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How To Make Royal Icing

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Have you ever decorated cookies with royal icing? Royal icing and butter icing are both naturally gluten free but they aren’t the same. Royal icing is stiff and hardens onto the cookie or acts as glue to hold cookie pieces together. It is used for special projects like decorating gingerbread houses, wedding cakes or fancy cookies.

I will admit right up front that iced sugar cookies are not my favourite kind of cookie to eat. I’m pretty sure I eat more than my share of cookies every year but I’d pick chocolate chip over a sugar cookie any day.  (Fortunately I don’t need to limit my consumption to one cookie.) For me this cookie project was about decorating, a creative process and the kind of project I can get excited about.

The inspiration came when I saw some cookies on Instagram that were beautifully decorated for Chinese New Year. @ladybugnclover is someone I happen to know through my work as a health educator. What I did not know was that she is a passionate cake and cookie decorator. I immediately called her and we set up a cookie decorating date.

For this day I made two kinds of gluten free sugar cookies and my friend supplied the rest. This photo is from our afternoon of decorating. Later I wished I had put a little hole in the top of some of these cookies so I could hang them in my window and enjoy them.

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Egg Whites vs Meringue Powder for Royal Icing

I have always made royal icing using egg whites and I also make some salad dressings using raw egg. Egg whites in a carton are pasteurized and will also work. Raw eggs have a small risk of infection from salmonella, especially for people with a weakened immune system, so some people prefer to avoid raw eggs.

Meringue powder is the modern solution and it is available in various sizes at specialty baking supply stores. Meringue powder is dried raw egg white but there is an ingredient list. Some labels include cornstarch, gums and even sugar but many sources confirm they are safe for a gluten free diet. Wilton brand is popular and they have a list of gluten free decorating supplies that includes meringue powder and gel food colouring.

Organize for Success – Decorating with Royal Icing

Bake the sugar cookies in advance. Whether it is one day or one month you will be glad you did it. Cookie decorating is supposed to be a fun project and trying to bake on the same day might just take some of the fun out of it.

The icing can be made a day or two in advance as well but it’s not necessary. Making the icing, deciding what colours to make and putting them into piping bags gets the creative juices going so I prefer to do that just as I am about to decorate.

Get The Tools – Decorating with Royal Icing

If you are serious about decorating there is no end to the variety of baking supplies you can acquire. If you just want to try it for fun this is a list of what you need to get started.

Celiac Awareness Month Challenge

I like to challenge myself to learn to make something different each year during Celiac Awareness Month. One year I made a gluten free Angel Food Cake. If you like cookies you don’t need to wait for a specific month but you could challenge yourself to really dig in and master rolled and iced cookies. Be sure to include some kids or friends and I guarantee you will have a lot of fun. You could even host a Cookie Decorating Party. Pick a theme, book it and get creative.

Let me know in the comments below what you did.


ROYAL ICING with egg whites
3 egg whites
4 cups icing sugar
water or lemon juice if desired
ROYAL ICING with meringue powder
3 Tbsp meringue powder
4 cups icing sugar
5 Tbsp water
COLOURING ICING - Gel paste food colouring gives vibrant colours but liquid works too.


ROYAL ICING with egg whites
Beat egg whites in a stand mixer at high speed until frothy. Turn speed to low and gradually add icing sugar. Beat at high speed until smooth and stiff, about 7 minutes. Add 1/2 tsp water at a time to get a thinner consistency.
ROYAL ICING with meringue powder
Beat icing sugar and meringue powder in a stand mixer to ensure there are no lumps. Add water and beat on low speed for 5 minutes until icing is smooth. Increase to medium speed and beat another few minutes until the icing is very stiff. Add 1/2 tsp water at a time to get a thinner consistency.
Divide icing into separate bowls. Using a toothpick add a tiny amount of gel food colouring (or a few drops of liquid) and mix icing thoroughly. Adjust until you have the colours you like. Transfer icing to piping bags with a coupling and round tip. Secure the open end with twist tie or elastic. Place each decorating bag in a clear glass with the tip down to prevent the end from getting hard.
OUTLINING/DECORATING – A stiff icing is desirable to go around the outside edge of your cookie and keep the softer icing from dripping off the cookie. Start by piping an outline around the entire cookie.
FLOODING – A slightly thinner icing is needed to flood into the middle of the cookies and spread to the edges. Squeeze a generous amount of icing inside the outline. To help smooth the icing gently tap the cookie on the counter until all bubbles or lines blend into one.
TIP – 2 icing bags for every colour is a lot of bags, nibs and work. With patience and practice you can achieve the right consistency that will do both jobs. We followed the above process but made only one consistency of icing. Draw the outline first and let it set. Flood the cookie. Using a toothpick and moving quickly in a circular motion, mix the icing to evenly cover the cookie. Tap on the counter if needed.
SETTING – The icing will slowly set as you continue outlining, flooding and decorating other cookies. When the icing is dry you can come back and add a design with the same colour or another colour. Do this as many times as you like. Experiment and have fun.


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