6 Ways to Decorate Cookies with Royal Icing

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Ready to take your cookies to the next level with royal icing? Go beyond basic piping and flooding, and explore these advanced techniques for making bakery-worthy decorated cookies. Try flocking, layering, adding candies, and more!

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Photography Credit: Irvin Lin

Once you start decorating cookies with royal icing, it gets super addictive! And I’m not just talking eating all those pretty cookies. You can do a ton of decorating using just the technique of piping and flooding, but here are a few more techniques that you can use to create beautiful and unique cookies.

WHAT IS ROYAL ICING?

Royal icing is a decorative hard white icing made with egg whites, powdered sugar, and some flavoring and coloring used to decorate cookies.

If you’ve never worked with royal icing before, check out our recipe for step-by-step instructions on how to make it as well as basic piping and flooding techniques:

A circle sugar cookie is outlined with white royal icing.

PIPING

Piping is a basic technique used in conjunction with flooding, but you can also create intricate outlines and patterns just using the piping technique. Pick a smaller round tip (#1 or #2) if you want to do detailed work. Or work with a basic #3 tip if you are looking to do more organic shapes.

Consider making patterns as well as outlines and drawings using piping. Checkerboards, concentric circles or shapes, or even just simple “drawings” on a cookie have an elegance all their own.

Spooning white royal icing on a sugar cookie. A toothpick used to fill in a sugar cookie with Royal icing.

FLOODING

Flooding means covering larger areas of a cookie with icing. Start by piping an outline with icing, then flood the area with a thinner icing. The outline serves as a barrier to hold in the “flooded” area.

You can pipe and flood in the same color to create a solid color area, or you can use different colors. Do this if you want to create a watercolor bleeding effect from the edge of the area to the center.

Also consider piping a pattern (like checkerboard or diamonds) on to a cookie, then use the flooding icing to fill in every other square to make a more graphic look. You can also draw a picture and use flooding to fill in the spaces.

Red royal icing for sugar cookies is being piped over top white royal icing. Red and white Royal icing decorate a sugar cookie.

BLEEDING

Bleeding is when you add an additional colored icing on top of a still-wet flooded area. Instead of having a crisp sharp line, your colors will bleed into each other and look more organic.

You can use bleeding to create some beautiful effects. Pipe and flood an area with one color, then immediately pipe another color over that area:

  • If you pipe a line of color, you can then use a toothpick to drag the color back and forth to create a chevron pattern.
  • If you pipe dots onto the wet flood area, you can use a toothpick to draw “hearts” by dragging the toothpick through the icing dot in one direction.
  • Pipe different colors right next to each other to get a dramatic watercolor, marbled, or swirled effect. Draw lines back and forth by dragging a toothpick through the icing to move the colors around.

Sparkling sugar added to a snowflake sugar cookie decorated with Royal icing for sugar cookies. Sparkling sugar added to the top of a snowflake cookie decorate using an Easy Royal Icing Recipe.

FLOCKING

Flocking involves sprinkling sparkling or sanding sugar over the piped icing or flooded areas. The icing acts like “glue” and the sugar sticks to it. This results in a sparkling line or pattern.

Just place the cookie on a shallow baking pan or plate with a rim. Pipe the pattern that you want on the cookie, then immediately sprinkle the cookie all over with the sugar. Let the icing set for about a minute or two before picking up the cookie and shaking any loose sugar back into the pan or plate.

You can also flock flooded areas by shaking sparkling sugar over the top of a flooded area. If the flood icing is very thin, let the cookie sit with the sugar on top to dry a bit before picking it up and shaking off the loose sugar. Usually this only takes five to 10 minutes or so, but it depends on the thickness of your icing and humidity in your kitchen. Test it first by lifting up the cookie and tilting it. If you see the icing start to move, set it back down quickly and let it dry longer.

  • I recommend getting sparkling sugar, which has larger crystals and creates a more dramatic look. It comes in a variety of colors. Look for it in the baking aisle of your grocery store, at a craft stores, or online. But you can also use regular granulated sugar.
  • A variant of flocking is to sprinkle non-pareils, sprinkles, or jimmies over the piped icing and then shake the sprinkles off. You can create fun and whimsical looks with rainbow sprinkles!
  • You can pour the leftover sugar back into the sugar container and reuse it. A funnel comes in handy if you have a small container of sugar and want to pour the leftovers back into it.

Easy Royal Icing Recipe piped into patterns on heart sugar cookies.

ADDING CANDIES, PEARL BALLS, AND DRAGÉES

You can also use the icing as a “glue” to attach candies, pearl balls, and dragées, which are silver candy balls. Just add a dot of icing to the cookie, and then place the candy. You might want to use tweezers if the dragée or candy is very small or especially delicate. Or just sprinkle them over a flooded area while it’s still wet.

Here are a few suggestions for other edible items to add to your royal icing decorated cookie:

  • Edible flowers, candied or fresh (if fresh, eat the cookie within 24 hours)
  • Small candies like mini M&Ms, cinnamon red hots, or Nerds
  • Silver dragées or colored candied pearls
  • Non pareils, sprinkles, or jimmies
  • Swedish pearl sugar

If you start looking online and at craft or party supply shops, you’ll find that sprinkles, jimmies, non-pareils, and colored sugars come in all sizes and shapes. You’ll find everything from stars to large balls to snowflake shapes to confetti sprinkles all in a myriad of shapes and colors.

LAYERING

You can combine all the techniques above as well as layer the techniques! Just allow the royal icing to completely dry between layers. I usually allot at least two hours under a gentle fan to make sure the first layer is dry before piping and adding an additional layer.

You can also just let the cookies dry and set overnight before adding more decorations to them.

One of my favorite combinations is to flood a cookie shape completely with one color, then let it dry and add a flocked, piped decoration in a contrasting color on top. The sparkling sugar with the piping on the contrasting color background really pops, and the piping of the frosting gives the flock a dimension.

A variety of holiday cookies decorated with sprinkles and Easy Royal Icing recipe.

OTHER WAYS TO DECORATE ROYAL ICING COOKIES

Try any of these other techniques:

  • Edible color markers are available at craft shops and are an easy way to decorate cookies. Just pipe and flood a large area with white or light pastel colored icing, let dry completely, then go crazy with the color markers!
  • Edible luster dust is also available at craft shops. Luster dust is exactly what is sounds like, edible glitter in dust form. Mix a little bit of vodka (a couple of drops at first) with some luster dust and then paint it onto your cookie in the areas where you want it to sparkle!
  • Edible gold or silver leaf is also available if you want an extra special touch! Just wait for the icing to be completely dry before adding any metal leaf to your cookie.

HOW TO STORE THE FINAL COOKIES

Once you’re done decorating the cookies, let them dry completely before storing them in an airtight container. Layer them between sheets of parchment or wax paper. Store them at room temperature on your counter or kitchen table for up to five days.

Have fun, and remember that your imagination is your only limit when it comes to decorating with royal icing!

TRY DECORATING THESE COOKIES!

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Irvin Lin

Irvin Lin is an IACP award-winning photographer, food writer and recipe developer, blue-ribbon baker, public speaker, and occasional social media consultant. His blog is Eat the Love and his first cookbook is Marbled, Swirled and Layered.

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One Comment

No Image6 Ways to Decorate Cookies with Royal Icing

  1. Coco Morante

    Your cookie decorating skills are so impressive, Irvin! These are so pretty.

Royal icing and sprinkles decorate circle sugar cookies.6 Ways to Decorate Cookies with Royal Icing