Its no secret that I love sugar cookies. Their buttery deliciousness and versatility mean that they are one of the most made recipes in my kitchen. However, I didn't always love making sugar cookies. In fact the first time I made them it was a complete disaster. The cookies didn't hold their shape when baked and to make matters worse the royal icing was a runny mess. It was completely frustrating and I felt totally defeated. I even wrote across the top of the printed out recipe "NEVER AGAIN". Of course I eventually made sugar cookies again. I've learned a lot since first making those unfortunate sugar cookies.
Royal icing can be intimidating. If you've scrolled through #sugarcookies on Instagram you have no doubt seen the beautiful works of art created by many talented cookie artists. I can spend hours watching cookie decorating videos. They are just so mesmerizing. What those short, sped up videos don't always portray is the amount of time that goes into creating each cookie masterpiece. Every hand painted or hand piped detail takes time. Now multiply that across however many dozen cookies.
All that being said, you have to start somewhere. Remember, it's just a cookie. Even it looks awful, it will taste great. My boyfriend loves the "reject" cookies because it means he gets to sample them before whatever event they are meant for. If you are new to Royal Icing I would definitely recommend keeping your design simple. The more complex the design and the smaller the detail the larger the margin of error.
The most important thing in my opinion when decorating with royal icing is the consistency of your icing. If your icing is too thin it will just run everywhere creating a big mess. However, if you are trying to flood (fill) a cookie with a stiffer icing meant for outlining it will take forever and it won't smooth over nicely. Some cookie decorators like to create a stiffer icing consistency for outlining their cookie and a thinner one for flooding. I typically use the same icing for both outlining and flooding. The recipe below is the one I use to outline and flood my cookies. If you'd like a stiffer icing reduce some of the water. From this base recipe I typically have to add additional water to thin out the icing until my desired consistency is reached. I aim for a 10 second frosting - when you drag a knife through the frosting it takes 10 seconds for the line to disappear. The amount of water I have to add typically depends on the time of year as the levels of humidity can effect your frosting.