I tested 4 popular royal icing recipes without meringue powder and found the only one you will ever need.
Royal icing, with it's hard candy-like texture, shiny finish and unique ability to transform a plain cut-out cookie into festive work of art is a go-to for decorating enthusiasts everywhere.
I will admit, however, that creating a batch of wow-worthy royal icing can be tricky (particularly if you don't have meringue powder on hand). All too often, it's filled with air bubbles and the finish is dull, lumpy and lack-luster.
In an effort to find the ultimate, most foolproof recipe for Royal Icing without Meringue Powder, I pitted four popular methods against each other in a sugary showdown.
The classic royal icing recipe I was searching for needed to be meringue powder free, easy to work with, dry to a hardened consistency and have that glossy sheen that cookie artists everywhere adore. After polling local bakers for their favorite recipes and researching the most popular and well reviewed methods online, I had my 4 contenders. I'm ecstatic to report, at the end of the day, I came away with a clear winner - and it's the only meringue-free royal icing recipe you'll ever need.
Meet Our 4 Royal Icing Contenders
I chose four recipes that each took a unique approach to this type of royal icing. Basic Royal Icing, features 3 simple ingredients - sugar, milk and vanilla and boasted that a mixer was not required. Egg Whites were included in 2 of the recipes as the replacement for meringue powder. One version combined egg whites with lemon juice, while the second used egg whites with vanilla. Finally, our fourth version utilized light corn syrup which is said to provide a beautiful gloss to frosted cookies.
To keep this showdown fair, I ensured that each tested method resulted in a royal icing that was the same consistency. I used the timing test - dragging a knife through the surface of the icing and counting how long it takes to settle or smooth over. All icings were customized until they were classified as medium (8-10 seconds to settle flat). If too thick, I added extra of whatever liquid the recipe called for. If too thin, I add powdered sugar 1 tablespoon at a time.
1. The Biggest Letdown: Corn Syrup Recipe
Overall Score - 4/10
Ingredients - powdered sugar, milk, corn syrup and vanilla extract
Using light corn syrup was the one method I was not familiar with when entering into this experiment. This was the recipe with the most ingredients (and I had to make a special trip to the grocery store as I only had dark corn syrup on hand). The icing went on easily, but dried very quickly making it hard to make final adjustments to the cookie. After sitting overnight, the icing became very wrinkled and blobby which is the opposite of what you want the surface of a royal icing cookie to look like. While the sheen was great (just as reported) and the taste was fine, I won't be using this method again.
2. Recreational Decorating: Simply Royal Icing Recipe
Overall Score - 6/10
Ingredients - powdered sugar, milk and vanilla extract
The simple royal icing featured something I'm a huge fan of - it skips the fuss. While it's debatable if this recipe is truly royal icing (it's really more of an easy sugar cookie icing), when applied to the cookie, it went on smoothly and with very few bubbles. As the cookies sat overnight to dry, the smooth finish did get a little wrinkly around the edge. The royal icing hardened enough that the cookies can be stacked on one another, but was definitely softer than the other 3 icings I tested. I would not recommend piping detailed designs with this icing. If you are decorating cookies with your kids just for fun (and aren't concerned about a perfectly decorated cookie), this method is the fastest and simplest way to get it done. However, there are better recipes out there.
3. The Runner Up: Lemon Juice Royal Icing Recipe
Overall Score: 8/10
Ingredients - powdered sugar, egg whites and lemon juice
This recipe came very close to being our winner. It applied easily without air bubbles and the result was a shiny, hard, smooth finish. The pure bright white color was also an added bonus.
Where it fell short was on the taste test. The recipe called for the juice of half a lemon and you could REALLY taste it. For me, when I eat a royal icing covered cookie, I'm looking for that classic sugary taste and this just didn't deliver. If you enjoy a lemon-y flavor, this just might be the recipe for you.
The Clear (and Surprising!) Frontrunner: Egg White Royal Icing Recipe
Overall Score: 10/10
Ingredients - powdered sugar, egg whites, milk and vanilla extract
** see recipe card below for quantities and specific directions
If you had told me at the start of the experiment that this recipe would make the best icing, I would've groaned, because I was really pulling for a recipe that didn't require raw egg whites. It didn't go unnoticed that both of our top two recipes contained this ingredient. (NOTE: purchasing pasteurized egg whites or egg whites in a carton eliminates concerns about salmonella).
I truly LOVE this easy royal icing recipe and would put it up against any recipe that uses meringue powder. The taste was classic, the cookies dried silky smooth with a pretty sheen, the icing went on easily and without air bubbles. The icing is firm enough that piping a detailed design should not be an issue. Most importantly, the ingredients were simple to find and the icing whipped together without any fuss. Use it decorate beautiful sugar cookies, add some pizzaz to cake pops or even as the "glue" for gingerbread houses. This recipe can do it all!
How To Store Royal Icing Without Meringue Powder
Refrigerator: Since this recipe swaps meringue powder for pasteurized egg whites, it needs to be refrigerated in a squeeze bottle with cap or in a small container with a lid. It can stay fresh for up to 3 days. To use, allow royal icing to come to room temperature. If you notice separation, give it a stir. If icing is too thick, mix in a small amount of water.
Freezer: Royal icing freezes well for up to 3 months. Store in a piping bag (with the cut end covered with plastic wrap), a small container with lid or a squeeze bottle with a cap. To uses, allow royal icing to thaw completely. Mix to eliminate any separation. If icing has thickened you can add a few splashes of water.
Our winning royal icing recipe replaces meringue powder with raw eggs. For this reason it is very important that you keep the icing refrigerated when not in use. Additionally, make sure to use pasteurized egg whites in order to eliminate the risk of salmonella. I like to purchase a carton of pasteurized egg whites.
How To Color Your Royal Icing
To color your royal icing, divide it between separate bowls for all the different colors you want to make. Mix in gel food coloring until you get the the exact color you want. Avoid liquid food coloring as it will impact the consistency of your royal icing.
How To Use Royal Icing For Beginners
If you are new to using royal icing, all the different consistencies can be confusing. Thin icing until it is a 10 second consistency and use it for both outlining and flooding. A 10 second consistency means that if you drag a butter knife through your icing, it will take 10 seconds for the surface to be completely flat. As you get more familiar with using royal icing, you can experiment with thinner flood icing and thicker piping icing. Learning your desired consistency is something that takes practice.
There are multiple ways to pipe your royal icing onto your cookies. My favorite method is to use squeeze bottles with caps. They are inexpensive and the tips can be cut to be larger if you want to release larger amounts of icing. I also like that they can go in and out of the fridge without making a mess.
If you don't have squeeze bottles available or want to create a design that is more detailed you can use a pastry bag fitted with a piping tip of your choice. In a pinch, you could use a plastic bag with the corner snipped.Print
We tested 4 royal icing recipes made without meringue powder, and this recipe was the clear winner. With only 3 ingredients, easy application, a gorgeous glossy sheen and smooth hard finish once dried, you just can't beat this one!
- 4 cups powdered sugar
- 3 ounces pasteurized egg whites (can be purchased in a small carton)
- 1 teaspoon clear vanilla extract **
- Optional for decorating: gel food coloring (I love this food coloring kit)
- Pour confectioner sugar, egg whites and vanilla extract into a large bowl. Using a hand held or stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the ingredient together a medium speed for 2-3 minutes. When you lift the whisk or beaters, the icing should smooth out in 7-10 seconds. If it's too thick, add water 1 tablespoon at a time. TIP: the longer you beat royal icing the thicker it becomes. If it's too thin, just keep beating OR you can add additional confectioner sugar 1 tablespoon at a time.
- Add optional gel food coloring if desired.
- Once applied to cookies, royal icing needs to dry for 4-6 hours or until the icing is hard to the touch. I typically allow mine to dry overnight.
Royal icing can be prepared up to 2 days in advance. I recommend transferring it to a squeeze bottle with lid or a small bowl with lid. When you're ready to use it, let it come to room temperature on the counter, then give it a quick stir with a knife as it may have separated. If it has thickened, add a few drops of water.
Clear vanilla extract is recommended if you white a bright white icing. If you are using food coloring on your royal icing, regular vanilla extract should work fine.
Keywords: royal icing without meringue powder
The amount of drying time will vary depending on how thick the icing is and what consistency was used. I always plan to air dry mine overnight and serve the next day.
This recipe for cut-out cookies is my go-to!
Cut out cookies topped with royal icing freeze very well. Place in an airtight container with lid. To thaw, remove the entire container and set on the countertop. If cookies are removed from container and put directly on the counter, they may get moisture beads and bleed a little.
This is completely normal. Just give it a quick stir and add a few drops of water if it has thickened too much.