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.
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.
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.
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
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