Royal icing for cookies is the key to making decorated sugar cookies that are stackable! Have fun making all the neat designs and then package them up without fear of ruining your design!

Royal icing in a bowl


If you aren’t sure what royal icing is, picture one of those giant bakery store sugar cookies individually wrapped in plastic with a bow. They are beautifully decorated and somehow the icing doesn’t smudge! The icing is royal icing.

Royal icing for cookie decorating is made with egg whites and powdered sugar. It starts off looking just like icing sugar, soft and pourable, but after a few hours, it dries so well that it can’t be smudged. It gives cookies a nice crunchy topping while letting you stack them and even wrap them without fear of ruining the decor.

I know that some people don’t like those types of bakery cookies as the cookies themselves can turn hard and the icing is too sweet. But if you pair my favorite shortbread cookie recipe with my royal icing recipe- you really won’t have that complaint! Good royal icing is all about the flavor. As long as you balance the sweetness, you will really enjoy it.

Decorated shortbread cookies with royal icing

Royal Icing without Meringue Powder

You may notice that a lot of royal icing recipes utilize something called meringue powder. Meringue powder is used in a lot of commercial baking because of its convenience. It is dried egg whites mixed with some other ingredients for stability. However, most home bakers do not keep this on hand and it is not readily available in most grocery stores.

You can easily make royal icing without meringue powder by using pasteurized fresh egg whites. This makes it much more simple and accessible for the home baker.

How to make Royal Icing for Cookies

Separating egg whites from the yolks

Separate the Egg Whites

The first step in making royal icing is to separate your egg whites from the yolks. After you have separated them, you need to let the egg whites sit out for about 30 minutes to come to room temperature. Room temperature egg whites whip up better than cold ones. You can use up your egg yolks for another recipe like pound cake or pastry cream.

Stand mixer whipping egg whites and they are getting a little frothy

Whip up the Egg Whites

After the egg whites have come to room temperature, place them in the bowl of a stand mixer. You can use a hand mixer as well but if you have a stand mixer, I would suggest to use it. You will save your wrist the heartache of being sore.

Start on low and using the whisk attachment, begin to beat the egg whites. You will start to see bubbles. You can now turn up the mixer to about medium and beat until very frothy.

Stiff meringue on a whisk holding its peak

Add Powdered Sugar

Carefully stream in the powdered sugar into the frothy egg whites. Whisk on low until all of the powdered sugar is combined. Slowly start to turn up the mixer until you reach high. Beat the icing until it is shiny, ultra-white in color, and forms stiff peaks. This will take about ?? minutes. Test your icing by removing the whisk and turning it upside down. The icing should not fall off the whisk.

Royal icing mixed into different colors in various bowls

Add flavorings and Color

At this stage you can add in the vanilla extract or vanilla paste, almond extract, and salt. I love to use vanilla paste in this recipe so you can see the pretty vanilla flecks all throughout. While almond extract is technically optional, I highly recommend it. The flavor is exceptional and this icing needs a flavor boost to balance the sweetness.

Also at this point, you can add in any optional coloring you wish as long as you use gel food coloring. Liquid food coloring or powders can effect the consistency of your icing and is not recommended. Make sure to scrape down the mixing bowl when coloring to eliminate any white streaks.

If you want to mix several different colors, you can divide the icing into a few smaller bowls and directly add the coloring there.


When not using the icing, place a damp towel or paper towel over the top of the bowl so it doesn’t crust over. You can make this icing in advance and store it in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days.

Can I use Meringue Powder?

Yes! Meringue powder is dried egg whites used as a substitute for fresh. It is used in baking, and particularly royal icing, as a stabilizer. It’s ideal to use meringue powder if you are concerned with consuming raw eggs. You are welcome to use meringue powder in this recipe. I like to use fresh egg whites in my royal icing as that is what I always have on hand.

Royal icing in a bowl
Yield: 3 Cups

Royal Icing

Prep Time 15 minutes
Total Time 15 minutes

Royal icing is the key to making crunchy decorated sugar cookies that are stackable! Have fun making all the neat designs and then package them up without fear of ruining your design.


  • 90 grams pasteurized egg whites, room temperature (from about 3 large eggs)*
  • 540 grams (4 1/2 cups) powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract or paste
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • Gel food coloring if using (do not use liquid food coloring)


  1. Place the room temperature egg whites into the bowl of a stand mixer and beat using the whisk attachment. Whip until very frothy about 2-3 minutes.
  2. Add all of the powdered sugar to the bowl and start whisking on low. Scrape down the sides of the bowl to make sure all of the powdered sugar is combined. After combined, turn up the mixer and beat on high for about 5-7 minutes until very glossy with stiff peaks.
  3. Add in the vanilla extract or paste, almond extract, and salt and whisk together.
  4. If you wish to color your icing: add a couple drops of gel food coloring and whisk to combine. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and get rid of any white streaks. Add more coloring a drop at a time until you have the desired color.
  5. For immediate use: pour icing into a piping bag or heavy duty storage bag fitted with a tip.
  6. If using later: store in an airtight container in the fridge.


*If using meringue powder instead of fresh egg whites: use 3 tablespoons Meringue Powder plus 5 tablespoons of water. Combine this mixture with the powdered sugar before starting to whisk. Continue whisking until you get stiff peaks.

**Whenever you are not actively using the icing, place a damp towel or paper towel over the top of the bowl so it doesn't crust over.

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