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Perfect Royal Icing

The Perfect Royal Icing is finally yours.  For those of you who bake and ice cookies throughout the year or bake and ice festive cakes with highly decorative work, having a good, reliable royal icing is absolutely essential. Everyone wants their royal icing to pipe well, flow beautifully and finish off with a smooth surface.  Moreover, the perfect royal icing has to taste as good as it looks and it has to be easy to remember so that one can whip a batch at a moment's notice.

Over the years I have tried many recipes from various sources, but not until now have I actually approached coming up with one of my own.  What I did was what any responsible recipe developer normally does.  They study sources and then experiment in the kitchen until the recipe is to his or her specifications and perfect.  In my pursuit of the perfect royal icing I turned to those trusted sources from my personal cookbook library, remembering which recipes I had tried and loved.

Bo Friberg’s ‘The Professional Pastry Chef’, The Culinary Institute’s ‘Baking at Home’, Le Cordon Bleu’s ‘Professional Baking 3rd Edition’, Larousse Gastronomique, Anne Willan’s ‘La Varenne Pratique’, Lisa Yockelson’s ‘Baking by Flavor’, Nancy Baggett’s ‘The All-American Cookie Book and Martha Stewart’s ‘Baking Handbook’, were the books I pulled out to compare.  I made many mental notes on proportions, preparation and tips from each and every one of these individuals, calling to mind what qualities I liked best from previous experiences.  

From the sifting of the confectioners sugar and the use of lemon juice as a stabilizing & flavoring agent, to the beating of the icing on a particular speed for an exact amount of time and observing the texture of the finished icing, I narrowed it down and paid attention to everything.  It was my goal to make it easy for all of you to achieve perfect results at home.  

The recipe is now yours.

Good Things by David

The Ingredients
  • 5 cups {610 g} confectioners sugar, sifted
  • 4 tablespoons {40 g} meringue powder
  • 4 tablespoons {60 ml.} strained lemon juice
  • 4 tablespoons {60 ml.} water
  • 1/4 teaspoon {1.25 ml.} vanilla extract ~lemon or orange extract can be substituted, but do not use 'flavors'

Yield: approximately 2-1/2 cups
Note: the recipe can be scaled down in half or multiplied depending on the amount needed.
  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, add all of the ingredients and mix on low speed for 30 seconds to 1 minute.  Let the ingredients come together.  Stop and scrape the icing from the paddle and bowl.
  2. Raise the speed to medium-low (speed 3 on a KitchenAid) and beat the icing for exactly 2 minutes.  Set a timer.
  3. Stop the machine and observe the icing.  It should be smooth and glossy.  
  4. The icing is now ready to be used.  Divide among bowls to tint with food coloring or store it in a glass or stainless steel bowl.  I don’t advocate storing royal icing in plastic containers as these are difficult to keep grease-free, which may cause the icing to separate.
  5. If you’re not ready to proceed icing cookies, place a piece of plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the icing.  Royal icing dries out quickly.
Note:  Icing can be stored at room temperature since it is made with meringue powder, but it can also be refrigerated.  Store icing for up to 5 days.  Mix well with a spatula before using.

The photo above (A) shows you how not to cover royal icing for storage. Plastic wrap has to be placed directly onto the surface of the icing (B) in order to keep it from drying out.

Perfect Royal Icing Three Ways

Stiff Royal Icing is what you have when the mixer stops.  At this point you can use the icing to pipe filigree, lace work or script onto a cake (think weddings) or cookie.  A stiff peak will remain if you lift a bit of it with a spoon or spatula.  If you still think it isn't stiff enough, add more confectioners sugar by the tablespoon until you have a very stiff icing.  

You can make your own custom-colored sweet toppings for cakes, cookies and cupcakes if you pipe out shapes onto a parchment-lined or wax paper-lined baking sheet.  Let the shapes dry completely before using them.

Flooding Cookies with royal icing requires the right consistency in order to achieve good results.  You will need to thin out the icing when it comes off the mixer for this purpose.  Using a 1/4 teaspoon measuring spoon, add water bit by bit and mix to combine.  Either do this to the entire batch of icing or to each portion of icing to be tinted.  Only add 1/4 teaspoon of water at a time before checking to see if it needs more. 

Observe the Texture
A & B ~ When you lift a spoon of icing and let it fall back into the bowl, it drops like a thick ribbon.  
C ~ After about 15 seconds, the ribbon will begin to dissolve back into the icing.  
D ~ At  1 minute, the surface of the icing will be smoothed out.

This is what you want your icing to be like if you're going to pipe and flood cookies just like you've seen me do here on Good Things by David.  If the icing has thinned out more than it should, add confectioners sugar to bring it back to the right consistency.

Runny Icing is perfect for using as a glaze on cookies.  This is perhaps the easiest thing to achieve, because it only requires you to thin out the royal icing with water until you have a drippy consistency.  Those Patriotic Star Cookies were created with thinned out royal icing.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating.  If I'm lucky, I get to keep a cookie or two to enjoy. 

Gather the simple ingredients from your pantry and make some royal icing for those beautifully-shaped cookies that I know many of you make.  Tint bowl after bowl of portioned icing to make your favorite colors and let the fun begin.  A bit of imagination, some whimsical artistry and a steady hand is all you need now to create beautiful cookies.  You're going to love working with this icing.  


  1. I am really excited to try this recipe! I have never used lemon juice as an addition. I do have one question. Do you measure out the powered sugar, leveled off and then sift or do you sift and then measure?

  2. Tra La La,

    You absolutely must try this recipe with the lemon juice, because it is tasty!

    Measuring: I dip the measuring scoop and sweep off (level off) the excess confectioners sugar. Sifting gets done after all of the 10x has been measured.


  3. I just wrote down this recipe as I get ready to do acorn cookies for fall.
    Thanks, David!

  4. I can't wait to make this for my Halloween cookies and for Christmas. The lemon juice sounds really good and so does the vanilla, but don't these add ins color the icing?

    Love the blog!!!!


  5. Kenn & Marie, I do hope you like the royal icing.

    Kenn, I would love to see photos of your acorns!

    Marie, the lemon juice & extract are in such small quantities to have little effect on the whiteness of the icing. You won't see any difference whatsoever.


  6. Can't wait to try this, and impress my co-workers this holiday season. Thanks D!

  7. Love it! You're going to like working with this icing.


  8. Getting ready to ice some cookie, thanks for all the helpful hints!

  9. Looking forward to trying this recipe!

    1. Have a go at it, Joey. It's really simple and so easy to work with.

  10. David,

    I tried this recipe out last night and it's delicious! Loved the flavor, and the lemon was a Great Addition. No other recipes need for royal icing!

  11. If I decorate, bundle in (2)'s, can I freeze them? Maybe standing up? I'm doing a bake sale, but not for another two weeks and I have many, many to do.

    1. Brenda,

      You can successfully freeze your decorated cookies as long as the icing is completely dry and set. Bundled in twos or even up to 4, I would make sure that they are frozen flat, NOT standing up. You want to minimize breaking so keep them flat.


  12. Wow!Iam hoping this is the perfect royal icing for my first gingerbread house making party will this work on putting the houses together?

    1. Hi Nitapita, I do hope you try this recipe. It will work for making gingerbread houses as long as its thick/stiff.

      I would recommend that you beat this icing on medium-high speed (once it has come together) for 4-5 minutes so that it's the perfect consistency for piping onto the gingerbread house(s).

      Good luck and happy decorating!

  13. after mixing my royal icing there is little brown specs in it
    is it safe and how do i get rid of it
    i tryed running the icing through a tami but the specs fall through HELP

    1. I've never had this happen to my royal icing, so I don't understand why you have brown specs of anything in it. If the powdered sugar and/or meringue powder was not pristine, this may be why.

      I would say to start over again and make sure that when you're sifting your confectioners sugar, that there is nothing amiss.

    2. I suggest a new bottle of vanilla. If that isn't the source, something went terribly wrong and it should all be tossed out. There would be no other source of brown specs save for unclean appliances.

  14. Finally, a royal icing recipe that works! I loved the taste but my family was wondering if the lemon could be cut back a bit. Since it also acts as a stabilizer, would that work? Would I need to adjust the amounts of the other liquids?
    Thank you again for making my cookie decorating successful!

    1. Annie, I'm glad that you liked the royal icing. You can cut back on the amount of lemon juice in the recipe. Simply replace the exact amount with water.

      I've had many moments when I used all water for the liquid, and about 2 teaspoons of lemon extract. The recipe was just as good.

      Best to you!

  15. Thank you for the quick response! Can’t wait to try that out for my Valentine’s cookies.
    Happy New Year!

  16. Thank you David for sharing your recipe. I made it last night. My family actually did not like the lemon taste at all. Is there any way that it can be eliminated and still have the stabilizer your recipe requires?

    It really was incredible: the sheen, no bumps/air bubbles, a terrific 'candy' crunch. It is the lemon that just didn't work out. I noticed you answered a similar question, but you stated replacing all water but 2 tsp lemon juice, so that wasn't the complete answer I am looking for. Thank you again for your terrific blog and the time you share to create it.

    1. You can actually use all water for the liquid part of the recipe (I've done it many, many times since publishing the recipe). However, I strongly recommend that you add some kind of extract to the icing (up to 2 teaspoons) in order to flavor it. That can be pure vanilla, orange, coconut, etc. It's really up to you and your family's tastes, how you flavor the royal icing.

      I hope this helps. Happy decorating!!

    2. Thank you for your quick response. It was greatly appreciated. I whipped up the recipe, split it in two. One was a butter extract (I have a whole bottle and never use it), and vanilla. Family like them both preferred the vanilla. Husband suggested combo of butter/vanilla. I'll try that next go around.

      Again I wish to convey my appreciation for the time you have taken to imagine and create this blog. It really is incredible. The love you have shows.

      Blessings to you and yours.

    3. Perfect!! I'm glad that you had success with the substitutes, and thank you for liking the blog. 😊

      Enjoy decorating your cookies!

  17. Hi, I really like your recipe cuz it's simple. I was wondering, can I substitute the meringue powder with egg whites and if so how many? Where I live, I can't find the powder but I would really love to try the recipe especially with the lime.

    1. OK, if you're going to use egg whites instead of meringue powder in my recipe use:
      - 4 large egg whites
      - Zero water

      Add the other ingredients and after mixing, check for consistency. If it's too thick, add some water to thin it out. Conversely, if it's too runny, add more confectioners sugar.

      Best of luck!

  18. Can meringue powder be substituted for pure albumen powder?

  19. Dear David, I found your blog after I was searching for a way to use dragees. I remember eating them on cookies when I was a child, and having them always made me so happy. Your blog has inspired me so much. Though I am not a baker, I am an artist. Your article on dragees, with the lovely photos of your cakes and cookies, showed me that baking can be art. And now I am inspired to become a baker. Thank you.
    Patricia in South Carolina


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