The Most Royal Of Icings
Royal icing isn't called royal for nothing: it is the mainstay of cake decoration and has a pure, white color. The finest details can be piped with this icing which will then dry to a hard matte, very smooth finish. It also takes color wonderfully well, making it a favorite of professional decorators. It is used to frost cookies and cakes and for intricate piped decorations such as borders, flowers, and letters.
Royal icing contains few ingredients: confectioner's sugar, lemon juice, and egg whites. Because raw egg whites carry a risk for salmonella poisoning, meringue powder is a popular substitute for the egg whites. This powder is made from dehydrated egg whites, sugar, salt, gum, and vanillin flavoring. When the powder is beaten with confectioner's sugar and water, it makes a fine substitute for classic royal icing made from fresh egg whites. However, some find the vanillin in the meringue powder a disconcerting false flavor note. To counter its artificial flavor, you may wish to add a 1/2 teaspoon of real vanilla extract, or some other real flavoring extract such as almond, mint, or lemon.
Perhaps the most important tip to know when working with royal icing is that you must keep it covered with plastic wrap whenever possible to keep it from drying out. Some prefer to add just a few drops of glycerin to the icing to keep a crust from forming on the surface of the icing. You can find glycerin in cake decorating or party stores.
The consistency of your royal icing is very important, too. If the icing is too thin, it will spill over the sides of your cakes or cookies. Lift the spoon and let the icing drip back into the bowl. When the drip looks like a ribbon of icing that as it falls back into the bowl stays on the surface for around five seconds before disappearing, your icing is just right for icing cookies.
You can also test the icing by placing a bit of icing in the center of the cookie. With a small spatula, spread the icing to the outer edges of the cookie. It the icing spills off the edge of the cookie, make the icing thicker by adding a bit more confectioner's sugar. Do this very gradually until the icing will spread in a smooth coating. Don't be alarmed if there are a few light-colored streaks. These won't show after the icing has dried. The icing may take many hours or overnight to become completely dry.
Color the icing if desired with gel paste sold in .5 oz. or 1 oz. sizes. Apply color to icing with the help of a toothpick, in very minute quantities. Then mix well to prevent streaks of darker and lighter color.