How to store royal icing: one of the most commonly asked questions I get! Yes you CAN make royal icing in advance and no you do NOT need to throw away leftover icing.
Read on for all of my storage tips and tricks…
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Now before we dive in, it’s important to keep in mind that I’m giving advice about storage for my icing recipe that INCLUDES meringue powder (and lemon juice, but that shouldn’t affect my advice). Please note I cannot vouch for these storage methods if you are using a recipe with egg whites.
How to Store Royal Icing: Post Directory
(click on a section to skip to it)
- How far in advance can I make royal icing?
- My favorite reusable containers for storing icing
- Short-term storage
- Medium-term storage
- Long-term storage
- What to do if your icing crusts in the bowl
- What to do when your icing separates
- Tips for using icing after it’s been stored in the fridge or freezer
How far in advance can I make royal icing?
Before we get into storage, let’s talk about how far in advance you can make royal icing. Because, yes, you can make your icing up to a few months in advance! (Although, I wouldn’t really recommend making it THAT far in advance…)
ALWAYS REMEMBER: do NOT thin your icing to its desired consistency until a couple hours before actually using. In the examples listed below, 9 times out of 10 I’m just storing a fresh batch of unthinned icing. That said, I might choose to color the icing in advance (like the few days option to give it plenty of time to develop).
A few days in advance: Since I’m using meringue powder in my recipe, I will store my icing in an airtight container on the counter for up to a few days. I always start my icing at least the night before (sometimes two days before depending on the colors I’m making), so this is standard practice for me.
One week in advance: If I’m making my icing one week in advance, I will usually just store in the fridge (although it can also be stored in the freezer). I might do this if I’m making a LOT of cookies and/or prepping for an in person class and having a bunch of recipes of fresh icing ready to go is helpful.
More than one week/a couple months: If I’m making icing well in advance, I will store in the freezer. Although, like I mentioned above, I wouldn’t really recommend intentionally storing months in advance unless absolutely necessary.
What to Store Royal In: My Favorite Reusable Containers
When I first started working with royal icing, I didn’t have reusable containers.
Instead, I stored my icing in whatever bowl I had (usually a salad bowl or cereal bowl, or I even left the icing in the mixing bowl).
To “seal” it as best I could for overnight storage, I would place either a paper towel or kitchen towel on top of the bowl, and then a plate on top of that to “seal” it.
Sometimes I would put something else on top of the plate for a stronger seal.
That said, I wouldn’t recommend storing this way for longer than a day or two. Instead, I’d recommend some sort of bowl with an airtight top.
A few years ago I invested in airtight glass containers that I ONLY use for icing and can use over and over again. My favorites are these Pyrex bowls that I use in a variety of sizes.
I use the 1 cup bowls for less than 5 ounces of icing.
I use the 2 cup bowls for 5-10 ounces of icing.
I use the 4 cup bowls for 10-15 ounces of icing.
I use the 7 cup bowls for more than 15 ounces of icing.
It’s important (whenever possible) to not use too large OR too small of a bowl. If your bowl is too small (even if the icing technically fits in the bowl), it will make coloring the icing and mixing the consistencies more difficult than necessary.
If your bowl is too large, it will make it harder to test for each consistency. This is especially the case with the bowls that I use that have a flat bottom (the icing spreads out too much and you don’t have enough icing to work with… if that makes any sense!)
If you’d prefer, you can try out these Pyrex bowls that have a tapered bottom. With these bowls, it will be easier to mix smaller amounts of icing in larger bowls.
For storing a freshly made batch of icing that I don’t yet plan to color/change the consistency, I will typically store it in a heavy duty 32 ounce plastic food storage container like this one. I love these because each one typically holds one batch of my icing. These are the containers I’d use if I’m intentionally making extra icing in advance.
In summary, these are all of my favorite storage containers:
- Heavy duty 32 ounce plastic
- Full set of Pyrex bowls
- Pyrex 7 cup bowls (more then 15 ounces of icing)
- Pyrex 4 cup bowls (10-15 ounces of icing)
- Pyrex 2 cup bowls (5-10 ounces of icing)
- Pyrex 1 cup bowls (less than 5 ounces of icing)
How to Store Royal Icing: Short-Term (a few days)
For short-term storage, I just leave my icing out on the counter in an airtight container (up to a couple days). Because I’m using meringue powder (and not egg whites) this is OK to do.
I will store my icing like this when I am prepping the icing (before I start decorating), which I’ll do anywhere from 1-2 days in advance. I will color my icing at this point, but I will NOT thin to the desired consistency until a few hours before decorating.
There are some cookiers that will completely prep their icing the night before (color, thin AND bag), and then store the bagged icing in the freezer overnight. Then the next morning, they allow the icing to defrost (inside the bag) on the counter and decorate directly from there. I have tried this method with my recipe. Unfortunately, my recipe thins too much in the freezer to do this. Would be such a time saver if it worked! Sad face 🙁
If you’re decorating one day and don’t finish the cookies, you CAN finish the cookies the next day. However, keep in mind, that your icing will separate too much to be used straight from the bag again. In this case, you’ll want to dump out your icing from the bag, give it a good mix in a bowl and then transfer back to a new bag.
How to Store Royal Icing: Medium-Term (up to a week)
For storage up to a week, I will store the icing in the fridge (just so I don’t have to bother with defrost time if I stored it in the freezer instead).
BUT, please keep in mind that it will thin in the fridge! The extra moisture in the fridge inevitably seeps into the containers (even though they’re airtight…), which will ultimately thin your icing.
Given that, the only time I store in the fridge is if I have NOT yet thinned the icing to the desired consistency for decorating.
You’ll need to allow the icing a few hours on the counter to come to room temperature. Even at fridge temperature, the icing will appear thicker than it actually is.
How to Store Royal Icing: Long-Term (months)
For storage longer than one week (and up to 4-6 months), store your royal icing in the freezer.
I always freeze my leftover icing. Yes, you heard that right! For the longest time I would throw out my leftover icing. That is, until I learned I could reuse it from the freezer!
Usually I just leave it in the piping bag and store it in a larger tupperware in the freezer. Please note this method CAN get a little messy if you’re lazy like me and just plop the used bags directly into the container.
You’ll see in the picture above I sometimes will place paper towels on the bottom of the container to catch any icing that might come out of the bag before it freezes. What can I say… I’m lazy!
If you want to prevent icing from haphazardly coming out of the bags:
a. close the top of the bag with a rubber band
b. close the tip of the bag with a piece of tape
Sometimes, however, when I have large amounts of single colors to store, I’ll empty them into containers before storing in the freezer.
In the case of the photo above, I had planned to decorate my cookies but decided morning of I was going to wait until after vacation (a week later). So, I just stored the icing in the freezer directly in the containers I had mixed the colors. I would ONLY recommend doing this if a) you have not yet thinned the icing to the desired consistency and b) you are OK with the icing color continuing to develop/darken as it sits in the freezer.
Royal icing can easily be stored for 2-3 months like this. I’ve found once it’s stored about 6 months it starts to lose the integrity of the consistency from all of the freezing and defrosting.
To defrost the icing, simply place the icing on the counter for anywhere from 2-6 hours depending on whether you’re defrosting from bags or containers. Do NOT open the bag/container before the icing is defrosted.
What happens if my icing crusts in the bowl?
So, what happens if your icing crusts in the bowl? (aka the icing starts to dry because it was left exposed to the air)
Have no fear, you can save it! Well, as long as you haven’t left it out crusting/drying for hours…
I have 100% accidentally forgotten to close a lid on a container or forgotten to cover up the mixing bowl with a freshly made batch of icing. Thankfully, 9 times out of 10, it can be saved!
Royal icing crusts as it’s exposed to air, so it’s important to make sure you cover all bowls as you’re mixing colors/consistencies. That said, I’ve definitely been guilty of forgetting to cover the mixing bowl, etc.
Whatever you do, DO NOT MIX THE CRUSTY BITS INTO YOUR ICING. Those crusty bits will not melt/incorporate into the fluffy icing. Instead, they’ll stay as they are and clog up your piping tip.
This is what to do if your icing crusts in the bowl: dampen a paper towel or dish towel (DAMP, not wet) and place on top of the bowl. Then cover that with the top of the bowl or a plate. Allow to sit for about 15-30 minutes (sometimes up to one hour). This should melt the crusty bits away!
The only downside to this is that you’re adding moisture to your icing (that’s how the crusty bits melt) so it will thin your icing a bit. If you’ve already thinned your icing to the perfect consistency this could be a massive bummer, but it’s better than ruining an entire bowl of icing!
What do I do if my icing separates?
Separation is completely normal with royal icing. This is when the liquids separate from the solids. The speed with which your icing separates depends on the recipe you’re using. Generally speaking, though, the thinner the icing the faster it will separate.
Below is an extreme photo of what it can look like inside the piping bag.
When leaving your icing to sit on the countertop for a few days, in the fridge up to a week or in the freezer for a few months, the icing will absolutely separate. But have no fear, there’s no need to panic!
All you need to do when the icing separates is give it a good mix with a spoon or spatula and it’s ready to rock again! Obviously, it’s much more challenging to resurrect icing that has separated significantly in a piping bag, so I always recommend dumping it out into a bowl to mix. That said, if you’re dealing with separation while decorating (and it’s been just a few hours), you can usually just massage the bag to reincorporate the icing.
Tips for using icing after it’s been stored in the fridge or freezer
If the icing is stored in the fridge or freezer, it needs time to defrost/come to room temperature before you can use it! Even straight out of the fridge (when it is cold), it will have a deceptively thicker consistency than what it really is. Wait until the icing comes to room temperature before you mess with the color or consistency.
When using icing from the freezer: always fully defrost on the counter first. This can take anywhere from 30 minutes to 6 hours depending on whether you are defrosting from bags or containers, and the temperature of the room the icing is in.
Then add in at least a spoonful of fresh icing to give it a new life (I generally don’t recommend using icing straight from the freezer).
(The photo above is definitely an exaggerated example of adding new icing to old icing! Unless you need a lot more icing of that color–like I did in this case–really all you need is a spoonful of fresh icing to revive it!)
Please note: depending on your icing recipe, once the icing is stored in the fridge or freezer it will likely become THINNER while stored. My recipe does this (sadly). Some are able to make their icing & bag it the night before, store in the freezer, defrost the next day & be good to go.
I’ve tried this with my recipe & it thins out just enough in the freezing/defrosting process that I can’t use it already bagged. I make my icing the night before, store it in a container on the counter & then mix consistency/bag the morning that I need to use it.
More topics to cover in depth about royal icing:
- What Is Royal Icing: A Beginner’s Guide
- Royal Icing with Meringue Powder: The BEST Tasting Royal Icing Recipe
- Royal icing consistencies
- Troubleshooting Royal Icing: Common Problems While Cookie Decorating
- How much icing per cookie – coming soon!
- All of my favorite tools for decorating with royal icing