How to Make Royal Icing and Flood Icing

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Royal Icing can turn regular sugar cookies into little works of art! Smooth, royal icing and flood icing is actually simple to make and decorate with too.

Royal icing in a bowl and in piping bags with sugar cookies

Royal Icing and Flood Icing

Do you ever wonder how bakeries get that smooth, perfect icing on cookies? They are gorgeous and can look really complicated. But here’s a secret: they aren’t complicated at all. In fact, this smooth royal icing recipe is simple to make and easy to use. It’s perfect for decorating cut out cookies.

Fancy Alice in Wonderland sugar cookies

Our Favorite Cookier

This recipe is a very special recipe. It comes from my best friend Heidi over at @HeidisSweetTooth (follow her on Instagram). She was kind enough to share this recipe with us. If you live in the Boise area, she does custom orders and will make you cookies beyond your wildest dreams. Above is an example of the work she can do. (P.S. Bonus points for those who can tell us what movie she drew inspiration from for the cookies above)

What is Royal Icing?

Royal icing is a mixture of powdered sugar, meringue powder and water. The trick is getting the consistency just right. It hardens quickly and creates a smooth, matte finish that is perfect for those beautifully cut-out decorated sugar cookies.

What is Flood Icing?

Once you’ve outlined your cookies with your royal icing outline, you’ll fill in your designs with “flood” icing. Flood icing is basically just a watered-down royal icing (watered down in consistency, not flavor). It gives your cookies that beautiful, smooth texture.

How to Get the Perfect Consistency for Royal Icing

Before knowing what the perfect consistency is, you need to ask yourself “What am I using this for”? Are you making sugar cookies? Gingerbread houses? Flowers for a wedding cake? Are you doing detailed work or are you flooding? Or both? Here’s a quick guide:

Three different consistencies of royal icing

There are 3 main consistencies for royal icing:

  1. Piping (On the left in the image above and below) – Piping is very stiff and gets very hard after drying. This kind of consistency is great for using as mortar on gingerbread houses. It is also good for making transfers (which means making an icing design like a flower and transferring it to a cake or cookie after drying). To get this consistency you want to have stiff peaks that don’t flop over when you pull it up.
  2. Outline (In the middle in the image above and below) – The outline consistency is for, well, outlining. This will hold in your flood icing but won’t get too hard like the piping consistency. You can easily bite into it and it won’t be crunchy. It is great for sugar cookies and gingerbread cookies. To get this consistency you want to have a soft peak that gently flops over when pulled up, but not so soft that it absorbs back into the rest of the icing. You want it to still hold its form.
  3. Flood (On the right in the image above and below) – This is that beautiful, glossy, “fill” icing. It will flood in the areas that you have outlined. It is perfect for sugar cookies. For this consistency, you want the icing to absorb back into itself in 3-4 seconds after pulling it up. It should make a thick puddle and then keep its shape.
Three consistencies of royal icing on a plate

What is Royal Icing Used For?

You can use royal icing for so many different recipes. Try them all!

What Do I Need To Make And Decorate With Royal Icing?

  • Powdered Sugar (aka confectioners’ sugar) – this will be the bulk of your icing. You MUST sift the powdered sugar if you want to have the perfect consistency.
  • Meringue Powder – We use Genie’s Dream Premium Blend and it is perfect
  • Food Coloring – Don’t use the grocery store stuff. It will mess up your consistency. Get a good food coloring from the craft store or the one HERE.
  • Piping Bags – We like these small disposables ones.
Pink royal icing in a tupperware container with food coloring on the side

Does Royal Icing Taste Good?

YES! At least this recipe does. It is delicious! If you prefer a rich creamy frosting, try our delicious cream cheese frosting (found here) or our decadent buttercream frosting. Using a thin layer of royal flood icing on a cookie is the perfect amount; it’s still sweet icing and it makes your cookies shine. If you want decorative, ornate, and tasty icing go with royal icing. But for a rich, flavorful cookie, top it with a dollop of cream cheese frosting and a few sprinkles if you’re feeling festive.

Powdered sugar, a water bottle, and meringue powder

Royal Icing with Meringue Powder

In this recipe we use meringue powder. Some people use egg whites, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Especially for this recipe. Using raw eggs and raw egg whites can make this recipe inconsistent and increase the risk of salmonella. I promise, this recipe is perfect as-is, no need for substitutes. Meringue powder (not to be confused with egg white powder) is the only way to go. That being said, our very favorite meringue powder is this Genie’s Dream Premium Blend Meringue Powder. It has great consistency and flavor. We can’t guarantee any other meringue powder will turn out quite as good!

Can Royal Icing Be Used on Cake?

Royal icing serves a great purpose and is very beautiful, but not on a cake. At least not in large quantities. The only time you may want royal icing on a cake is if you make flowers or other decorations and transfer them to the cake after they harden. Even then, they really aren’t meant to be eaten, they are more for decoration. You can also use royal icing as a “glue” if you are wanting to attach the icing flowers or other embellishments onto the cake.

Can Royal Icing Be Flavored?

Absolutely! Almond extract, vanilla extract or coconut extracts are all delicious ways to flavor up royal icing. The meringue powder we use (see above) is already flavored so we typically don’t need to flavor it any more. If you do want to flavor your icing, just make sure to use CLEAR extracts so you don’t mess up the white color. Also, be really careful adding those extra liquids because even a little bit will change the consistency.

How Long Does it Take for Royal Icing to Dry?

For projects like gingerbread houses or panoramic eggs, you’ll want to let the icing dry overnight. But if you’re just wanting to decorate with layers on cookies, let it dry for at leas an hour in between.

Royal icing being piped onto a sugar cookie in the shape of a heart

How Long Does Royal Icing Last?

While fresh royal icing is best to use for cookies, you can store this for up to a week in the refrigerator. But it must be covered with a damp towel to avoid drying out and hardening. Meringue powder royal icing can last up to a month if kept refrigerated. Putting icing in the freezer isn’t recommended but putting finished cookies AFTER the icing has set is totally fine.

What To Do if Your Icing is Too Thick

If it’s not the right consistency for your liking, stir in a tiny bit of water, a LITTLE at a time (you can always add more but you can’t take it away). You can use a quarter teaspoon measuring spoon or I like using a little condiment bottle to drip the water in slowly. You may even want to use a spray bottle to make sure you don’t add too much water too quickly.

Sugar cookie with icing being piped on

How to Frost Cookies with Royal Icing and Flood Icing

You can decorate sugar cookies like a pro– it’s easier than it looks! Place the icing in a piping bag, snip off the tip, and outline the cookies. You can also use a reusable piping bag with a small piping tip. Fill in the outlines on the cookies with the flood icing and then use a toothpick to fill in any little gaps. Add sprinkles for more dimension and design. Be creative and have fun!

More Tasty Frosting Recipes…

Sugar cookies decorated with royal icing

Royal Icing

4.80 from 5 votes
Royal Icing can turn regular sugar cookies into little works of art! Smooth and shiny, royal icing and flood icing is actually simple to make and decorate with too!
Prep Time 10 mins
Cook Time 0 mins
Setting Time 30 mins
Total Time 40 mins
Course cookies
Cuisine American
Servings 24 cookies

Video

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds powdered sugar sifted
  • 5 tablespoons Genie's Dream Premium Meringue Powder
  • 2/3 cup water
  • gel food coloring (see notes above)

Instructions

  • Combine ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer. Mix on low speed with a whisk attachment  until ingredients are combined (enough that the powdered sugar won't fly everywhere).
    Powdered sugar, a water bottle, and meringue powder
  • Turn up the speed to med/high and mix for 5 min or until very thick, shiny, stiff and white. You want the peaks of the icing to stand straight up without flopping over at all.
    Royal icing in a mixing bowl
  • If you want to make several different colors, divide the icing into several different bowls and beat in the food coloring by hand with a rubber spatula.
    Pink royal icing in a tupperware container with food coloring on the side
  • Once you get the correct consitencies for piping (see notes above), place icing in piping bags and start decorating!
    Royal icing being piped onto a sugar cookie in the shape of a heart
  • After icing your cookies, allow cookies to harden at room temperature for at least 12 hours before storing.
    Sugar cookies with royal icing and sprinkles

To Make Flood Icing:

  • Once you have used all of the royal icing you plan on using (or have set aside the amount of royal icing you need) add about a little of water at a time to the royal icing that you would like to make into flood icing, stirring constantly, until you get the right consistency.
    Three different consistencies of royal icing
  • You want to be able to pull up a spoonful of icing and have it drip back down into the bowl and combine with the rest of the icing within just a few seconds (see image above). You don't want to have it lay on top of the remaining icing for long, you also don't want it to absorb immediately. That means it is too thin. There is a fine line here, which is why you only want to add a little bit of water at a time so you don't overdo it. 
    Sugar cookie with icing being piped on

Nutrition Information

Calories: 122kcalCarbohydrates: 30gProtein: 1gFat: 1gSodium: 14mgPotassium: 11mgSugar: 30gCalcium: 1mgIron: 1mg

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About the author

Erica Walker

Erica lives in Boise, Idaho with her husband, Jared, an attorney, and her beautiful three girls. Beyond the world of recipes, she loves adventuring with everything from kayaking, to cruising, to snowboarding and taking the family along for the thrill ride.

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Comments

  1. 5 stars
    Super simple! I stopped beating the mix when I got to glossy with floppy peaks, like a homemade marshmallow texture before it sets. I also mixed my egg white powder and powdered sugar together first, then added the milk. Otherwise my egg white powder gets sooo clumpy.

  2. 5 stars
    Looks like fun I am going to try to make tea cup and tea pot cookies for a bridal shower. ( practice first)

  3. I made the flood icing and it worked pretty well! The only down side about is is that is takes a FULL night to dry. I would definitely try this again though!

    1. 5 stars
      I love the heart cookie cutter! Where did you get it? Thank you for the very good descriptions on how to get the different types. Very informative!

  4. 4 stars
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  5. 5 stars
    I have enjoyed reading your blog and using some of the great recipes! Thanks for taking the time to give us wonderful recipes and tips!