royal icing & how to do lettering

I have to confess something, you guys.

I'm a control freak.

I don't mean in a cute 'oh, you spilled the sugar, let me clean that up' way. As far as the kitchen is concerned, it is incredibly challenging for me to give up control of any of the processes. Generally, it's a complicit agreement in our household that the kitchen is under my precise command. Which works great for both of us. Right now my sweet, sweet sweetheart is in our kitchen making me lasagne. From scratch. He even made the spinach pasta by hand. 

To say we have different styles of cooking is the ultimate euphemism. I can't wait to enjoy the beautiful meal he is making and I'm sure it will be delicious. But my dear readers: it's driving me crazy. I haven't so much as grated a cup of cheese or boiled water. I'm relegated to my computer to do my 'blog work' as he calls it. This is generous and sweet, right? So sweet. The sweetness is clawing it's way into my brain and poking out my eyeballs. 

Too graphic? Yeah. Sorry. What was I talking about? Royal icing. Which has everything to do with being a perfectionist and control freak, as you can see in the picture above. Let me start off by saying: I could be doing this completely technically wrong. I taught myself through trial and error and found a way that works for me. But you can improvise until you find the best way for you- my best advice is to practice when you want to do any lettering. Practice every letter again and again until you do it perfectly. And then do it again. Capital letters too. 

You will need some special supplies, all of which can be found at your local craft store (probably) or online (definitely). I like disposable pastry bags (the canvas ones are a pain to clean, and unless they're completely dry they mold); you'll need at least a #2 and #3 round pastry tip, and at least one plastic coupler. 

I actually use meringue powder for my royal icing (you can also find this at craft stores), so I don't have to worry about using raw egg white. The recipe comes right in the top of the can- unless I'm doing a huge project,  I usually cut that in half. It's super simple and turns out great every time. When your icing is ready, it should look like this:

Once your icing is ready, you want to use it right away or cover it tightly (plastic wrap on the surface) and use it within a week.

This is a coupler. The 'male' end (the large piece) goes inside your pastry bag. Leave the 'female' part (the ring) off for now.

If you're using disposable, you'll need to push the coupler all the way to the bottom end until the plastic draws tightly around the threads.

Then trim the end of the bag to just above the very tip of the coupler. You want the plastic to be flush against the coupler.

Now you just want to slide your pastry tip of choice on the outside and then screw the ring on top to keep the tip in place.

What's great about this system is that if you decide to change the tip, you just have to unscrew the one you're using and replace it with the new tip. I usually only use a #2 round tip for lettering, but I like to have a #1 on hand for fine lines as well.

Now you're ready to fill your bag with icing. First, fold over the top half of the bag around the outside.

Then slide your non-dominant hand inside the cone, so you're holding open the base.

Scoop in about a cup of icing, maybe more, using a spoon or a spatula. The goal is to get as much as possible inside and as little as possible on the folded over part.

Now unfold the bag and squeeze the icing down so you can't see any air between the icing and the tip, like a very large bottle of toothpaste.

Fold over at least the top inch of the bag to one side or the other. Then fold it again.

Now fold the corners of the bag in towards the other folds and hold them with your non-dominant thumb.

Okay! No you're ready to do some work. Grip the bag with your non-dominant hand- this is what keeps the icing from coming out the top, and also controls how quickly the icing flows from the tip. You want a steady, firm grip.

Hold the bag at an angle, like a pencil, and using your dominant hand, grip the bag just at the coupler, like a pen or pencil. Gently squeeze the bag and use your dominant hand to form the letters. I always practice first on parchment or silicone- this way I don't ruin any cookies and I'm confident when it comes to actual decorating. Practice as much as you can.

As you're making the letters, you want to stop squeezing as you come to the end of your stroke, or every time you put down a new line, there will be a big point at the end. Try to get as consistent as you can- I like silicone mats for this because they provide a background grid.

You can also use parchment paper laid over printed font, if you want to practice a specific message or phrase a few times before going live, as it were.

Have fun with it, and let me know how it goes!