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

Comment Pages 1 2 3 4 8
  1. Tania Tangri on October 26, 2009 at 11:14 pm

    Thanks so much Michelle. You were right on sugar.. I was not using the fine powdered sugar. I did another batch with icing sugar and it came out perfect.

    Reply

  2. DenzelWEn on November 2, 2009 at 12:13 pm

    Good morning, Happy late Halowen(: !!

    Reply

  3. Amanda on November 6, 2009 at 9:56 pm

    WHOA. That’s too weird! I just happened across this from a link on your onesie cookies. I JUST made 20 football jersey cookies and colored them tonight! I was planning on adding the kid’s numbers to the jerseys tomorrow really early so that they are dry for their football party tomorrow :0) Great tutorial!!

    Reply

  4. Jessica on November 12, 2009 at 10:44 am

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for sharing this information!! I am so happy to know how to do this now!!!

    Reply

  5. Susan on November 16, 2009 at 3:45 pm

    Your tutorial was great….and the royal icing recipe has worked great. What type of food/icing coloring do you use? I just purchased the wilton icing coloring and I can’t seem to get certain colors to brighten up (ie. my red looks like fushia). Thanks again!!

    Reply

  6. Alberta on November 17, 2009 at 11:59 pm

    Great tips! Thanks! :D

    Reply

  7. Elizabeth on November 19, 2009 at 10:27 am

    How long do the cookies stay good for? I was planning on making some cookies for an open house that I am going to on Saturday and was just wondering when I should start to make them in order for them to be dry/ready by Saturday evening. I was thinking of baking on Wednesday evening, flooding them on Thursday evening and then finishing the decorations on Friday evening. Will the cookies be stale by Saturday?

    Reply

  8. Amy on November 22, 2009 at 9:48 am

    Thank you for posting such great instructions! The photos are perfect!!

    Reply

  9. Michelle on November 22, 2009 at 10:34 pm

    Hi Susan,

    I use Wilton food coloring gel for my icing coloring. The red and black can definitely be tricky – you need to use quite a bit of it to get the full color. Also keep in mind, though, that the colors of the icing will typically darken a bit over the course of a day or so. I hope this helps!

    Reply

  10. Michelle on November 22, 2009 at 11:50 pm

    Hi Elizabeth,

    You can definitely use the schedule that you outlined – your cookies will be perfectly fine by Saturday. Once they are decorated and dry you can store them in an airtight container. Mine have stayed for up to a week.

    Reply

    • missy on April 26th, 2012 at 11:54 am

      have you ever frozen them before? i am doing them for a first communion party and i am trying to get some food done ahead so i can spend more time cleaning closer to the party…

      Reply

      • missy on April 26th, 2012 at 11:56 am

        never mind, i just looked at the other post where this is linked to. it says 2 months. thanks for such a great tutorial! i am excited to try this way -i too have cookies that look like a 2 year old decorated them…

        Reply

        • Michelle on April 26th, 2012 at 12:51 pm

          Hi Missy, Just wanted to clarify that you should not freeze them after you have frosted and decorated them – the icing will bleed when it thaws. You can freeze the plain, undecorated cookies, but they should only be decorated within a few days of serving. Enjoy!

          Reply

          • missy on April 26th, 2012 at 1:07 pm

            thanks so much! i did catch that in the other post! about to get started baking now!

            Reply

  11. Erin on December 2, 2009 at 10:57 am

    THANK YOU!! This is exactly what I needed!

    Reply

  12. Aimee on December 5, 2009 at 2:53 pm

    thank you so much for the wonderful step by step instructions! i’ve always wondered how these type of cookies were made and am now anxious to get started on the royal icing. i’m not nearly as artistic as you so mine will likely be fairly straight forward but it will beat the usual buttercream frosting!

    Reply

  13. Canadianhockeymom on December 7, 2009 at 10:27 am

    Thank you for sharing! Awesome tips and pictures. Love the tip for flooding the cookies. Lets hope the pens make it to the final this season so I can make these jerseys for our party! and mini stanley cups..hmmm..in the mean time, I will try this sugar cookie recipe and icing for Christmas cookies. Thanks again.

    Reply

  14. Lauren on December 7, 2009 at 10:49 pm

    Can you freeze frosted cookies? I’m sitting here, and my cookies are drying, and I’m thinking… d’oh… should I have frozen first, and frosted later? Let me know! Thanks for the great tutorial.

    Reply

  15. Michelle on December 7, 2009 at 11:03 pm

    Hi Lauren,

    You know, I’ve never frozen them after I have decorated them. Like you, I’d think it would be better to freeze before you decorate (which I have done) but if you end up freezing these let me know how it goes. The only thing that might happen could be the royal icing losing consistency and bleeding when it thaws.

    In any event, I’m glad you found the tutorial helpful!!

    Reply

  16. Teri on December 12, 2009 at 9:26 am

    Thank you for including pictures with your step by step. I made decorated sugar cookies for me daughter’s baby shower, they were alright but now I know could have been better had I let the icing dry before I finished decorating. Trying out your tips today, my youngest daughter having friends over for a cookie decorating party.

    Reply

  17. Sarah on December 15, 2009 at 9:18 pm

    Thank you, thank you, thank you! I have been decorating cookies for years, only using buttercream – I had absolutely no idea how to use (much less make) royal icing. Your step by step was incredibly helpful – my cookies turn out PERFECT!!! These are the most helpful instructions I have found! Thank you so much!!

    Reply

  18. Lisa E on December 16, 2009 at 1:33 pm

    This is exactly what I was looking for. I am making cut out cookies for the first time and I want the icing to look great. This is just what I needed :-) Thank you!

    Reply

  19. Alvin on December 16, 2009 at 2:54 pm

    You mentioned that some bakers let the cookies dry over night after flooding. I assume the cookies aren’t covered, because the icing is wet, during drying…is that correct? If so, is there any danger of the soft cookies getting a little dry?

    Reply

  20. Candy Hess on December 29, 2009 at 6:04 pm

    I love to decorate cookies with my two girls. I have ALWAYS flown by the seat of my pants. It really does take more time and more work than it needs to be. I want to be having FUN! Thanks so much for this info. Too bad for me I found it after Christmas but we like to make cookies at Valentines Day too! Love your site. :)
    Candy

    Reply

  21. sarah on January 1, 2010 at 1:42 pm

    How can i prevent spotting after everything is done?

    Reply

  22. Melanie on January 3, 2010 at 12:38 pm

    Thanks for the great tutorial!! I love the step by step and all the tips and tricks! I can’t wait to make a few cookies tonight!

    Reply

  23. Michelle on January 3, 2010 at 10:19 pm

    Hi Alvin,

    You are correct – the cookies are not covered when they are left to dry. As long as you are using a recipe that gives you a soft sugar cookie (like the one I refer to in this post), your cookies should not get hard. I have never had that happen. In fact, the icing will serve as a type of barrier to keep the cookies moist.

    Happy Decorating!

    Reply

  24. Michelle on January 8, 2010 at 3:30 pm

    Hi Sarah,

    I find that spotting (or faded areas) sometimes pop up when I have thinned the icing a bit too much. Next time try not thinning the flooding icing as much as you normally do and see if that helps. Let me know how it turns out!

    Reply

  25. Kelly on January 24, 2010 at 8:53 pm

    I have just spent the whole day making cookies for my friends baptism. I love you bottle idea for the flooding….less mess and so much easier probably to work with. Plus you don’t have to worry about the royal icing drying at the end of your bag.

    Thanks!

    Reply

  26. Alyce on January 26, 2010 at 11:16 pm

    I have worked with Royal icing a couple of times, and the first time I too had a BIG mess in my kitchen. Your tip to make the flooding icing thinner will help. Thanks

    Reply

  27. Carolina on January 27, 2010 at 4:38 pm

    This is a great step by step! I did my first trial run and it was pretty succesful. I’m making some cookie favors for a shower. Do you think if I bake the cookies today and decorate them, they’ll stay soft for a shower 2-3 days away??

    Reply

  28. Sara on January 30, 2010 at 12:03 am

    Oh my lord… this was everything I ever needed to know about using royal icing! I’VE BEEN SO LOST! Thank you so much!

    Reply

  29. susie on February 3, 2010 at 4:23 pm

    Excellent tutorial – thank you very much. I just decorated Mardi Gras cookies with my 4-year-old and they look awesome. I’ve only ever used royal icing for putting together a gingerbread house, so your guide was most helpful. Thank you!

    Reply

  30. Colleen on February 5, 2010 at 5:09 pm

    I am preparing to make valentine’s cookies for my daughters class. The plan it to make cookies to look like conversation heart candies… Your instructions seem great, I will let you know how successful I am! Keeping my fingers crossed…

    Reply

  31. Michelle on February 8, 2010 at 2:30 pm

    Hi Carolina,

    I’m so happy to hear that this tutorial was helpful for you! I do apologize for being late in my reply, but yes, they will definitely stay soft for up to 5 days or a week. Enjoy the shower! :)

    Reply

  32. stephanie on February 10, 2010 at 11:59 am

    hey …. love your cookies they’re really pretty. i have a question regarding using egg white verses mering uepowder when making royal icing. I saw a video with someone using egg white and icing sugar to make their icing. i guess what i’m asking is that fine to do? what if your in a hurray and don’t have the meringue powder handy is it safe just to use the egg white beaten until foamy then add the icing sugar?

    Reply

  33. Andrea on February 12, 2010 at 10:13 pm

    Oh My! Thank you so much! I am decorating Valentine’s Day cookies for a friend’s party and it’s been a very long time since I’ve done royal icing. This was an amazing help. Thank you very much!

    Reply

  34. Michelle on February 16, 2010 at 10:42 pm

    Hi Stephanie,

    I have never used actual egg whites, and would recommend that if you do so you either use pasteurized eggs (so that bacteria is gone), or that you heat them to a temperature of 160 degrees F while beating them. Since I have never used this method, I can’t speak to how the icing itself will turn out, so proceed at your own risk ;-)

    Reply

  35. Sana on February 20, 2010 at 7:11 pm

    IF i have a baby shower on sunday afternoon…how much in advanc can i make and decorate them and pack them… please let me know it will be great help coz i need to take out time to make/decorate these and also make food :-)

    Reply

  36. Michelle on February 22, 2010 at 12:19 am

    Hi Sana,

    I would say you could have them finished and packaged on Friday and they would still be good for Sunday. The royal icing helps to keep the cookies soft and fresh. Have a great baby shower! :)

    Reply

  37. JIM-49 on February 22, 2010 at 8:13 am

    Such a great “how to”!! I try to teach two little granddaughters,how to cook,and decorate cookies and cakes.We have started on pastries,shapes and forming.These are sorta hard to find.I try to teach them,”Home”,can be so warm and wonderful,if you make that way!! Many now days,can’t even boil water,and I know its because of lazyness,and maybe a few,have never done it,and fear failure.We sure need to start building back,good homes,baking and cooking at home.Thank you for all your time and work!! I really love the site,its hard to wait for your next post!! May God Bless,you and your site!!!

    Reply

  38. happyland on February 25, 2010 at 4:44 am

    i scare i can’t find Meringue Powder in my country. So can you tell me any things can substitude it? Thanks =)

    Reply

  39. CLaire on March 1, 2010 at 8:19 pm

    This was sooo helpful!!! My aunt had a baby shower last weekend and I used your tips to decorate baby onesies! they were so cute and everyone loved them! they turned out awesome! thanks again! your directions were so easy to follow!

    Reply

  40. Kelly on March 2, 2010 at 7:33 am

    I just happened upon this post searching for tips for icing easter sugar cookies. It is extremely helpful PLUS I live near Pittsburgh and am a huge Pens fan!

    Reply

  41. Sharlene on March 2, 2010 at 9:50 am

    Can’t wait to try this out this weekend !

    Reply

  42. Shami on March 9, 2010 at 8:50 pm

    So cute! And what a great post. Very informational and I love the step by step instructions (with pictures). I think I’m might just have to try my hand at decorating cookies this weekend! Thanks you so much for this. :)

    Reply

  43. jojo on March 9, 2010 at 10:37 pm

    Thanks for the great tutorial! I have just discovered beautiful wafer paper to put over the royal icing on cookies,is it hard to work with?

    Reply

  44. Renae on March 10, 2010 at 10:23 am

    I think the step by step instructions are wonderful. I can’t wait to decorate some cookies with my girls. Thanks!

    Reply

  45. Cookin' Canuck on March 15, 2010 at 12:02 pm

    Great detail in this post! Loving the hockey jerseys.

    Reply

  46. Rhyah on March 17, 2010 at 7:25 pm

    Thanks so much for sharing! I plan on doing cookies on a stick for my daughter’s birthday. This will save me lots of grief!

    Reply

  47. Kristen on March 24, 2010 at 3:50 pm

    Thank you so much- I just tried to decorate some cookies with royal icing and failed miserably. I will have to try again :)

    Thanks!

    Reply

  48. Nicki on April 1, 2010 at 10:08 pm

    this was an awesome how to!!!… out of curiosity. if i decorated the icing right onto a piece of waxed paper and let it dry do you know if it would then be possible to transfer the designs onto say a cake with a pancake flipper?… i can’t decorate straight on the cake because of time constraints, but i really like how royal icing allows for more intricate design.

    Reply

  49. Michelle on April 3, 2010 at 10:12 pm

    Hi Nicki,

    You could do that, but depending on the icing dries on the wax paper, it’s possible that the icing design won’t sit exactly flat on the cake. That’s the only downfall I could think of, though! Have fun decorating!

    Reply

  50. Kristy on April 4, 2010 at 11:00 pm

    This is a great tutorial! I bake and decorate sugar cookies all the time. I was hoping to perfect my icing technique and this step by step how-to really gave the few extra tips I needed. Love your blog!

    Reply

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