How To Make Icing That Hardens: Royal Icing

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Icing comes in many forms, depending on what baked goods you’re trying to decorate. If you’re looking for how to make icing that hardens, you’re looking for royal icing. 

Royal icing is a stiff decorative icing used to decorate various desserts, although they’re commonly used for decorated cookies. Making royal icing is simple and can be used in many creative ways.

In this article, you’ll learn how to make icing that hardens — primarily royal icing — to complete any baking recipe. 

Reasons Why You Should Use Royal Icing

The main reasons to use royal icing are its versatility and simplicity. 

You can use royal icing to decorate a variety of baked treats. For example, royal icing is commonly used to stick the pieces of a gingerbread house together and decorate them. 

Don’t plan on making a gingerbread house? You can also use royal icing to decorate your Christmas cookies as a Christmas favorite. In fact, royal icing makes an easy sugar cookie icing for kids to use to decorate their cookies uniquely. If you want to get creative, you can use royal icing to create intricate designs to make your holiday iced sugar cookies even more special.

Other sweet treats you decorate with royal icing include simple iced sugar cookies and bundt cakes. Some wedding cake designers even use royal icing to decorate part of the cake to create more intricate details.

Beyond that, royal icing is one of the simplest types of icing you can make. Not only do you need minimal equipment, but this icing also comes together with just a few ingredients, most of which you probably already have in your pantry.

Let’s look at what ingredients you need to make icing that hardens. 

Gingerbread Christmas cookies topped with royal icing

Simple Ingredients Needed to Make Icing that Hardens

Although there are several different ways how to make icing that hardens, royal icing is usually made from just a few simple ingredients:

  • Confectioner’s sugar, powdered sugar, or icing sugar
  • Water
  • Flavoring or coloring (optional)

For flavors, you can use a variety of extracts, including:

The ratios for these ingredients vary depending on your recipe and the consistency you want for your icing.

Variations of royal icing or sugar cookie icing may also include raw egg whites or meringue powder, which is the most modern ingredient. Both raw egg whites and meringue powder are meant to cause the icing to harden more quickly on your decorated cookies and cause the icing to be more stable. 

Although raw egg whites are the traditional way of making royal icing, this technique is no longer as common due to the risk of salmonella from consuming raw eggs. Instead, you can purchase egg white powder to get the same effect.

You’ll also find recipes using other ingredients, such as milk or corn syrup. You may want to experiment to find the best recipe for your icing needs; otherwise, using the simple combination of the above ingredients will make wonderful royal icing. 

Finally, the food coloring you use is also crucial in learning how to make icing that hardens. Royal icing is meant to be decorative, so it’s essential to have fun with it and to choose the right colors for your final vision. Don’t be afraid to get creative and mix and match colors — if you experiment, you might surprise yourself!

Next, to fully know how to make icing that hardens, you must know what equipment to use. Let’s take a look.

Equipment Needed to Make Royal Icing

Another key element in learning how to make icing that hardens is knowing what equipment to use.

Here are some tools you need or may want to consider when figuring out how to make icing that hardens:

In terms of the method you use to make royal icing, it depends on what your typical preferred method is when it comes to baking other things. 

Although hand mixers simplify baking, you may want to mix your royal icing by hand with a simple whisk. Since royal icing doesn’t require overly vigorous mixing, you may choose not to bother with taking out the mixer and quickly mixing your icing by hand. However, if you want fluffier royal icing with more body, a mixer is the easiest way to achieve it.

Once your royal icing is mixed, it’s time to decorate your cookies or other baked goods. You have a variety of options when it comes to decorating your tasty treats. At the most basic level, if you want to spread your royal icing evenly, you may want to use a piping bag to pipe your icing onto your cookies. From there, you can use a spatula to distribute the icing further. You may also choose to use a squeeze bottle, but make sure to plastic wrap the opening of the squeeze bottle to prevent the icing from drying out quickly. 

If you’re looking for more intricate work, such as decorating a gingerbread house, choosing smaller piping tips is a good idea. You may also want to have several piping bags available if you’re mixing flavors or colors.

Alternatively, for treats such as bundt cakes, it’s more common to slowly pour the royal icing over the cake as a glaze and let it drip down to keep the pouring effect.

You have your ingredients and equipment — so now you’re ready to learn how to make icing that hardens! Let’s take a look at an easy royal icing recipe. 

How to Make Icing That Hardens

Without further ado, here’s a quick royal icing recipe for decorating sugar cookies. 


  • 2 cups of icing sugar (or similar)
  • ¼ cup of water
  • 1.5 tbsp of meringue powder
  • Optional gel food coloring or flavoring for decorating


  1. Combine sugar and meringue powder in a medium bowl.
  2. Slowly add water to the sugar and mix with your whisk or hand mixer. Continue adding water until you reach the right consistency. If icing is still not correct, slowly add more water and keep beating.
  3. If your royal icing is too thin, keep beating it to introduce more air.
  4. If adding coloring or flavoring, do so at this stage and beat the icing once more. If using different colors or flavors, be sure to separate the icing into different smaller bowls. 
  5. Prepare icing for use by putting it in a piping bag. Decorate your cookies as desired. 
  6. Allow your icing to fully harden on your cookies for a few hours before eating. 
Piping bags full of colorful royal icing placed next to whisk, rolling pin, and cookie cutters

Tips for Making Royal Icing

Here are some piping tips for when it comes time to decorate your cookies with royal icing:

  • The drying process is essential when it comes to using royal icing. Make sure your royal icing hardens on your cookies at room temperature. Depending on how thick the icing is, this can take anywhere from three hours to overnight. 
  • Store your royal icing in an airtight container to make it last several days. Store at room temperature.
  • If your icing is too thin, you may need to add more powdered sugar and continue mixing. You can also keep mixing to add additional air bubbles to your icing. 
  • Place a damp towel over it to prevent your royal icing from hardening when you aren’t using it.

Royal Icing – The Best Icing?

Now that you know how to make icing that hardens, you’re ready to decorate any sweet treat you bake.

Royal icing is straightforward to make and can enhance your favorite sugar cookie recipe and other baked goods by allowing you to get creative while decorating them.