What Is Royal Icing? (And How Do You Make It?)

It's easier to make royal icing than you think!

Take your homemade cookies to the next level with royal icing. This sweet ingredient is the secret to making confections with Instagram-worthy designs and intricate patterns. The icing goes on smooth, then dries to create a candy-like consistency—making it both pretty and delicious.

If you’ve never worked with royal icing before, our handy guide is here to help. Now, go whip up a batch of your favorite cutout cookies and get ready to decorate!

Check out our complete Christmas Cookies Baking Guide.

What Is Royal Icing?

Icing comes in many different forms, and royal icing is just one specific type of icing. What sets royal icing apart from other frostings and glazes is that it hardens when cooled, making it a great choice for decorated cookies and gingerbread houses.

You can use royal icing to make a beautiful gingerbread house, too. Here’s how!

How Do You Make Royal Icing?

The secret ingredient in royal icing is meringue powder. This egg white substitute helps the icing achieve its glossy consistency. You can buy meringue powder at many grocery or craft stores, or on Amazon.

What You Need:

  • 2 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons water
  • 4-1/2 teaspoons meringue powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • Food coloring, optional

Step 1: Combine Ingredients

In a small bowl, combine the confectioners’ sugar, water, meringue powder and cream of tartar; beat on low speed just until combined. You can use either a hand mixer or a stand mixer to beat the icing.

Need a new hand mixer? This is the best one to buy, according to our Test Kitchen.

Step 2: Form Stiff Peaks

Beat the mixture on high for 4-5 minutes or until stiff peaks form. You’ll know the mixture is the right consistency when it can hold its shape when lifted out of the bowl.

Step 3: Color the Icing

Tint the icing with food coloring if desired. We recommend gel food coloring because it won’t water down the icing like a liquid food coloring might.

Step 4: Time to Decorate

To decorate, place icing in a pastry bag and pipe onto cooled cookies. For border decorations and dots, use a #3 round pastry tip. For small detailed decorations, use a #1 or #2 round pastry tip. If you plan to make very intricate designs, consider investing in a scriber tool. This needle-like tool gives you greater control over smaller amounts of icing.

Editor tip: Keep unused icing covered at all times with a damp cloth. If necessary, beat again on high speed to restore its texture.

Taste of Home

How Do You Make Royal Icing with Eggs?

Since royal icing is made with meringue powder—an egg white substitute—many bakers wonder if they can use real eggs in place of the powder. In theory, yes, you can. But since you’re using real eggs, there’s an increased chance for food-borne illness. (Here’s what you need to know about salmonella.) Though the risk is slight, it’s still there, so avoid using real egg whites if you can—especially if you’re preparing the icing for children, the elderly or anyone with a weak stomach.

Katie Bandurski
Katie is an Assistant Editor for Taste of Home, specializing in writing and email newsletters. When she’s out of the office, you’ll find her exploring Wisconsin, trying out new vegetarian recipes and combing through antique shops.