By using pasteurized eggs, you can safely make royal icing with egg whites for your cookies without using hard-to-find meringue powder.
It seems that every holiday has me making and decorating a batch (or two, or three…) of sugar cookies. And I hate decorating cookies. I think it’s my complete inability to work slowly and patiently with a pastry bag that I end up with lackluster frosted sugar cookies.
But, since the kids don’t mind what they look like and they only care what they taste like, it’s all good.
So it’s rather odd for me to be writing a post about royal icing when I am clearly not worthy of it. But this post is not about how to come up with those fine, perfectly decorated sugar cookies.
This post is about royal icing and the number of ways you can make it. And please don’t judge me on my mediocre decorating skills and lopsided circles. Okay?
Why you should try this recipe
We decorate a lot of cookies in my house. It is a tradition we do every Christmas, no matter how old the kids get. My daughter and I especially love decorating cookies all year long and try to get better at it with every batch of cookie we ice.
Royal icing is the basic icing you see on many confectionaries from cookies to simple cakes. In its simplest form, it is a whole lot of powdered sugar with a little bit of water. Meringue powder is typically added to give the icing more structure and to harden it once it is dry.
During the holidays, the stores always seem to run out of meringue powder because, well, we are all decorating cookies! The great thing about this recipe, is that you don’t need meringue powder.
You can make royal icing using egg whites.
The key is to use pasteurized egg whites, so you don’t get sick from eating uncooked egg whites. You can find pasteurized eggs as a whole egg or just use the cartons of pasteurized egg whites.
You can flavor this icing with whatever flavors you want. You can also dye this icing recipe and make a rainbow of colors.
Either way, you end up with a terrific and easy egg white royal icing that is perfect for any cookie you decorate, for any holiday.
See my Egg White Royal Icing Web Story for a quick visual guide to making this recipe.
Ingredients you need
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- Pasteurized egg whites: You can use pasteurized whole eggs and separate the egg whites, or you can use those cartons of pasteurized liquid egg whites. I have done both. Remember, the egg whites should be pasteurized to prevent the spread of salmonella poisoning. Remember this is a substitution for meringue powder.
- Cream of tartar: An acid is needed to stabilize the egg whites. This can be done with lemon juice, vinegar or cream of tartar. I prefer cream of tartar as it doesn’t add unwanted flavor to the icing.
- Powdered sugar: Also known as confectioner’s sugar. Do not get it confused with caster or granulated sugar.
- Food coloring: You can leave it plain for white icing or add food coloring to color it whatever color you want. I prefer using Wilton’s concentrated food dyes because very little goes a long way and it doesn’t water down your icing.
- Water: If your icing is too thick, you might need to thin it out with some water. Use very little at a time or it will get too runny.
Tools to Use
1. In a small bowl or measuring cup, whisk together cream of tartar and egg whites. Pour this into a large mixing bowl with the powdered sugar.
2. Whisk mixture until smooth and in the consistency you desire. If too watery, add more powdered sugar. If too thick, drizzle in a little water.
3. Add food coloring, if you are using it.
4. Transfer to piping bags or plastic squeeze bottles if you are ready to start decorating or store in the refrigerator until ready to use.
Is this only for classic sugar cookies?
Heck no! Although vanilla sugar cookies are always a crowd favorite and the first cookie you think about when it comes to decorating cookies, I use royal icing for lots of different cookies.
I’ve mentioned my cream cheese based sugar cookie recipe. I also have a chocolate roll out cookie recipe that I ice with this egg white royal icing. And of course, my olive oil gingerbread cookies are always screaming to be decorated, too! You can also make decorated shortbread cookies!
You can use this icing to decorate any cookie you want, whether it’s homemade or store bought. It’s perfect for the holidays and any other celebrations you can dream of. It’s even perfect to decorate simple Oreos, like my Raisin Spider Oreos!
If you ever tried piping cookies, you’ve probably battled with the wrong icing consistency. Too runny, and the icing spills down the sides of the cookies. Too stiff and you can barely squeeze it out of the bag. Which is the best icing for piping? Well, it depend.
Horrible answer, right? For outlining and fine details, a stiffer royal icing is best. This means less water and more powdered sugar. To fill in a big open space on a cookie, it is best to outline it and flood it with a runnier icing – one with more water.
I have been using Wilton's Color Right for over 7 years and it has really changed my cake decorating. The colors are concentrated and very little goes a long way. You can use this for frosting, icing, cake batter, fondant, cookie dough... you name it!
This particular egg white royal icing recipes makes a medium consistency icing. You can outline it, but it isn’t super stiff so might run down the sides if you pipe to close to the edges. Feel free to add more water or powdered sugar to the recipe to get the desired consistencies you are looking for.
Sweetopia has written a fabulous post where you can learn more about the different icing consistencies whether your a novice baker or a seasoned cookie designer.
Recipe tips and FAQs
When it comes to adding the flavor to your icing, the options are endless! You can easily replace the water in icing with juices like lemon, orange, apple, cranberry – any of these add color and flavor to your icing. Remember a little liquid goes a long way in making royal icing.
But, juices only go so far in flavor. Other flavor options are oils and extracts, and the choices here are endless too. I have used rosewater in my royal icing for a floral component.
You can also use crushed dried rose petals (yes you can eat rose petals) or use grated zest from lemons, limes, oranges or grapefruit for extra flavor.
You can use this egg white icing the same way you would regular icing and pipe complicated designs with it using any variety of piping tips. I am not very talented with the piping bag, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be!
The key to piping success is controlling the icing. Thicker icing is needed for the outline, which means you add less liquid to the mix. To fill up the cookie and flood it with icing, you want a more fluid icing.
Here’s a great tutorial from a real from Sweet Ambs, a super talented baker, that tells you the differences in royal icing consistencies. She has beautiful tutorials and videos of her icing creations.
Royal icing is the basic icing you see on many confectionaries from cookies to simple cakes. In its simplest form, it is a whole lot of powdered sugar with a little bit of water. Meringue powder or egg whites is mixed in to give it structure and make the icing hard when dry.
Royal icing in its most simplest is powdered sugar and a little water. Buttercream icing is more commonly known as buttercream frosting. It is thicker and perfect for cakes or a filling inside a cookie. It is made with butter, powdered sugar, flavoring like vanilla, and milk or heavy cream. If you want to decorate a layer cake, buttercream icing (or frosting) is the perfect choice. If you want to decorate cookies, than royal icing the best choice.
If you make royal icing with just powdered sugar and water, then it can take up to 24 hours for the icing to dry and harden. Enter in meringue powder. This is basically egg white powder. The meringue powder helps thicken and harden the icing more quickly than just time and dry air temperature. You can also use egg white powder or pasteurized egg whites, too.
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Royal Icing with Egg Whites
By using pasteurized eggs, you can safely make royal icing with egg whites for your cookies without using hard-to-find meringue powder.
- 2 pasteurized egg whites or ¼ cup pasteurized liquid egg whites
- ¾ teaspoon cream of tartar
- 3 cup powdered sugar
- Food coloring (if desired)
- 1 ½ teaspoon water (if needed)
- In a glass or stainless bowl, whisk together egg whites and cream of tartar until combined.
- Whisk in powdered sugar until smooth.
- Add food coloring (if desired)
- Drizzle in water (as needed) until icing is of consistency desired.
- Use right away or store in the refrigerator until ready to use.
Cooking Tips: Royal icing may be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. This recipe works best when used right away. As it sits in the refrigerator the water and icing sugar separate and needs to be remixed before use.
You can substitute cream of tartar with 2 teaspoons of lemon juice. Add more powdered sugar until desired consistency.
Serving Size:icing for 1 cookie
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 30Total Fat: 0gSaturated Fat: 0gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 2mgCarbohydrates: 7.5gFiber: 0gSugar: 7.4gProtein: 0.2g
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I love these cookies!
What is the shelf life of cookies iced with pasteurized egg whites from a carton? Keep in an air-tight container out of the fridge?
I suggest storing the cookies in an air tight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
This recipe is SO easy & tastes great! Used it this weekend to decorate cookies with my boys.
That’s awesome to hear! Thank you for sharing and happy holidays!
How many cookies can you ice with this recipe?
It is hard to know how many cookies this will ice. It depends on how many colors you are mixing and how many layers you are adding.
I made 150 of these cookies, they are all in sealed containers. Once they are iced and dried.. can they stay at room temperature and for how long?
That’s a lot of cookies! Because they are made with raw egg whites, you need to store your royal icing and iced cookies in the refrigerator. It should keep in the refrigerator for about one week.
I have to plain cookies in the fridge until they need to be iced. once iced and cooled for about a day, I will put them back in the fridge. Thanks.
My icing tastes bitter even though I added both lemon juice and vanilla extract, which is supposed to help. Is it because of the cream of tartar?
Yes, cream of tartar can taste bitter. Is it old? Mine didn’t have any taste at all, and I am very sensitive to bitter.
Will fresh home laid egg whites be okay. Or frozen perhaps?
The main issue with using raw eggs, whether store bought or from your own chickens, is the fear of salmonella. By using pasteurized eggs, you do not have to worry about this. There are articles on how to pasteurize eggs at home, but I have not linked to these as I do not know if they really work and I do not want to be libel if people get sick.
I have always used meringue powder, but I rarely have it around. (I don’t decorate a ton of cookies.) I always have eggs though, so thank you for this recipe! Now I won’t have to go buy a specialty ingredient. Hooray!
Can you freeze cookies after they are iced?
Great question! I have not done it but I have been told that you can. Just be sure the icing is completely dry before freezing. But the problem comes with thawing. The icing might melt or bleed. I recommend to be safe to freeze the sugar cookies without icing.
Does the icing taste better with the pasteurized egg whites? Never been too much of a fan for the meringue powder. Thank you.
I honestly don’t taste the eggs nor do my kids in this icing. But of course, meringue powder doesn’t taste like anything for us, too.
I don’t have the decorating gene, so I’m with your kids — I’m happy if it tastes good, and ignore how it looks. 🙂 Fun post — thanks.
Love those Hanukkah cookies and especially the rosewater version. So pretty to look at and I’m sure even better to eat!
It gets hard itself? Or do I have to refrigerate it in order for it to get hard?
After you ice the cookies, just let them dry as you would normally and they will dry and harden on their own. No need to refrigerate.
I am SO thrilled to find this information … and see these beautiful cookies! I have been wondering about meringue powder for awhile, not knowing where to find it, and certainly not knowing about this substitute! Thank you so much … because this Christmas Season, our “Grands” will have the fun of helping with some of the fanciest, most decorated, shortbread cutout cookies around! Just think of all this pent-up creativity, waiting to explode!!! Now I want to host a cookie exchange this year, though it’s only May, to show off! It’s as if I just invented decorated cookies …… Read more »
Iced sugar cookies have been my favorite cookie since I was a child, but nowadays it’s harder to find that same icing flavor. I made royal icing when I used to decorate cakes for my now grown children, but I remember it being super sweet and stiff (for making flowers), not this runny icing used on cookies. When I read your recipe it reminded me of the mixture I made to seal cakes (confectioners sugar + water + extract) which tasted a lot like the cookie icing I was after. So, the egg whites + tartar makes it harden, while… Read more »