Royal icing is an essential artist's tool for decorating Christmas desserts. Picture a table covered with traditional Christmas goodies, and you'll immediately realize how versatile it is. Royal icing is the hard smooth glaze on the cookies, the decorative piping and flowers on the frosted cake, even the mortar that holds a gingerbread house together. Here's how to easily make royal icing.
To make royal icing for decorating your own favorite Christmas desserts, sift 3 cups of confectioner's sugar into a bowl. In a separate mixer bowl, beat two egg whites with 1/2 teaspoon of extract (vanilla or almond are nice, or try lemon or even mint). Beat until very frothy, and then start adding in the sugar and 2 tsp of lemon juice, bit by bit. Keep beating until the consistency feels right for spreading or piping with a pastry bag.
Royal icing is never cooked, so if you are concerned about salmonella and the safety of your Christmas desserts, you can use meringue powder instead of the egg whites, or try the pasteurized egg white product that is poured out of a carton. The pasteurized whites may take more mixing time to achieve the right consistency.
For decorating your Christmas desserts, you may want to color your royal icing. As an opaque white base, it takes food coloring very nicely. However, as it dries, the white color itself tends to gray a little bit. For any batch you want to remain white, add a drop or two of blue coloring for a brighter look.
Royal icing will begin to dry out immediately and form a crust, so work with small batches and keep it covered with plastic wrap until you use it. You can also add 1 or 2 drops of glycerin to keep it of spreading consistency for a little longer.
When you want to use royal icing as a glaze for Christmas cookies, work with it a little on the thin side, so that it flows slightly and levels itself over the top of the cookie. When you want to pipe lines or create shapes or small sculptures for decorating your Christmas desserts, you will want a slightly thicker consistency. It is easiest to use a pastry bag to control your decorations. Complex shapes can be formed on piece of wax paper. Allow them to dry stiff and then use your remaining still-flexible royal icing as the glue to attach these creations to your masterpiece.