Last Updated on August 13, 2022
Making royal icing with cream of tartar will make your homemade cookies and decorations seem like they were professionally done!
In this article, we will look at exactly how the cream of tartar affects the royal icing you make and why it is crucial. We will also go over some alternatives and exactly how to make this wonderful decoration.
What Is Royal Icing And How Do You Use It?
Royal icing is a well-known yet still underrated garnish used in the baking kitchen. While almost everybody knows what it is, it seems like only professional bakers use it on a regular basis.
This icing is an incredibly versatile ingredient that is made using soft beaten egg whites and powdered sugar (confectioners or icing sugar). The combination of the two, sometimes with additional liquid ingredients, creates a variety of consistencies that also have different uses.
You can make this icing to create intricate finely piped details or to flood cookies with. You can even alter the consistency to be used as a glaze or poured frosting. Once poured, the icing hardens and sets into the placed position.
And, if you thought that it couldn’t get any better, listen to this! A royal icing recipe can be colored in any way that you’d like. This makes it possible to create any themed decoration, no matter how brightly colored they are. And, you can also flavor this icing using an extract or essence. You don’t need to make and use juices, powders, or other flavorings.
You won’t likely find an easier and more versatile decorative icing out there.
Why Do Some People Make Royal Icing With Cream Of Tartar?
What is cream of tartar?
You may have seen some recipes for royal icing with cream of tartar. However, it is only added in minuscule amounts. So, why do they add it, and is it really necessary?
Cream of tartar is a powdery white ingredient that is commonly found in the kitchen. While it may not be used often, it is still essential in the recipes it is called for. This ingredient is a type of powdered acid. It has many functions, but the main purpose is often to create a leavening reaction when paired with an alkaline.
Beyond that, it also has a bunch of preserving functions that very few people are familiar with. In general, cream of tartar can be used as an anti-caking agent, a preventer of crystalization, and a stabilizer for whipped or beaten eggs.
Royal icing with cream of tartar – Functions of this acid
Despite being added in literal pinches, cream of tartar is a powerful chemical ingredient that has incredibly important functions. For royal icing specifically, it mainly helps prevent the sugars in the icing from crystalizing. Ultimately, it is a type of stabilizer and preservative in this instance.
Another important function that this ingredient has is to stabilize the softly beaten egg whites. Without the addition of cream of tartar, the icing could potentially deflate, separate, or not hold its consistency as it should.
While you can make royal icing without cream of tartar, it still does need some type of acid in its place. An acid, like cream of tartar, is what helps give royal icing its unique characteristics and the stability to be worked with.
Substitutes for royal icing with cream of tartar
There are many safe substitutes you can use instead of cream of tartar. You will see many other recipes called for lemon juice, lime juice, or vinegar. These alternatives have the same function as cream of tartar does, but they are simply a different consistency.
This is why the powdered alternative is preferred. It will not change the consistency of your icing as much as a liquid acid would. Using something like lemon juice requires you to make other adjustments to the recipe to prevent it from being too runny.
Furthermore, cream of tartar only adds a slightly tart flavor to the icing, not an acidic one like citrus juice or vinegar would.
How To Make Royal Icing With Cream Of Tartar
Royal icing recipes are often made and classified according to the number of eggs that they need. For example, a three-egg recipe needs 1/2 a teaspoon of cream of tartar. But, a four-egg recipe needs 3/4 teaspoon of cream of tartar.
There isn’t an amount set in stone when it comes to what ratio you have to use. To be on the safe side, we would recommend using between 1/5-1/4 teaspoon of cream of tartar per egg white. This way, you know you will be creating a shelf-stable workable icing.
Steps to make royal icing with cream of tartar
To make royal icing with cream of tartar is shockingly easy. Sure, there are many tips and tricks you can use to get it perfect, but for general purposes, this technique is most used and highly recommended.
Simply combine all of the ingredients (egg whites, powdered sugar, and cream of tartar) inside a large bowl. Then, slowly beat the ingredients together until they are blended well.
Increase the speed to about medium and keep beating the icing until it forms stiff peaks. This will take about 5 minutes.
If your icing is too runny, you can sift in more powdered sugar. And, if it is too stiff, simply add a few drops of water, milk, or lemon juice.
You have to use the royal icing with cream of tartar immediately. While it is shelf-stable, the cream of tartar won’t prevent the icing from becoming hard. After all, that is literally what the icing is supposed to do. Place the made icing into a piping bag or pouring jug and use it accordingly.
How to color royal icing with cream of tartar
If you want to color the royal icing, we would recommend using powdered colorings or gel colorings. You don’t need to add a lot to make a big difference.
Only after the royal icing has been made should you add the colorings. This way, you can more easily adjust the outcome of the final color.
Wrapping Things Up
Hopefully, you will never leave out this essential ingredient again. Even if you don’t have any on hand, use some other alternatives that we have mentioned above. Royal icing with cream of tartar is definitely a professional trick used that will make your decorations far superior to others!
Why do you put cream of tartar in royal icing?
Cream of tartar is an essential ingredient in royal icing because it ultimately helps prevent the sugar from crystalizing. It is also a stabilizing ingredient and even helps slightly extend the shelf life.
How much cream of tartar do I add to the frosting?
For 3 cups of powdered sugar, you only need to add about 1/4 teaspoon of cream of tartar. You can add a little more, but it may affect the flavor of the royal icing. And any less will become ineffective.
What happens if you don’t add cream of tartar to royal icing?
Nothing will really happen if you don't add cream of tartar, but you do run the risk of the sugars crystallizing. And, believe it or not, the cream of tartar will actually help enhance the flavor while balancing it. Overall, it will have more benefits than downsides.
How do you make cream of tartar at home?
You cannot make cream of tartar at home. This ingredient is "made" and obtained during the wine-making process. However, that doesn't mean you don't have any easy substitutes. Vinegar or lemon juice works equally well in Royal icing recipes.
Lindy Van Schalkwyk is a culinary specialist with a background in Advanced Cooking, Advanced Pâtisserie, Media Communications and Nutrition. She has gained invaluable experience in the culinary industry having worked in some of the top restaurants in Africa in 2016 and 2017. Her expertise in nutrition has enabled her to develop recipes for special dietary needs. In 2018, Lindy began working in the Food Media industry, focusing on recipe development, recipe writing, food writing and food styling.