Royal icing, may appear to be a difficult and outdated cake decorating technique, yet it still results in some of the most elegant and splendid cake designs that exist today.
My attraction to Royal Icing
I used to stand for hours, at a local cake decorator’s shop window, transfixed with the way her skillful hands, caressed the royal icing around her cakes. I had no cake artistry skills in those days, or had any knowledge of what royal icing was, being a twenty-something year old, who was on the wrong track of life heading into the nowhere, at this time.
I thought back to when I used to day dream of decorating cakes, some day, with that same level of expertise.
Fast forward, many years into my mid-thirties: divorced; living with three kids; as a solo mum, on an income that was dependent on the government’s generosity. I could view my lost dreams again, once I got back on my feet towards independence and taught myself how to breathe once more. My dreams to become a cake artist, became a reality.
The first cake order, that I had ever made, was for a twenty-first birthday. The first icing that I took the time to learn and use, was royal icing. I believe that it was the best cake that I had ever decorated by hand. Sadly, I was too poor at the time to a have a means to capture and save a picture, but it will forever be imprinted in my mind, as being my first and ‘almost’ professional looking cake.
Today, I can honestly say that, after meany years of cake artistry, royal icing is, the queen of all frostings.
Here are some basic requirements to note before you delve into the art of mastering royal icing:
- You will need a good quality kitchen aid stand mixer to prepare your icing, and especially if you have more than one cake. I use the KitchenAid KSM7586PSR 7-Quart Pro Line Stand Mixer Sugar Pearl Silver. There are other excellent kitchen aid mixers, also designed by other brands but I prefer this one, as it is durable and the style is much more “non-fiddly”. By this I mean that the mixer can be moved up and down, so that the mixing bowl can be easily removed, unlike the usual design of twisting the mixers off (getting icing all over the place). Also, it is much cheaper than most brands, but has all the qualities required to make beautiful icings/frostings.
- You also need a set of cake spatulas and a long stainless steel ruler (to get precise and straight edging)
- Use large food grade covered bowls to store un-used icing inside a chiller/fridge.
- Once cakes are covered, they should be stored in dry, dark areas free of ants and other small pests.
- Ensure that you have a quality stainless steel set of piping equipment and reusable piping bag/s.
- Use food grade gloves – it could be a very sticky business.
- Allow yourself plenty of time to decorate your cake/s.
- Always try to use fresh ingredients to enhance the flavors and to get quality results.
- Make sure that you work promptly when covering cakes – as royal icing can harden within minutes of application.
- I suggest using turn tables for round cakes only, and to just work around square cakes one side at a time.
- Cakes must be crumbed first using, either; a layer of marzipan, or a thin layer of fondant, before being covered in royal icing.
To Egg, or Not to Egg? That is The Question?
Royal icing can be either, purchased from a store or made with your own home made recipe.
As usual, and if you have been following me in my posts this far, you will know that I prefer to make my own icings from scratch, unless, of course, there is absolutely no other option. Royal icing do not involve too many ingredients and can be whipped up ahead of time and stored in the fridge/chiller at least 3 days ahead.
Basically, there are two ways to make royal icing; with or without raw eggs. I like both, however, my choice to use one instead of the other, is purely based, on the amount of time to prepare it, before the cake is to be eaten.
If a cake is made to be eaten within a day of its creation, I often leave the decorating until the evening before, for when the temperature has cooled down, and to also ensure that egg whites are still safe to be eaten.
Always try to obtain fresh organic eggs, as this will lesson any food safety risks in your ingredients. Fresh eggs always taste so much better and has a better outcome to your icing.
When I wish to incorporate raw eggs (whites only), I use Martha Stewart’s Royal Icing Recipe, which uses basic (affordable) ingredients and is easy to follow. However, instead of water, I use lemon juice. The addition of lemon juice adds a nice balance to the overbearing sweet taste of icing sugar (pound sugar or confectioner’s sugar). People who have tasted my cakes welcome the tartness as a pleasant surprise.
Not using Eggs – The Alternative:
The second method to making Royal Icing, uses no eggs. The alternative ingredient is to use Meringue Powder – which can be bought or made ( in my opinion, the process for making meringur powder, is so time-consuming and “niggly” that I choose to just buy the stuff instead).
Technically, and the irony is: Meringue Powder is actually made from eggs, but it eliminates the use of raw eggs – It is great for those who are allergic, vegan, or have some sort of intolerance to raw eggs. Meringue Powder helps the royal icing to harden in less time and can hold its shape, in both cold and hot weather as well.
When using meringue powder, I follow the basic recipe created by Sally’s baking Addiction which is just as simple as Martha’s raw egg recipe. Again, I use lemon juice instead of water, for the same reasons that I gave with the raw egg method.
Both Royal Icing methods, can be flavoured and coloured accordingly. They can both be made ahead of time and chilled a few days before their use.
My Story – Why Lemon Juice Instead of Water?
Well, there is actually a story to why I like to use lemon juice and it is one of my many childhood memories of, now, what shall we call it? “un-witnessed crimes”. The story goes like this:
My family was invited to one of my many cousins’ one – year old birthday celebrations. I was about six years of age at the time (1978), and my aunt had left her baby girl’s lovely pink birthday cake, (that she had lovingly made), on a small hall side table, covered in thick lace.
The children were told to strictly stay out of the house and away, from the birthday cake. We were all banned to the backyard to play hide-and-seek.
Now, I had seen the cake just before my aunt had covered it and I was so intrigued by the cute little rosettes, that I couldn’t help sneaking back into the house, when the adults weren’t watching.
I started by sniffing, the delicious smell, then I thought, just one little touch wouldn’t hurt, but after a rosette broke off, I had to eat it, (to get rid of any evidence) and before long, I had eaten a big chunk of the corner, leaving a massive hole.
OMG! It was so, so delicious! – homemade chocolate cake and yummy, yummy, yummy lemony pink royal icing…mmmmm. I quickly composed myself (when I realised what will happen if i got caught), covered the cake, wiped my mouth and took off outside to continue hide-and-seek with the other kids, just as if nothing had happened.
I do not remember much of the cake being brought out later, but I do remember my aunt being furious and only caught snippets of my parents asking, who would’ve done such a terrible thing. Needless to say, I didn’t say a word, and as you do, being a child, forgot about it, growing up. But, I never forgot the taste of that glorious tangy pink royal icing, the reason why I endeavor to make my icings taste just as good as they look.
There you go, I have just admitted to a crime that I was never punished for, and hopefully that cousin of mine won’t ever read my blogs.
You may ask, so what was the purpose of this story again? The purpose is to show you, that sometimes I use a particular flavour, because I reminisce about something amazing that I had tasted in my childhood (and try to incorporate it in my cake artistry) so that my cake eaters can experience my stories, as well.
Despite this, if you prefer not to use lemon, then by all means, it is, after all, your preference that matters.
Using skills that are unique to Royal Icing
Unlike fondant, royal icing cannot and should not be rolled. Instead, it is applied by hand, using a lathering technique, a little similar to how buttercream is applied. However, royal icing is much trickier, when trying to be precise in straight and sharp edgings.
Decorating with royal icing takes a lot of patience to master, and might, at first sight, appear to be really difficult, but as you get familiar with using icing tips – you will get better and much faster at it.
Royal icing looks more elegant with the use of smaller tips. Actually the smaller the icing tip used, the more intricate the detail/designs.This is what I prefer, when piping designs straight onto my covered cakes.
Instead of a scraper, I choose to use a large and long cake spatula or stainless steel ruler (as seen in the image). It takes longer to cover a cake because you need to follow a rule of thumb; 24 hours for each covered side to dry, before the next side is to be covered in icing. A circular cake may in comparison, not be as time-consuming to cover and to dry, although the rule of thumb will still apply.
The reasons for this? So, that each layer of covering is given enough time to harden and to dry completely, before the next layer. Failure to do this, will result in your cake sagging, or losing its shape if its foundations are not dry. This also results in decorations falling off the main structure (trust me, you don’t want this happening while everyone is watching).
So in effect, a cake needs to be covered at least a few days ahead, so that you can give yourself time to get the decorations done in time. I suggest doing this, at least a week or two before you start decorating.
Mastering Such Finesse
In regards to simplicity and elegance, I rate royal icing to be the best above all the other icing techniques. Although it is outdated, It is a skill that cannot be mastered without much practice and help from more experienced cake decorators short online courses and, watching lots of other people’s cake videos and blogs. I suggest that you do the same, if you are serious about starting a cake artistry business.
I continue to up-skill myself in mastering this icing for my cake artistry, and still believe that royal icing is the queen of all frostings. It is my hope that this post will help you also, to improve your own knowledge/skills in using Royal Icing, as part of your cake artistry.
Please leave a few words below, on your thoughts about royal icing or, ask me anything that I may help you with.
See you again soon,