets quickly, and doesn’t require raw egg whites. And, best of all, it doesn’t have a hard cement-like texture. It won’t break your teeth like other royal icings!

Meringue Power in Royal Icing

There are many ways to prepare royal icing and my favorite method is with meringue powder. Meringue powder takes the place of raw egg whites, which is found in traditional royal icing recipes. Both create a very sturdy and stable icing that hardens quickly on top of cookies. Meringue powder, while containing eggs, eliminates the need for raw fresh eggs, but still provides the EXACT same consistency. You can find meringue powder in some baking aisles, most craft stores with a baking section, and online. I just buy it on Amazon in the 8 ounce container. Super inexpensive and it lasts me awhile.

This royal icing is just 3 ingredients: confectioners’ sugar, meringue powder, and water. The trickiest part is landing on the perfect consistency, but I have a helpful video for you below. Sometimes I need more water, sometimes I need less water. But the wonderful thing is that you can manipulate the icing to get the proper consistency by adding more water or more confectioners’ sugar. It’s awesome.

Use This Royal Icing for Flooding and Piping

I use this one royal icing for both piping/outlining and flooding. It is thick enough to outline and thin enough to flood, which makes it super convenient.

Decorated sugar cookies with my favorite royal icing on sallysbakingaddiction.com

Decorating Sugar Cookies

Here is the sugar cookie recipe you need. Soft centers, crisp edges, easy to decorate.

Some handy tools:

  • Couplers – only needed if you’re using the same icing color, but need to switch tips.
  • Piping Bags – I prefer the 16 inch size for decorating.
  • Gel Food Coloring – get the whole set. I love these colors for royal icing, cake batter, frosting, etc. They’re high pigmented so you don’t need as much coloring.
  • Piping Tips– see below.
  • Toothpick — I use a toothpick to help spread out the icing. You could also just use the piping tip, too.

And some piping tips. I always use Wilton piping tip #4 for outlining and flooding the cookie with icing. This is a wonderful basic piping tip to have in your collection. For any detail, I use a thinner round tip like Wilton piping tip #1 (super thin) and Wilton piping tip #2 (thin). For larger round tips that are easier to work with, I suggest Wilton piping tip #3Wilton piping tip #4, or Wilton piping tip #5. The piping tip #s reflect their sizes– #1 being the thinnest and #5 being the largest of this particular bunch.

Just starting out with piping details? I suggest #1 (smallest), #3 (medium), and #5 (largest of the bunch). You can create anything basic with these three.

Decorated sugar cookies with my favorite royal icing on sallysbakingaddiction.com

Royal icing on sugar cookies

Royal Icing Consistency

After mixing the 3 icing ingredients together, lift the whisk attachment up. If the icing that drips off melts back into the bowl of icing within 5-10 seconds, you’re golden. If it’s too thick, add more water. If it’s super thin and watery, add more confectioners’ sugar.

Can I Freeze Royal Icing?

Yes, royal icing can be frozen. Many royal icing recipes, including my own, yield a lot of icing. Any leftover royal icing can be frozen for up to 2 months. Place leftover royal icing into zipped-top freezer bags. If you have more than 1 color, each color should have its own bag. Before sealing, squeeze as much air out of the bag as possible. Freeze on a flat shelf surface in your freezer. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator and bring to room temperature before using again.

Sugar cookies decorated with royal icing freeze well up to 3 months. Wait for the icing to set completely before layering between sheets of parchment paper in a freezer-friendly container. To thaw, thaw in the refrigerator or at room temperature.

Royal Icing Alternative

If desired, try this royal icing alternative that I posted on my blog a couple years ago. This “glaze” icing doesn’t set/dry as quickly as royal icing and it’s not as easy to decorate with. That being said, sometimes it’s just the more convenient option! It will dry in about 24 hours, where the royal icing recipe below dries in about 1-2 hours.

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decorated Christmas sugar cookies

My Favorite Royal Icing

  • Author: Sally
  • Prep Time: 5 minutes
  • Cook Time: 0 minutes
  • Total Time: 5 minutes
  • Yield: 3 cups
  • Category: Dessert
  • Cuisine: American

Description

Here is my classic easy royal icing made with meringue powder. It’s easy to work with, sets quickly, and won’t break your teeth when it dries. It has the most delicious taste and texture and makes decorating sugar cookies fun and simple. Use this traditional royal icing recipe for both flooding and outlining your sugar cookies!


Ingredients

  • 4 cups (480g) confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  • 3 Tablespoons meringue powder
  • 910 Tablespoons room temperature water
  • optional for decorating: gel food coloring (I love this food coloring kit)

Instructions

  1. Watch the video of the icing above so you get an idea of what the final consistency should be.
  2. In a large bowl using a hand mixer or a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, beat all of the icing ingredients together on high speed for 1.5 – 2 minutes. When lifting the whisk up off the icing, the icing should drizzle down and smooth out within 5-10 seconds. If it’s too thick, add a little more water. (On particularly dry days, I use up to 12-14 Tablespoons water total.) If it’s too thin, add a little more sifted confectioners’ sugar.
  3. Icing completely dries in about 2 hours at room temperature. If you’re layering royal icing onto cookies for specific designs and need it to set quickly, place cookies in the refrigerator to help speed it up. See blog post above for freezing instructions.

Notes

  1. When you’re not working directly with the royal icing (for example, you are decorating cookies but you still have some icing left in the bowl that you intend to use next), place a damp paper towel directly on the surface of the royal icing. This prevents it from hardening.

Keywords: royal icing, sugar cookies, cookie decorating, icing

Here is my recipe for the best sugar cookies.

sugar cookies with icing

423 Comments

  1. Hi Sally, what can we do if we don’t have meringue powder? Will it work if we don’t use it?

    1. Hi Leila! Meringue powder helps as the base of this royal icing, so don’t skip it. If you don’t have any, try the glaze icing from my Christmas sugar cookies.

      1. You can use egg whites instead!

  2. I baked these cookies for Easter and they are soft and had a really nice vanilla flavour. I highly recommend these!

    1. I am over 70 and it took me 55 years to find
      The perfect roll out sugar cookie! Best recipe ever!!!!!!!!! Easy. Tasty and recipe works!!
      Thank you

  3. You have beautiful recipes, Sally!

    1. Jenn Larsen says:

      I made the cookies as suggested with the almond extract and they taste amazing!

    2. What gel food coloring brand would you recommend for color:
      golden yellow

  4. Hi Sally, I am making some cookie kits for my neighbors and I wanted to use your royal icing in the box. How long will this icing last in a pipping bag if the bag hasn’t been cut?
    Thanks!

    1. Hi Katie, Royal icing will last for several days at room temperature (as long as you are using meringue powder like in this recipe) in an airtight container. However, I find it will start to separate after a few hours and need to be stirred again before using, so it’s best not to store it in icing bags until you are ready to use it.

      1. Hi Sally!
        What would you recommend instead of the royal icing if I want to give cookie decorating kits (with the icing in bags)?
        Thanks!!
        Ruth

      2. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

        Hi Ruth, You can try the easy icing that can be found in this cookie post.

  5. Hi sally. If I need to use at least 2 colors for Pikachu cookies. Do I fill in with yellow first and wait for it to dry? Or can I just use the second and third color right away on top of the yellow. Have to make eyes n mouth I believe. Thank you

    1. Hi Kim, There are two methods to applying multiple colors of royal icing. Wet on wet is when you don’t wait for the first color to dry, or you can wait for the first to dry to add the second color which will then sit on top. Either method works as long as your icing isn’t too thin.
      These are Christmas Cookies but you can see the difference between the two methods.

  6. Can I use this to decorate a cake…. I will have to play with the consistency of the icing for creating peaks with the piping bag

    1. You can make designs for a cake with royal icing, but I don’t recommend covering the whole cake with it.

      1. Hi, this morning age has been so useful to me! Thank you!
        Just wondering- why can’t you use Royal icing to decorate the whole top of the cake?
        I’m make by a butterfly cake and was going to use Royal icing…
        thanks in advance

      2. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

        Hi Kae, While you could use royal icing on cake, it is very very sweet and may be overwhelming in that quantity. Also it dries hard which is wonderful for decorations on a cake, decorating cookies that you can stack, etc. but not the best texture to cover an entire cake.

  7. Hi Sally,
    Have you ever made a chocolate royal icing? I was wondering if I could just swap some of the powdered sugar for cocoa powder. Maybe you have tried?

    1. I haven’t, but some readers have with luck. Let me know if you try anything!

  8. Hi Sally, Can you use Royal Icing on chocolate and then freeze it after it is decorated? I’m attempting to make an ice cream cake for my nephews birthday and making his name and age from chocolate I tempered and then piped onto stencils I also made. I wanted to make royal icing and decorate the his name. Thank you

    1. Hi Lisa, I freeze cookies decorated with royal icing so I don’t see why this wouldn’t work also.

      1. Thanks, Sally!

  9. I had other royal icing recipes fail on me. Sally’s recipe is reliable and tastes great. Her video is helpful. Highly recommend!

  10. I did not like the taste of this icing at all. There is no flavoring. Did you forget too at the vanilla or almond flavoring? It tasted like pure powdered sugar. Worst total icing I have ever made. One start b/c the consistency was okay, but you can adjust that with any icing recipe.

    1. Hi Elisa, royal icing doesn’t really have a distinct flavor. It’s a sweet topping for cookies and other confections. Feel free to add a little extract if you decide to try it again. I do find that brands of confectioners’ sugar range in flavor. I find Domino brand’s flavor more mellow– it’s what I usually use here.

      1. This was the best. I added a little extra powdered sugar and a little vanilla. It’s good on the cookie and I can’t comment enough on how perfect the consistency was!!

  11. Sophia Estrada says:

    Hi Sally! I was wondering what the measurements would be if I only wanted to make one cup of royal icing? I want to make tiny decorations for my macarons.

    1. Hi Sophia, it would be best (and easiest!) to halve the recipe to yield 1.5 cups.

  12. Hello! I love your recipes! I was wondering before I attempted this icing, can I add flavoring? would adding vanilla or any other extract call for different measurements? does it mix well with the meringue powder? Ive never used meringue powder before.

    1. Thank you, Abby! If you want to add additional flavor you can feel free to add any extracts such as vanilla, almond, etc. Just be sure it’t not an oil based flavor.

  13. Can I use liquid food coloring?

    1. You can but I prefer gel food coloring. With liquid you will need to add more to get brighter colors and that can change the consistancy of your royal icing. I suggest using liquid food coloring in place of some of your water.

      1. Irritated mom says:

        Totally wrong consistency and tasted terrible. Ended up throwing out the whole batch and not doing the cookies planned for my daughter’s graduation. So disappointing

  14. Hy! Sally I was wondering what would happen if you used cremmor tar tar instead of meringue powder? Would it have a diffrent reaction?

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Julia, Meringue powder is very different in terms of function and composition. Meringue powder is mostly powdered egg whites which creates icing when mixed with water. Cream of tarter is more of a stabilizer.

  15. Erin Thompson says:

    Could this recipe be used as a drip icing down a cake? Can not use the typical method of chocolate ganache due to allergy to chocolate. Thanks

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Erin, You can! You’ll want to play with the consistency a bit to get the drips just right, and remember that after a while it will dry hard – unlike a ganache drip.

  16. Hi! I was wondering how much of the recipe I should use if I only need to decorate 12 cookies?

    1. Hilari @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Kaylee, it depends on how big your cookies are. You could 1/3 or 1/2 the recipe- I would probably make a half batch just so you have enough icing and don’t have to make another smaller batch. Happy cookie decorating!

  17. Can I use this recipe to entirely cover a cookie in royal icing?

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Sure can!

  18. Hi! Can I decorate the cookies with the royal icing a day after I’ve baked the cookies or is it best to do it all at once?

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Lyndsay, It’s fine to decorate them the next day!

  19. Daniella D. says:

    I find that when I put sprinkles on the icing, they weigh down the icing which causes the icing to go down the side of the cookie. Can anything be done to prevent this?

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Daniella, Using a thinner layer of icing, and/or not piping it as close to the edges of the cookies could help!

  20. I have royal icing I’ve purchased from a candy store. All I have to do is add water, which is great, however, the icing is always sticky!! It never hardens and the cookies can’t be stored one on top of the other. Does this receipe freeze well decorated, and not sticky? I need to make cookies for a bridal shower. Thanks, Ann

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Ann, Yes decorated sugar cookies will freeze well – we do it all the time! See the section in the post above “Can I Freeze Royal Icing?” for directions.

  21. Can I stack the cookies after I ice them? I accidentally put my finger on them (too much pressure I guess?) and they indented. I tried to”set” the icing in the fridge after the cookies were done but I’m afraid they’re too soft. They are for for daughter’s party this weekend and I’m afraid they will melt outside! Did I do something wrong or is it just not a hard royal icing recipe? Any advice would be appreciated! Thank you!

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Lisa, This recipe will dry hard enough to stack! However, how long it takes to completely harden can vary greatly depending on how much water you added, the humidity in the air, how thick you applied the icing, etc. I usually wait a full 24 hours to stack them if I’m making them for a party.

  22. I don’t have a whisk attachment on my mixer, will a regular attachment work?

  23. Hi! Can I use this recipe to write on cakes? Like “Happy Birthday”?

    1. Hilari @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Rose, I recommend our vanilla buttercream recipe for writing on cakes.

  24. Hi Sally!

    I tried your Royal Icing recipe, but no mater how much water I put in it was always thick.
    Could it have been the Meringue Powder? My icing had the consistence of marshmallow fluff.
    Need Help!
    Thank you!

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Kristin, I wonder if you over-beat the icing. When you mix royal icing too fast/too long you will incorporate too much air and it will become fluffy. Next time try slowing down your mixer and mixing for less time, you can also try switching to the paddle attachment instead of the whisk.

      1. Thanks Stephanie! YES this is EXACTLY what happened!

        Thank you, you’re a lifesaver 🙂

  25. Hi Sally!
    I don’t have meringue powder ,but I heard you could replace it using a fresh egg white. I was wondering if that would work for this recipe?
    Thankyou!

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Alexa, I recommend the meringue powder here. Using fresh egg whites would require a different recipe. Luckily there are many options if you’re going that route! Or if desired, try this easy glaze icing which does not require meringue powder or egg whites.

  26. Thank you! I don’t like sugar cookies , but these cookies were delicious ! 🙂

  27. May I ask maybe a stupid question? I have made royal icing in the past and with varied results. I made this icing recipe and followed your instructions…I am using a stand mixer and had it on high speed for what seemed like forever and could not come up with the right piping consistency. I kept lifting the whisk and it was still too stiff…I ended up using WAY to much water (I am pretty sure almost a cup!!!) and it was finally what seemed correct. Piped the cookies and let them set….looks/felt like a marshmellowy consistency and set after 1 1/2 days…..why did it take so much water to thin it out? What did I do wrong? Thank you in advance!

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Chele, I wonder if you over-beat the icing. When you mix royal icing too fast/too long you will incorporate too much air and it will become fluffy. Next time try slowing down your mixer and mixing for less time, you can also try switching to the paddle attachment instead of the whisk as some people notice less air with the paddle. I hope this helps!

      1. Thank you, I have seen beat slow and at high speed – sorta confusing. Any idea why it would have taken so much water?

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