Holiday Cookies: Royal Icing

In my family, I am STILL the Christmas elf that insists on the Francoeur clan abiding by every holiday tradition we once participated in, whether begrudgingly or not. If I am home, I will still drag my 70 year old father to cut down a tree. Boxes full of decorations come out the morning after Thanksgiving so that the house can be immediately decorated. Regular dishes are switched out for their holly jolly cousins, wreaths are hung, and poinsettia's are placed by the fireplace. With all of the fastidious attention that I pay to Christmas preparations, for some reason Christmas cookies don't usually get decorated until the night of Christmas Eve. As is fitting, my procrastination on this front has ALSO become tradition. While the cookies will usually get baked on the 23rd or the morning of the 24th, decoration doesn't normally begin until after dinner on the 24th. And generally, I do all of the decoration alone. This might sound like a sad, pre-Clarence, George Bailey Christmas tale, but I actually love it. Like many other home cooks, as much as I LOVE entertaining in my kitchen, I equally enjoy everyone getting the hell out of my way and going to bed when I need to be productive and crank out a buttload of Christmas joy all over these sugar cookies.

While the current season designates this entry as a Christmas or winter holiday themed one, Royal Icing can be used to decorate ANY kind of cookie for ANY time of year. Halloween, Valentine's Day, birthdays, Armistice Day, or just Tuesday. I hope you enjoy using this Royal Icing on your cookies and I hope that you experiment with different designs as you get more comfortable!

Royal Icing


One 2 pound bag of Confectioner's Sugar

1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

5 egg whites

*have tap water on hand


1. Put the confectioner's sugar, cream of tartar, and egg whites in the bowl of your stand mixer and mix on low speed until the ingredients are incorporated. Or mix it on high right from the get go and create a winter wonderland all over your kitchen. Just find someone else who will clean this up before you start...

2. Once the ingredients are incorporated, turn the mixer up to high speed for two minutes. The mixture should be bright white and resemble a thick paste.

*During this stage you can add flavorings to your icing. 1/2 - 1 teaspoon of vanilla should suffice for vanilla icing. For a lemon icing, a squeeze (maximum two squeezes) should give you the flavor you are looking for.

3. You should have approximately 4-5 cups of icing. The icing in this state would be fine to smear on a cookie and call it a day. HOWEVER, if you want to make cookies with designs that blend together and have that beautiful sheen on top, you need to add liquid to the royal icing.

For every one cup of royal icing, you want to add 1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons of water. This amount is also dependent on whether you added a liquid flavoring of any kind. If you are coloring the icing, the type of coloring you are using (powder, gel, liquid) can also affect the amount of water that you will add. The end consistency should be thick but runny. When you lift a spoon out of the bowl, the icing should fall off in ribbons. Tracks left by the icing should last for a few seconds before disappearing.


Because Royal Icing is whipped egg whites and sugar (much like a meringue) it will harden after prolonged exposure to air. A good way to prevent the icing from solidifying before it gets to the cookie is to put the icing in ziploc baggies.

Put about a cup of icing in a quart sized bag, push any air out of the bag, and seal the top. By doing this, you can fill several bags, with different colored royal icing, before you start any piping and get it all out of the way. Once you intend to use the baggie full of icing, snip a small bit off of the bottom corner of the bag.


The proper way to get your base icing layer on your cookie:

Pipe a thin rim all the way around the border of your cookie JUST inside of the edge. By the time you are done with that, the icing should already be starting to solidify, albeit VERY slightly. After you pipe the border, flood the inside with icing. You can use a pin or your (clean) finger to spread the icing evenly inside the border.

What I do:

Just pipe a huge blob of icing in the middle of the cookie (enough to cover the entire thing) and use your (again clean) finger to push the icing toward the outside, stopping just at the edge of the cookie. This may not be the correct way, but it is a lot easier for me. BE WARNED: it is very tempting to lick your finger in-between spreading the icing and your next task. For the love of all that is cleanly, please do not do that unless you are the only person who will eat these cookies. Make sure you have a damp paper towel on hand to wipe your finger with.


Here are three basic designs that are SUPER simple but will make your cookies look professional.

1. Pipe stripes in one direction all across your cookie.

- Take a sanitized push pin, sewing needle, or fine pointed knife, and draw the point of your utensil across the icing in the opposite direction to create points in the design.

- You can alternate the direction in which you drag your pin through the icing for an especially fancy design.

2. Pipe a dot in the center of your cookie and then evenly spaced concentric circles from the point to the border of your cookie.

- Then, take your pin and drag it from the center point out the ends as many times as you would like. This same technique would make fabulous spiderweb cookies for Halloween with a black royal icing base with white royal icing piped on top.

3. You can also just pipe a design on top of your base coat and leave it. Since the icing is so wet, the base and the piped layer will blend together (without the colors bleeding into each other) and give your design a nice flat sheen on top.

So get out there and ice. ICE, BABY!


Kenny Cringle Claus

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