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When you hear “royal icing,” you probably think of the elegant cookies purchased for special events at the office or Christmas cookies at any catered holiday party. Royal icing is unique among decorating icings because it’s made of a simple mixture of powdered sugar and egg whites. Since the liquid component is egg white and because there’s no fat in the icing, it dries to make a glossy smooth finish for a professional looking cookie. But any pastry pro knows that royal icing can be used for much more than icing a cookie.

With a sheet of parchment paper and a batch of colored royal icing in a piping bag, you can pipe freeform shapes like flowers, bumble bees, colorful buttons, and countless other things that’ll dry completely and become firm edible decorations for your cakes and cupcakes. This can be as simple as piping dots on parchment paper and covering them with sprinkles to decorate a whimsical cake, or it can be a more precise task of creating roses and daisies to sit on top of a batch of frosted cupcakes.

To make the royal icing that is best suited for freestanding decorations, combine one pound of confectioners sugar with 1/8 teaspoon of cream of tartar and 3 large egg whites in the bowl of a mixer. Beat slowly at first to incorporate the ingredients, and then increase the speed to medium until the icing reaches the consistency of toothpaste. Transfer immediately to piping bags or cover the bowl with a wet cloth.

WATCH: Cream Cheese Christmas Cookies

The strength and weakness of this icing is that it dries quickly, so if you leave the icing in a bowl or open pastry bag that isn’t covered with a damp cloth, you run the risk of the icing drying out before you have the chance to pipe anything. Once you’ve piped the shapes onto parchment paper, leave them out to dry overnight. (Note: If the humidity is higher in the room, the decorations may take more time to dry.) Once the decorations are completely dry, they should easily peel off of the paper and be ready to decorate your cakes and cupcakes. Afterwards, try your hand at our delicious Cream Cheese Chrismas Cookies above!