How to Decorate Cookies with Royal Icing

Welcome to the first in what I plan to be a recurring “How-To” series here on Brown Eyed Baker. While recipes are all well and good, there are some techniques that are best explained in a step-by-step method, with pictures included (at least this is how I learn best). As I was decorating my Stanley Cup Playoffs cookies last week I thought that doing a tutorial on how to decorate cookies with royal icing would be a great first How-To post.

pens-cookies-all-angle

I was always very good at baking snowmen, Christmas trees, angels and the like in December, slapping on some buttercream, a few sprinkles and calling it a day. Not that it isn’t good. It is definitely good. But then royal icing came onto my radar. The possibilities seemed endless – a completely smooth finish to the cookies and intricate designs? Now THAT looked fun! I’m here to guide you on a step-by-step tutorial on how to achieve any design you want on any shape cookie. Ready? Let’s begin!


Step 1: Find a Good Sugar Cookie Recipe

This might seem obvious, but not all sugar cookie recipes stand up well to heavy-duty decorating. If you don’t already have a favorite, let me point you to mine: Dorie Greenspan’s All-Occasion Sugar Cookies. They’re incredible.


Step 2: Cool Cookies Completely

Again, maybe elementary, but we’re going step-by-step here. You can’t decorate cookies that have just come out of the oven. Or even cookies that are slightly warm. They need to be completely cool before you can move on to decorating.


Step 3: The Equipment

royal-icing-equip

Now, you don’t necessarily need fancy equipment for decorating with royal icing, but investing in just a few decorating tips and couplers, some disposable pastry bags and squeeze bottles will make your cookie decorating experience exponentially more pleasant. Here is a run-down of what I typically use:

♦  12″ disposable pastry bags. So easy to just throw away when you’re done instead of washing them!

♦  Decorating tips. For outlining the cookie I use a #3 tip and anything from a #1 to #3 for intricate designs on the cookie. It’s not a bad idea to have a few of each number, as I find myself using them a lot.

♦  Couplers. These make it easy to switch the size tip you are using in the same color.

♦  Squeeze Bottles. I use these for flooding my cookies. Since the royal icing is very thin at this point, it’s a much neater alternative to a cut-open pastry bag. Plus you can put the cap on and save any extra icing for next time.

♦  Small bowls or Tupperware (to color your icing)

♦  Toothpicks.


Step 4: Prep, Prep, Prep!

royal-icing-prep

This got me the first time I decorated with royal icing, and is especially important if you are going to be using multiple colors and different tips. I flew by the seat of my pants and ended up making a huge mess, it took twice as long as it should have, and I was trying to fish used tips out of pastry bags to re-use them somewhere else. Your plan of action:

♦  Write down how many different colors you will be using and take out that many pastry bags and couplers and prepare them. Also figure out what size decorating tips you will be using and fit them to the pastry bags.

♦  If you don’t have squeeze bottles for flooding, add additional pastry bags for however many colors you will use for flooding, in additional to the bags of that color you will use for detail work (if any).

♦  Have your icing colors ready and as many small mixing bowls (Tupperware works great for this) as you have colors planned.


Step 5: Make the Royal Icing

The recipe for royal icing is very simple:

4 cups powdered sugar
2 tablespoons meringue powder
6 tablespoons water

Mix all ingredients on low speed for 7-10 minutes or until the icing loses its shine. Add more water by the teaspoon if it appears too stiff. At this stage you want to be able to pipe it easily:

royal-icing-recipe


Step 6: Color the Icing

Divide the icing into your containers based on how much you will need of each one. Proceed to color the icing and then cover each container with a damp paper towel. It is key when working with royal icing not to allow it to dry out.


Step 7: Outline the Cookies

You will want to outline the cookies with whatever color you will be using to fill them in with. Place some of the icing into a disposable pastry bag fitted with a #3 tip and outline the outside of the cookie. I find that keeping the tip about ½-inch above the cookie while moving it allows the icing to lay on the cookie more easily.

royal-icing-outline

You’ll want to make sure that the outline is pretty well set before moving on to flooding the cookies, but I generally find that by the time I am done outlining the first ones are already dry.


Step 8: Flood the Cookies

Take whatever color you are using to fill in the cookies and slowly start adding a few drops of water at a time, until the icing reaches an almost liquid consistency. The test here is to pick some icing up with a spoon and let it drizzle back into the bowl – the drizzle should disappear into the bowl within 10 seconds. Once you have achieved this, you are ready.

royal-icing-flooding

Either fill a squeeze bottle with the thinned icing or transfer it to a disposable pastry bag with a ¼-inch hole cut off the end.

Now squeeze in the icing to almost completely fill the inside the cookie.

Then take a toothpick and gently use it to distribute the icing to any empty spots.

royal-icing-flooding-collage-copy

Once you are done the cookies need to dry completely before moving on to any intricate piped designs. Some bakers will let them sit overnight but I generally find that a 2-3 hour rest will do the trick.

royal-icing-drying

Now use whatever colors and tips  you’d like to achieve the design you want!

royal-icing-details-collage

♦     ♦     ♦

Was this helpful? I’d love your feedback on this post since it’s the first of its kind on Brown Eyed Baker! Any questions or additional tips to share?

What do you want to learn? I’d love to hear what you would like to see featured in the How-To series. A reader has already mentioned that she’d like to see a tutorial on baking bread with yeast. What’s on your list?

Don’t forget to subscribe to the Brown Eyed Baker RSS feed to ensure you don’t miss any upcoming posts!

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470 Responses to “How to Decorate Cookies with Royal Icing”

Comment Pages 1 2 3 8
  1. Happy Cook on June 4, 2009 at 9:16 am

    Loved the step by step instructions and the tips you have given.

    Reply

    • stl on July 14th, 2011 at 6:20 pm

      I have a question regarding coloring the royal icing. Do you use gel paste or liquid food color to tent the icing? I haven’t tried your decorating suggestions, but it’s exactly what I was looking for and I appreciate the in-depth expalantions.

      Thanks so much!

      Reply

      • Libby on January 31st, 2012 at 4:08 pm

        I use the paste or gel to tint mine. You can add whichever you want. The key to using royal icing is to make sure you don’t have any oils or grease touch it or else it won’t set up. Store it in glass or metal bowls, not plastic, as plastic will hold on to fats. Good luck!

        Reply

  2. Liz Brooks on June 4, 2009 at 9:16 am

    This is really great—thank you for sharing! I love sugar cookies but my icing always drips down the sides. These are awesome tips:) Thanks again.

    Reply

  3. Liz Brooks on June 4, 2009 at 9:18 am

    Oh, and I would love to learn about meringue. Do you have any experience with that? My grandma made a chocolate pie with meringue on top and I never got the recipe. Thought I would attempt that this summer. Any info you have to share would be appreciated.

    Reply

  4. Natalie Herr on June 4, 2009 at 9:59 am

    Love the Pens cookies! I’m a born and raised Pittsburgh fan- love em!

    Reply

  5. Susie on June 4, 2009 at 10:31 am

    Awesome! I tried decorated cookies just once and it took me forever.
    Yours are great.
    Susie

    Reply

  6. Risa on June 4, 2009 at 10:36 am

    This was really helpful. I look forward to reading the rest of your “How To’s”

    Reply

  7. Nina H. on June 4, 2009 at 11:05 am

    This was very helpful! Your step by step instructions and the pictures were great! Now I feel that I know what I will be doing when I try it myself. Thanks!

    Reply

  8. Natalie on June 4, 2009 at 11:11 am

    Well done, I think you did a great job explaining how to decorate sugar cookies. You were detailed and organized in your presentation. The pictures gave visual instructions for those, like myself, who are visual learners.

    Thank You

    Reply

  9. Katrina on June 4, 2009 at 12:15 pm

    Great job and tutorial. Mine never look this good!

    Reply

  10. Kristi on June 4, 2009 at 12:19 pm

    Thank you, Thank you! I’ve always wanted to know how to do this and now I can! Can’t wait for more How-to’s from you.

    Reply

  11. Meghan on June 4, 2009 at 12:23 pm

    I love this post!!! Please keep giving details that might seem obvious because it’s those things that most bloggers leave out and some of us (me) need the extra help :)

    I especially like seeing the supplies needed. Back in March I bought some disposable bags and some tips but didn’t know I needed couplers. I still am not clear on how the bag will attach to a coupler and tip, but I’m thinking the coupler might come with instructions for how to do this?

    Thanks again!

    Reply

  12. Cathy on June 4, 2009 at 12:50 pm

    this is great! I was planning on making decorated sugar cookies but didn’t know where to start. Might be a dumb question, but when you decorate it, do you use the original consistency of the royal icing or the thinned out one?

    Reply

    • Crista on December 9th, 2010 at 10:09 pm

      Hi Cathy, I just wanted to tell you that, I believe she said to use the icing as per the recipe for the outline, then add drops of water Until an almost liquid consistency to fill in. It is step 8 ” flood the cookies. :) . Good luck! I made some cookies a few hours ago and wish I had read this before I did. One other great tip is to ice the bottom if the cookie instead of the top. The top of the cookie edges slope down, whereas the bottom of the cookie is flat. Not only is it easier to ice and looks neater, but the bottom is pretty as well. ( no little crumbs ). Hope this helped you. Crista

      Reply

      • nicole on September 26th, 2011 at 9:20 pm

        Crista,
        i just discovered Brown Eyed Baker while doing a “royal icing for sugar cookies” google search. I loved this instruction and plan to text my skills tomorrow night.
        But after reading your comment, i just had to respond and THANK YOU for the suggestion to ice the cookie bottoms. I grew up in a family of cookie bakers, i.e. my mom and her mom. They would start making cookies the saturday after Thanksgiving and wouldn’t stop till the week of Christmas. thousands upon thousands of cookies would be made in my grandmother’s avocado green kitchen.
        Great memories I hope to share with my family.
        sorry for the brief family history of a perfect stranger but as a fellow baker i thought you would appreaciate the traditions baking can create.
        Thank you again for the tip.
        Nicole

        Reply

      • Hope on June 22nd, 2012 at 3:53 pm

        Thank you for the tip on decorating the bottom of the cookie. We made round sugar cookies today and are decorating as “softballs” for an end-of-season party tomorrow. I used ready made cookie dough and the top is not smooth….the bottoms are. Thank you!

        Reply

    • Beckah Whitlock on December 2nd, 2011 at 2:00 pm

      To flood cookies you make your royal icing just like the recipe says for the outline. Save some of the same for detail work after you flood the cookie. When you thin your icing you want to do it just a teaspoon of water at a time and stir it. When you lift the icing up you want it to stream back down into your bowl. When the stream hits the icing in the bowl you want the stream to disappear in about two and a half seconds. Less is too runny and three seconds or four is harder to look with.

      Reply

  13. Terry on June 4, 2009 at 1:56 pm

    I always wondered how everyone got their cookies to look so neat. Mine always look like a 2 year old did them. Thanks for the tips.

    Reply

  14. Angie on June 4, 2009 at 2:57 pm

    I’ve been trying to put together a “how-to” for decorating sugar cookies but I’m horrible at preparing for it so I’ve never felt to expert-like to post about it. I think I’ll scratch the draft I have in my blog and instead just link to this! Thanks!

    Reply

  15. Christine on June 4, 2009 at 3:50 pm

    I have been really curious about how to decorate cookies nicely, so thanks for sharing. It also helps that I should already know how to do most of it! :)

    Reply

  16. Kerstin on June 4, 2009 at 5:05 pm

    Thanks for taking the time to put together such a helpful post! I’ve never decorated sugar cookies like this before and I really enjoyed all your tips! So cute!

    Reply

  17. Becky S on June 4, 2009 at 7:22 pm

    Great tutorial! Cookie decoration is my weak point. Great instructions and photos too! Thanks, looking forward to more wonderful tips tutorials and of course recipes too!

    From a Fellow Pittsburgher. GO PENS! This time the cup is ours!

    Reply

  18. Martha on June 4, 2009 at 8:26 pm

    Great how-to for cookie decorating! I am more of a cookie baker than cookie decorator and admire the patience and artistic abilities this takes.

    Reply

  19. gaga on June 5, 2009 at 1:27 am

    How purty! You did a beautiful job! I’d never be able to make mine so neat. I’m impressed!

    Reply

  20. Amy I. on June 5, 2009 at 1:47 am

    Oh yes, very helpful! I’d love to see more posts like this.

    Reply

  21. Jade on June 5, 2009 at 2:09 pm

    Thank you so much for a such a wonderful tutorial. I have been wanting to make them but have been a little scared. Thanks for the detailed steps.

    Reply

  22. Liliana on June 5, 2009 at 2:35 pm

    Great tutorial Michelle! Thanks. I always seem to have problems when it comes to the ‘flooding’ part.

    I really enjoyed your interview with Donna Diegel on the Examiner.

    I am rooting for the Penguins – Go Crosby!

    Reply

  23. maeghan on June 6, 2009 at 10:38 am

    Love it! I’ve been wanting to tackle royal icing but have been a bit scared, thanks for the easy step by step!

    Reply

  24. bakingepiphanies on June 7, 2009 at 2:45 pm

    This is super helpful. Step 2 seems like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how many times I’ve let my impatience get the best of me and cause me to dive into the decorating before the cookies were completely cool.

    Reply

  25. Michelle on June 8, 2009 at 2:21 pm

    CATHY — Consistency depends on which part of the decorating phase you are talking about. The original consistency should be good enough for piping an outline with a #3 tip (remember that temperature and humidity levels will affect the consistency so you may need to add more or less water). Aside from outlining, if you are doing detailed work with a #1 or #2 tip the icing will need to be a little thinner to keep the icing from breaking. And then of course for flooding the entire cookie you will need the icing even thinner still (see Step #8). I hope this was helpful!

    Reply

  26. BigSis on June 13, 2009 at 4:01 pm

    Thanks so much for a great tutorial! I’m bookmarking it on Delicious so that I don’t lose it!

    Reply

  27. Michelle on June 14, 2009 at 4:21 pm

    BigSis – You are welcome, so glad that you found it helpful!

    Reply

  28. chenyin on June 25, 2009 at 3:58 am

    where you buy the cutter?

    Reply

  29. Michelle on June 25, 2009 at 11:04 am

    Chenyin – I purchased the cutter in the “Football Theme” cookie cutter set by Wilton at Michael’s craft store. I imagine you could find the same product at any arts and crafts store that sells Wilton products like Hobby Lobby or JoAnn Fabrics. You can also buy them off of Wilton’s website here:

    http://www.wilton.com/store/site/product.cfm?id=696917E9-1E0B-C910-EAC4A9E24C060793

    Reply

  30. Rachel on July 5, 2009 at 12:51 pm

    The detailed instructions were great! I never would have guessed that it was so easy to decorate cookies like that, I made some for July 4th and they went over really well!

    Reply

  31. Michelle on July 6, 2009 at 12:08 am

    Hi Rachel,

    I’m so glad you found this helpful and were able to use the instructions to decorate your cookies! Thanks so much for coming back and letting me know!

    -Michelle :)

    Reply

  32. achristiangirl on July 6, 2009 at 4:25 pm

    I will this great step by step with my boys this year

    Reply

  33. Selba on August 11, 2009 at 8:46 am

    Wow! This is such a great post of Royal Icing, thanks for sharing the tips.

    Reply

  34. Keely on August 11, 2009 at 3:23 pm

    I just spent 2 hours delicately painting my biscuits. Once i was done, they still looked like a 2year old had done them :-) so i decided to see how to do this properly (on the net) and came across your website! what a relief!! you have made my next attempt so much more promising. Thank you this was exceptionally helpful.

    Reply

  35. Debbie Parrett on August 18, 2009 at 8:09 pm

    Loved your detailed instructions and photo illustrations. I want to make sugar cookies for an upcoming baby shower. You’ve given me the courage. thanks!!

    Reply

  36. Michelle on August 18, 2009 at 8:17 pm

    Hi Debbie – I’m thrilled that this post has given you the courage to do decorated cookies for a baby shower! I can’t wait to hear how they turn out!

    Reply

  37. Jill Jodrey on August 26, 2009 at 8:48 am

    Thank you X 100! This is a fantastic tutorial.

    Reply

  38. Suzanne on September 20, 2009 at 6:39 pm

    Thanks for the wonderful tutorial! I want to make sugarskull cookies for a Halloween party and this tutorial is just what I have been looking for since I had no idea on how to go about decorating them. You make it sound very easy! Do you recommend a certain type of coloring such as liquid or gel?

    Reply

  39. Michelle on September 28, 2009 at 3:58 pm

    Suzanne – I’m glad this tutorial was timely and useful for you! I recommend the gel coloring, as the liquid can tend to affect the consistency and taste too much. I use Wilton brand, and have also heard good things about Ateco.

    Reply

  40. LInda on October 5, 2009 at 11:10 pm

    Thank you for having step by step, found this very helpful compared to other sights.
    Do the cookies with royal icing get really hard to eat & are they edible?

    Reply

  41. LInda on October 5, 2009 at 11:12 pm

    Does this sugar recipe that you use, can be used for making cookies on a stick? This is something I am excited to try, but need a good cookie recipe.

    Reply

  42. Michelle on October 6, 2009 at 4:20 pm

    Hi Linda,

    So glad you found this helpful! These cookies are absolutely edible! The royal icing dries smooth and hard. I have never used this recipe to make cookies on a stick, so I can’t attest to that, but if you try it definitely stop back and let us know how it turns out!

    Reply

  43. Stephanie on October 12, 2009 at 6:11 pm

    Great step by step instructions. Now I can achieve the professional look I have searching for. I make cookies for the local highschool football team every week and have been looking for this sort of instruction so I can make personalized cookies for each team member. Thanks for sharing your experience.

    Reply

  44. Christine on October 15, 2009 at 12:42 pm

    Beautiful job! My husband is also impressed with the jerseys and wishes there were some Chiefs ones lying on the countertop right now. (I told him they should win first, which didn’t go over well.) Anyway, thanks for the tutorial. It’s very helpful!

    Reply

  45. Meesh on October 22, 2009 at 8:38 pm

    Late to the party here but honestly this post just rocks!!!! I have been baking for y e a r s and have not had great luck with Royal Icing and cookies. Should have been obvious to thin the icing you flood with but nooooo never read it anywhere nor saw it demonstrated! Thank you, Thank you!!!! Keep up the great work! Meesh :D

    Reply

  46. Brooke on October 23, 2009 at 5:20 pm

    thank you So much! i have always wanted to decorate cookies but have never known how. i’ve even asked others but never gotten a response. i can’t wait to try with you step by step instructions.

    Reply

  47. Emily on October 25, 2009 at 8:02 pm

    Thank you so much for such GREAT instructions! I do have a question though–I followed your directions, but I think I thinned my “flooding” icing a little too much. The cookies took forever to dry, some icing breached my “dam” and most importantly, tiny bubbles were in all of them, and did not go away upon drying. Will thinning the icing cause these bubbles? I didn’t even shake the icing in my squeeze bottle so I can’t imagine where so many bubbles came from! Also, I was using very light colors and I added more “flooded” icing when they started drying a little and I felt I could still see cookie showing through the icing. I know now that was overkill–well let’s just say I learned A LOT just trying this out on my own! But the bubbles are my major concern. Any ideas?

    Reply

  48. Tania on October 26, 2009 at 10:49 am

    Hi, I made the cookies and followed the above recipe and instructions for icing them. They looked good, but not the way in picture. I mean, my icing after drying, was not very shiny and smooth. It looked smooth while wet, but was little crusty after drying. What do you think I must be doing wrong? Do you use some very fine sugar for it?
    Also, my cookies took forever to dry. My last night batch is still drying.
    can you please advice where I could be doing wrong. Thanks!

    Reply

  49. Michelle on October 26, 2009 at 5:32 pm

    Hi Emily – You hit the nail on the head – thinning the icing too much to flood the cookies will definitely cause a lot of little bubbles. It has definitely happened to me before. That would also be why they took a long time to dry, breached the dam and weren’t a deep enough color. I hope you’re not discouraged and I’ll give the cookies another shot!

    Reply

  50. Michelle on October 26, 2009 at 5:43 pm

    Hi Tania – The type of sugar that should be used for the royal icing is powdered sugar, which is softer and finer than granular sugar. What type of sugar did you use? Not using powdered sugar would be a reason why it looked a little “crusty”. I hope this helps!

    Reply

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