In the early days of my cake business I avoided Royal Icing like the plague. Years and many piped cakes later I wonder why I was so scared of using it but I talk to beginners who feel the same way as I did so I thought I would write a simple guide to making and colouring it and hopefully dispel some of the worries people have.
Making Royal Icing
One of the things that put me off was the misguided belief that RI would be a complete faff and very time consuming. Let me tell you now – it is neither of these things.
You will need:
- Icing sugar (confectioners sugar)
- dried egg whites (dried albumen)
- electric stand mixer
You can buy dried egg white from most sugarcraft product suppliers and there are a few brands to choose from. The pack that this comes in should have the quantities of icing sugar, water and dried egg whites to use to make up a batch of royal icing.
- Keep in mind that these quantities are generally enough to cover a cake with royal icing so you may only need to make half the amount or even less. I generally make up a quarter of the recipe and this is plenty for the piping I want to do.
- You may also need to experiment with the quantities given. The reason I say this is because I have always bought the same dried egg white and the recipe worked fine as a quarter amount. Then, about a year ago the quantities given on the packet changed and using one quarter of each didn’t work at all so I returned to my original recipe.
Even if you have to experiment a little don’t be put off using royal icing. Just give yourself some time to play around.
As a guide here are the amounts I use. Have a go with the following but do not take my word for it! Use the amounts given on the packaging or find what works for you.
- 10g dried egg white
- 62.5 ml cold water
- 375g icing sugar
It helps if you have a 10 ml syringe as this will make it much easier to measure 62.5 mls of water. I have a friend who is a nurse so she gave me a stash of lovely sterile plastic syringes. I am sure you could get them easily online though.
- Weigh the dried egg white – I do this by folding over a piece of kitchen towel onto the scales and then measuring the powder onto this
- Measure the water and put it into the mixer bowl (this should be grease free)
- gently sprinkle the dried egg white onto the water – the powder should always be added to the water and not water to powder
- Weigh out the icing sugar
- Using the whisk attachments, whisk the egg white powder & water on high speed until the powder has dissolved. Add the icing sugar a little at a time – if you tip the whole amount in you will be engulfed in a white sugar cloud
- You will now have a cloudy, gloopy mixture
- Whisk on a medium speed to minimise the powder cloud and then speed up to mix it well in.
- You will notice that the icing now has the look meringue mix which is due to the dried egg whites
- after a few minutes whisking, remove the mixer bowl and with a spatula scrape the bottom of the mixer to ensure that everything is mixed smoothly (the whisks on my mixer do not quite reach the bottom of the bowl so clumps of unmixed ingredients can get left behind)
- Return to the mixer for a final whisk (30 seconds – 1 min)
You now have your RI. If like me you have ever used icing made just with icing sugar & water you can now see the difference between the two. Made correctly, RI is so much better than the sugar/water mix. It is stronger, has greater elasticity/flexibility, has greater opacity and a better overall appearance and is easier to control.
The other thing that worried me about RI was all the talk of peaks and terms used. Full/stiff peak, soft peak, run out etc . I had no idea what to look for when making RI.
Stiff Peak – this is used for piping details which need to hold a pattern such as shells or stars. Put a knife vertically into the RI and then pull upwards bringing the knife out. When the knife is drawn out of the RI the spear it forms should stay upright.
Soft peak – this is generally the right consistency for covering a whole cake with RI. To determine whether you have achieved soft peak do the knife test as above. If the spear droops from about halfway the RI is soft peak.
If I am piping lettering or line work I would go for something in between these two peaks. I need something which will hold its shape but if I make it stiff peak I will have white knuckles from the pressure of pushing the RI through a small piping nozzle and very stiff hands the following day. When I draw the knife out I look for the tip of the spear to droop over. I also want to ensure that the finished mix holds ripples as above in the 3rd image.
Once made your RI should be transferred to an airtight container or used in the same bowl with a damp cloth covering the top. I prefer a container as it is completely airtight.
Remember to keep your RI covered. If you leave it to sit in the bowl with no covering until you are ready to use it you will find that in a short time it forms a crust on top.
Colouring Royal Icing
Edible colours have improved greatly in recent years and it has become easier to colour royal icing without compromising it’s structure. I remember wanting to achieve shocking pink RI during my training and what I ended up with after emptying around a bottle of colour into the mixture was a shocking pink goo.
Many of the colours on the market now are more concentrated, meaning that you don’t need as much to achieve more vibrant & bold colours.
That said you should always use paste colour rather than liquid if you want a bold colour. If you want a pastel shade you could use a liquid colour as you will need very little.
Colour goes a long way in RI so add a small amount at a time. If you are using paste I would recommend adding it on the end of a cocktail stick until you reach the desired shade. If using liquid colour add it a drop (or even half a drop) a a time.
If you are lucky enough to have a Kitchen Aid or something similar you will probably find that the whisk attachments get right down to the bottom of the mixing bowl and colour gets well mixed.
If, like me you have stuck with a pretty basic stand mixer because it does the job and why buy a new one? you will need to check how well the colour has mixed in.
Take the mixing bowl of the stand and using a spatula or wooden spoon stir the RI around the bottom of the bowl. If your whisks don’t quite reach this is where you will find streaks of white RI where the colour has not mixed. If you just look at the overall colour you may think it is fine but once mixed again it may be much lighter.
I hope this basic guide to Royal Icing will give you some helpful tips on making and colouring. I will follow this up with a guide to making & using piping bags and creating effects with nozzles.