Bake from Scratch

Royal Iced Cookies

In 1840, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert celebrated their nuptials with an exquisitely ornate wedding cake that weighed 300 pounds and was 10 feet in circumference. Adorned with Greco-Roman motifs of laurels and bouquets and crowned with sculptures of the couple and Britannia, the female embodiment of Britain, its majestic decoration hid a rather humble English plum fruit cake. To the shock of wedding guests and the public, what looked like intricately carved marble was in fact edible artifice: royal icing, piped and molded into unprecedented glory.

The simple combination of sugar, water, and egg white, royal icing has been the pastry chef’s artistic medium since the 1600s. Traditionally used to gild cakes, this malleable icing offered both creative license for decoration and a protective coating to seal in the cake’s tender texture. In years since, the icing has lent itself to the greatest of holiday traditions: Christmas cookies. We’re taking on this classic art, diving deep into three royal icing decorations: piped, marbled, and brushed. From proper consistency to steady piping, we’ll show you how to make brilliantly tinted and stunningly designed ornaments, snowflakes, and winter trees. With our thoroughly modern guide to a historic technique, you’ll be able to transform a plain cookie into a festive masterpiece.

A Tale of Two Consistencies

Learn to navigate the two forms of royal icing, border and flood, with a little help from water and confectioners’ sugar

BORDER ICING

USES: Think of border icing as the stiff upper lip of royal icing. It provides two key functions for decorating your cookies. First, it acts as rigid border and dam for the looser flood icing used to fill the majority of the cookie. Second, it offers 3D decoration, creating raised dots, lines, and patterns across your cookie without sinking and losing its shape.

CONSISTENCY: When a spoon or spatula is lifted out of the icing, it should keep a soft peak. Too thick, and it will require too much pressure to pipe and won’t come out of the piping tip smoothly. For this problem, add more water, 1 teaspoon (5 grams) at a time, until desired consistency is reached. If it’s too thin, your borders and decoration won’t keep their shape when piped. Add confectioners’ sugar, 1 teaspoon (2 grams) at a time, until desired consistency is reached. Keep in mind that you may have to adjust consistency after adding your gel food coloring.

FLOOD ICING

USES: Flood icing

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