Ramblings About Different Icings (and recipes!)

8 Nov

Those of you who have followed my work for a while know that I decorate most of my cookies with what I call Meringue Powder Buttercream.  I occasionally dabble in other mediums, but I always go back to MPB.

It all started about 13 years ago. I was a full-time cake decorator at the time, and frequently visited a message board full of cake decorators (sort of like Cake Central, before there was Cake Central). Although I had done tons of cookies in the past, I wasn’t thinking “cookies” at the time, because I was so eyeball-deep in wedding cakes. There was a trend at the time to put roses and other piped flowers on the sides of cakes, and I had been getting requests for these, but people didn’t want royal icing flowers because they were too crunchy. I went to the cake decorator’s message board to see if there was any way to make buttercream flowers stay on the sides of cakes. A lady sent me a recipe for “Quick Crusting Buttercream”, that she said would work. So I started using it to make roses, pansies, and other flowers.

Here’s a cake from back in the day:

I couldn’t find a photo of one with the flowers on the sides of the cake, but you can picture it, right?

Pretty soon afterward, I got a request for some Christmas cookies (from my mom!). I had used Royal Icing a lot, but didn’t like that it dried chalky and matte. I wondered if this new “Quick-Crusting Buttercream” recipe would dry enough to use on cookies, and be able to bag them, pack them up, and ship them to my mom.  I altered it a little so it wasn’t so stiff, and gave it a whirl. It worked! And I’ve been using it ever since. Here are some cookies done with MPB:

I could post 200 or more pictures here, but you get the idea.

I love how it has a consistent sheen. It works well, comes out of the tips smooth and lovely, and it doesn’t get those pesky craters that come with other icings. But it has a problem. I get a lot of feedback from people who say it never dries enough to stack or bag. I’m pretty sure it must be a climate thing, but I haven’t figured out a fool-proof fix for it.  So I’ve played around with other icings so that I could have something else to recommend when people have trouble with MPB.

Like Corn Syrup Glaze. Cookie Crazie Pam uses it for all of her cookies, and they’re amazing! So I’ve played around with it.

It’s a great icing. I enjoy playing with it. I use it occasionally for different cookie projects. But I still end up going back to MPB. Maybe old habits die hard. Maybe I’m just used to working with it.

I’ve also tried fondant and candy clay.

Wow, those are nice pictures. I can tell Mike took them! 😀 Candy Clay and fondant are also really fun for certain projects. But I STILL always come back to MPB.

The one icing I have  tried not to touch with a 10-foot pole was royal icing. It always dried so ugly for me.  I used it last December for some winter cookies.

It’s hard to tell from the picture, but it’s not just matte. It’s chalky. That is what RI has always been for me, and why I haven’t liked it.

Until now.

I went to Cookie Camp back in September, and the recipe they used there was royal icing. And guess what? It dried shiny! I mean, not super-duper shiny, but shiny enough. Definitely not matte or chalky.

See? There’s definitely a bit of shine on those. They used a version of Antonia74 royal icing. I don’t know the original source of this recipe, but it’s been floating around the web for a long time. Do a quick google search and see how many references come up when you put in Antonia74.  There are all kinds of versions and variations of it.

So anyway, I came home and decided to give Royal Icing another chance. I made these pumpkins with it:

Look! Shiny! In fact, they were so shiny that I actually had kind of a tough time getting a good shot of them. Go figure!

So I don’t know if I’m a complete convert yet. I still love my MPB.  BUT– if you’ve tried the MPB and had trouble with it, give Royal Icing or Corn Syrup Glaze or Candy Clay a shot.  Here are all four recipes for you. Try them all and see what fits with your style.

Royal Icing

(a version of Antonia74’s recipe)

3/4 cup warm water
5 T meringue powder
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
2.25 lbs. powdered icing sugar

Put water, meringue powder, and cream of tartar into a glass or metal mixing bowl. Whisk until foamy. Gradually add powdered sugar and mix with paddle attachment until fluffy, about 2-3 minutes. Stir in any flavorings you desire. (I use 1 1/2 tsp. clear vanilla, 1/2 tsp. clear butter, and 1/4 tsp. almond emulsion)

Meringue Powder Buttercream
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 3 to 4 T. meringue powder (more for humid climates)
  • ½ cup Crisco shortening (can cut this down in humid climates)
  • 4 ½ cups powdered sugar (1 lb. 3 oz. If you have a scale)
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract (use clear vanilla if you want a pure white icing)
  • ¼ tsp. almond extract
Place half of the powdered sugar and the meringue powder in the bowl of an electric mixer. Whisk together well. Turn on mixer (use whip attachment) and, while motor is running, slowly stream in the water. Mix until everything is incorporated. Turn mixer to high speed and whip until stiff peaks form. Add flavorings and mix well. Change to paddle attachment (for stand mixer) or dough hook (for Bosch). If using a hand mixer, use the same beaters you were using before. Add remaining powdered sugar and shortening and whip for 2-3 minutes more.Note: Don’t skimp on the whipping time after adding the shortening. You really need to whip it well to prevent separation later.

Corn Syrup Glaze Icing
  • 2 lb powdered sugar
  • ½ C plus 2 T milk (10 T)
  • ½ C plus 2 T corn syrup (10 T)
  • 1 T. flavoring, any combination (I like 2 tsp. clear vanilla, ½ tsp. Almond Emulsion, and ½ tsp. clear butter flavoring, but you can get creative and try different things.)
Mix together till smooth. Divide up and color as desired.You can use this icing just the way it is for both outlining and filling in. If you’re looking for more detail, you can thicken up your outline color with a bit more powdered sugar if desired. The formula is not set in stone, feel free to experiment with different ratios of liquid to sugar to get the consistency you like the best.

Candy Clay
  • 10 oz chocolate (white, milk, dark, or colored candy melts)
  • 1/3 cup light corn syrup (like Karo, but any brand works)
Melt chocolate in double boiler or microwave at 50% power. (If using very high-quality chocolate, microwaving is NOT recommended) Once chocolate is completely melted, remove from heat and quickly stir in corn syrup all at once. Stir briskly until it stiffens up and forms a dough. Pour at once onto a sheet of plastic wrap. Wrap tightly and let sit at room temperature overnight before using. If you are in a hurry, you can refrigerate it for a couple of hours).To soften, break off small pieces of dough at a time and knead gently until it forms a soft clay. Knead in drops of food coloring if desired.Because candy clay is made from chocolate, it will soften and melt if overworked. If your clay gets too soft from overhandling, wrap it in plastic and let it sit for an hour and it will stiffen back up.
Roll out candy clay and cut with the same cookie cutters you used to cut your cookies. Place on cookies, and attach with thinned icing or piping gel.
Note: Any grade of chocolate will work, but the higher the grade, the more finicky it can be. The cocoa butter tends to want to separate out of the good stuff. You may want to practice on lower quality chocolate first to get the hang of it and then try it with the best stuff if desired.To see a video on how to make candy clay, click here.

52 Responses to “Ramblings About Different Icings (and recipes!)”

  1. Gina November 8, 2011 at 6:08 pm #

    Thanks for sharing. I just love your ideas. Mow all I need is time to play!!

  2. Pat Lisi November 8, 2011 at 6:12 pm #

    All this time I thought you primarily used the corn syrup glaze! I do like it better than merengue powder royal but it’s so much harder to control. I had no ideal you mostly used the crusting buttercream. Do you have postings about how to get it the right consistency for decorating cookies? I use 10 second rule with the glaze and royal… I so appreciate your help. Royal kinda hard…glaze kinda messy… especially for detail work. Thanks for your help!! Pat

    • Karen November 8, 2011 at 6:39 pm #

      I don’t have any posts about the buttercream consistency. I should do one! I use the same 10-second rule (actually closer to 7 or 8 ) when I thin it down for flooding. I used to use two different consistencies– one for outlining and one for filling in, but lately I’ve been using the flood consistency for pretty much everything– outlining, flooding, detail work. I just use really tiny tips (#1 PME) for the details when it’s thin like that. I hope that helps.

  3. patricia rolon November 8, 2011 at 6:14 pm #

    thank you for share w/us

  4. Georgia November 8, 2011 at 6:41 pm #

    Thank you for taking time to write this great information.

    With the MPB when I make a rose (3/5/7 petals), the rose “melts” – losing the detail. Any thoughts on what is causing the melting? The icing is so thick, it’s hard to pipe, so I don’t think it’s too thin. Temperature in my house was 70.

    Also with the MBP, could you make these hot pink flowers (the peace symbol on the cookie in the center)? http://www.snargblog.blogspot.com/ Or would you need true royal icing?

    • Karen November 8, 2011 at 8:58 pm #

      Georgia, are you using the MPB just the way I have it written here? The original recipe that I used for roses and other flowers had quite a bit more powdered sugar in it. I think a cup more per recipe. So you might want to add more pwd. sugar and see how it goes. If it’s thicker, you can definitely do those little rosebud flowers with it, but they won’t be quite as sturdy as they are made out of royal. I love that cookie on Ali’s blog! So pretty!

      • Georgia November 8, 2011 at 10:30 pm #

        Thank you, Karen. I’ll try again.

  5. Anne S. November 8, 2011 at 7:06 pm #

    Thanks for sharing! I use a version of royal icing, but I do not beat it as long! I might try your MPB this weekend on some cookies!

  6. The Partiologist November 8, 2011 at 7:09 pm #

    I love your ramblings – and your recipes! I still love and use the meringue buttercream – just like you taught me!!
    And I LOVE your cookies!

    • Karen November 8, 2011 at 8:54 pm #

      Thanks Kim! You were such a natural at the whole flooding thing! I couldn’t believe what you came up with right out of the gate. 🙂 I love your cookies, too!

  7. Carrie Kyroauc November 8, 2011 at 7:24 pm #

    Karen, I was reading the recipe on how to make the RI you posted. This is what you wrote and now I am confused which is easy to do…..”Put water, meringue powder, and royal icing into a glass or metal mixing bowl. Whisk until foamy. Gradually add powdered sugar and mix with paddle attachment until fluffy, about 2-3 minutes.” Can I safely assume that you meant to add the cream of tartar with the water and meringue powder and whisk until foamy?
    I love your BPM recipe and use it ALL the time. I have use the corn syrup recipe but it isn’t my favorite. I am looking forward to trying the candy clay!
    Thanks for your blog! I always look forward to your ideas and postings. I just bought the rectangles and triangle cutters and look forward to being creative with them.

    • Karen November 8, 2011 at 8:52 pm #

      Ha ha… yes. I’m tired today, Can you tell?? I’ll fix that right now! Can’t wait to see what you do with the rectangles and triangles. Thanks Carrie!

  8. ForwardFoodie November 8, 2011 at 7:36 pm #

    Thanks for these great recipes. I always have such a battle when I try to make icing with a nice consistency that doesn’t taste too sugary. Your cookies are lovely- can’t wait to try out these new icing recipes!

  9. Emily November 8, 2011 at 9:05 pm #

    This is the comment where I tell you you are amazing and I could NEVER do that. 🙂 Those flowers are really cool and I love the shinier frostings. I also really like how your frostings taste and I’m pretty much a frosting snob. Every frosting I’ve made with powdered sugar tastes like powdered sugar and staleness.

  10. Georgia November 8, 2011 at 10:31 pm #

    Your cake from “back in the day” is gorgeous. I love buttercream only cakes.

  11. sue November 9, 2011 at 6:48 am #

    I may have to try that:) I use the glaze, but I am not the type to measure so I have to make sure there is not too much corn syrup of I will never get a good set, too soft. But oh the taste is so good!

  12. fruitloopgirl November 9, 2011 at 8:53 am #

    Thanks for sharing. I always use the corn syrup glaze, but I would love to try your MPB. I don’t like the way the royal icing tastes, and to me, cookies are still about taste!

  13. Samantha Powell November 9, 2011 at 8:59 am #

    Your icing is so shiny! I’ll have to give the Antonia74 a try. I recently switched to a different formula for RI and it’s much harder than my previous recipe. But it looks much nicer.
    Your cookies and cakes are all gorgeous!
    Thanks for sharing your recipes Karen!

  14. Laura November 9, 2011 at 9:20 am #

    Thank you for the post. Very informative. I think I will give all of these recipes a shot!

  15. Amanda at The Martha Initiative November 9, 2011 at 9:24 am #

    I’ve been using your MPB recipe from way back when you only had a blog and not a store–I think it’s been in my recipe book for 8+ years now, and it is the only thing I use when frosting my cookies. It dries shiny but not super hard–it’s perfect! In fact, I have a blog post going up tomorrow (Nov. 10) about cookies made from cutters bought from your store, and I mention MPB. Thanks, Karen!

    • Karen November 10, 2011 at 9:33 pm #

      I love it when I hear from people who have known me from way back! 🙂 Thanks so much for sticking with me all these years! 😀 I need to go check out your post!

  16. Jenn J November 9, 2011 at 9:48 am #

    Sorry…this may be a silly question, but you add the vanilla, the clear butter, and the almond all in the same icing? I just want to make sure before I ruin a batch 🙂 Thanks for all the great posts!!

    • Karen November 10, 2011 at 9:34 pm #

      Yep, I add all three to the same batch. But there’s really no set formula. You can definitely play around with the flavorings. Just about any flavorings are good!

  17. Christine November 9, 2011 at 9:48 am #

    Thanks for sharing Karen! I want to try the corn syrup glaze, been looking at getting some bottles for that–I use a RI recipe, but I always add a bit of corn syrup to it–keeps it from flaking and gives it a nice sheen when dry. I also don’t mix it as much as the original recipe called for!

  18. Cristin (Pinkie) of Cristin's Cookies November 9, 2011 at 10:48 am #

    Thanks for the great post Karen! You’re always such a wealth of information! I’m a glaze gal and always have been although I don’t add Corn Syrup just because I never saw the point of it. I’ll probably give it a try when time permits just to check it out. So of all these recipes, which one did you prefer best for taste? Thanks again for your great posts! Cristin (Pinkie) of Cristin’s Cookies

    • Karen November 10, 2011 at 9:36 pm #

      I really prefer MPB for both taste and workability. Also, I don’t think I mentioned in the post, but you can substitute butter for the shortening. Sometimes it can cause separation if you thin it down for flooding, which is why I recommend Crisco (it’s a little more dependable). But you can experiment with that.

  19. Chris November 9, 2011 at 10:56 am #

    Thanks for sharing this. I’ve never cared for the taste of RI, so it’s nice to have some alternatives to play with. I have a friend who does a lot of cake decorating and has shared with me her own recipe which is very similar to your MPB – it tastes so much better than RI!

  20. Christie November 9, 2011 at 12:52 pm #

    Thanks for sharing the recipes! I think I’ll do some practice cookies tomorrow and play with different recipes. I always appreciate your ideas; have a good one!

    • Karen November 10, 2011 at 9:36 pm #

      You’ll have to let me know what you end up trying, and what you like. 🙂

  21. Tatyana November 9, 2011 at 3:28 pm #

    Karen, what recipe taste the best?

    • Karen November 10, 2011 at 9:37 pm #

      I like the Meringue Powder Buttercream the best.

  22. paddle attachment November 12, 2011 at 11:07 pm #

    Karen – This was a great, informative post! Thanks so much for sharing it. I can’t wait to get beyond the bowl of RI to try some of these! Kristina

  23. Laura Scott November 14, 2011 at 2:04 pm #

    the first icing i tried was ur MPB and was in love…but everyone always raves about royal so for a few months I did use royal…i just never liked how they dried…..I had to go back…..Not only does the taste of the MPB totally win, but so do the colors……they just don’t dry as solid (hard) like the royal..but looks and taste win any day!!!!

  24. Ewa November 17, 2011 at 1:51 pm #

    Karen what flavoring to use on ginger cookies?

  25. sheri December 10, 2011 at 6:45 pm #

    Hi Karen!
    I’ve used your MPB for about a year now and I love the taste and how easy it is to work with. Recently though I’ve been having problems. In the last two batches that I made I had separation. The first time around I figured I might have not beat the frosting for long enough (like mentioned in your recipe video). However, the second time around I made sure that I beat the frosting for 3+ min (i have a kitchenaid mixer) just to make sure, but I had the same problem 😦 Any ideas or suggestions? Also may I ask what type of vegetable shortening you use? Thanks so much!

  26. Annette February 24, 2012 at 5:52 pm #

    Karen, I have two questions for you. What brand of meringue powder do you use, and what brand of shortening do you use? I have cookies to make up for an event and I really appreciate your advice. Thank you in advance!

    • Karen March 14, 2012 at 7:34 am #

      Annette I’m sorry it took so long for me to reply. I’ve been avoiding my own blog. LOL. I use CK Products meringue powder, and Crisco shortening. I’ve had really good luck with both of those. If you can get your hands on Henry and Henry meringue powder, it’s the best, but so far I’ve only seen it available in gigantic boxes through wholesale suppliers. I’m working on getting it in smaller containers for retail.

  27. Laura March 14, 2012 at 6:19 am #

    Love the cookies, except for one thing.,.. I think your depiction of Aboriginal people is pretty outdated by this point. Cookies are meant to show love- not stereotypes.

    • Georgia March 14, 2012 at 7:06 am #

      Seriously???? On a cookie blog?

    • Karen March 14, 2012 at 7:31 am #

      I’m sorry Laura, I’m not really sure what you’re talking about. Can you elaborate?

  28. Stacy March 29, 2012 at 2:49 pm #

    I’ve been using your corn syrup icing recipe to decorate my sugar cookies & I’m noticing that the day after glazing my sugar cookies, some of them begin to spot (white spots) and they continue to leave blotchy white spots the next day too. Does anyone know why this happens and what I can do to prevent it from happening? I’ve even used a dehumidifier & turned on the AC to rule out if it’s a weather related problem & I haven’t noticed any difference. PLEASE HELP!

    I’ve even played around w/substituting milk for water in the recipe & it still happens 😦

    • Julie June 6, 2012 at 10:54 pm #

      I’ve had the spotting happen as well, and I read somewhere to add Bright White food coloring to it, and it did the trick! Even if you’re going to color it another color, add the Bright White first.

      • Stacy June 6, 2012 at 11:12 pm #

        Hi Julie,

        I’ve added the bright white gel color & the dreaded blotches still happen occasionally 😥 I’ve even used a dehumidifier & keep the AC on to keep the temperature constant too. I think I’ve tried everything under the sun & still, the blotches but I’ve noticed it’s every once in a while & it happens more so w/certain colors. I just wish that there was a fool proof solution or a reason as to why this happens. 😦

  29. Tammy April 2, 2012 at 7:31 pm #

    Love your blog and the glaze recipe!

  30. Kellylly October 11, 2012 at 10:20 am #

    I know I’m late to this post, but…so the shiny royal icing otherwise acts like royal icing? When I see shiny I always think “a bit soft” which is good on a cookie, but I’m thinking about making some royal icing decorations for Halloween cupcakes. Does it dry hard enough for that?

  31. Gilda April 9, 2013 at 9:41 pm #

    Can you use powdered egg whites instead of meringue powder? I found it better tasting with some lime juice added! I want to try your MPB! It sounds great!! You are GREAT!!!

  32. Lorrie April 22, 2013 at 8:26 am #

    I LOVE your work!!

  33. Lexy August 14, 2013 at 7:42 pm #

    I can’t wait to try MPB…..sounds like the answer I’m looking for. Could you please share the rule for left-over icing? Refrigerate or not, re-whip or just stir, how long it lasts in a covered bowl? Any other suggestions.

  34. Luane February 10, 2015 at 5:54 pm #

    Hi Karen,

    I have a questions on the MPB…I think that what you called it…HA. Does it get stiff like royal icing? If I were to package cookies and stack them would the icing break.

  35. Diann Edwards March 21, 2016 at 7:08 am #

    Love your blog – do you know if I can make your Meringue Powder Buttercream icing the day before I frost the cookies?

  36. Michaela September 4, 2016 at 2:55 pm #

    How do you decide which type of icing you want to use out of those.

  37. Sheree June 27, 2017 at 10:46 am #

    New to the Meringue butter cream… any tutorials on that? After whipping do you water down to get to flood consistency then?

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