How to Decorate Cookies with Royal Icing

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Last week I promised that I’d have a video, tutorial and all the info you need to learn How to Decorate Cookies with Royal Icing and today is the day! If you’ve ever wanted to make beautifully decorated cookies, follow this simple guide!

How to decorate cutout sugar cookies with royal icing! Includes recipes, detailed instructions and a video!

How to Decorate Cookies with Royal Icing

To start, if you haven’t already be sure to checkout my cutout sugar cookie recipe. You’ll obviously want to start with making those cookies. 🙂

Once your cookies are baked and cooled, it’s time for the fun part – the decorating. The first thing to talk about is the royal icing. Don’t be afraid just get in there! They may not be perfect the first time, but you’ll get the hang of it.

This royal icing dries nice and firm, so you can easily stock the cookies, wrap them, whatever your preference and transport them.

To make the royal icing, you’ll combine meringue powder and powdered sugar, then add water and mix together for 7-10 minutes on low to medium speed. I use my whisk attachment on my mixer. Keep mixing until the icing looses it’s sheen. You’ll notice in the video below that my icing is fairly thick to begin with. You could have it a little thinner to start since you’ll end up with a thinner icing in the end, but I do like to have more control over that so I usually start on the thick end.

How to decorate cutout sugar cookies with royal icing! Includes recipes, detailed instructions and a video!

Once the icing is made, be sure to keep a damp cloth over the bowl when you aren’t using it or it will dry quickly. I typically cover the bowl with a paper towel and sprinkle water over it. Just be sure to sprinkle more water on as it dries.

The recipe below should be enough to cover the cookies made with my cutout sugar cookie recipe. Depending on what cookie cutters you’re using and what you’re decorating, you’ll want to think about how much icing you’ll need for each color. I needed a fair amount of white, red, green and brown for my cookies, with just a little bit of black. So divide your icing into separate bowls based on the number of colors and amounts you think you’ll need. The icing goes pretty far.

If you’re using colors similar to mine, I used Wilton icing color, which can be found at most local craft stores like Michaels, Hobby Lobby, Walmart, or online. I used pretty basic colors including Leaf Green, Red, Black and Copper with a little bit of black for the gingerbread men and other areas where there was something brown or skin toned.

If you haven’t used icing color before, it’s pretty straight forward. It’s thick and almost gel-like so that you don’t thin out your icing too much. I use toothpicks to slowly add the amount of color I need, adding small amount at a time. There’s nothing worse than adding too much of a color and ruining your icing. Start with small amounts – it’s much easier to add more color than to remove it. One other note about the icing and coloring it – the color actually darkens as the icing sits. So black for example might look like a really dark grey at first, but as it dries on your cookie it’ll darken.

As you add the color to your icing you can also be slowly adding more water, if needed, to get the right icing consistency. You’ll see that I included video of my icing and how I test the consistency to help it be a little more clear.

How to decorate cutout sugar cookies with royal icing! Includes recipes, detailed instructions and a video!

There are many ways to test icing consistency and I’ve used methods where there’s a thicker icing for the lines and thinner “flood” icing to fill in the lines. I find that it is a huge pain to have to make two consistencies of every icing color so in this method, there’s one consistency that’s used for everything.

How to Tell When Your Icing is Ready to Use

To test it, I run a toothpick through the center of the icing. You want to icing to naturally fill that line back in – but not too quickly. It should actually need some encouragement in the form of shaking from you to come completely back together. You’ll notice in the video that I let the icing sit for couple seconds, then shake it to come together completely. I do the same thing when icing the actually cookies. When I fill in the icing, it’ll mostly come together on it’s own but I shake it a little bit to help it come together completely.

You could also use a toothpick to move the icing around and help it come together, but I find that I get more air bubbles in my icing when I do that. No good.

To pipe the icing onto the cookies, you’ll need icing bags, couplers, icing tips (I used tip 3 for everything, but you could go smaller for smaller details), icing bag ties and icing tip covers. I suggest having enough icing tips for each color so you aren’t needing to switch out the tip constantly. The ties and covers are important for keeping your icing from drying out while in the bags during your decorating session. The icing can quickly dry out and leave your tip clogged and hard to work with, so the cover is important. If that does happen, a toothpick can help remove the blockage, but something it still can cause an issue once it’s started drying out.

Once you have your icing ready and into your bags, it’s time to get to piping! 🙂

You’ll want to keep even pressure on the bag as you squeeze out the icing. In the video, notice that for the most part I don’t keep my icing tip super close to the cookie. I actually lift up a bit so that icing falls in a more natural, soft line around the cookie.

How to decorate cutout sugar cookies with royal icing! Includes recipes, detailed instructions and a video!

You’ll want to think through the decorating before you start so you know what details you want to include and if the icing should dry or not before adding details. Notice in the video below that I add the hat and main who body of the snowman and then let it dry before adding the rest. If you add the details before it dries, they won’t sit on top of the icing but will settle into it. If you prefer that look, you can do that too. But you’ll want to think it through before you begin. Use the video below to help give you guidance in thinking through the best way to ice your specific cookie.

And above all else, have fun! Decorating cutout sugar cookies with royal icing has become super fun for me. The first couple of times it drove me crazy, but now I love it. If you aren’t in love with your cookies the first time, don’t give up. After a few tries, you’ll develop “your touch” and everyone will be begging you to make their cookies. 🙂

Enjoy the video! I’d love your feedback. 🙂


Read transcript

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Cutout Sugar Cookies with Royal Icing decorated Christmas tree close up
Recipe

How to Decorate Cookies with Royal Icing

  • Author: Lindsay
  • Category: Dessert
  • Method: Bowl
  • Cuisine: American

Description

Last week I promised that I’d have a video, tutorial and all the info you need to learn How to Decorate Cookies with Royal Icing and today is the day! If you’ve ever wanted to make beautifully decorated cookies, follow this simple guide!


Scale

Ingredients

  • 3 tbsp meringue powder
  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 68 tbsp water
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Instructions

1. Combine meringue powder and powdered sugar in the bowl of a mixer.
2. Add 6-7 tablespoons of water and mix with whisk attachment at medium speed for about 7-10 minutes, or until icing looses it’s sheen. Begin with 6 tablespoons and add up to an addition tablespoon if needed to get the icing smooth for mixing.
3. Once icing is ready, add additional water to get the right consistency for piping and the vanilla extract. See notes and video above for guidance on consistency, coloring and piping.

Notes

Once icing is ready, cover with a damp cloth to keep it from drying out. Icing can be stored in an airtight container for 1-2 weeks. Stir again before using.

Keywords: homemade icing, homemade icing recipe, sugar cookie icing recipe, sugar cookie royal icing, sugar cookie icing that hardens, easy sugar cookie icing, sugar cookie frosting recipe, icing for sugar cookies, how to make icing for sugar cookies

Enjoy!

This post contains affiliate links.

Cutout Sugar Cookies Recipe
Cutout Sugar Cookies with Royal Icing featured

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60 Comments
  1. Jean L Desrochers

    How soon after you complete the outline does the flooding get completed: outline should be totally dry? or soon after outlining the flooding can be done? Thanks!!

    1. Lindsay

      You could do it either way, depending on the look you want. If you want the filling to blend with the outline, then do it before the outline dries. That’s probably most common.

    1. Lindsay

      It depends a little on the size of your cookies and how much icing are using for each cookie. Generally though I would say you should be able to decorate 25 to 30 cookies pretty easily.

    1. Lindsay

      I wouldn’t really recommend freezing them with the royal icing. When you thaw them, the moisture will cause the colors to bleed. It’s best to freeze the cookies without the icing on them.

  2. Marilyn Jones

    Where did you get the holly and berry decoration that you put on the snowman’s hat, and the yellow star that you put on the Christmas tree? Did you make them or did you buy them already pre-made?
    I had so many questions about what to do to decorate sugar cookies, but between your video and the questions and comments everyone has made here and your links as to where and what to buy, has helped me get started. Thank you!!

    1. Lindsay

      I have found similar sprinkles at many places. Home Goods often has great seasonal sprinkles. Here’s a holly and berry mix from Target too. And these are the stars I used, but unfortunately they are unavailable right now. Maybe you could find something similar. I’m so glad to hear the tutorial was helpful!

  3. Sherrell Cherry

    I have finally learned to outline and fill my cookies with royal icing when decorating. Yay!  I am having problems with small detail piping. When I want a small line or dot, I use a # 1 or #2 tip to pipe.my Icing. Either the icing will barely come through the tip or it comes through too wet. Also my piping is thicker in some places than others and the lines dry flat instead of raised. My small detail line piping changes my cookie decorations and makes them look like an amateur. What am I doing wrong? Thanks so much for your help. 

  4. Tracie

    Looking to try these out soon. My son’s birthday party is on Sunday. Today is Wednesday. How soon can I make them before the party to ensure they will not be too hard and still taste fresh?

    1. Lindsay

      If you’ve already applied royal icing to the cookies, they will stay fresh for longer. I would say 3 to 5 days is usually fine.

  5. Chrisi E

    Question: do you Store the icing at room temp or the fridge? I’m thinking the cold fridge would harden and maybe dry it out? Just want to make sure it stays safe to eat when left at room temp though. Thanks!

    1. Lindsay

      Room temperature. You might need to mix it a little bit again when you’re ready to use it, if it’s been sitting a bit.

    1. Lindsay

      That would depend a little on the size of your cookies and how much icing you need for your decorations. But I had more than enough to cover my 20 large cookies, if that helps.

  6. Sam

    Hi Lindsay,

    Thank you so much for showing a video on royal icing. You made it look so easy (but who knows how well I will execute!) haha I loved how you “flooded” the icing because I’ve seen it done differently that scared me.

    I just had 2 quick questions. I read in one of the comments you use vanilla in your icing. How much vanilla extract do you use? Is it extract or is it something else.? Oh and whats the difference between meringue and corn syrup? Some of the recipes for royal are corn syrup.

    Thanks!

    1. Lindsay

      I’d try between 1/2 to 1 tsp of vanilla extract. As for meringue powder and corn syrup – they are quite different. I haven’t ever used corn syrup in royal icing, so I’m not entirely sure of the effect it has. But generally corn syrup softens frosting and gives it a sheen, so I imagine it does something similar to royal icing. However I wouldn’t think it would dry as firmly. Meringue powder acts somewhat like egg whites in that it whips to a high volume and is light and airy. In this icing, it dries very firm. I hope that helps!

  7. Debbie

    I want to thank you so very much for sharing your sugar cookie recipe with me. My son is getting married and one day I was looking through a magazine, most likely the monthly Costco Connection. There was a picture of the most adorable heart shaped bride & groom cookies. I just had to figure out how to make them. I went to Joann’s and bought all types of fondants to try and cut them out to put on sugar cookies. Afterwards for some reason I decided to goggled for Bride & Groom cookies, I stumbled upon you. I not only got a fantastic recipe for the cookies I got a very detailed description on how to make Royal Icing, I found your pictures that are the exact ones I had seen in a magazine! So, I decided to give them a shot, I made the cookies and they are as good as you say. Your detailed description was so helpful, answered questions I had and you told me what the dough would look like. The cookies were FANTASTIC! Soft, chewy and tasteful. Then I decided to try the Royal Icing and again your recipe and descriptions were so very helpful. Well, last night I put the two together and until 2am was putting dresses on cookies. I was having so much fun I didn’t want to go to bed. But, I have an awful lot of chores to do before we leave Monday for a snowy wedding and figured I should get some sleep. So, this morning I’m starting the tux’s, lets hope I have as good of a time with those. The only thing I didn’t have was the edible pen so my dresses are not so perfect as yours. Thank you Lindsay so much for sharing, I’m definitely going to be looking here for other great ideas & recipes when I get back home.

  8. Haley

    Hi! I clicked the link for the icing tips but Amazon said that the page doesn’t exist anymore. Would you mind updating it? I am going to buy everything you used! Thank you!

  9. Jennifer

    I’m thinking about trying this with my 12 and 8 year old boys. They don’t have to be perfect. But wanted your opinion on if you think it’s something that would be too difficult for them to try. 

    1. Lindsay

      I would think they could do it with the right tools. Could depend a bit on how comfortable they are with baking related things though.

  10. Heather

    Wow, your video was amazing! I can’t wait to try your cookie and icing recipes for the cookies I’m taking to a Christmas cookie swap!! 

  11. Florence Godwin

    Hi, I really love ur work. I just have one question am in nigeria finding egg white powder is a bite difficult I just want to know if its ok to use fresh egg whites?

      1. Emily

        I should have read your explanation above about black dyed icing looking dark gray before it dries. I probably used a half of the wilton gel container in a tiny bit of icing trying to get it black enough! Still worked though. My first time making royal icing and your recipe was fabulous!

  12. Kate

    Hello! I am just getting into baking and decorating cookies and understand oil will ruin my royal icing. I want to add lemon extract for flavor but cannot find one that doesn’t include oil! Do you have a brand of lemon extract you recommend for icing?
    Thanks!

  13. Carol Weber

    Lindsay, I love watching your videos–thanks for doing them! Question on filling in the large areas on cookies with the Royal Icing: I get why you wouldn’t want a thick icing for the edge and a thinner icing for the filling, but I was getting antsy watching the process of filling in the large areas, and wondered if you ever fill two bags with the same color: a smaller bag/smaller tip for the edges, and a larger bag/larger tip to more quickly fill in the large areas? You’d have to be careful not to over-fill the area, but wouldn’t that speed up the process when making a ton of cookies?

    1. Lindsay

      You could certainly do that. Like you said, you’d just need to be careful. You have more control with the smaller tips.

  14. Rose

    Hi Lindsay I agree great video.. I’m new to the royal icing world and this video was great. Do you make a border on your cookies with the 3 tip then let dry then flood the center? If so how long do you wait for it to dry?

    1. Lindsay

      I don’t let the border dry first, I just flood the center. It makes a more even appearance on the icing. I add a border after everything is done and let that dry.

  15. Robyn

    I’m new at baking and your posts and especially your videos have provided to be invaluable learning tools. Could you by any chance describe how you did the Santa like you did the Christmas tree? It would be greatly appreciated! Thanks so much for your blog!! Don’t know what I’d do without it!

    1. Lindsay

      I’m so glad the videos are helpful! I’ll do my best to describe it – it’s been a while. 🙂 Star by adding the the outline of the red suit and red part of the hat and filling that in. Let it dry for 15-20 minutes. Add the face, beard, hands and boots next and again allow to dry a bit. Add the red outlines on the suit and hat, then add the white “fluff” on the suit and hat. When the initial layer of white beard had dried a bit, I added a second layer so it was raised above his face a bit. I added a dot of the skin color in the middle of the top of the beard for his mouth. Once the face and beard are dry, you can add the eyes and mustache. I hope that helps!

  16. Sarah

    how long will these cookies last once iced? I’ve heard Royal Icing gets too hard to eat after too many day??? Thanks for the video, it’s great!

    1. Lindsay

      I don’t usually have an issue with them getting too hard, especially the way I’ve suggested making the icing. It’s a little thinner to begin with and should stay nice for up to a week, in my experience.

  17. Chris

    Great video! Where did you get the caps for your tips? I decorated cookies this holiday and the icing kept dripping out when I wasn’t using it. Those caps would be sooo useful!

    1. lifeloveandsugar@gmail.com

      Thanks Chris! They are wilton decorating tip covers. You can easily find them online, or in craft stores like Michaels, Hobby Lobby or even Walmart.

    1. lifeloveandsugar@gmail.com

      Thank you! I don’t have a video of the tree, but I can try to describe it for you. It’s a similar process to the one in the video. I did the outline of the tree and stump and filled them in first. Once the green part of tree was dry (at least 15-20 minutes, it’s pretty big area), I added the green lines for the tree branch levels and added the star. Once that was dry, I added the red strings and dots. I hope that helps!

  18. Beth @ bethcakes

    LOVE the video! I think I’m still in that stage like you said, where the first couple times drive you crazy, haha. 🙂 But this video makes it look so easy. I really want to decorate some cookies now!

  19. Julianne @ Beyond Frosting

    Normally I don’t love royal iced cookies because the royal icing to too hard. However I had the chance to try these cookies and they were FANTASTIC! I’ve never had a royal icing that was soft when you bite into it. Love it!

  20. Mary Carmona

    Hi Lindsey! Love, love, love this tutorital. How long would you say it took the icing to dry before you added the details on the snowman?

Lindsay
About Lindsay

I'm a wife and mom to twin boys, a baby girl and a sweet black lab with a serious sweets addiction! Bring on the sugar!

Scripture I’m Loving

“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” Romans 12:12