This egg white royal icing recipe is easy to make without a mixer. This small batch recipe is great for gluing a gingerbread house together, piping and flooding onto sugar cookies, or even garnishing cakes.
Before Making the Royal Icing
While you might think that royal icing is difficult to make, it is actually incredibly easy with very few ingredients. Commonly, it might include meringue powder, which is basically dried egg whites. However, it isn’t always the most readily available or you might not want to by a whole container for a small batch of icing. Luckily, this version uses egg white, which adds moisture and volume to this easy royal icing.
Before starting to make the royal icing, you should ensure you have the correct equipment. Metal and glass are ideal for the bowl and utensils. These materials don’t tend to hold oil the same way that plastic does. Any fat will prevent the royal icing from reaching the ideal texture. As a result, make sure you rinse the equipment you are using with hot soapy water before starting.
How to Make Royal Icing
To start making the royal icing, you should sift your powdered sugar (also called confectioner’s sugar or icing sugar) into a bowl. I like to use a fine mesh strainer to do this. Rather than shaking or tapping the strainer, I stir the powdered sugar with a metal spoon. Like this there isn’t as much sugar dust that ends up in the air and on the kitchen counter. The sifting process helps remove any lumps from the confectioner’s sugar so that it incorporates into a smooth frosting easily.
The next step is to place the egg white in another bowl with the lemon juice. Afterward, you simply add a few tablespoons of the sifted icing sugar to the bowl at a time, stirring with a spatula or butterknife to incorporate. I am not recommending a whisk for mixing because that can incorporate too much air into the icing, which makes it bubbly and spongy, preventing it from drying smoothly.
I have provided a range of 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 cups of icing sugar since the amount could vary depending on how much you have packed the sugar into your measuring cup or even the amount of humidity there is in your kitchen. You will know you have used enough by the time the frosting becomes stiff with a peak-like consistency. At this point, you can use it to pipe onto cookies or even add a little more lemon juice or water to it until you reach a flooding consistency.
How to Pasteurize Egg Whites
The one benefit of using meringue powder over raw egg white is that it is pasteurized, meaning that it is free of the bacteria that may be present in raw egg. However, salmonella in eggs is rare (about 1 in 20,000) and the salmonella bacteria actually like to grow in the nutrient-rich yolk, which we aren’t using here.
While most people should be able to safely consume raw egg whites, some people may not want to if they are elderly, pregnant, or have a compromised immune system. The egg white is a crucial element to this royal icing recipe, though, as it adds the necessary fluid to make a creamy frosting.
Luckily, you can easily pasteurize an egg white at home so that it is safer to use. To do this, you will need a pot of water and a thermometer. You start by putting a whole egg in shell (or multiple eggs) in the pot of water and heating it to 140° F (60 C). You should maintain this temperature for 3 minutes to ensure that the egg becomes properly pasteurized. (But don’t let the temperature go above 142°F or the egg will start to coagulate). Afterward, you can remove it and use it in this recipe.
If you would prefer to forgo pasteurizing an egg white for the purpose of this royal icing, you could purchase a carton of egg whites from the grocery store instead. These are already pasteurized and make a good substitute for shell eggs. Generally, you can replace one egg white with a 1/4 cup of liquid egg whites.
How to Use Royal Icing
Once you have made your royal icing, you should use it right away as it doesn’t hold up the best over the long term. In fact, it tends to dry out quickly. As a result, you should cover it with plastic wrap by placing one sheet directly on the surface to prevent a skin from forming and another sheet over the top. A damp towel also works well.
Piping onto Cookies
If desired, you can divide the icing between smaller bowls and colour each with a different food colouring. This is great if you plan on decorating batches of sugar cookies or gingerbread with kids as they can get creative. It is also an excellent idea to have some festive sprinkles on the side to garnish the finished cookies with. Generally, the texture of the icing is great for spreading on cookies or putting in a piping bag (or small ziploc baggie) and piping.
If you like the idea of flooded cookies, you can pipe a border around each cookie with the regular royal icing. Next, you can take a portion of the icing and loosen it with more lemon juice or water so that it becomes fluid enough to flood inside the border. The loose portion of the icing can go in squeeze bottles for easy distribution. However, I have even used a spoon to add small amounts to the cookie before spreading it out with a toothpick into an even layer. You can use the toothpick to poke out any air bubbles as well.
Making a Gingerbread House
Since royal icing dries out easily, it is great for making gingerbread houses, too. Simply pipe the thick icing on any pieces you want to glue together and it will help them hold. If you plan on using this recipe for a large gingerbread house project, you may want to increase the batch, though.
Natural Food Dyes
If you don’t have any food coloring in the house or prefer not to use artificial dyes, there are other options to make colored icing with things you may already have in the house. Note: when adding powders to the icing, you may need to add a few extra drops of lemon juice or water so the icing doesn’t get too stiff.
These are some of my favorite natural food dyes:
Spirulina or Matcha powder
These two powders turn your icing green. From a light green with matcha to a darker moss green with spirulina. They will also add some flavor to the icing, which can be lovely to complement a simple sugar cookie, but may interfere if you already have a prominently flavored cookie or other baked good.
This turns royal icing into a warm shade of yellow. The more your use the deeper the color gets, but it will also infuse turmeric flavor into the icing, which can be bitter when overdone.
For a warm shade of brown, you can add some cocoa powder to the royal icing. It also gives a delicious chocolate flavor.
It only takes a few drops of beet juice to turn royal icing a wonderful shade of pink. Unless you already have pressed beet juice, simply grate a small amount of beet with a box grater. Place the shredded beet in a paper towel and squeeze to extract a few drops of beet juice. Because only a few drop are needed, the beet juice doesn’t impart any detectable flavor to the icing.
Original images from 2012:
Other Recipes You’ll Love:
Egg White Royal Icing
This easy royal icing recipe is fast to make without a stand or hand mixer. Moreover, if all you need is a small amount of royal icing for a batch of cookies, this version won't overwhelm you. Use this combination for wherever you would normally such as gluing a gingerbread house together, piping and flooding onto sugar cookies, or even garnishing cakes.
- 1 ¼ - 1 ½ cups powdered sugar
- 1 egg white
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
Sift the powdered sugar into a bowl. Separate the egg and place the egg white in the bowl you want to make the icing in. Add lemon juice.
Add a couple of tablespoons of powdered sugar to the egg white and lemon juice mixture. With a clean spatula start working the icing sugar into the egg white. Once the powdered sugar and egg white are fully incorporated add another couple of tablespoons of icing sugar and continue mixing them together.
Proceed in same way with rest of the icing sugar. Only add more sugar once the previous addition is fully incorporated.
The mixture starts getting thicker, whiter and stiffer. The royal icing is done once you reach stiff peak consistency. When you remove the spatula from the icing a peak will form on top of the icing and on the end of the spatula and not fall back into the icing.
Transfer the royal icing to a piping bag or small ziploc bag for piping. If not using right away, cover the icing with plastic wrap directly touching the icing to avoid it drying out and forming a crust.
For thinner flooding consistency to cover cookies, you can thin the icing with more lemon juice or water.
Add food coloring or natural dyes to make different icing colors.
This recipe makes about 3/4 cup of icing. Multiply the recipe if you expect you need more royal icing.