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Tutorial: Making Royal Icing Decorations

I consistently receive emails about how to create cake decorations out of royal icing.  These fun decorations make great cupcake toppers as well as centerpieces on cakes.  Are they time consuming?  Sometimes.  Are they awesome?  Heck yeah! 🙂  But first of all…are they easy?  They sure are…once you know the basics!

Here’s what you’ll need:

Royal Icing + icing colors if you wish
– Image to copy
– Large cutting board or sheet pan
– Wax Paper & Masking Tape
– Piping bags & tips
– Food writing markers if needed

Today I’m going to walk through the steps on how I made the royal icing horses for my daughter’s cupcakes this week (and a few years ago).  So here’s what you do…

Get your image. You need to find the image you want to recreate.  I’ve done various things over the years from guitars to large custom logos (for that one I found a Harley logo and changed the letters).  Google is your friend! 🙂  For these horses, I googled horse head and then clicked on Images to do an image search.  Once you find what you want to replicate, resize it if needed and print it out once or multiple times if needed.  For these horses I put 1 dozen on a page.

Prep your work area. Take your image and tape it onto a large cutting board or sheet pan.  Then take wax paper and put it over the top and tape it down nice and flat (don’t let it bubble up at all).  You can see pics of how I did this below.

Get your icing ready. You can color your icing as needed.  For my icing I only needed brown and black.  Since the icing recipe starts out with stiff icing, I put a little white aside (I always do just in case 😉  ) and colored the rest brown, separated out a little brown and colored that black.  Here’s a pic of stiff icing – you can see it really clings to the spoon and doesn’t flop over:

Load up your bags  – and go! We’re going to start with the outline of the horses head.  So for this project I loaded up my piping bag with a Tip 2 and my stiff, brown icing.

We’re going to start by piping to trace the border of the horse’s head.

Once you have them all traced, let them sit for a couple minutes to let the border dry out.  If you have a bunch to trace, the first ones will probably be “set” by the time you finish outlining.  Here you can also see how I prepped my work surface.  All done tracing!

Now we’re going to thin out our brown icing to flood fill them in.  Basically we are going to add water – little by little – to our stiff icing to make it runnier.  Then we will be able to fill in the horse heads and have them be one solid, smooth surface.

I thin my icing by adding a few drops of water at a time and then stirring.  To test if your icing is thin enough, use your spoon to drizzle a stream of icing on the surface of the bowl of icing.  Then count to 10 as the icing sinks back into the rest.  If the icing sinks back in to create a nice, flat surface in the count of 10, its ready to go.  If it doesn’t go back in, add a touch more water and try again.  If it goes in by the count of 3 or 4 – its too thin and you should add some sifted powdered sugar to thicken it up.  The problem when it is too thin is that it will often leak out of your piping bag like crazy.  Plus it will take longer to harden up.  Here is how I drizzle it on the surface.  You can see the difference from the stiff icing pic above:

Now its time to get ready to flood fill.  Fill a new piping bag with a Tip 3 with the thin royal icing in the color you are filling in with.  For me it is the thin brown.

To flood fill, we are going to start at the edges and pipe a border of sorts inside our thick icing.  Have a tooth pick handy to push the icing into small spaces (like the ears in the case of my horse).

Once you have the outline done, add more icing to the middle – but don’t add too much!  You can kind of push the icing around with your icing tip to move it into place.  You don’t want to add so much that it overflows your border you made.

All horses filled in!

Drying time! Now you have to sit back and wait…for a day! 🙂  You want these horses to be good and dry before you add any other decoration to them.  So set them aside and let them dry out for 24 hrs at least.

Decorating time! So after your images have been sitting for a day, its time to decorate.  For my horses, I accented them with a black main using royal icing and then eyes, nose and mouth using my black food writing marker.

For the mane I loaded my stiff/thick black royal icing into a piping bag with a tip 2 and piped on the mane.

And then I finished by using my food marker to draw on eyes, nose and mouth.  Alternatively you can pipe these on.  Its really up to you what floats your boat 🙂  Different options give different looks and take different amounts of skill and time.

After the piped decorations are dried well (give it a few hrs at least), they are ready to remove from the waxed paper.  Remove the tape holding the wax paper down.    You can then put your hand under the first horse head and support it as you pull the wax paper down/away.  It should start to separate from the paper.  You can then use an icing spatula to slide under it to loosen it the rest of the way.  Be careful!  These are fragile.  I always make a few extra just in case.

And then you’re done!  And I think the end result is worth it…

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14 thoughts on “Tutorial: Making Royal Icing Decorations”

  1. Hi.

    Pleeeeeaaaase help me…
    I want a recipe for icing (the one that dry and get hard).
    I want to make flowers to decorate the cake.

    I found one with one egg white, 170g icing sugar and a few drops of glacical acetic acid. Is that right?

    Thank you*

    1. If you go up to the beginning of this article, and click on the highlighted ‘royal icing’ word in the section saying “what you’ll need:” then it will take you to the recipe.

  2. These little horse decorations are absolutely adorable and SO easy to make! I’ve decided to make a whole bunch for the kids at our riding school’s end-of-year function, I’ll be sure to share this wonderful website with all the mommies!

  3. Hellow,

    I tried to do work wid this icing on wax paper n wen it was all dried, i tried to get them off frm the wax paper it was breaking it dint came out wid solod pieces. Plz help me in this

  4. Iqra –

    If you experiencing breakage, it is likely that: 1) the decorations weren’t thoroughly dry yet (if its humid, give them a longer dry time) … 2) you either bent the decorations too much as you tried to peel of the waxed paper or 3) tried to remove them too quickly. Its a gentle, easy process. Though MOST times I have something break its because I tried to take them off too SOON(they were not fully dried). This goes especially for large pieces. give them ample time to dry. If you can, look at the underside of the waxed paper (back of your royal icing piece) and see if it looks dark/wet or more white/dry looking. You’ll now what I mean when you look at it. If it looks dark and wet still, give it more time. I always err on the side of MORE time to dry. 🙂

  5. I tried this in parchment paper cause didn’t have any wax paper. Left sitting overnight but it never fully dried. Did I not leave long enough or does it just not work on parchment paper.

  6. This is wonderful!! I used your technique to make little chompies for a Skylanders cake. This really opens up a new skill for my cakes!
    Thank you!

  7. Tanya – Mine were about 1.5-2″ tall. I make one big page of the image in my word processing document and then print the whole page worth.

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