Royal Icing Master Recipe

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This hard-drying icing is used for making decorations with that last forever if stored properly. It is also useful as a "cement" to fasten decorations together.

The traditional Royal Icing is a mixture of powdered (also known as confectioner's sugar), varying amounts of water, depending upon the consistency needed, and egg whites or meringue or pasteurized egg white powder (if consuming, a raw egg white substitute, such as powdered egg white powder or meringue, are the safest to use). A teaspoon of glycerin can be added which softens it. Sometimes Royal icing is enhanced with flavor, such as extracts. It can also be used as its natural color white or tinted before using.

Make sure all utensils and whatever comes into contact with it are grease-free as it will deflate or prevent the egg whites from beating properly.

SARAH SAYS: As I wrote in my blog post for the New York Times
June 25, 2010 10:11 AM ET Royal icing got its name from the pure white icing used to decorate the elaborate Victorian wedding cake served at Queen Victoria's wedding to Prince Albert in 1840. Its natural white color could be obtained only from using the finest refined sugar, very expensive at the time. For those who could afford it, an all white cake became more than a symbol for purity and virginal attributes; it was also a display of the family's wealth and social standing. — Sarah Phillips, founder, (formerly, a baking advice and recipe site


Safe Royal Icing is my tried-and-true recipe. Beat it on low the entire time so you won't create tiny air bubbles in the mixture. Start with warm water so the meringue powder dissolves.
Don't overbeat the Royal Icing. If you do, it gets spongy. Or, if it sits for awhile, it becomes spongy, so stir slowly before using, every time. Don't rebeat with a mixer because it will break icing down.
If the Royal Icing dries and flakes in the mixing bowl, it's too dry. Add a few drops water and beat thoroughly with a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment before deciding to add more.
If any of the Royal Icing has crusted (gets a thin crust of hardened sugar) during storage, it cannot be used.

Yields 1 pound
5 tablespoons meringue powder
1/3 cup warm water - about 98 degrees F or body temperature; more or less for thinner or thicker icing
1 pound powdered sugar (about 3 3/4 to 4 cups)

1 large egg white, room temperature * See RAW EGG WARNING, below
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar or 1/2 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 pound powdered sugar (about 4 cups)
2 teaspoons water; more or less for thinner or thicker icing

SARAH SAYS: To thin the icing, add water a few drops at a time and then beat thoroughly before deciding to add more.

Combine all of the ingredients in a grease-free mixing bowl; do not use a plastic bowl. Using a paddle attachment, beat SLOWLY until stiff peaks form. (Or, beat to soft peak is use for writing and embroidery. Some beat to medium peak for piping any shell borders. You can adjust the consistency by adding icing sugar to make it harder, or adding egg white to soften it.)

When ready, the icing will turn pure white, and will not be fluffy and will slap against the side of the mixing bowl. It should NOT be shiny.

If you don't use the icing immediately, cover with a damp cloth over the bowl.

The American Egg Board states: "There have been warnings against consuming raw or lightly cooked eggs on the grounds that the egg may be contaminated with Salmonella, a bacteria responsible for a type of foodborne illness. Healthy people need to remember that there is a very small risk and treat eggs and other raw animal foods accordingly. Use only properly refrigerated, clean, sound-shelled, fresh, grade AA or A eggs. Avoid mixing yolks and whites with the shell."

I prefer to use paste colors for best results. For dark colors, start light. Add color with a fresh toothpick every time, a swipe of color at a time, mixing thoroughly with each addition. Colors darken as the icing sits, so wait about an hour before deciding to add more. Keep the icing well covered at all times.

Royal icing dries on its surface rather quickly. So, when working with it:
Keep the pipin tip moist. Place a damp thick paper towel in the bottom of a tall glass to hold filled icing bags when not in use. Sometimes, if the tip opening is small, I also place a pin in the tip. Icing will dry in the tip, clogging it.
Always cover icing placed in an open bowl, with a damp kitchen (not paper) towel, while working with it.

When storing royal icing, make sure you keep it covered, airtight at room temperature, if made with meringue powder. If made with raw egg whites, store in the refrigerator.
Cover icing with plastic wrap. Secure with a rubber band and then cover with an airtight covering. Stir thoroughly before using. But, sometimes when it's humid, Royal Icing does not store well at all.

If the Royal Icing is too stiff after storing, rebeat with an electric mixer at low speed first. I've noticed that mixing thin icing for several minutes after storing tends to thicken it up, so add more water, if necessary, a drop at a time, to thin it.

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