Less Sweet Royal Icing
Here’s a little trick that can make your Holiday decorating more palatable: take down the sweetness of your royal icing. That’s right, we’re going to make a less sweet royal icing. There’s no getting around it, royal icing is GREAT for outlining cut-outs, holding gingerbread houses upright, and flooding sugar cookies (it dries so beautifully!). But it is sweet. I mean SWEET. And that’s by nature. It’s just sugar and egg whites beaten together. And while we can’t do too much to alter that basic recipe (let’s face it, two-ingredient recipes are hard to mess with!) we can make some small tweaks to the standard mix to help out our tongues.
What Do You Mean I Can Take Down The Sugar In Royal Icing?
Sort of by accident I discovered that you can knock down the sugar somewhere between 10-15% of a standard royal icing ratio and still get the stuff to work beautifully. I discovered this glorious technique for less sweet royal icing sort of by accident when I converted a standard recipe incorrectly.
I was half way through the process of glueing the walls of my gingerbread house together when I realized that I had converted cups of confectioner’s sugar into grams of confectioner’s sugar incorrectly. Maybe this doesn’t happen to you, but I find that I make mistakes ALL THE TIME. Big ones, small ones… it’s a miracle I’ve made it to this point in life. I remember — years ago — calling my mother after I had made a professional mistake on a show I was working on and asking her how old I needed to be before I stopped making mistakes. My mom very calmly replied: “I wonder the same thing about myself, honey.” ❤️
I sort of sat there frozen for a second looking at my piping back and my gingerbread house. I had put a LOT of free-time-pandemic-work into my gingerbread house and I was suddenly mortified that my bad math skills were going to result in a royal icing that wasn’t strong enough to hold my the walls of my gingerbread house upright. After all, royal icing is usually a super-sweet sugar-glue. What was going to happen now that I had made a less sugary, less sweet royal icing?
Well, nothing. Actually, the results were great. So good that I started thinking about what else I could do to tame that sugar kick.
Sugar, Eggs, Salt, Beat
A pinch of salt will trick your tongue into thinking you’ve reduced the sugar content of your royal icing even more. This one is just a trick for your tongue, as we are literally doing nothing to further reduce the sugar content (you can’t take it down any more or else the icing will become too fluid to set properly). But as tricks go it’s a successful one. Just an 8th of a teaspoon of table salt chucked into the mix is enough to negate the rest of the biting sweetness that usually accompanies royal icing.
From there all you have to do is drop everything into the bowl of a stand mixer and let the machine do the work. You can, of course, make royal icing with a handheld mixer, too. And if you’re really into doing things the old fashioned way, you could even beat it by hand. I will be using my Kitchen Aid. I call this process: Sugar, eggs, salt, beat.
Tag me Instagram @jamandbreadofficial (I love seeing when other people make one of my recipes!) and please consider leaving me a review below if you make my royal icing. I sincerely hope you love it, and that you are ON BOARD with making my less sweet royal icing a staple of your baking. For even more recipe ideas you can follow me on Pinterest!
Less Sweet Royal Icing
- Prep Time: 5 minutes
- Cook Time: 5 minutes
- Total Time: 10 minutes
- Yield: Enough icing to frost a batch of Christmas cookies
- Category: Dessert
- Method: Whisked
- Cuisine: British
Here’s quick and easy recipe that will allow you make a less sweet royal icing which will — maybe unfortunately — allow you to eat way more of it.
If you prefer not to use raw eggs in your less sweet royal icing you can substitute the two egg whites with 4 teaspoon (12 grams) of meringue powder and 1/4 cup (60 milliliters) of water. Works every time.
- 2 egg whites from two large eggs (60 grams)
- 2 1/2 cups + 2 tablespoons confectioner’s sugar (300 grams)
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- Place your confectioner’s sugar and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer and carefully stir to distribute the salt. Fair warning: You will likely get a sugar cloud in your kitchen after doing this.
- Add in your egg whites and vanilla extract and — using the whisk attachment — slowly start to beat the icing. Again, you’re headed for a sugar-cloud here. You can prevent this by wrapping a damp kitchen towel over the top of the bowl and keeping it there for about a minute until most of the sugar has dissolved into the liquid. As the sugar incorporates increase the speed of the mixer, stopping it to scrape down the sides of the bowl once.
- Mix on medium-high for about 5 minutes or until the icing is super shiny and forms gorgeous, floppy, soft peaks.
- Use immediately, always keeping the bowl covered with your damp kitchen towel.
My Less Sweet Royal Icing keeps remarkably well for several days at room temperature. If you have any extra scrape it into a storage container and cover it with a piece of plastic wrap, making sure the plastic touches the surface of the icing so that it doesn’t dry out. There is no need to refrigerate the icing when you are storing it this way. If you have stored if for more than a day plan on spending a few minutes re-whipping it before using it.
Keywords: royal icing, frosting, icing, less sweet royal icing, less sweet royal icing recipe
I have now made this with egg whites and without. Both were a success. This is a no-fail recipe and the best one I’ve ever made and eaten. Tysvm.
I’m so glad that my recipe worked for you. And thank you for your very kind feedback, too! ~ Matthew
If you’re using meringue powder instead, do you mix it with the water first and then mix it in?
Hi Lee — there’s no need to “pre-mix” the meringue powder and the water. Put all your ingredients in the bowl at the same time, and mix away. Happy baking!
Hi Matthew, I’m planning to bake some ABC cookies with my nephew. But I don’t like icing that’s too hard and can break my teeth. Please tell me this is what I’m looking for because I love the idea of eating a less sweet icing on my already sweet sugar cookies.
Thanks in advance,
Hi Isabel —
I’m sorry for replying slowly to your question. As it’s written, my less sweet royal icing will dry quite hard. But if you are interested in outlining the cookies and then “flooding” them with icing you could do this by thinning my recipe out with a tablespoon or two of milk. To do this, I would make one batch of icing and separate it into two bowls (1/3rd the recipe in one, 2/3rds the recipe in the other). Thin the larger bowl with 1 or 2 tablespoons of milk. Fill a pastry bag with the smaller bowl of icing and pipe a border around the cookie, then “flood” the cookie with the thinned icing. The milk will help keep the icing nice and soft for you. Please let me know if you have any more questions!