So maybe St. Patrick’s day isn’t considered a major holiday for most people, but those people didn’t grow up in my family. In my (half) Irish family, St. Patty’s day is probably the next big holiday after Thanksgiving and Christmas. I had been wanting to decorate St. Patty’s day cookies pretty much since I finished the Valentine’s Day ones. It worked out perfectly, because my festive mother was here to help me decorate them! I mentioned earlier that I really wanted to try to get good enough at royal icing to post a “How to” – and I think I have just about reached that point. I’ve made it enough times now that I have it down to a science. It’s kind of addicting, so be careful. My mom and I are already planning next year’s St. Patty’s Day cookie decorating, and we were even brainstorming about Easter….
A lot of people wonder – “Why use royal icing?….Doesn’t buttercream taste better?”. And I’ll say, yes if you are eating icing by itself, buttercream is definitely the way to go – but with a buttery cookie underneath royal icing adds a perfect amount of sweetness without being too rich. Plus the royal icing seals in the moisture of the cookie, so your cookies can be made ahead of time, and will last a lot longer. More importantly, it’s just not possible to decorate with buttercream the way you can with royal icing. Ever wonder how professional cookies get that completely smooth surface with multiple colors and no “spread marks”? That’s right – they use royal icing.
So here’s the recipe, followed by a long tutorial. I tried to include as many pointers as possible, but for the most part you can figure out what to do looking at the pictures.
- 4 cups Powdered Sugar (About 1 Pound)
- 2 Tablespoons Meringue Powder
- 5 Tablespoons Water (to start)
Combine all ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer. Mix on low (Speed 2 or 4) for 7-10 minutes, or until the sheen has disappeared and the icing has a matte appearance. It will be too thick to use at this point so you will be adding more water later; however, getting it to this texture makes a difference in the final product.
How to Decorate with Royal Icing
- 1 -2 batches of Royal Icing and Sugar Cookies
- Small plastic containers with lids
- Pastry Bags (I like disposable so you don’t have to clean them)
- Couplers and Decorating Tips (I use size 3)
- Gel Food Coloring
- Miniature Squeeze bottle (optional)
First, start by planning out what colors you will want to use, and how much of each. For these cookies, I made 5 colors: Green, Light Green, Orange, Black, and White. According to color need, divide the white icing into the containers. Add about 1 additional teaspoon of water to each container. Stir to incorporate. You may need to add another teaspoon or 2 in order to get a good consistency for piping. The key is to get the icing thin enough that you can easily pipe a smooth line, but thick enough that the icing will still dry quickly.
Using toothpicks, add a little bit of gel food color and stir with a spoon. Continue adding color until you achieve the desired tint. For dark colors, like black or red, you will need a lot of gel.
Prepare your pastry bags by cutting about 3/4 of an inch from the tip. Place the coupler inside the bag, and secure the appropriate tip. I prefer size 3 for edging the cookies, but I used a mix of sizes 2-4, because that’s what I have. If you do not have pastry bags and tips , you can try using a ziploc bag and cutting the corner to make a VERY small hole. I only spent about $10 for all the couplers, tips and bags, but if you are only going to make these once, it might not be worth it.
Fold down the edges of the pastry bags, and using a spoon or knife, scoop the icing into the pastry bag. You only need a very small amount of icing to edge the cookies, but I think it’s easier to work with if you have a moderate amount of icing in the bag. Also, it’s easy to simply squeeze the left over icing back into the original container when you are finished.
Pipe the icing around the edges of each cookie to make an outline. To get the smoothest line possible you do not want the tip to be touching the cookie.
I think it’s better to work quickly and let the icing lie smoothy, than to try to get an absolutely perfect shape for the outline. If you look at these, some of the cookies have a smoother outline, and some are more squiggly.
Once the cookies are lined, squeeze unneeded icing back into the container. Now it’s time to thin the icing for flooding. Add 1 teaspoon water at a time to each icing, stirring after each addition. You want the icing to be thin enough that when a spoonful of it is poured back into the container, it takes about 4 seconds for it to disappear into the pool of icing. It is better to err on the side of too thick of icing than to thin. If you accidentally make the icing too thin, add a little bit of powdered sugar to get it back to a normal consistency.
You should now let the icing set for about 5 minutes in order to get the air bubbles to rise to the surface. The first time making this, I didn’t do this, and you end up with air bubbles on what was supposed to be your smooth surface cookie. Once the air bubbles have risen to the surface, gently stir the icing through once, just to pop them.
If you are using mini squeeze bottles, this would be the time to transfer the icing into the bottle. It’s easier to do if the icing is in a flexible plastic container, because you can bend the container to funnel the icing in. This was my first time using squeeze bottles, and it does make it a lot easier to flood the cookies, but it also makes one more thing to clean when finished.
If you are not using squeeze bottles, spoon the icing onto the top of the cookie, and then spread it to the edges using a toothpick. 2 pointers: 1) If you spread the icing over just over the edge of the piping, it will help to blend the piping with the flooded icing. 2) It looks a lot better if you over-flood the cookies, so that the icing ends up creating a dome look on top of the cookie. If you under-fill them, the center will sink down and the outer edge piping will be very visible.
If you want to decorate the cookies with sprinkles, as I did with the pots of gold, it’s best to put this on while the icing is still wet. If you want to pipe a design on top of the cookies, it’s best to let the cookies dry for at least 45 minutes (or overnight). For the “plaid” effect on the cookies, I cleaned up while letting the cookies dry, and I just used the little bit of icing I had left in my pastry bags and piped perpendicular lines over several cookies in a row.
Let let the cookies dry for several hours or overnight before packing them up. The cookies should then be stored in an airtight container or cellophane bags. These cookies will last for at least a full week, and once the icing has dried, it is very sturdy. Therefore these cookies can be made in advance and are great for mailing.
Inspired by Annie’s Eats