Royal Icing

by Sabrena Cantu December 20, 2020 4 min read

Royal Icing

Royal icing is the perfect partner for sugar cookies! With one simple recipe, you can get 4 different consistencies to take cookies and cakes to the next level!

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Powdered sugar
  • Meringue powder
  • Vanilla
  • Water

Additional supplies:

  • Piping bags or bottles
  • Piping tips
  • Scriber needle, toothpick, or skewer
  • Food gel colors

Before You Begin

There are four main consistencies of royal icing to use for decorating: flood, medium, piping, and stiff. These four types are all made from the same recipe and differ simply by the amount of water in them. By making a batch of stiff icing, you can make the remaining three types by adding more water.






Time to settle

5-10 seconds

10-15 seconds

25-30 seconds

Does not settle

Amount of water


Slightly less than flood

Slightly more than stiff


Great for

Flooding, multi color wet-on-wet

Outlining and flooding

Piping lines, text, details, attaching sprinkles

Flowers, leaves, borders, ruffles, binding gingerbread house walls

Dry time

6+ hours

6+ hours

1-2 hours

1-2 hours


The Process

To make royal icing, you need a stand mixer with the paddle attachment or a hand-held mixer. In the mixing bowl, whisk 1 pound of powdered sugar with 1.25 ounces of meringue powder. Add ¼ teaspoon of vanilla extract and 2-4 ounces of water. (Start with 2.5-3 ounces of water and add more water if needed.)

Mix on low speed for a couple seconds to make sure the sugar does not fly up. Then, increase the speed to medium-high and beat for 3-4 minutes until the icing becomes bright white, fluffy, and glossy. The goal is to make the icing stiff. It should resemble marshmallow fluff or meringue. If it needs more water, add a 1/4 tsp at a time. Likewise, if the icing seems too loose, sprinkle in some powdered sugar.

Royal icing dries up, so, keep it covered with a damp paper towel or some plastic wrap. I prefer to store mine in a container covered with plastic wrap, followed by the lid.


Royal Icing

Prep Time: 5 minutes



1 lb.

Powdered sugar

1.25 oz.

Meringue powder

¼ tsp.

Vanilla extract

2-4 oz.


  1. Whisk powdered sugar and meringue powder. For best results, sift powdered sugar.
  2. Add 2.5-3 ounces of water and vanilla and mix on low speed for a few seconds. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat for 3-4 minutes until stiff peaks form, the icing becomes bright white, and the icing becomes slightly glossy. If the icing is too dry, add a little water. If the icing is too wet, add some powdered sugar.
  3. Cover with a damp paper towel or plastic wrap while using. Store in an air-tight container with plastic wrap covering the icing and then the lid.
  4. Use 1/4-1/3 cup of stiff icing at a time and color with food gel colors and water down to create desired consistency.


The Four Types

*If you do not have piping bags, simply use a spoon and pour flood/medium consistency icing over the cookies or dip the top side of the cookie in the icing. Likewise, use an icing spatula or knife to spread piping/stiff consistency icing over the cookie for quick and easy decorating!


Flood icing is the thinnest consistency of the four types because it has the most water in it. It should not be runny, but loose enough that when poured, the icing settles in 5-10 seconds. This makes it perfect for flooding cookies. "Flooding" refers to the way the icing "floods" the surface of the cookie. This consistency works best if you are making a multi-color design as shown above. Flood consistency is not the best for precise, intricate shapes. Use a scribe tool, toothpick, or skewer to help shape and spread the icing in the direction you want. This also helps to remove air bubbles. Full dry time: 6+ hours


Medium consistency has slightly less water than flood. The icing settles in 10-15 seconds and keeps its shape enough to outline the design before flooding. The outline does not need to dry first. This icing is perfect for more detailed, intricate shapes. Use a scriber needle, toothpick, or skewer to help remove air bubbles or spread the icing as well. Full dry time: 6+ hours

This image shows the difference between flood and medium icing. In the second image, you can see how using the toothpick or skewer can help shape flood icing as if it were outlined. I do not recommend pouring sprinkles over flood/medium icing as they can weigh down the icing and make it ooze over the sides. If working in sections, let icing dry for 30 minutes before adding the next section.


Piping consistency is best for...piping! This icing has slightly more water than stiff icing. It does settle somewhat in 25-30 seconds, but keeps its shape making it perfect for piping text, lines, designs, and details. This icing is also best for adhering sprinkles as shown above. For full coverage sprinkles, use a knife or icing spatula and spread the icing over the cookies. Then, press the cookie into the sprinkles or sprinkle them over the top. Full dry time: 1-2 hours


Stiff icing has the least amount of water and the most volume. This icing does not settle. Stiff icing is best for borders, ruffles, flowers, leaves, or any design where you want it to be defined and keep its shape. This icing also works great for attaching the walls of a gingerbread or cookies house!


*Royal icing is very forgiving. Simply add more water to thin it out or more powdered sugar to stiffen it up.
*Keep in mind what consistencies and colors you need to create the design you want.
*A little goes a long way! Start with stiff icing, then, separate the icing into small bowls and create different consistencies and colors from there. Food colors will add moisture to the icing so add food colors first, then add water to create your desired consistency.
*Give icing plenty of time to dry!! Flood and medium icing take the longest to fully dry. I like to let them dry over night and finish the rest of the details the following day.



Sabrena Cantu
Sabrena Cantu

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