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How to Make 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. Sponsored by Davidson’s Safest Choice Eggs™.

How to make egg white royal icing by FamilySpice.com

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?

Rosewater and Cream Cheese Sugar Cookies using Egg White Royal Icing by FamilySpice.com

What is royal icing?

If you google this question, you get the following definition: hard white icing made from confectioners’ sugar and egg whites, typically used to decorate fruitcakes. Fruitcakes? This stuff has come a long way!

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. 

What is the difference between buttercream icing and royal icing?

So if you bake desserts, then you need to decorate them, too, am I right?! I’m the master of minimal effort on the decorating front and keeping it simple. Knowing the best topping for your dessert is the key to success.

As I mentioned earlier, 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.

A White Rose Cake for Spring by FamilySpice.com

Buttercream frosting is basically powdered sugar whipped to a frenzy with, you guessed it, softened butter. You can add some vanilla extra or other flavoring as well as some milk or whipping 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.

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How do you make cookie icing hard?

When I first began decorating cookies, I just used powdered sugar and enough water to get the consistency I needed. Then I realized it took over 24 hours to dry and harden. Not cool, especially when you have impatient kids.

Enter in meringue powder. This is basically egg white powder and you can find it at Michael’s or buy it online. 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 – yes, I’ve tried it! And of course, the whole point of this post, you can also use real egg whites to harden royal icing.

Closeup of Top View of Rosewater and Cream Cheese Sugar Cookies using Egg White Royal Icing by FamilySpice.com

Can I make icing with egg whites?

Being the haphazard baker that I am, I rarely have meringue powder in my cupboard. And when I do remember to go hit Michael’s to purchase some, they are always out because it is peak Christmas season and I’m not the only one who is decorating sugar cookies.

You can also use egg whites to make royal icing! The real trick is that you must use pasteurized eggs so you do not have to worry of salmonella poisoning. You can also use pasteurized liquid egg whites that you find in the cartons.

This is a great trick to making royal icing when you can’t find meringue powder at the store and you don’t have time to wait for it to be shipped to you when you order it online. 

Side View of Rosewater and Cream Cheese Sugar Cookies wiht Egg White Royal Icing Dripping Down the Side by FamilySpice.com

How to make egg white royal icing

There are two ways you can make the egg white royal icing. An acid is needed to stabilize the egg whites. This can be done with lemon juice, vinegar or cream of tartar. Ok, there are actually three ways!

Since I always have cream of tartar in my pantry, it’s also much easier to find than meringue powder, and you only need a smidgen of it, I used the cream of tartar. Also, since the cookies I was decorating for this post was my Rosewater and Cream Cheese Sugar Cookies, I didn’t want a hint of lemon flavor in the icing. Or vinegar, for that matter.

Easy Peasy. And safe to eat because the eggs are pasteurized.

Top View of Rosewater and Cream Cheese Sugar Cookies using Egg White Royal Icing by FamilySpice.com

How do I make flavored icing?

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.

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Can I add food coloring?

You can easily keep your egg white royal icing white, by not adding anything else to the mix. But the real fun to cookie decorating comes with the colors!

Whether you use food dyes or gels, remember they add liquid to your royal icing. So you will need to add a little bit less water or add more powdered sugar to get your desired consistency.

Decorating Cookies with Egg White Royal Icing by FamilySpice.com

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.

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!

Decorating and Icing Olive Oil Gingerbread Cookies by FamilySpice.com

What is the best icing for piping?

When my kids were young, we started a tradition of icing cookies for Christmas despite not being Christian or any specific religion! I had to let go control and let the icing mayhem take over my kitchen table. We used plastic squeeze bottles since their little hands couldn’t pipe using piping bags.

But it is a fun tradition even today, even though they are big teenagers.

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.

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.

Yield: icing for approximately 32 cookies

Royal Icing with Egg Whites

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.

Prep Time 3 minutes
Total Time 3 minutes


  • 2 pasteurized egg whites or 1/4 cup pasteurized liquid egg whites
  • 3/4 tsp cream of tartar
  • 3 cup powdered sugar
  • Food coloring (if desired)
  • 1 1/2 tsp water (if needed)


  1. In a glass or stainless bowl, whisk together egg whites and cream of tartar until combined.
  2. Whisk in powdered sugar until smooth.
  3. Add food coloring (if desired)
  4. Drizzle in water (as needed) until icing is of consistency desired.
  5. 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.

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Nutrition Information:



Serving Size:

icing for 1 cookie

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 30Total Fat: 0gSaturated Fat: 0gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 2mgCarbohydrates: 7.5gFiber: 0gSugar: 7.4gProtein: 0.2g
Disclosure: As I am part of the Darling Dozen, I did receive a stipend from Davidson’s Safest Choice Eggs™ to develop a recipe using their pasteurized eggs. The story I have written is all true, and the opinions are truly mine. If I didn’t like it, I wouldn’t blog about it.