Sugar Cookies with Royal Icing


“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”  This is the phrase that ran on a loop through my head as I decorated my fourth batch of these cookies.  My parents used to say this to me often as I was growing up, and while making these cookies, I was so glad that they did.  Royal icing started out as a royal pain, but now I feel comfortable working with it and am in LOVE with the results!


My holiday goody packages included a lot of treats, and the variety of items is different from year to year but the one thing that is always included is these sugar cookies.  In the past I have used store-bought frosting to decorate them but I always wanted to try my hand at some cookies with beautiful royal icing.  Herein lies my first mistake – deciding to try royal icing for the first time while preparing cookies for 18 goody bags – what was I thinking?!  The second mistake?  Well, that would be leaving this as the last item to complete for the packages.  I was already exhausted from making the various other treats, and then found myself staring at 120-ish undecorated sugar cookies and two more balls of dough in the refrigerator.  I made my first batch of royal icing and piped it around the edges of the cookies – this took F.O.R.E.V.E.R.  Then, I had to flood them with thinned out icing.  This also took a ridiculous amount of time.  And after all that, I finally admitted that I probably couldn’t make 100 more of these cookies that same night, and so decided that only half of the recipients would get sugar cookies in their bags.  I was incredibly disappointed because I had envisioned these gorgeous snowflake cookies with pretty blue detailing, but there wasn’t even time to do the detailing.  In the end, I just sprinkled with some edible sparkles and left them plain white.  I was defeated.

royal-icing-4(The cookies from my first attempt.  Boring, plain white, but in such cute packages!)

BUT, luckily I just happened to have my annual holiday party coming up and was planning on serving sugar cookies then as well, so I decided to give it another go.  SO MUCH BETTER!  This is when I really got the hang of royal icing.  I learned that if it is at all difficult to pipe onto the edges, it’s still too thick.  Add just a tiny bit more water to thin it out and things will go much more quickly.  I had the edges piped, the cookies flooded, and the detailing done in no time.  Now, I am crazy about royal icing for multiple reasons.  Mainly:

1. It is gorgeous.  This icing can make some truly beautiful cookies.
2. You can save it in an airtight container and reuse it later, no need to refrigerate.
3. If it seems too thick, add a small amount of liquid at a time until it thins to the consistency you want.  Too thin?  Just add more powdered sugar.  So adaptable!


Since this post is already quite lengthy, one more word about the sugar cookies.  These have never failed me.  They taste incredible, are firm enough to decorate but soft when you bite into them, and keep well for quite some time.  It just would not be Christmas in my house without these cookies.  And since I still have one more ball of dough in the fridge, I think I’m off to continue my love affair with royal icing….


Royal Icing
4 cups powdered sugar, sifted
2 tbsp. meringue powder
5 tbsp. water

Combine all ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.  Mix on low speed until the sheen has disappeared and the icing has a matte appearance (about 7-10 minutes).  Transfer the contents of the mixing bowl to an air-tight container.  This will be the stiffest consistency of the icing, and at this point it is still too stiff to use for decorating.  Add water a very small amount at a time and stir by hand until fully incorporated.  Continue until the icing has reached a consistency appropriate for piping.  (Remember, if you are having any difficulty piping, it is still too thick.  Add a little more liquid and try again.)  Using a pastry bag, pipe around the edges of each cookie.  Let stand so the icing will set.  Make sure to keep the leftover icing covered at all times when not in use so that it does not begin to harden.

Once all the cookies have been edged, transfer some of the remaining icing to a separate air-tight container.  Thin out by incorporating a small amount of water at a time, until the icing drips off the spoon easily when lifted and then smooths in with that still in the bowl.  If you go too far and the icing is too thin, add more sifted powdered sugar to thicken it again.  Once the icing has reached the desired consistency, transfer it to a squeeze bottle (or a plastic bag with a hole in one corner), and flood the area surrounded by the piping on each cookie.  If it does not completely spread to the edges, use a toothpick to help it along.  Allow to set.

Use the remaining thicker icing for piping decoration as desired.  Gel icing color is best as it does not add a significant amount of liquid.  Liquid food coloring can be used as well – add powdered sugar as needed to compensate for any thinning that occurs.

Source: adapted from Katie of Good Things Catered

53 Responses

  1. These are incredibly gorgeous! I’m really impressed that this was your first time using royal icing, it looks like you’ve been doing it for years!

  2. WOW – these turned out amazing! This was my first year even baking sugar cookies, so maybe next will be the year I try royal icing 🙂 Way to go!

  3. Beautiful Job!

  4. Oh, now I really need to get my courage up and make an attempt at decorating sugar cookies! Yours turned out so nice, and I appreciate you sharing your experience.

    Happy Holidays!

  5. I’ve been wanting to make these for a while. Yours look beautiful!

  6. OH MY GOODNESS Annie!! They look AMAAAAAAAZING! They are so gorgeous! I’m covered in sugar making more now and knowing they won’t be as pretty as these. GREAT JOB! And what patience!!

  7. Those are beautiful cookies!!!! Great job!!!!

  8. Wow! These really are the most beautiful cookies I’ve ever seen. Almost too pretty to eat…. almost. 🙂

  9. Beautiful cookies! You should submit these to our holiday cookie contest! 🙂

  10. These are stunning! I love the shade of blue that you got!

  11. Gorgeous cookies! I love the shade of blue and the whimsical scrollwork on the snowflakes 🙂

  12. Hi! ur cookies looked so pretty! ened ur advice on smthng- do u thnk i can make royal icing without a mixer? it doesnt sound so feasible to me! help!

    Merry christmas!! (:

  13. they came out beautiful!

  14. ur cookies look so perfect! and im lovin the new blog look :]

  15. Love how they turned out!

  16. So pretty – although I’m not a royal icing fan, they do give baked goods the very special appearance don’t they. Love the colours.

  17. I love the snowflake ones. So adorable!

  18. […] here for the one I used. You can use your favorite. And then I got the recipe and technique for the royal icing from Annie over at Annie’s Eats. Thanks, Annie, for the easy to follow directions and […]

  19. Oh these are fabulous! Wow. This is my goal to be able to make these.

  20. […] Royal Icing (for icing tips, see Annie’s Eats) […]

  21. […] can go here for Annie’s sugar cookie recipe and here for the royal icing recipe.  Be sure to check out Annie’s hints for making your royal icing experience an […]

  22. where did you find the meringue powder?

    • Hi Jessica,
      Meringue powder can be found wherever Wilton products are sold (Michael’s, Joann’s, etc.)
      🙂 Annie

  23. I made these and they were perfect! Thank you so much!

  24. I was wondering if you have any problems w/ air bubbles when you flood. I used royal icing for the first time tonight and there are tons of air bubbles in the icing. I tried putting them on a cookie sheet and whacking it on the table to release the bubbles but it didn’t help. Any ideas!

    By the way – I love this sight! I just found it a few days ago and I keep adding recipes to my list. Everything looks amazing

    • Hi Mandy,
      Having little air bubbles in your royal icing is a common problem caused by the air that is incorporated into your icing as you mix it for thinning or coloring. The best thing to do to prevent this is to just let your icing sit for about 10 to 15 minutes after mixing to let the air bubbles rise to the surface. It has worked well for me. Hope that helps!
      🙂 Annie

  25. […] defer to the experts for royal icing help. Check out Katie’s tutorial at Good Things Catered or Annie’s tips and hints at Annie’s Eats for more information about how to work with the icing. Both these ladies have […]

  26. Hi! Love your blog and just wanted to tell you I made these cookies and they are fantstic. I bloged about them here :

    Thanks so much for the recipe!

  27. Hi,
    Great cookies- where did you get those great boxes! They are amazing!
    Thanks for the info!

  28. A friend recommended this to me after I posted a desperate plea on Facebook looking for a good royal icing recipe. I tried it and it was PERFECT. Thanks so much.

  29. Annie, I made these cookies today and they came out beautifully! I have never had cookies turn out more lovely or more perfect. The icing on the other hand was a disaster. I kept adding the water, small bit by bit and it really never took any consistency other than a marshmallow-like paste that dried very quickly. Help! I don’t know what went wrong. I got the meringue powder fresh today and the gel food coloring at Kitchen Art in West Lafayette. Is there somewhere better in Indy? Kate

    • Hi Kate,
      Glad the cookies turned out well! Sorry the royal icing wasn’t as much of a success. It is impossible for me to tell you exactly what went wrong since I wasn’t there, but it sounds to me like you just didn’t add enough water. You really have to keep adding it until it gets to a workable consistency. I’m sure the supplies weren’t the problem because I’m not at all discriminating about where or when I buy mine.
      Good luck!

  30. What type of gel coloring do you use? Thanks!!!

  31. […] adapted from Annie’s Eats and Good Things […]

  32. Hi Annie,
    These look awesome and I am in the process of attempting some sugar cookies of my own. I do not have a stand mixer, however. Would using a whisk or just stirring work too?

    • Hi Amber,
      You don’t have to have a stand mixer, but you definitely need an electric mixer. The dough is really too thick to come together with a whisk – it would probably break it! Good luck!

  33. Hi Annie!
    Thanks so much for your great blog!! I just made a huge batch of the beautiful cookies and royal icing for Valentine’s Day. Can you tell me if the unused icing can be put in the refrigerator for a later use or do you find that it all needs to be used up within a day or two? I’ve had such great success w/your tips and tricks for using this icing…SO great!!! I do add a little clear vanilla just to give it a super yummy flavor! Thanks again!

  34. Hi Annie,
    A friend of mine recently made sugar cookies with royal icing and they looked so pretty I just had to try making a batch. While doing some research on royal icing I came across your web site (which is fantastic by the way) and used your sugar cookie recipe (also fantastic). Everything seemed to be going swimmingly until I added the gel food coloring (Wilton) to the royal icing; it suddenly had a distinct synthetic flavor to it, no doubt from the coloring. My question is this: is the gel food coloring supposed to have a strange smell to it and does it go away after the frosting has dried?

    Thank you!

    • Hi Lisa,
      Did you use red coloring? Red tends to the be only gel coloring I have ever noticed to have a taste, which is why Wilton specifically makes a “no taste” red. If you don’t use it, you can definitely taste the coloring. But with other colors, I never notice any flavor.

  35. Annie,
    First, your cookies are beautiful- I’m inspired! I just got an issue of Cook’s Illustrated and I noticed in the Notes from Readers that someone asked about meringue powder. Of course they did a zillion tests and found that using egg whites work better. Have you ever tried a royal icing with egg whites? If so, does it taste any better?

  36. Hi, How will you store the left over ones?

  37. Hi annie! I’m about to try this again. Last time used gel food coloring but found that in the flooded icing the colors were uneven, even though I stirred it well. (some parts darker than others). The flooding icing was also probably too thin, too. Any advice? I’m hoping with thicker icing the colors won’t separate.

    • It sounds like it just needed to be more thoroughly mixed. You have to mix until the color is even. The consistency of the icing shouldn’t really affect the coloring because it shouldn’t separate.

  38. What kind of flour are you using for the “Ella’ White Sugar Cookie,
    Self Rising or All Purpose?
    Thanks, I’m going to try this recipe over the weekend.

  39. Hi Annie!
    Is there any difference if I use a normal bowl instead of an airtight container? Because I don’t have one at home. Thanks, and congrats for providing us with these delicious recipes! ;D

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