Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Royal Icing 102 . . . or 201 . . . or whatever comes after 101

If you've been reading the blog for a while, you might have seen my post titled "Royal Icing 101." This is how I made royal icing for years...and it worked well...most of the time.

Sometimes, though, I had problems with my icing. Some days it looked dull; sometimes the piping cracked; sometimes the flood icing was filled with little holes.

So, I've done some reading and some experimenting and I've made some changes. Who knows...maybe in 6 months, I'll be doing a post called "Royal Icing 103" (or 301, or whatever), but here's what is working for me these days.

Royal Icing
(This will cover 2-3 dozen 3.5 inch cookies in 2 colors; I usually double this recipe.)

4 TBSP meringue powder
scant 1/2 c. water
1 lb. powdered sugar
1/2 - 1 tsp light corn syrup
few drops clear extract (optional)

Combine the meringue powder and water. With the paddle attachment of an electric mixer, beat until combined and foamy.

Sift in the powdered sugar and beat on low to combine. (Do NOT skip the sifting!)

Add in the corn syrup and extract if desired. ( I think the corn syrup helps keep the icing shiny.)

Increase speed to med-high/high and beat for about 5 minutes, just until the icing is glossy and stiff peaks form.

(You should be able to remove the beater from the mixer and hold up and jiggle without the peak falling.) Do not overbeat.

Cover with plastic wrap touching the icing or divide and color using gel paste food colorings.

This "stiff" icing is perfect for outlining and even for building gingerbread houses and monogramming. To fill in your cookies, add water to your icing a teaspoon at a time, stirring with a rubber spatula, until it is the consistency of syrup. This technique of filling a cookie with thinned icing is called "flooding."

Here are some f.a.q.'s regarding royal icing:
{Be sure to check last week's post with cookies f.a.q.'s...I will be updating that post periodically...and check back for next week's troubleshooting post.}

Do you ever add anything to your royal icing to improve the taste (lemon juice, almond extract....?).

Yes, I typically use a few drops of pure almond extract when I am making my vanilla-almond sugar cookies. Just keep in mind that any colored extract, such as vanilla, will tint the icing.

What is a "scant" cup?

It's a measuring cup not filled all the way up to the top. Take a look at the picture above....I took it just for you!

Why does my piped icing...you know...the outline...or maybe just some piping done on gingerbread men...well...why does it dry up and just fall off in little bits.

I think this is from overbeating. It's happened to me, too. Try to beat it until it's glossy and just coming to a stiff peak. Also, use the paddle attachment of your mixer. (This is a really common question...I'll put it in the troubleshooting post as well.)

How do you know the perfect consistency for icing when flooding?

Once your colors are mixed, add water a teaspoon at a time to thin it for flooding. Stir the water in with a rubber spatula, rather than beating it. Hold your rubber spatula over the bowl and let some icing fall back into the bowl. The ribbon of icing should disappear into the rest of the icing in about 2-3 seconds, counting "one-one thousand, two-one thousand."

When decorating wet on wet, how do you do it so the colors don't bleed into one another?

I typically work about 6-8 cookies at a time. I flood all the cookies in the base coat, then go back and add the dots. This gives them a minute or so to rest. It seems to stop the bleeding. Sometimes, it still happens and that's when I have to remind myself not to stress and that it's "just a cookie." (Sometimes a glass of wine helps.)

How exactly do you mix your icing colors when you need several colors and piping and flood?

I divide my icing into how many colors I'll need, whether it's for piping or flooding. (IE...if I need red for outlining and flooding, I make one big container of red.) Then, I tint them with food coloring. If I need a color for both piping and flooding, I go ahead and fill a piping bag before adding the water for flooding. Here's a link with more details on icing prep.

If you make your icing ahead of time, do you separate into flood and piping then or wait until it's time to decorate?

I wait until it's time to decorate.

How do you get your writing to look so even and not slanted?

Practice....lots and lots of practice! And sometimes, it's still crooked! ;) Try practicing on a plate or a piece of wax paper before trying it on your cookies.

Do you have any suggestions for folks like me with not a lot of room to spread out the cookies to dry?

Try stacking your cookie sheets with the drying cookies on top of each other...like some horizontally and some on top vertically allowing some space for air circulation. Does that make sense? The sides of the cookie sheets will support the second layer. You may have to add some drying time here. I've been known to have cookie sheets on every flat surface of my house, including the guest room bed!

I've always wondered...if the cookie is left out overnight, won't it get stale?

Nope, the royal icing needs that overnight time to dry thoroughly and the icing kind of "seals" the cookie from getting stale.

Does royal icing taste as good as cream cheese frosting?

Nope...not in a million years. Cream cheese icing I would eat with a spoon, royal icing not so much. It can taste good, especially if you use Williams-Sonoma, Ateco or AmeriColor meringue powder, but it will never compare to frosting. Make sure you use a sugar cookie recipe that you like. The cookie is the real star here.

Where can I buy meringue powder?

Meringue powder can be found in craft stores and even in the WalMart craft section. The brands that I recommend are normally only found in baking supply stores or online. I recommend Williams-Sonoma, Ateco and AmeriColor. These 3 are vastly superior to the craft store brand in taste and performance.

How do you get the same color, when you made less icing than you needed?

I always try to make more than I need to avoid that problem....otherwise, I really just cross my fingers.

When you make your icing beforehand, do you refrigerate it or leave it out?

Refrigerate it.

How long can you keep royal icing in the fridge before you need to toss it?

I've heard up to one week, but I am never that organized to have it made that early.

In what type of container do you store it (pastry bags or Tupperware or ??)

I put it in Tupperware type containers with plastic wrap pressed down onto the icing to keep it from drying, then with the lid on top of that.

I've always wanted to ask - "the consistency of syrup" - do you mean cheap syrup or real maple syrup? Seriously, I have both and they are so different. Stop laughing at me. I have consistency issues. Stop laughing!

I love this question, Brigid! The consistency of the good stuff. :) (See the question a few above on consistency.)

How do you know for sure when the frosting is dry enough to put more raised-style frosting on top?

I usually wait at least an hour.

How do I make red icing?

AmeriColor Super Red food coloring!!! Here's more info on red icing.

How do I make black icing?

AmeriColor Super Black food coloring (noticing a trend?). Here's more info on black icing.

I'll try to update this list as questions come in, so please check back! Thanks, guys, for the questions...I hope this helps! If you have any Royal Icing tips, please share!!! I'd love to hear them!

{Visit Works For Me Wednesday for more tips at We Are THAT Family.}

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