Royal Icing Recipe
5 TBS meringue powder - in South Africa it's called Actiwhite; find it at a baking supply shop, OR 4 large egg whites.
3/4 cup warm water - omit if using egg whites instead of meringue powder.
1tsp Cream of Tartar
1kg sifted icing sugar.
This makes enough icing to cover 60-80 cookies, depending on their size.
You can also halve or double the recipe. But RI freezes well, so if you are not going to use it all, freeze the rest until you need it.
Because this is Royal Icing, egg white based - just like making meringue - you have to make sure all your equipment is grease-free. So give it a wipe with a paper towel and lemon juice before you get started.
In the bowl of your electric mixer, use a hand whisk to mix the meringue powder and water together, then add the cream of tartar and briefly whisk again.
Then, add all the sifted icing sugar to the mixing bowl and mix at low speed for 10minutes, using the paddle attachment, not the whisk.
Don't mix for longer than 10 minutes, because then the RI will be too aerated, and instead of setting hard on the cookie, it will be soft and powdery.
I usually scrape down the sides of the bowl halfway through the mixing time.
And add vanilla extract for flavor (I use an extract from Vanilla Girl, so it's just a few drops, and doesn't affect the colour of the icing).
The final mixed product is stiff. Too stiff for most piping.
Decant it into different containers to colour and water down. I use gel colour for the most part, sometimes powdered food colouring, and never the supermarket variety liquid food colours!
Water it down teaspoon by teaspoon. It's easy to add too much water, and then it takes a lot of icing sugar to get it back to the stiffer consistency that you wanted.
I usually add a little water first, and then a few drops of gel colour.
The consistency that you are aiming for depends on what you want to achieve.
Personally, I like the way that Marion - from Sweetopia - uses her RI. She uses the same consistency to outline and flood her cookies: 10-15sec icing: meaning that if you take a clean knife, and draw it through the icing, it takes 10-15 seconds for the furrow to close over and fade away. This consistency creates a nice full surface, and is great for wet-on-wet work.
Because 15sec icing spreads a bit, for finer detailed work I use firmer icing: "soft-peak" icing (the icing peak collapses over when lifted up).
Make sure that your icing is always covered - either with a damp cloth, or in a lidded container. RI dries out very quickly when exposed to air...except when it is on a cookie! I usually run a damp finger around the edge of the container before I put the lid on, just to clear up the icing clinging to the walls of the container, so that it doesn't crust and land up flaking into the icing below it.
And keep the tips of your icing bags in bit of damp paper towel in the bottom of a glass.
The feathering on the butterflies wings was done using 10sec icing wet-on-wet techniques, with an Ateco 2 nozzle.
Now is a great time to be working with Royal Icing - we don't have Summer humidity issues playing havoc with it!
So, just go crazy and experiment. If it doesn't look great, just eat it!