As the holidays approached, a wave of festive dessert recipes followed. I  found myself especially mesmerized by the cookie decorating videos using royal icing on Instagram. So this year when I baked my Christmas cookies, I decided to experiment a little.

As anyone who has attempted a Pinterest masterpiece and has failed can attest to — it’s not as easy as it looks. However, I am pleased to report that it did work.

With royal icing, there are two options for the main ingredient: egg whites or meringue powder. I chose to go the meringue powder route.

Royal Icing

  • Prep Time:10 mins
  • Cook Time:0
  • Total Time:10 mins
  • Servings:4
  • Easy


  • 4 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 3 tablespoons meringue powder
  • Approximately 1 teaspoon vanilla extract – I don’t measure and I add to taste
  • cup warm water
soup, milk, egg, cream
Ashley Hunter
  • Step 1

    Beat all ingredients together on medium until the mixture forms stiff and glossy peaks

    yogurt, cream
    Ashley Hunter

 I began with ½ cup of warm water, beat the mixture together, and scooped about 1 cup of the icing into a frosting bag. Royal icing hardens very quickly when exposed to air, so I stored the remaining icing in an airtight container.

The first cookie did not turn out well. The icing was too thick and would not spread and smooth as it should. So, I returned the mixture to the mixing bowl, added another ¼ cup of warm water, and began the process again. This resulted in the perfect consistency. I added green food coloring to a small portion of the batch to decorate a Christmas tree.

To begin icing, I piped an outline around the edge of the cookie. I then roughly filled in the center. To finish the base layer, I lightly shook the cookie and used a toothpick to help smooth out the holes. Professionals use scribe tools, but a toothpick worked just fine for my purposes. I then let the initial layer dry while I mixed small batches of red and gold icing.

ginger, cookie, gingerbread
Ashley Hunter

The green had hardened enough so that when I began decorating the tree, the fresh icing rested on top rather than sinking in. I added a few ornaments and sprinkles to finish off the tree. One cookie done.

cake, cookie, gingerbread
Ashley Hunter

As a novice cookie decorator, it was a relatively slow process to complete just one cookie. Since I had baked six dozen, I decided to try a different technique to expedite the process. I dipped a cookie into the top of the bowl of icing. This resulted in a thicker coat, but it did smooth out and harden.

egg, cake, chocolate
Ashley Hunter

This became my test cookie for another decorating technique I often see in Instagram videos. While the base layer was still wet, I piped alternating stripes of red and green. I then dragged my toothpick perpendicularly through the stripes in alternating directions. This results in a pattern similar to herringbone. While I roughly got the intended pattern, mine was quite messy, most likely as a result of a way too thick base layer.

gingerbread, cake, cookie

I decorated a couple more cookies, adding sprinkles and edible pearls, but overall it was a slow process. Similar to my experiment with spherification, it required patience I did not have. I ended up with four successfully iced cookies, although they were nowhere near as beautiful as the ones featured in the Instagram videos. 

chocolate, butter, gingerbread, cookie
Ashley Hunter