Category: Royal Icing and Sugar Cookie Decoration

Comparing Royal Icing Recipes, With and Without Corn Syrup

The basic Royal Icing recipe, which I call “crisp,” is made from egg whites (or meringue powder) and a lot of powdered sugar. Most of the Royal Icing tutorials on the web use a version of this recipe.

A second recipe, which I call “soft,” is made from the same two ingredients, plus corn syrup. This recipe is popular, but not often specified in tutorials.

While both recipes make Royal Icing, the end results do not look or behave exactly the same. If you follow a tutorial that specifies one, but you use the other, your cookies might not meet your expectations.

Initial Appearance

I’ve tinted the crisp Royal Icing orange to differentiate it from the soft. Under normal conditions, your frosting would start out white.

When mixed, crisp icing does not move very much after you stopped your mixer. In the picture below, those swirls would remain the same throughout time if I did not remove the icing from the bowl to place in storage.

After mixing, soft Royal Icing drips off the beater and immediately begins to settle into a smooth surface.

Stored Appearance

I store my icing in clear plastic deli containers.

To keep the icing from drying out, I split a gallon plastic storage bag into two flat sheets, then use one to completely cover the icing before putting the lid on. The plastic sheet is easier to handle than thin plastic like Saran Wrap or a similar product, especially on top of sticky Royal Icing.

In the pictures below, you’ll see the Royal Icing, each in its own container, under a clear deli lid and a sheet of heavy plastic.

Initially, you can plainly see air bubbles (not sharp indents) in the soft frosting, while the crisp frosting is cut with numerous indents.

Twenty-four hours later, the top and bottom of the crisp frosting looked the same. The bottom of the soft frosting, however, was 100% free of bubbles. All the bubbles rose to the surface during storage.

Working Differences Between Royal Icing Recipes

You will be able to create beautiful cookies using either Royal Icing recipe, but you’ll achieve your success differently.

Stiff Royal Icing is more likely to show broken bubbles and cracks than soft icing. The reason for that is that stiff icing is more brittle and soft icing, elastic.

Once dried, the surface of stiff Royal Icing shrinks. If there is a flaw under the surface, like a bubble, the flaw appears as a dent when the surface pulls apart.

Tutorials that use stiff Royal Icing often recommend tapping the bottom of a frosted cookie to cause any bubbles in the mixture to raise to the surface, at which point they can be popped and healed before being set out to dry.

Tapping the bottom of a cookie frosted with soft Royal Icing, however, can cause the top coat to swirl, almost like a soft wave, thus ruining the surface. While large bubbles can appear under the surface of soft frosting, they must be very quickly popped or else the elastic properties of the frosting take over. When this happens, the surface will not heal smoothly because the elastic becomes over-stretched and cannot return to its original shape.

Quick Tips

I will cover how to pipe both types of Royal Icing in my next article. Until then, here are a few tips for those of you who are trying to complete a project right now:

  • Use the best piping tips with very smooth, well-formed edges. Flaws can introduce bubbles.
  • If, when you start piping, your frosting curls back on your piping tip, you might introduce a bubble when you “touch down.”
  • You can see bubbles and weaknesses in piped lines as they form, especially with crisp frosting. If you are quick, you can repair them before setting them out to dry.
  • The advice to shake or tap a cookie to cause bubbles to come to the surface should only be used with crisp frosting.
  • You must work quickly with soft frosting as after too much time, the frosting will stretch and cease to heal.

The following cookie designs were made with soft Royal Icing. If you look hard, you will see just one little pit. Soft Royal Icing is easier to use by novice bakers as well as children. It might also be best to use if you plan on stenciling a coat of Royal Icing. You might not, however, be able to achieve the same design objective as you see in a tutorial that uses crisp Royal Icing.


Two Royal Icing Recipes

Royal Icing Recipes With and Without Corn Syrup

Article Series

To see a list of all articles in this series in the order written, CLICK HERE

Questions? Comments? Additions? Corrections? Write to Karen Little at


Written for by Karen Little, publisher. All rights reserved, but feel free to re-publish this article after contacting Karen so she knows where to find it.


Royal Icing Recipes With and Without Corn Syrup

The tutorials that follow test two types of Royal Icing against each other. One I call “crispy” and the other, “soft.”

According to a survey conducted by Liesbet Schietecatte in Julia Usher’s Toolbox Talk, crispy Royal Icing is the most commonly used in online tutorials. Its basic ingredients are egg whites (or a meringue substitute) and confectioners’ sugar. The Ingredients tend to vary by instructor and the resulting frosting tastes like hard sugar candy when applied thickly.

Because of crispy Royal Icing’s stiffness, it can be flowed flat onto a cookie surface, or piped into various designs and shapes. Unfortunately, during the drying process the outcome of this frosting can be unpredictable due to handling, humidity, or slow drying time. Consequently, without proper handling, this frosting can pit, crack, or collapse.

Soft Royal Icing contains the same ingredients as crispy, plus a small amount of corn syrup and Cream of Tartar, which also varies by instructor. This results in a firm, but softer surface whose dried appearance resembles polished leather.

Because this Royal Icing is softer, it cannot be easily used to build sculptural cookies with molded or transferred parts. It does, however, create smooth surfaces, patterns and lines that don’t break. Many people like the taste of its texture over the crispy icing, but its sheen fades after a few days when not bagged and refrigerated.

Recipe for Crisp Royal Icing

This recipe is from Stephanie Kappel’s online tutorial entitled Better Basics for Exceptional Cookies,  published by

Ingredients in Stephanie Kappel’s words

  • 3​ ​tablespoons​ ​meringue​ ​powder
  • 4​ ​cups​ ​confectioners’​ ​sugar
  • Up​ ​to​ ​1​ ​tablespoon​ ​flavoring​ ​extract​ ​of choice,​ ​such​ ​as​ ​vanilla​ ​or​ ​lemon (optional)
  • Gel​ ​coloring​ ​(optional)
  • 5-6​ ​tablespoons​ ​lukewarm​ ​water


  1. Sift​ ​powdered​ ​sugar​ ​and​ ​meringue powder​ ​together​ ​into​ ​the​ ​bowl​ ​of​ ​a​ ​stand mixer.
  2. Mix​ ​contents​ ​on​ ​low​ ​speed​ ​to​ ​combine further,​ ​using​ ​the​ ​whisk​ ​attachment.
  3. Add​ ​flavor​ ​and​ ​coloring​ ​as​ ​desired​ ​and mix​ ​on​ ​low​ ​until​ ​combined.
  4. Add​ ​water,​ ​1​ ​tablespoon​ ​at​ ​a​ ​time, mixing​ ​on​ ​low​ ​until​ ​desired​ ​consistency is​ ​achieved.
  5. Whip​ ​on​ ​high​ ​for​ ​4​ ​minutes​ ​or​ ​until​ ​royal icing​ ​is​ ​thick​ ​and​ ​forms​ ​very​ ​stiff​ ​peaks. Be​ ​careful​ ​not​ ​to​ ​over mix.

Recipe for Soft Royal Icing

This recipe was submitted to Julia Usher’s Cookie Connection by Karen Anderson, owner of SugarDeaux. She entitled her article, SugarDeaux Quick Dry Royal Icing.

Ingredients in Karen Anderson’s words

  • 2 lb bag of powdered sugar ( I use Walmart’s)
  • 6 tbsp of CK Meringue Powder
  • 3/4 tsp of Cream of Tartar
  • 5 oz warm water
  • 1 tsp Clear Butter Flavor (I use Wilton’s)
  • 2 tsp Clear Vanilla Flavor (I use Wilton’s) You can also use almond, lemon or whatever you choose!
  • 1 tbsp of Light Corn Syrup


  1.  Mix your meringue powder and warm water with your WHISK attachment on medium high speed until it is thickened up and doubled in size (about 1 min)
  2. Add Cream of Tartar, Butter & Vanilla Flavors. Mix about 30 secs.
  3.  Still using whisk attachment, add half bag of powdered sugar and mix on LOW until smooth – about 30 secs. ( If you have a plastic cover- great! If not wrap a clean tea towel around mixer to keep sugar in.)
  4. Add Corn Syrup, mix in (10 secs)
  5.  Stop mixer and add remaining Powdered Sugar. Mix on medium-low for 30 secs, then scrape down sides of bowl. Mix for ONE more minute.
  6. Makes enough RI to ice about 3-4 dozen medium cookies.
  7.  Immediately store in airtight container(s)
  8.  Voila! Done with less than 4 minutes mixing time start to finish!

Next . . .

The articles that follow use these two recipes to find out how they differ from one another and provide “best practice tips” when you set out to duplicate your favorite Royal Icing designs.

Related Links

Article Series

To see a list of all articles in this series, CLICK HERE

Questions? Comments? Additions? Corrections? Write to Karen Little at


Written for by Karen Little, publisher. All rights reserved, but feel free to re-publish this article after contacting Karen so she knows where to find it.

Royal Icing Experiments

This past August, I set up my Royal Icing lab to test Royal Icing consistencies to show you how to have guaranteed results every time (because, frankly, mine had been inconsistent).

Unfortunately, August set a record in New Jersey for the hottest summer on record and when the temperature cooled, the humidity went up. Despite the humidity, the now 70-degree weather felt great, so while conducting my tests, I threw open my windows, turned off the air conditioner, and enjoyed the natural warmth of late summer.

What I didn’t realize at that time was that the humidity hit 100%. The atmosphere became so moist in our house, that all our wood floors buckled and my sheets of experiments became soggy and unable to hold a shape. It took almost two months before our floors flattened.

The soggy green Royal Icing below was from one of my experiments. It started out as hard! When I got up the next day after it had hardened, our apartment was filled with smoke, which turned out to be fog. Unfortunately, all my samples from the previous day turned into textures similar to raw eggs.


I initiated this project to find out for myself why some Royal Icing worked, while others didn’t, because I have not been uniformly successful over the year I’ve been involved making Royal Icing.

My primary online tutorial instructor was Stephanie Kappel of Better Basics for Exceptional Cookies with Stephanie Kappel, who provided a crispy recipe with her course. Several batches of butter cookies later, however, I found a recipe by Karen Anderson on Julia Usher’s website that I liked better. By adding corn syrup to the basic recipe, Karen’s version made slightly soft, very glossy coating that was almost foolproof.

Crisper frosting in my own novice hands formed bubbles, dents, and cave-ins, like you see below.

As I became more skilled, subsequent trials with crisp Royal Icing looked great after applying it, but awful the next day.

Most commonly, my crispy dots and piped lines broke. I had a difficult time making rounded dots, as you can see below, although online trainers suggested that I was having consistency issues. By myself, even after copious research and trials, I couldn’t resolve them.

I was so frustrated that I went online asking for help. Friends from Julia Usher’s Facebook Group jumped in right away and told me that I needed to quickly dry my cookies under a fan to avoid cave-ins, which helped a lot, but I still had a problem with broken bubbles.

After switching to  Karen Anderson’s recipe, I rarely had trouble again, but there was a downside to using more flexible frosting. I was not able to produce thin, crisp piping that I learned I could achieve from Stephanie’s Craftsy tutorial.

One Size Does Not Fit All

You might fall in love with a cookie design or designer, but I learned that if you don’t use her or his same recipe, you might fail.

Shaking a freshly frosted cookie to make bubbles rise to the surface so you can pop them works with crisp frosting, but not soft. If you rely on shaking soft frosting, you’ll produce ripples in what should be a smooth surface and ruin your cookies.

I suspect, too, that although soft frosting is flexible, it may not have the proper texture for wet-on-wet techniques because it can introduce rippling that is similar to what happens when shaken. That said, I did successfully produce a few, but to do so, I had to work quickly.

With soft frosting, however, I can quickly show new people how to decorate cookies without flaws. The photo below, for example, shows my sister-in-law’s first try! Everything she did looked beautiful as did those of her guests who attended the frosting party I led. Not a cracked bubble or sunk surface in the several dozen cookies frosted that day.

Toolbox Talk

Under Julie Usher’s blog area, Toolbox TalkLiesbet Schietecatte examined the behavior of Royal Icing in her article, Corn Syrup in Royal Icing. This scholarly article covers information on corn syrup, along with the discovery that most well-known cookie artists do not use it. (In my opinion, it does not have as long of bakery-shelf life as the crispy version, but that is OK for home bakers.)

Liesbet’s article continues with an overview of products that can be used in Royal Icing (corn syrup, glucose, and glycerin), in addition to the standard (called plain). From there, Liesbet runs experiments and documents results of different Royal Icing mixtures, including plain.

Her pictures tell the story, with fan-dried, corn-syrup based frosting looking the best on cookies that feature a single layer of flooded icing.

Littleviews Talk

I am following Liesbet’s Royal Icing scholarship by simultaneously comparing batches of crispy and soft icing to seeing and feeling the results of:

  • Texture after initial mixing
  • Resting in a refrigerator 24 hours before use
  • Flooding behavior
  • Making dots
  • Piping thick and thin lines
  • Outlining that includes flooding in small areas
  • Wet-on-wet designing
  • Making Royal Icing Transfers

Under all circumstances, I’ll dry the frosting under a fan as air drying can ask for disaster.

The articles will appear weekly until I’ve exhausted the experiments, then I’ll move on to Royal Icing stenciling.

Related Links

Article Series

To see a list of all articles in this series, CLICK HERE

Questions? Comments? Additions? Corrections? Write to Karen Little at


Written for by Karen Little, publisher. All rights reserved, but feel free to re-publish this article after contacting Karen so she knows where to find it.

Royal Icing: High Humidity and Royal Icing Consistency Testing

The most optimum environment in which to test Royal Icing consistency is one that falls between 40 and 60 percent humidity. A low humidity will force you to add more water to your mixture. In high humidity, however, water vapor contained in the atmosphere is constantly being added to your mixture, making the mixture difficult to adjust even if you add more powdered sugar to sop it up.

Ideally, home-baked sugar cookies are crisp and have a snap to them. As humidity increases, those cookies begin to taste moist and become flexible. Bread, cake, and pie also quickly degrade in high humidity, with bread turning moldy if not stored in a refrigerator.

Problems Testing Royal Icing in a Very Humid Atmosphere

It takes skill to decorate Royal Icing sugar cookies and as a home baker, you do not want your entire batch ruined due to high humidity. Whether practicing on plastic sheets or trying to make a batch for family and friends, high humidity can make Royal Icing “melt” and sugar cookies soggy.

The example on the left side of the photo above is a closeup of a perfectly decorated cookie which was created and served in a normal humidity.

On the right is the result of a consistency test that was created in an air-conditioned atmosphere. When I went to bed, I turned off our air conditioner, and opened windows, not thinking about how the Royal Icing would be affected. The humidity outside was a warm, 100% and when I work up, I found that the frosting itself flowed into a moist, sticky mess. Don’t let this happen to you!

The last thing you want to do is see all your painstaking work melt away, so take care to regulate the humidity in your baking environment and make sure to refrigerate all your hard work in air-tight containers.

Household Humidity

Before attempting to test and ultimately use Royal Icing, make sure that the humidity in your home is between 40 and 60%. Check one or more rooms using inexpensive Room Humidity Monitors. The outside humidity is not as important if your home is sealed and you run an air conditioner.

Use inexpensive temperature and humidity monitors to help you gauge your environment. Indoor humidity is variable from zone to zone, especially when someone is showering in one room and someone else is boiling soup in another. Aim for an even humidity throughout your environment on the day or days you get into sugar cookie baking and decorating.

You can lower the humidity in your baking area by running a dehumidifier or air conditioner. If you can’t easily install a whole-home dehumidifier, perhaps a room-sized unit or two will do. The Pure Enrichment Premium Dehumidifier, for example, is designed for very small spaces and might be all you need.

But If You Can’t Lower Your Humidity . . .

If you cannot control the humidity in your baking area at a normal level, postpone baking sugar cookies and working with Royal Icing. The key to a good taste in your final product is a crisp bite and pretty appearance which is difficult to achieved when humidity is very high.

Storing Sugar Cookies Frosted with Royal Icing

Refrigerate sugar cookies in an air-tight container before and after being frosted.

If you plan on serving them as a centerpiece, consider the display atmosphere. Deliver them in an air-tight container layered with parchment paper. Let them sit out for a short-but-reasonable period. When dessert time is over, return them to the container (if any are left, of course).

If you must serve your beautiful creations in a humid area (like at a summer picnic by a lake), be as careful with them as you would with egg salad. Keep them in a cool, air-tight container until service time, then put them away again shortly thereafter.

Cookies frosted with Royal Icing are small works of art, so protect the looks and tastes of your creations as much as possible and do not waste time fighting with the atmosphere because high humidity will probably win.

Article Series

To see a list of all articles in this series, CLICK HERE

Questions? Comments? Additions? Corrections? Write to Karen Little at


Written for by Karen Little, publisher. All rights reserved, but feel free to re-publish this article after contacting Karen so she knows where to find it.