Learn How to Expertly Use Royal Icing in The Beginner’s Guide to Cookie Decorating

Do you want to advance your cookie-decorating skills with new royal icing techniques?

Vertical image of the cover image of a dessert cookbook and guide, with text on the top and bottom.

Experienced baker Mary Valentino shares helpful tips and techniques throughout her book, “The Beginner’s Guide to Cookie Decorating: Easy Techniques and Expert Tips for Designing and Icing Colorful Treats,” which will help you every step of the way, from the sugar cookie base to the delicate finishing touches!

Royal icing utilizes an intricate decorating style – the process is certainly not the easiest to master, but achieving beautifully customized results is so rewarding.

Despite working in various restaurants and bakeries, I never learned how to use royal icing professionally. Over the years, and many bags of powdered sugar later, I taught myself the basic techniques, which I have shared with you in my introductory royal icing tutorial.

Trust me when I seriously emphasize that Valentino’s book is a comprehensive source that should be cherished by both beginners and experts!

The Beginner’s Guide to Cookie Decorating, available on Amazon

Copies are currently available on Amazon.

Whether you’re on Day 1 of decorating and don’t even know how to hold a piping bag correctly, or if you’re already a seasoned decorator with years of practice and hope to continue developing your skills, every turn of the page in “The Beginner’s Guide to Cookie Decorating” will help you progress in the process of making gorgeously designed desserts.

Each thoughtfully constructed chapter weaves together straightforward text with step-by-step photos, clearly explaining what you need to do so you’ll be set up for success, from start to finish.

I only wish I had this resource on my cookbook shelf 10 years ago!

Read our review to gain a little insight on the author and get a quick inside look at the contents of this must-have book. Here’s everything we’ll cover:

About the Author

Mary Valentino is the founder of Emma’s Sweets, a cookie business that began selling beautifully customized desserts over eight years ago.

Vertical image of cookbook author Mary Valentino.
Mary Valentino, author. Photo credit: Amy Vee Photography, used with permission.

Named for her daughter, Emma’s Sweets currently provides recipes, tutorials, and expert advice on decorating, and operates an online storefront offering cookie-making and decorating supplies to customers.

Valentino attributes her own fondness for baking to the time when she was a young girl, sharing memories of using her Easy-Bake Oven and watching her grandmother bake for hours in the introduction to this guide.

Seeking a creative outlet from her stressful career in the financial industry, Valentino started taking cake-decorating classes. But she soon realized that her true passion was for decorating cookies!

Horizontal image of Mary Valentino and daughter in the kitchen decorating treats.
Mary Valentino with her daughter. Photo credit: Amy Vee Photography, used with permission.

She was determined to learn more about using royal icing, and focused her energy on tirelessly researching, experimenting, attending classes, watching tutorials, and reading blogs.

Valentino solidified her well-earned status as an expert cookie decorator when she won Food Network’s Christmas Cookie Challenge in 2018.

And now, in her book, “The Beginner’s Guide to Cookie Decorating,” she shares her expertise with readers looking for the best tips, tricks, and ideas for making artfully designed cookies.

Let’s peruse the pages, shall we?

A Look Inside

Valentino’s book is a comprehensive guide to baking and decorating specifically with royal icing, starting with the basics and progressing to customized designs that utilize the recipes and techniques explained in the previous chapters.

Here’s a breakdown of each chapter outlined in the book, and what you can expect to find:

1. Baking Basics

This is your starting point, detailing the finer elements of both your figurative and literal foundation before you begin decorating.

Horizontal image of assorted plain cookies on a marble slab and on a cooling rack.
An assortment of cookies. Photo credit: Mary Valentino, used with permission.

It all starts with the perfect cookie.

In this section, you’ll be introduced to the essential baking equipment you should have in your kitchen to make the best results and get consistent results.

Valentino then provides her recipes for sugar, chocolate, gingerbread, and shortbread varieties.

Photos are included for some of the steps, and helpful tips and tricks are sprinkled throughout the pages.

You’ll learn about her thoughts on freezing unbaked dough, re-rolling used dough, and how to make dough with a marbled design as well.

2. Decorating Basics

This is the section I know I’ll be referencing constantly, dog-earing the pages for all of my future royal icing decorating projects.

Horizontal image of piping icing on a heart-shaped dessert.
Flooding with white royal icing. Photo credit: Mary Valentino, used with permission.

You’ll learn, practice, troubleshoot, and eventually master the royal icing craft with what you learn from these pages!

Before diving into the recipe and techniques for making royal icing, the “Decorating Basics” chapter first reviews the basic decorating tools you’ll need.

There is also a section detailing specialty ingredients you can buy to add pretty embellishments like edible luster, sparkle, and petal dust as well as glitter, sprinkles, and edible pens or markers.

After introducing her recipe for royal icing, Valentino teaches readers how to properly store the icing and iced, hardened final products.

Horizontal image of hand-painted floral desserts on a white cake stand.
Hand-painted floral designs. Photo credit: Mary Valentino, used with permission.

Coloring the icing is next – there is an informative guide to the different available options for edible colorants, and instructions on how to use each kind.

The next section describes the different consistencies of royal icing, and the important role each plays to achieve various decorating goals. Each has its own purpose – do not skip these pages!

After you learn how to identify and make your icing to each necessary level of consistency, you’ll then learn how to ice the cookies.

Horizontal image of brushed embroidery designs on square desserts on a marble slab.
Brushed embroidery designs. Photo credit: Mary Valentino, used with permission.

Valentino starts by going over the basic techniques for piping and filling the base icing layer on top before explaining additional decorative techniques for the finishing touches.

You’ll learn how to use a variety of techniques and gain the necessary knowledge to create the following artistic adornments with royal icing:

  • Wet-on-wet technique
  • Transfers
  • Basketweave
  • Hand painting
  • Brushed embroidery
  • Flowers

There is also a small segment here that teaches readers how to press pieces of fondant into silicone molds to make pretty decorations in various shapes.

Valentino emphasizes the value of practice, noting that it takes time to develop your skills in using all of these methods – don’t be disheartened if your designs do not look as pretty or perfect as you might have liked the first, second, or third time you decorate!

As she explains, it’s important to try to remember to enjoy the process while you’re developing the necessary muscle memory that will take you from novice to pro.

3. Seasonal Cookies

Within the pages of this chapter, you’ll incorporate all that you learned in the previous sections to make festive sweets for every season.

Horizontal image of a half-piped cookie shaped like a basket.
Basketweave design. Photo credit: Mary Valentino, used with permission.

Valentino provides ingredients and instructions, as well as step-by-step photos, for each decorating technique:

Winter features a frosty flurry of snowflakes, knitted mittens and hats, snowmen, and trees.

For spring, hop your way around designs for a bunny with a floral crown, juicy carrots, birds, flowers, and floral baskets.

Horizontal image of piping finishing touches on a basket with royal icing flowers.
Applying finishing touches on a royal icing floral basket. Photo credit: Mary Valentino, used with permission.

Fun and funky summer shows off surfboards, Hawaiian shirts, sandals, bathing suits, and starfish.

And get cozy this fall with designs for leaves, rustic wreaths, sunflowers, sugar skulls, and ghosts.

Let the ideas illustrated in this chapter inspire you to design your own seasonally-themed creations!

4. Celebration Cookies

Moving beyond the seasonal themes demonstrated in the previous chapter, “Celebration Cookies” features versatile designs you can create for many types of events, parties, and other festivities.

Horizontal image of assorted celebratory cookies.
An assortment of celebration designs. Photo credit: Mary Valentino, used with permission.

Learn how to make a beautiful bouquet of assorted flowers for Mother’s Day, and hot dogs and hamburgers for Father’s Day or a fun cookout party.

Is there going to be a dessert table at a wedding you’re attending? Make a few dozen sweet treats designed with a simple wedding cake on them.

Valentino also provides a bonus section for repurposing cookie cutters – a smart way to use them year round!

Easily turn your pumpkin cutter upside-down to make elephants, or turn it sideways to make Santa Claus, complete with his pom-pom hat.

Valentino lets her readers know that any special occasion presents the perfect opportunity to make celebratory designs, and you can find new inspiration easily with just a little imagination and creativity.

Learn, Decorate, Eat, and Repeat!

Tired of pausing, then starting, then pausing, then starting a video clip you found online for a royal icing tutorial?

Horizontal image of assorted decorated cookies on a white wooden surface.
An assortment of seasonal designs. Photo credit: Mary Valentino, used with permission.

It’s a relief to own a book with all the info you need right at your fingertips, one that you can flip through at your own pace as you learn how to bake the best sugar cookies, mix the right consistency of royal icing, and delicately pipe small details.

That’s my chief reason for admiring this useful guide, and I share it with you eagerly.

You can take whatever time you need to read and reread (and re-reread!) the thorough instructions and analyze the step-by-step photos, without any anxiety brought on by rushing to pause or rewind a video midway through because you missed something essential.

I’m excited for you to buy this book, available on Amazon now, so you can further your practice or join the wonderful world of royal icing decoration for the first time, with Valentino’s writing standing in as your expert guide and guru!

Are you a beginner, or a seasoned veteran when it comes to using royal icing? What techniques are you excited to practice that are found within the pages of this book? I’m so curious to learn what you’ll make first, so don’t forget to leave a message for me in the comments below.

But the fun isn’t over yet, my fellow bookworms! Searching for your next food-themed book to satisfy your informational appetite? We have more for you to read, so check out our other reviews now, starting with these:

© Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Photos by Mary Valentino and Amy Vee Photography © 2022 Quarto Publishing Group USA Inc. Reprinted with permission.

About Nikki Cervone

Nikki Cervone is a full-time cheesemonger and specialty foods buyer living in Pittsburgh. Nikki holds an AAS in baking/pastry from Westmoreland County Community College, a BA in Communications from Duquesne University, and an MLA in Gastronomy from Boston University. When she's not nibbling on her favorite cheeses or testing a batch of cupcakes, Nikki enjoys a healthy dose of yoga, wine, hiking, singing in the shower, and chocolate. Lots of chocolate.

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