Let's talk Royal Icing. I like making ALL of my flowers (and any other make ahead decorations, for that matter) from royal icing. I like working with the stuff. I like how it's consistently cooperative. I like that I can make things ahead of time, let them dry, and place rock hard candies on a cake. And I like that if I have extras, I can keep them for up to a year.
However, I do not like eating royal icing unless it's on gingerbread cookies. Royal icing and gingerbread is a delicious combination. But at the same time, when it comes to flower making, I could make flowers from buttercream - except that I'm equally turned off by eating a flower made of all-shortening buttercream (ick!). And I always remind myself that some people really like royal icing flowers (some say they taste like candy). So with that in mind, if given the choice, I like to make decorations (especially flowers) with royal icing.
This post is a little biased toward flower making since, as you can see, I made some roses from royal icing. But other than pictures and this rose making tutorial, I will stray from discussing roses and focus specifically on royal icing and how to use it. I would just like to quickly note that whatever you can make with buttercream, you can make with royal icing.
Tips for using Royal Icing:
1) The consistency of the icing is important. Getting the right consistency is not anything tricky or scientific. Want a stiffer consistency? Add more sugar. Want it to be thinner? Add water - but watch out! It doesn't take a lot of water to thin down royal icing.
2) Runny consistency icing can eventually become your best friend. To be sure that your royal icing is runny, but not too runny or not runny enough - when stirring in water, lift your icing spatula (or spoon if that's what your using) and let the icing fall off the end into the container. Watch and count how long it takes for the icing to melt back together and look perfectly smooth. This should take about 10 seconds. If it doesn't become perfectly smooth without you having to shake the container it's in, add a few more drops of water and test again. If it's too runny it can be hard to control, so be careful to add water just a little bit at a time.
3) The kind of food coloring you use can make or break your icing. Since royal icing is nothing but egg whites, sugar, water, and maybe some flavoring - you don't want to add anything into the mix that is oil or fat based. Those little food colorings that you get at the grocery stores: just step away. Use a glycerine based food coloring. Wilton has a full line and now they sell at Wal-mart for about 50 cents less than Michaels. There area also other brands that can be purchased at specialty cake stores. I haven't tried these yet, but I will eventually.
4) Adding a lot of coloring will thin down your icing. I learned this when making those beautiful red roses. I ended up using two of the 1 ounce sized jars of red coloring for half a batch of royal icing. Didn't even occur to me that, hey - this might thin down my icing. Needless to say, I had to add another 1/2 cup of sugar to get my icing back to stiff consistency.
5) Royal icing dries out quickly. When working with in a bowl, make sure to place a tight fitting lid over the top when you're not working with it. If piping, have a damp paper or dish towel to place the tip of the piping bag to keep the tip from drying. I also keep some toothpicks handy because even though I might be working with a bag of icing for 15 minutes straight doesn't mean that it might not clog up on me.
6) Flavor your royal icing! But make sure that whatever you put into it is not oil or fat based. I recommend anything that's alcohol based - like an extract for example. The recipe I will give you below calls for a little bit of lemon juice, but one of these days I'm going to remember to pick up some lemon extract and try that instead.
7) Make your royal icing in a very clean bowl with very clean attachments. When I took those cake decorating classes, the teacher warned us: DO NOT USE A BOWL THAT HAS ANY BUTTERCREAM RESIDUE! Basically, make sure it's really, really clean. She warned us that any little bit of fat would ruin our royal icing. I heeded her command and to this day I could not tell you what happens if a little bit of oil or fat mingles with royal icing.
8) Keep your left over decorations. In fact, make sure to use all of your royal when you make it. Either make extras to keep and then store in an air tight container in a cool, dry place. Or eat the extras. I'm about to tattle on myself and admit that I don't always use the extra royal icing. I have a lot of extra red that I'm going to make additional flowers from, but if I have extra white, I'll usually store that (it'll keep in the cabinet for a few weeks).
9) Want to give your flowers "life"? Then use flower formers. Again, mine are Wilton gadgets that they sell to make money, but I have them so I use them. The smaller the flower, the smaller the former I use. For the roses pictured, I used a medium sized former. I have also seen flowers formed in small paint trays and empty egg containers. So there's no reason why you should feel limited.
10) Royal icing is great on cookies! Remember above when I mentioned I like it on Gingerbread? It also works well on sugar and shortbread cookies. To ice with it, use a medium consistency of icing and pipe (with a #3 tip is what I typically use) the borders of your decorations. Let dry (doesn't take long, maybe half an hour at the most). Then fill in with runny consistency and let dry (this takes a little bit longer, I'd say 5 to 6 hours to make sure it's rock hard). The end result: the cutest (and most delicious) cookies ever!
recipe from Pretty Party Cakes by Peggy Porschen
recipe makes about 2 1/2 pounds
Note: Whenever I make royal icing, I usually halve this recipe because it always seems like a little bit of this stuff goes a long way.
2 tablespoons eggwhite powder
2 1/4 pounds confectioners' sugar, sifted
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2/3 cup water
1) Mix the eggwhite powder with 2/3 cup of water and pass through a strainer to get rid of any lumps.
2) Place the sugar in the clean bowl of an electric mixer, add about three quarters of the eggwhite mixture and the lemon juice, and start mixing on low speed.
3) Once the sugar and the eggwhite mixture is well combined, check the consistency. If the sides of bowl still look dry and crumbly, add some more eggwhite mixture until the icing looks almost smooth, but not wet.
4) Keep mixing for about 4 to 5 minutes, until it reaches stiff-peak consistency.
5) Spoon into a plastic container, cover with a clean damp cloth and the lid; store at room temperature.
The Lazy Celeste Method:
1) Put all of the ingredients (yes, even all of the water) into the bowl and beat on medium speed for 5 to 7 minutes until nice and fluffy. This usually yields a stiff consistency icing for me.
2) Same storage instructions as No. 5 above except that when I keep it in a plastic container, I nix the damp cloth.