Until I started experimenting with recipes for Ninecooks' holiday cookie donation project, I'd never used meringue powder. I don't think I'd ever actually made cookie icing! So I went to a local cake and candy supply store, and asked for advice.
Our cookies would be donated to family shelters and food pantries, and some of the recipients might be people with compromised immune systems. I knew that using raw egg whites would be a bad idea. Lynne, the shopkeeper, suggested meringue powder.
I'd never heard of it.
I thought it was made from tiny meringues.
(Is it obvious that I didn't really know what meringues were, either?)
Following Lynne's suggested formula, which she kindly wrote out on an index card ("Don't pay any attention to what it says on the canister," she cautioned me. "It never works!"), I whipped up my first-ever batch of royal icing, and loaded a pastry bag with a #3 tip. And I squeezed. And squeezed. And I couldn't get that icing out of the tube.
Back to the drawing board. I mixed another batch, and tossed in some water. Filled the pastry bag, and squeezed — and the icing came flying out.
Oops. Too thin.
Eventually I got the formula down pat — for my kitchen. In your kitchen, you might need more or less water, more or less confectioners' sugar, more or less meringue, depending on the weather on the day you're making the icing, the altitude of your kitchen, and other more mysterious variables (icing karma?).
A pasteurized egg product, meringue powder is a mixture of powdered egg whites, powdered sugar, arabic gum, and some preservatives and flavor enhancers, like dried vanilla. It's gluten free, safe from salmonella, and some brands are certified kosher. Meringue powder has a long shelf life (up to two years), as long as it's kept dry and not contaminated by dipping a wet or used spoon into it.
Drop In & Decorate royal icing
Makes 2-1/2 cups, enough for one batch of large cookies.
1 lb + scant 1/4 cup confectioners' sugar
5 Tbsp meringue powder
1/2 cup cool water (add more, a teaspoon at a time, if needed for desired consistency)
A few drops of paste food coloring
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or in a large bowl with a hand mixer, combine first three ingredients and mix on low speed until glossy and fluffy, 7-8 minutes. To color, place some icing in a small bowl or plastic cup, and stir in a few drops of food coloring until desired shade is reached. Royal Icing hardens quickly when exposed to air, so use immediately, or transfer to an airtight container; it will keep overnight at room temperature, or in the refrigerator for 2-3 months. Beat well before using.
*Production note: If you're doing multiple batches of cookies, you'll need more icing. An easy way to do this efficiently is to make the icing, one batch at a time, and pour into a large airtight container. Make several batches of icing. Then, using a ladle or 1/2-cup measure, place a small bit of the icing in a plastic cup. Mix in food coloring to desired shade, and fill a pastry bag. Repeat until you have all the colors you need. To keep the icing from hardening, place bags tip down in a large measuring cup that has a damp paper towel in the bottom.
Remember, place your decorated cookies on a tray and leave out overnight, uncovered, to allow the icing to harden. The next morning, package in food-safe cellophane bags or cookie tins.
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