Thursday, November 17, 2011

Royal Icing

Decorating cookies with royal icing gets addictive. It's amazing what you can do with some cookie cutters and tinted frosting! It may seem overwhelming to get started, so I've broken the basics down into steps. Start small! Just use a simple circle cookie cutter and one color. Or even buy plain sugar cookies from the store just to practice on. I promise, it will get easier the more you practice! And if you're ever at a loss for inspiration, just search decorated cookies on Pinterest, and you'll be overwhelmed all over again.

First up, supplies. You will need:
20-25 cookies
egg whites and powdered sugar
Food coloring (optional)
Paper towel
Plastic wrap
Piping bags and a small round tip
Squeeze bottle or disposable piping bags

Step 1: Bake your cookies and let them cool completely. If you can bake them the night before you decorate, even better.

Step 2: Make your icing. With an electric mixer, whisk 3 egg whites on med to med-high speed until very foamy. Gradually add 18 oz powdered sugar (you can sift it if you want but I usually don't), and continue to whisk until stiff peaks form. The more you beat your icing the stiffer it will get so be careful not to overbeat it or it will be difficult to pipe.

Step 3: Color your icing if desired. Add a small amount of food coloring, and whip or stir until the color is incorporated. I prefer Americolor or Wilton gel colors. Using pure liquid food coloring or even too much gel can affect the consistency of your icing. If it starts to get too thin, just add more powdered sugar and/or whisk it until stiffer. Also, keep in mind your icing will darken slightly as it dries. Cover the bowl with a damp paper towel pressed directly on the surface of the icing, plus plastic wrap, until ready to use.

Step 4: Lay out all your cookies on a flat surface. Fit a pastry bag with a small plain round tip (I like Wilton #2). Fill the bag about half full with royal icing and twist the top to tighten the bag. Reserve the remaining icing covered as above.

Step 5: Outlining. Use gently pressure to pipe a line of icing just inside the outer edge of the cookie. Try to keep your bag about 1/4-1/2'' above the cookie so you get a nice round line. You want the icing to sort of "fall" out of the bag. This will give you more control over where you're piping. Try to only touch down on the cookie when you begin and end. If you make a mistake, just wait until the icing dries and then scrape it off with a small knife. Let all the cookies rest until the outline is set (usually by the time I'm done outlining my last cookie, I can start flooding the first one).

Step 6: Flooding. First, thin your icing. Begin adding water to your remaining royal icing 1/2 tsp at a time. Continue to add water until the icing is the consistency of honey or thick syrup. A ribbon of icing lifted out of the bowl should disappear back into the icing after just a few seconds. Transfer this thinned or "flood" icing to a plastic squeeze bottle or a disposable plastic piping bag. Snip just the very end off the bag. Pipe or squeeze this icing inside the outline of each cookie. This is called "flooding." Don't try to fill the entire cookie completely. Just fill it most of the way without the icing overflowing. Start with less and add more as necessary. Use a toothpick to guide the icing all the way out until it touches the outline, adding more thinned icing as necessary. Use the sharp end of the toothpick to pop any air bubbles.

Step 7: Let set. Allow the cookies to set until the icing is completely hardened. This can take as much as 24 hours, especially if the weather is humid or damp. If you want to package your cookies, let them sit for 24 hours. Don't worry too much about the cookies getting stale. The icing actually acts as a sealant and will keep the cookies fresh. If you want to pipe additional designs over your flooded icing, only do so once it is completely set. Use the thicker icing (outline) to do this.

Storing royal icing: Store royal icing in the fridge, with a damp paper towel pressed directly onto the surface of the icing. Cover with plastic wrap or the lid of an airtight container. Alternatively, if you have leftover icing still in a plastic piping bag, you can simply put the whole thing in the fridge to store.

I hope this has helped you learn the basics about decorating cookies with royal icing. Please let me know if you have any questions and I'll do my best to answer them. Look for even more decorated cookies for more specific decorating techniques, coming soon!


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