Made from beaten egg whites and icing sugar, royal icing is traditionally used to decorate Christmas cakes and wedding cakes either with a smooth or a peaked finish. It’s also perfect for decorating biscuits and gingerbread houses, and by adding just a few drops of food colouring you can create any shade you want.
As it dries, royal icing becomes firm and hard but adding a few drops of liquid glycerine in the preparation creates a less brittle, softer texture that’s easier to cut through. You can buy small bottles of liquid glycerine at most supermarkets or chemists.
This recipe contains raw egg whites, which may pose a health risk for the very young, the pregnant and the elderly. If concerned, use pasteurised egg whites instead. You can buy these in liquid form in a carton or as a powder from most supermarkets.
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Enough to cover a 20cm cake
- 600g icing sugar, sieved
- 3 large egg whites OR equivalent pasteurised egg whites
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- 1½ tsp glycerine
How to make royal icing
1. Lightly whisk the egg whites in a large bowl until they become frothy.
2. Add the icing sugar to the egg whites, a little at a time, beating well between each addition.
3. Continue beating the icing with a wooden spoon or electric whisk until it is very smooth and stiff enough to form peaks.
4. Add the lemon juice and glycerine and stir. The glycerine stops the icing from becoming too brittle when it dries.
5. Spread the icing over the top and sides of the cake as evenly as possible. Use a broad palette knife to create a smooth finish or rough up the icing with a small spatula so that it forms spikes – perfect for a snowy scene effect for Christmas cakes.
6. Leave the icing to dry out overnight, then pop the cake into lidded container until you’re ready to serve.
Cover a fruit cake with marzipan first before adding royal icing, as this keeps the cake moist and stops the icing becoming stained.
Once covered in marzipan and royal icing, a rich fruitcake can keep for years if stored in a cardboard box – don’t use an airtight container – in a cool place.
You can use royal icing to pipe decorations, names and messages onto cakes and biscuits. Just omit the glycerine from the recipe when making royal icing for piping.
Colour your royal icing using food colouring or gel pastes: only a tiny amount is necessary. Mix thoroughly to avoid streaks appearing.
Storing royal icing
If you’re not using your royal icing straightaway, keep it in a bowl covered with a damp tea-towel to stop it drying out and becoming hard. You can store royal icing covered tightly with cling-film in the fridge for a couple of days.
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