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Thursday, 8 December 2011

How To Make Royal Icing

It is that time of the year again, when we rave about cookie decoration. I have been receiving your emails regarding cookie decorations and royal icing, and have attempted to reply to each one, but since there are lots of them, and due to the overly busy schedule right now, I decided to write a post about Royal icing to answer all your questions and share it with others who might be looking for the same info. I have put all your questions below and answered them for you. I have tried to make it as thorough as possible, but if you still have more questions, or need more help, please don't hesitate to let me know. Please put them down in a comment below, as it is faster for me to reply.

I will also be posting a couple of decorated cookie recipes for you to try out this festive season, so read on as you will need to make Royal icing to carry out the festive decorations to come :)

Royal Icing: what you need to know
image from Wilton
Royal icing is your gateway to cake, cookie and pop decoration. It is the basis for many designs, and detail work that showcase a given design. Royal icing is versatile; it can be used to outline a design, to create shapes and figures, to colour, to write a message and to illustrate effects such as waves for instance. It is also used as glue to stick decorative pieces, shapes and figures onto a cake, cookie or other decorated foods. Royal icing outlined and smudged in with a brush is an ingenious way to create the embroidered effect... there are many uses to Royal icing, it is every decorator's staple tool. If you want to take up cookie or cake decoration, Royal icing is one that you have to master. This post is to help you achieve that.

What is Royal Icing?
It is the icing that is wet at first, but when it dries out it becomes chalky, hard and smudge-free-dry. Like any icing, it's main ingredient is confectioner's sugar (icing sugar), therefore it is super sweet. The ingredient that gives Royal icing its hard-drying property is egg whites. The icing sugar is mixed with egg whites and flavoured to your desired flavouring. I usually add a squeeze of lemon to the mix, to cut through the intense sweetness.

Because of today's health issues and worries about the quality of and the intake of raw egg whites, Albumen Solution or Pasteurised Egg White Powder provide a safer substitution.

Uses of Royal Icing
Royal icing is so versatile it has many applications in food decoration. The most basic use for Royal icing is piping shapes, letters and details. From outlining a cookie, to piping shaped borders around a cake, to writing messages, or creating facial features... all these are piped shapes. The naming comes from placing the royal icing in a piping bag - usually fitted with a specific shape tip - and squeezing the bag to pipe out the icing through the tip in order to create the desired shape.

Some decoration pieces that you can simply stick onto a cake or cookie using royal icing
Another very common and important use for Royal icing is to act as glue, where the icing is piped out onto the surface you are decorating then topped with a shape, a cutout, a decoration item like edible silver balls, pearls, candy jewelry...etc. Since the icing is wet at first it adheres to the surface and to the piece you wish to stick. as it dries out hard, it hangs on to the piece and therefore holding it in place.

If you pipe out shapes on parchment paper - such as snow flakes, faces, lace or any piped figures - and leave it to dry out completely, you can then peel off the parchment paper and end up with a hard piped shape, which you can transfer onto your cake or cookie. Use Royal icing to stick these in place. The above photo is a very good example of this technique. The snow flakes were made out of royal icing, which was piped on parchment paper, left to dry, then transferred to the cake.

Royal icing can also be used to coat a cake instead of buttercream, or fondant. This technique only works over Marzipan covered cakes, and the Royal icing is usually made a day before as when it sets, all bubbles clear out and it becomes easier to handle. Freshly made Royal icing is fluffy and hard to manage for this function. For this use, glycerin is usually added to Royal icing to facilitate soft cutting of the cake. After all it does harden up which will not be easy to cut.
Other than coating a cake to a smooth finish, royal icing can be used to create specific effects, such as waves, clouds, embroidered finish... This does not necessarily have to be on royal icing surfaces only, like in the picture above. you can spread some white royal icing over blue fondant to create a wave effect, kind of like the small waves at the sea.

Royal Icing Runouts
What are Royal Icing Runouts and flood-ins?
Runouts and flood-ins are techniques used with Royal icing to achieve a desired shape. A royal icing can be thinned with a little bit of water to achieve a runny consistency (in which it freely pours off your spatula if dipped in the icing and lifted). This runny or flooding royal icing is usually used to fill in an outlined cookie with a desired colour. Like in the trees above. The cookie was outlined with proper soft peaking royal icing icing (before thinning), then thinned royal icing was flooded inside the border to colour the tree green. Flood-ins or runouts create a uniformly smooth coloured surface, which you can then pipe details on or top with decoration pieces such as the silver balls above.
This is the simplest technique for decorating a cookie. All you need to do, is bake the cookies, cool them completely, outline them, then flood in the icing and top with silver balls. Leave to set completely, then they are ready to eat or give away :)
Runouts, can also be carried out on parchment paper, in the same effect as above, left to set, then transferred onto the surface you wish to decorate.

How Can I thin Royal Icing?
Royal icing can be thinned down to a runny consistency with water. Remember to start with little drops of water (a little drop goes a long way). It is icing sugar after all!

What is Colour Flow?
Colour flow is a Wilton product, which is a ready mix that is used to achieve runout consistency royal icing. Kind of like a cake mix. It is made For flooding and filling centres. Just follow package instructions to achieve the desired results. Tint with desired shades like you would with royal icing.

Wilton image

How to Tint Royal Icing?
After making the royal icing and whipping it to soft peaks, you can tint it using gel or powdered food colours. The thing to be aware of when colouring is that a little bit goes a long way. Therfore, add just a tiny bit of colour and gradually work your way through to the desired shade. An easy way to tint, is to dip a tooth pick into the gel colour and then dip that tooth pick into the icing. Stir using an offset spatula till the colour is fully incorporated and no streaking is visible.

Wilton image
When making Gingerbread houses, what is the white icing used to stick the pieces together and create decorations?
It is Royal Icing. Anytime you need an icing for reliable sticking of pieces together, use royal icing. The same icing is also used to pipe decorations and details. On areas where smudge-free-hard-drying is not required, you can use any other icing you desire, such as the layer of snow on the roof of this gingerbread house.

Outlining cookies with Royal icing
How can I pipe straight lines without shaking? My lines look like zigzags!
Just like with any other new manual skill, practice is all you need to achieve the desired results. Through practice you will get used to the required amount of pressure on the bag in order not to over squeeze, or shake while squeezing. Also through practice you will get to learn the wrist movements required for circles and edges.

My tips for you are:
  1.  It is all about the icing consistency. If it is too dry, it will be hard to squeeze out, and you will shake as you squeeze. If it's too soft it will  flatten as you go and at times run down the edges. The icing has to be whipped to soft peaks to be at the right consistency, and should not slide off the spoon or spatula.
  2. Use wider tips until you get the hang of it. Instead of reaching out to tip number 1, go for tip number 3. It is easier to squeeze out the icing from bigger tips. Just until you get the hang of it, and then graduate to micro tips lol
  3. The movement is in the wrist not the elbow! move your wrist, kind of like when you are trying to get rid of the tension in your wrist. Do not move your elbow. This will help you tremendously, especially when going in circles.
  4. when piping lift the tip up making the icing line drop on the surface instead of dragging it on the surface. Lines made this way are straighter.
  5. Practice, practice, practice. The only road to perfect.

What is the right consistency of Royal icing?
  • For piping sugar flowers and leaves: whip until it has reached stiff peaks.
  • For piping lines dots & borders you need to mix till soft peaks consistency.
  • For filling in centres and flooding you need a runny consistency that spills off as you lift the spoon after dipping in the icing. 

I can't find colourful balls to decorate the tree, what else can I use to get the same effect?
Use tinted Royal Icing. Pipe dots of royal icing in different colours on the dry flood-in tree. If you have access to metalic powder food colours, brush the same shade over your dots for a ball-like look. If not, just keep them as they are, they will still look good.

I bought cookie cutters with a shaped press option. What can I do with it, other than pressing shapes onto cookie dough?

You can use it to press the shape onto fondant, kind of like an outline. Use the outline as guide to pipe Royal icing on the fondant to bring the shape to life with colour and details. 

You can also outline the cookies you have pressed with Royal Icing, instead of a fondant topper, as in picture on the  right...

How can I make Royal Icing?
Royal Icing Recipe
You Need
25g dried egg white powder or whites of 4 medium eggs
1kg icing sugar
Squeeze of lemon juice or 1 packet powdered vanilla (or clear liquid vanilla. Do not use brown vanilla essence as it affects the colours of your icing)

If using egg white powder, mix with 150ml water and then sieve to get rid of any lumps. Ideally let it rest overnight in the fridge. This procedure is called reconstituting the egg whites.

Sieve the icing sugar, then place in the bowl of your electric mixer. Add ¾ the merriwhite mixture or the lightly beaten egg whites and the lemon juice or powdered vanilla. Mix on low speed.

Once all is well combined, check the consistency. If the sides of the bowl still look dry and crumbly, add the rest of the merriwhite or egg whites until icing looks smooth but not wet. Beat to desired consistency and it is ready to use.

How to Store Royal Icing? 
Royal icing stiffens and dries out. Therefore, make sure you keepit covered with a damp cloth (when setting during use) or cling film touching the tops of it while not in use, then cover the plastic container with a lid to seal it.

After a couple of days of setting aside, the icing may split into 2 layes (egg white and dense sugar top). Just place in a bowl making sure no dry bits fall into mixing bowl, and mix on low speed till soft or stiff peaks are achieved as desired.

Hope this answers your questions, and helps you better understand Royal Icing. 
Here are some Royal Icing inspirations, more to come in Christmas cookie posts, so stay tuned :)

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If you would like to learn more about cookies, cookie decorations and cookie Bouquets join Dima's Course: Cookies: Baking, Decorating & Cookie Bouquets.

Wilton Image
Have you ever used Royal Icing before? did you find this post useful and thorough? Have I managed to inspire you to make some wonderful cookie and cake designs this Christmas? Let me know, I love to hear your feedback. leave me a comment :)

Get in the mood :) This is the Season to be jolly...