If you are a fan of gingerbread men and sugar cookies, you have probably encountered the very versatile royal icing many, many times. It is an important building block for bakers, and it can help you achieve a polished, professional, elegant look for your iced cookies. Royal icing can be intimidating; people are often hesitant to try it because it hardens so quickly, needs to be just the right consistency, and they fear it will lead to a big mess in the kitchen. It doesn't have to! Here are some helpful tips for decorating cookies with royal icing.
1. The recipe.
It all begins here. A good recipe makes working with royal icing much more manageable. Most recipes are for edible icing, but you can find inedible icing, which is great if you are making a gingerbread house for decoration or another such display item. Edible versions typically feature meringue powder, which is used in recipes that do not reach temperatures high enough to allow you to use eggs. Here is a highly rated recipe from AllRecipes.com:
2. The consistency.
This is very important for ease of use. When you have mixed the icing and it forms peaks, it is a good piping consistency. Blog Sweetopia recommends this trick for determining proper consistency: run a butter knife through the surface of your icing. Count to 10. If the surface becomes smooth again within 5 to 10 seconds, the icing is just right. If it takes longer, add more water because it is too thick. If it smoothes before 5 seconds, it is too runny. To remedy this, mix icing longer or add more confectioners' sugar.
You can put icing of this consistency in a piping or decorating bag with a small tip. This is used to outline cookies.
Flooding consistency is much thinner. Fill your piping bag, and with the remaining icing, add water by the spoonful until it runs off your mixing spoon. Icing at this consistency is used to flood cookies, or fill in the centers. While you can flood cookies with a spoon, it is easier to use a squeezable bottle (available at craft stores and online).
3. The speed. Part of the reason why people are hesitant to try royal icing is because it hardens quickly when exposed to air. To prevent this, cover the bowl of the icing you are not currently using with a damp cloth or plastic wrap.
Speed also applies when you are adding embellishments or using the marbling technique. You have to work relatively fast in order to mix the colors before they harden.
4. The mess. One of the messiest chores when working with any type of icing is filling the piping bag. Keep tidy by placing your decorating bag tip down in a glass. Fold the excess bag over the rim of the glass and then use a spatula to scoop the icing in. Then simply unfold the excess bag and tie. Put a rubber band around the end to keep icing in.
5. The practice runs. Practice using the piping bag on parchment paper before you decorate your cookies. It can take a little while before you are comfortable and before your hands learn the proper flow and technique. Don't worry; your first attempts may not be Martha Stewart-worthy, but you will find it comes quickly.
6. Perfecting Your Technique
Keep practicing and look online for inspiration. There are wonderful examples of how you can use royal icing and the creative, beautiful results you can achieve. And when you are all finished, they make for great cookie gifts or even as cookie favors for baby showers or bridal showers!