how to make royal icing

I've only recently started making royal icing.

Like, I'm talking about yesterday was my first time. Ever.

My mother wasn't a baker, but come Christmas, she was legendary for her gingerbread houses. The money she earned from selling them is what made presents under our tree possible.

I always remember her going in search of meringue powder to make the icing. She'd stock up when she found it at a good price because it was so darn expensive. For decades, I'd written it off as too bothersome to make from scratch, so last year when I made gingerbread houses, I did what many do (Gail, this is where you'll want to turn away)—I used the powdered royal icing mix.

It was just a cement of sorts anyway, right?

Wrong. The stuff is chalky and just not worth it. I'll go so far as to say it defeats the edible purpose of the gingerbread house itself.

This year I succumbed to peer pressure and decided royal icing was one phobia I had to get over. And when I did some searching, I felt quite foolish.

Do you know what ingredients go into homemade royal icing?

Egg whites, vanilla extract, lemon juice and confectioner's sugar—at least in the recipe I settled on. I kept looking for the magic ingredient, but there were no pixie wings or elf eyelashes needed.

Just a kick ass mixer that could beat the icing for five minutes while I wolfed down some French onion soup for lunch.


Homemade Royal Icing

makes about 2 1/2 cups

Need another good reason to get making your own royal icing from scratch? If you have celiac disease, a dairy allergy or are allergic to nuts, the store bought stuff is usually manufactured in facilities that also process nuts, wheat and dairy. Provided you stock your pantry with gluten free vanilla extract, you can be assured the homemade stuff is gluten-free, nut-free and dairy-free.

3 large egg whites (save yolks for another use)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 pound Confectioner's sugar

Add the egg whites, extract and lemon juice to the bowl of a stand mixer. Beat until foamy, about 30 seconds. Add the sugar, and starting on low speed, mix until the sugar is mostly incorporated. Increase speed to high and beat until stiff, glossy peaks form, about five minutes.

Dampen a cloth kitchen towel, and drape it completely over bowl to keep icing from drying out as you decorate your cookies. Leftover icing can be stored in a tightly sealed zip top bag, and stored in the refrigerator—for how long, I'm not sure yet, but sure Gail can chime in here and let us all know. In fact, I had no idea I could even store leftover icing until I coincidentally read her post today.

p.s. Mom does make one great point about why she started using meringue powder—all those egg yolks. My recent love of homemade doughnuts has left me with a surplus of whites to use up, so look at this recipe as yet one more reason to make doughnuts too!

Disclaimer: Yes, these are raw eggs, so while I'm totally fine with my kids eating cookies iced with this, please do not take this recipe or post as the word of God or the CDC. It's just one woman's take on conquering her fears of making royal icing from scratch.


  • mama's mama

    I couldn’t bear the thought of throwing out the egg yolks as I didn’t know what I would use the for ,so thats how the meringue powder came in to play!

  • Gail

    I must admit, I was more shocked than appalled that you, Jennifer Perillo, who inspires me to make so many things, used a box mix for royal icing. SHOCKED, I tell you.
    And that you linked to my goofy info-mercial/post is even funnier. But, it is that time of year, right?
    Rather than keeping your royal in a plastic bag, use a bowl with a tight fitting snap lid. MUCH easier to shpritz the entire surface and then stir the leftover icing.
    Some people say royal icing can last 5 days if kept refrigerated & tightly sealed. I don’t keep mine that long. If it starts smelling ‘eggy’, I toss it.

  • Mardi@eatlivetravelwrite

    I recently made my own royal icing and have to say that the KitchenAid made it so much easier – before I had one, I never bothered to tackle it *because* of that. I was pretty pleased how easy it was and I followed Gail’s instructions too 🙂

  • Jen @ My Kitchen Addiction

    You are braver than I am! I rarely use real egg whites in my royal… I generally opt for powdered egg whites (when I remember to order them online since I can’t find them anywhere here) or meringue powder. Williams-Sonoma has some good meringue powder (made by CK, actually) that doesn’t taste like chalk. 🙂

  • Tmsterken

    Wow. Easy, fast, simple, basic ingredients. Having never made royal icing before for fear of synthetic powdered meringue de-caking agents/stabilizers/noxious chemical add-ins….this was awesome. I made this tonight for sugar cookies and it has a really cool marshmallowey quality to boot. Thanks a lot for posting this. I have to admit I wanted a smaller amount and I did two egg whites instead of three. I even eyeballed the sugar quantity. A few splashes of almond extract along with the vanilla…et voila. Am thinking this is actually hard to screw up. Two points to note: the longer you beat it the thicker it gets, so if you are spreading vs piping, don’t get too crazy. Second, the longer it beats the smoother the mouth feel. Yay! And yum! And thanks. P.s. can you tell I used the kitchen aid?

  • Linda Rousay

    I use my own eggs. Fir one thing , I know where they come from. I don’t care for over processed meringue powders which are expensive and full of preservatives which I fear more than I do raw eggs. Even if all I am doing is making a gingerbread village and want a good icing “glue” I still prefer the flavor. I make ahead of time and refrigerate for up to 3 or 4 days. A village or even a house made from scratch is best done ahead of time. I make the dough one day, bake the pieces or components the next. Then I make the icing. The next day I have all of the “participants” come over and decorate.

  • mj

    How far ahead can I make the icing for the gingerbread house – and how do I store – thank you for your site !

  • Jennifer Perillo

    I usually make this icing when I’m going to use it, so I don’t know if you can make it advance. I can tell you that it hardens very quickly.