Every year, I decorate Easter Cookies for my glambabies and niece. Chocolate is always good in an Easter basket, but the biggest “wows” come from a cookie about the size of their face covered in colourful icing. Now when it comes to icings, I am all about the buttercream (check out my blog for my Swiss Meringue Buttercream Recipe). While buttercream is great in a sandwich cookie or as a dip for sugar cookies, it is not optimal for decorating as it remains soft and will squish and smudge. For detailed decorating you need to use royal icing.
Royal icing is a simple mixture of egg whites, icing sugar and flavour that is easy to pipe with and dries hard so your cookies can be moved, stacked and stored without the risk of smearing. My favourite recipe uses three egg whites, which is perfect because my favourite sugar cookie recipe uses 3 egg yolks! I chose eggs that are pasteurized and have never had a problem using raw egg whites. If you are worried about using raw eggs, Royal Icing can be made with meringue powder (dried egg whites). You can usually find the powder in the baking isle of major supermarkets. If you want to go this route, use this recipe Royal Icing with Meringue Powder from Fine Cooking.
Royal Icing is very easy to make, just beat your egg whites and vanilla until frothy and then beat in the icing sugar. Be sure you beat the icing until it is glossy and bright white. This takes a good five minutes or more. I find that if you use the weights in the recipe you will end up with a stiff royal icing perfect for piping. If you find it is a little too stiff add additional in egg whites in very small amounts (½ tsp at a time). If you find it is too runny to pipe, beat in additional icing sugar to stiffen it up. Once you have it at the proper consistency, separate the icing into small bowls and add colour as desired. I prefer to use paste food colours (you can find them at craft stores) because they produce brighter colours with less and therefore do not thin the icing too much.
When decorating cookies you always want to start with stiff royal icing. Use this stiffer icing to create patterns and borders. If you are doing thicker patterns, the Royal Icing will take longer to dry, so please be careful not to smudge it before it dries.
creates a smooth completely covered cookie (or area of a cookie). To do this you pipe a border with the stiff royal icing. Then you thin the royal icing using some additional egg whites by adding a small amount at a time until the Royal Icing is quite fluid. This is then piped into the border and the cookie is tilted to fill the area with the thinned icing. Always use egg white to thin your Royal Icing. Using water may prevent the icing from hardening.
Royal Icing does harden quite quickly, so while you are working with it, keep any icing that is not in a piping bag covered with a damp paper towel. Simply wet a paper towel with water, ring it out completely and lay it over the icing. If you are using multiple piping bags at once, you may also want to wrap the tips in a damp paper towel as Royal Icing will harden in your piping tips. If his happens use a toothpick to remove the hardened icing. Have fun and share some of your creations in the comments below!
yields about 3½ cups, enough for one batch of my sugar cookies
90 gm (3 large) pasteurized egg whites
15 ml (1 tsp) vanilla
480 gm (4 cups) icing sugar
food colouring as desired, preferably paste
In large bowl of stand mixer combine the egg whites and vanilla and beat until frothy. Add confectioners' sugar gradually and mix on low speed until sugar is incorporated and mixture is shiny (eggs will deflate as sugar is added).
Turn speed up to high and beat until mixture forms stiff, glossy peaks, about 5 to 7 minutes. For immediate use, transfer to bowls and colour as desired. Transfer into piping bag immediately, or keep covered with a damp paper towel. Icing can be store in airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.
adapted from Alton Brown, foodnetwork.com