Royal icing can be deceptively simple. Some powdered sugar icings or glazes are made with simply powdered sugar and a little liquid, but real royal icing is a little different.

Or a lot different, depending on whom you ask. In “Christmas Cookie Swap! More Than 100 Treats to Share this Holiday Season” (Oxmoor House, $19.95), you’ll find this base royal icing recipe from that has meringue powder to get the correct consistency for decorated sugar cookies or gingerbread houses. Meringue powder is usually sold in cans in the baking aisle of the grocery store. If you don’t have meringue powder on hand, you follow Alton Brown’s recipe for a three-ingredient egg white royal icing.

Royal icing is what makes decorated sugar cookies so special. You’ll have to pipe a thin line around the outer edge of the cookie and then fill it in after the outer line has dried. Contributed by Oxmoor House

To fill in cookies like the one shown here, pipe a thin outline around the edge of the cookie and let it dry before filling the cookie in with additional icing. If you don’t let the outer line dry, your icing will spill over the edge of the cookie before it dries. A hint: If you are going to use it to decorate a gingerbread structure, decorate the panels of the house while they are lying flat so the icing doesn’t drip. Let the icing dry for an hour before you start packing them up or building your gingerbread construction.

And just a reminder: If you missed our Christmas cookie section a few weeks ago, you can find the winning recipes from our holiday cookie contest, as well as some impressively decorated cookies from local bakers and tips from Dorie Greenspan, at

Royal Icing

1 (16-oz.) package powdered sugar
3 Tbsp. meringue powder
5 to 6 Tbsp. warm water
1 tsp. light corn syrup
Food coloring paste (optional)

Combine powdered sugar, meringue powder, water and corn syrup in a large bowl. Beat at medium-low speed with an electric mixer for 5 to 7 minutes. Divide and tint with food coloring, if desired. Icing dries quickly, so keep it covered at all times. Makes 3 cups.

— From “Christmas Cookie Swap!: More Than 100 Treats to Share this Holiday Season” (Oxmoor House, $19.95)