We've all seen 'em: those unbelievably precise piped cookie decorations so gorgeous you can hardly believe they're real. But it turns out it's actually not that hard to achieve sugar cookie perfection — all you need is a little attention to detail and, weirdly, a pair of pantyhose.
What You Need
- 14 ounces sifted confectioner's sugar, plus more to thicken if needed
- ½ cup egg whites
- 3 teaspoons of fresh lemon juice, plus more for cleaning
- Gel food color (optional)
- A pair of clean and unused pantyhose or a sieve
- A large metal or glass bowl
- A clean spray bottled filled with water
- Disposable piping bags
1. Sift Your Sugar
Lumps will wreck your icing game, so you need to really sift that confectioner's sugar. If you don't have a sieve, passing the sugar through unused pantyhose is actually a great way to do this.
First, cut the hose off at the knee. Stretch the toe-to-knee portion over the top of a clean metal or glass bowl and pass your sugar through. Repeat if necessary.
A metal or glass bowl is best for sifting. Plastic tends to hold in greasy or fatty residue, aka the enemy to giving egg whites the volume they need for successful royal icing.
2. Clean Your Bowl
Clean your mixing bowl with lemon juice. It'll guarantee that any leftover grease from previous projects is long gone. (You could also clean the whisk of your stand mixer for good measure.)
3. Whisk the Whites
Place your egg whites in the squeaky-clean bowl and whisk until frothy, like cappuccino foam.
4. Add the Sugar
Add your sifted confectioner's sugar into the bowl with the egg whites.
Good to Know
There's no need to sprinkle it in gently — you can dump the whole lot in at once.
Start whisking the sugar and egg whites on low, eventually bumping it up to high speed.
5. Mix the Lemon Juice
When your icing looks glossy and can form soft peaks, add 3 teaspoons of lemon juice and a couple drops of gel food color (if you want to tint it).
Good to Know
The lemon juice adds acidity to the royal icing, making it more pliable. It also makes white royal icing look a little brighter.
6. Check Your Consistency
Add a small amount of the mixture to a disposable piping bag and do some test piping.
The first two lines of piped icing pictured above are way too dry and thick, causing it to break and streak when you pipe. To thin it down, use a spray bottle filled with water to add a spritz at a time.
Good to Know
Sugar clumps blocking your piping tip can also cause this type of breaking and streaking. If that's the issue, you may need to mix a new batch of icing and be sure to sift, sift, sift!
The line on the far right is too watery and thin. Without enough structure, your icing will look sloppy when piped. To thicken it up, add sifted confectioner's sugar a little at a time to help stiffen.
The third line of icing (in the center) is perfect — the lines are uniform and consistent with no breaks, air bubbles or thicker sections. Once you find that consistency , you're ready to start piping those cookies like a pro!
Learn More Now
Discover more tips and tutorials for decorating with royal icing in our free guide, Essential Royal Icing Techniques for Stunning Sugar Cookies.