“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” This is the phrase that ran on a loop through my head as I decorated my fourth batch of these cookies. My parents used to say this to me often as I was growing up, and while making these cookies, I was so glad that they did. Royal icing started out as a royal pain, but now I feel comfortable working with it and am in LOVE with the results!
My holiday goody packages included a lot of treats, and the variety of items is different from year to year but the one thing that is always included is these sugar cookies. In the past I have used store-bought frosting to decorate them but I always wanted to try my hand at some cookies with beautiful royal icing. Herein lies my first mistake – deciding to try royal icing for the first time while preparing cookies for 18 goody bags – what was I thinking?! The second mistake? Well, that would be leaving this as the last item to complete for the packages. I was already exhausted from making the various other treats, and then found myself staring at 120-ish undecorated sugar cookies and two more balls of dough in the refrigerator. I made my first batch of royal icing and piped it around the edges of the cookies – this took F.O.R.E.V.E.R. Then, I had to flood them with thinned out icing. This also took a ridiculous amount of time. And after all that, I finally admitted that I probably couldn’t make 100 more of these cookies that same night, and so decided that only half of the recipients would get sugar cookies in their bags. I was incredibly disappointed because I had envisioned these gorgeous snowflake cookies with pretty blue detailing, but there wasn’t even time to do the detailing. In the end, I just sprinkled with some edible sparkles and left them plain white. I was defeated.
(The cookies from my first attempt. Boring, plain white, but in such cute packages!)
BUT, luckily I just happened to have my annual holiday party coming up and was planning on serving sugar cookies then as well, so I decided to give it another go. SO MUCH BETTER! This is when I really got the hang of royal icing. I learned that if it is at all difficult to pipe onto the edges, it’s still too thick. Add just a tiny bit more water to thin it out and things will go much more quickly. I had the edges piped, the cookies flooded, and the detailing done in no time. Now, I am crazy about royal icing for multiple reasons. Mainly:
1. It is gorgeous. This icing can make some truly beautiful cookies.
2. You can save it in an airtight container and reuse it later, no need to refrigerate.
3. If it seems too thick, add a small amount of liquid at a time until it thins to the consistency you want. Too thin? Just add more powdered sugar. So adaptable!
Since this post is already quite lengthy, one more word about the sugar cookies. These have never failed me. They taste incredible, are firm enough to decorate but soft when you bite into them, and keep well for quite some time. It just would not be Christmas in my house without these cookies. And since I still have one more ball of dough in the fridge, I think I’m off to continue my love affair with royal icing….
4 cups powdered sugar, sifted
2 tbsp. meringue powder
5 tbsp. water
Combine all ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on low speed until the sheen has disappeared and the icing has a matte appearance (about 7-10 minutes). Transfer the contents of the mixing bowl to an air-tight container. This will be the stiffest consistency of the icing, and at this point it is still too stiff to use for decorating. Add water a very small amount at a time and stir by hand until fully incorporated. Continue until the icing has reached a consistency appropriate for piping. (Remember, if you are having any difficulty piping, it is still too thick. Add a little more liquid and try again.) Using a pastry bag, pipe around the edges of each cookie. Let stand so the icing will set. Make sure to keep the leftover icing covered at all times when not in use so that it does not begin to harden.
Once all the cookies have been edged, transfer some of the remaining icing to a separate air-tight container. Thin out by incorporating a small amount of water at a time, until the icing drips off the spoon easily when lifted and then smooths in with that still in the bowl. If you go too far and the icing is too thin, add more sifted powdered sugar to thicken it again. Once the icing has reached the desired consistency, transfer it to a squeeze bottle (or a plastic bag with a hole in one corner), and flood the area surrounded by the piping on each cookie. If it does not completely spread to the edges, use a toothpick to help it along. Allow to set.
Use the remaining thicker icing for piping decoration as desired. Gel icing color is best as it does not add a significant amount of liquid. Liquid food coloring can be used as well – add powdered sugar as needed to compensate for any thinning that occurs.
Source: adapted from Katie of Good Things Catered