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If you're reading this after Spring 2020, I'm glad you're okay. I'm writing this during the pandemic so it does change things up a bit. (Read to the part where I ran out of powdered sugar and did not run to the store.)
This is a fun little project for a rainy day! Or a quarantined day! Honestly, the possibilities with royal icing are endless, so feel free to play.
I'll say first that I am not an expert. I've only made a few things for friends and family. I do think a lot of blog posts out there are for people far more advanced than I am, so I'm here to give some beginner tips! I am going to gloss over the cookie dough recipe because I'm a lucky duck and my husband makes the cookies. He writes recipes for a living so I don't think he used one, but he recommended the Alton Brown sugar cookie recipe for those of you googling.
In this post, I will show you some techniques for decorating that are wet on wet, and some are wet on dry. These will produce different results, but you'll need the same things for all of them. Here's a list:
- Silicone Rolling Pin
- Cookie Cutters - I like these hearts and this set of circles, but use whatever you want!
- Food Coloring - I LOVE this set of gel colors and this black gel.
- Meringue Powder
- Powdered Sugar
- Piping Bags and Decorating Tips
- Squeeze Bottles
Okay! To start, Sprinkle some powdered sugar on your work surface and your rolling pin to prevent sticking. My recipe, and I think most recipes, called for the dough to be about 1/4" thick. Cut them out! I like basic shapes for beginners, but use whatever you like! Bake according to the recipe. In my experience, you need to pull them out as soon as the edges turn the tiniest bit brown. They might look underdone, but they burn quickly.
This is what mine look like when they're ready. The have to be completely cool before you start decorating, make sure you finish the cookies first before you start making the icing. They will cool way faster and more evenly if you put them on a cooling rack like this one.
Once your cookies are cool, you can start on the icing. The recipe is easy.
4 Cups Powdered Sugar
3 Tablespoons Meringue Powder
5 Tablespoons Water
*This is where the quarantine tip comes in!* I ran out of powdered sugar. Normally I would just run to the store but we, responsible humans, are limiting trips out into the world so I had to improvise. Did you know you can add regular sugar to a coffee grinder and "powder" it? I didn't. I actually doubted my husband when he told me this but it's true! We have two coffee grinders, a Ninja one for that I bought at a yard sale but can't seem to find anywhere else, and this KitchenAid Grinder that we use to grind our own spices. Both excellent.
The easiest way to clean a coffee grinder is to throw in a few grains of rice. I don't know why this works but it does! So easy. Grind those babies up and it's clean!
Add everything to a stand mixer. We use the artisan KitchenAid Mixer and let me tell you it is worth every penny. This thing's a workhorse. And look how cute!
Mix everything up on medium with the whisk attachment for about 7-9 minutes. The mixture will lose it's sheen and form stiff peaks. You have to watch it. Like whipped cream, it will "depuff" if you beat it too long.
Once your icing is done mixing, it will be too thick. You'll need to separate it into two bowls. One is stiffer for the trim and detail work and the other is thinner for "flooding" the cookies. You need less icing for the trim than the flooding, so separate about 1/4 of the batch into one bowl and 3/4 into the other. I kept my base color white, but you can color it at this point if you want!
To thin out your icing, add water a little tiny drop at a time. Like...really super slowly. You'll see how quickly the icing thins out and you don't want to go too far. For the trim and detail work, you will want to thin out your icing until, when you drip icing from a spoon into the bowl, it will disappear in about 25 seconds. In your thinner flood bowl, add water slowly until the dripping takes about 8 seconds to disappear.
If you're working a little slower, cover your icing bowls with a damp cloth to prevent it from drying out.
Next is the fun part! Separate out all the bowls and mix colors! LOOK how vivid these Americolor Gel Colors are! I really just love them.
For edges and decorating, I like these squeeze bottles. For flooding, I like a piping bag. That's up to you though. I just cut a corner out into a baggy and spoon the icing in, then squeeze it into the bottle. To fill the piping bag, add the tip according to the instructions and put it into a pint glass with the tip folded upwards so you don't lose any icing.
Pipe the thicker mixture around the edges with the thicker mixture, then flood with the thinner mixture. When flooding, it might not look completely filled in at first, but if you're mixture is thin enough, it will fill itself in.
The key to both piping and flooding is to work as fast as you can! I find that I do a better job piping if I'm not over thinking it, and you'll need the flood icing to be wet for some of the decorating techniques I'm going to show you.
Wet on Wet Icing:
I love this! If you work wet icing onto wet icing it will kind of sink in and create a really seemless texture. You can also drag a toothpick through to create a cool swirly effect, like I did with this abstract carrot design!
Now for dry technique:
If you wait for the flooded icing to dry, your decorations will sit on top and create texture. Depending on how thick your flooding is, you will have to wait at least a few hours for it to dry. You can leave them over night if you want. Here's an example I did with the dots and stem wet on wet, and the squiggly carrot was added after the first layer dried.
From here, feel free to play! The fun part of royal icing is that it can do anything! This is a good time to experiment, get creative, and work out (and eat) some of that anxious energy.