Sunday, December 23, 2012

Royal Icing for Decorating Cookies

Royal Icing has been around for a very long time. Anyone who has done any cake decorating knows about Royal Icing. Learning to make lovely roses and leaves for example, is a skill taught very early on. Because it is made with egg whites, it may seem daunting to someone just starting out. Egg whites that need to be whipped until light and fluffy can be a disaster if all utensils are not perfectly grease free.  Even using a flavoring agent that contains any oil will ruin the fluffy texture.

Follow some simple rules.

Following some simple rules, and following the recipe to the letter, will yield a wonderful medium that may also be used to decorate cookies. Understanding the use of egg whites in this icing will stand anyone in good stead. Egg whites need all utensils grease free.  There is no way around this, if the goal is whipping them to a glorious height and texture. For this reason, using a glass or metal bowl is essential. Do not attempt to whip the egg whites in a plastic bowl because no matter how clean, plastic will always hold some residual oils. Adding in any ingredients that are not completely oil free will cause the egg whites to deflate. Always use extracts of high quality and alcohol based. Do not attempt to use orange oil as a flavoring, or the result will be a soggy mess. Be extra careful when separating the eggs, so as not to get any yolk into the whites.

Next step, choose the recipe.

Once all your utensils are squeaky clean, you can choose which recipe to follow. The old tried and true recipe uses 3 egg whites. The egg whites are combined with 4 cups of sifted confectioners’ sugar, and a half teaspoon of cream of tartar, to help the egg whites hold shape. With a mixer, beat the ingredients until combined and then beat on medium high speed for 7 to 10 minutes or until very stiff. Vanilla or other extract for flavoring is not essential, though it is nice. Remember to keep the bowl covered with a damp cloth when not in use or the icing will easily form a crust and be difficult to use.
There is another method for making Royal Icing, using 3 tablespoons of Wilton Meringue Powder in place of the egg whites, with 4 cups of sifted confectioners’ sugar and 5 to 6 tablespoons warm water. These are combined in the bowl of a mixer and beaten for 7 to 10 minutes or until very stiff. If too stiff, add in the extra tablespoon of water. The same rule applies for keeping covered with a damp cloth. Liquid food coloring may be added to tint the icing, as needed. Remember, being liquid, it will thin the icing a bit, so be judicious. Paste colorings may contain glycerin, and could deflate the icing, so either avoid, or check labels.

If making Royal Icing but not all of it is needed in one sitting, it may be covered tightly and kept for up to a week. Once reopened, if the consistency is spongy, you may need to beat it again to bring back the original texture.

How to use Royal Icing.

Now that you have the icing made, how to use it? The best way to use the icing is in a piping bag, using an icing tip. If you use a reusable icing bag, be sure it has never been used for other icings or enough grease residue may remain behind to ruin the icing. There are plenty of disposable icing bags available these days, making this task easier. If using disposable bags, you could use icing tips, or it is possible to simply snip a tiny opening at the tip and fill the bag.  Once you have filled the bag, grip it closed just above the icing level, taking it just at the base of thumb and first finger.  Hold the bag tightly and twist it, creating pressure on the contents. Lower the fingers around the bag, and squeeze to extrude icing for decorating. Release pressure to stop the flow. I realize that this may sound complex if one has not done it before, but once you get the feel of it, it will work perfectly.

There are many types of icing decorating tubes and things available these days that will take the difficulty out of those last instructions. If you prefer one of the gadgets on the market, do what works best for you.

The best way to decorate cookies is simply outlining them, or drawing designs. If the cookies are in a shape, such as a Christmas tree, or a bunny, for example, the tree can be outlined and then using cris-crossed lines, simulate a garland. The bunny may have ears and paws outlined and an eye added. Use imagination. For finer detail, be sure your bag or tube has a very small hole, so the icing comes out very finely. For simple and quick outlining, a slightly larger opening will do just fine.

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website, on Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. I am also on a spiritual journey and hope you will join me at my new blog, An Eagle Flies.