On Simple Icing

I’ve had several requests to put up a recipe for this over the years, but for some reason have never done it. Probably because I usually just eyeball simple (also called “five finger”) icing, combining powdered sugar and water until I get a texture that suits me. Last week’s king cake project spurred quite a few extra requests for a formal recipe. So here it is!

For every pound of powdered sugar, add three ounces of water and mix by hand in a bowl or in the bowl of a mixer fitted with a beater (a whip will introduce too much air into the icing).

Stir until smooth and even. This icing can be flavored and/or colored however you wish. Add in a quarter teaspoon of extract per pound of sugar, plus as many drops of food color as are necessary to get the desired effect!

This icing is great for simple home baking jobs like iced cookies, Danishes and coffee cakes. You’ll be surprised how little icing a pound of powdered sugar actually yields!

17 thoughts on “On Simple Icing”

  1. I use a simple icing for fruit filled breakfast pastries, citrus flavored pound cake, or blue berry muffins using either lemon or orange juice in place of water. It is amazing how little liquid it takes to turn a large bowl of sugar into a rather small amount of icing. I also “eyeball” it.

    1. No question, you need very little water for a huge volume of sugar. And you’re right about the juice. I’ve also used herb infusions (teas, essentially) as the liquid.

  2. I’ve been making this for years. My mother showed me how when I was a kid and we always eyeballed it. If the icing was too thin, add a bit of sugar, if it was too thick, add a bit of liquid. I’ve used water, cream, milk and juices for the liquids. This is just about the most forgiving recipe ever – you can’t mess it up (although you might get a little messy making it).

  3. Regardless of how much and what type of liquid is added, if the sugar is lumpy you will never get the consistency you desire. I always sift, sift, sift my sugar before I add the liquid.

  4. I love simple icings like this. With the lemon poundcake I made last week, I used lemon juice with the powdered sugar and it was spot on!

  5. Hey Joe – I love the idea of infusing this simple icing with tea. I never thought of that and I have recently bought some really unusual teas that are begging for a new application. Thanks for the idea – thats why I always come back here – your the best!

    1. Thanks a million, Andy! Infusions are actually one of my favorite tricks. They work with water, milk, cream…all sorts of things. Glad to be of help!

  6. hi joe, does this icing leave any grittiness? i have tried without success with the american frosting. it leaves a sandy texture.

    thanks tina

    1. It can have a few lumps if the sugar isn’t sifted, but it’s not gritty. The sugar crystals are so small, they dissolve immediately. Thanks for the email! – Joe

  7. Joe!
    I’ve been looking for a recipe for glaze that is like what you get on the top of a pastry at the bakery. I have tried the powdered sugar/water icings over and over again and they don’t have that same texture – or the same taste. I don’t like the “powdered sugar taste” – I think it might be the cornstarch in the sugar? Would it work to heat it? Do have any suggestions for me?


    1. Hi Caree!

      Poured fondant is what you want. It’s also in the components menu.

      – Joe

  8. Um…I’m with Caree and anyone else who dislikes the cornstarch taste in the icing.

    I read the recipe for poured fondant … and all that because I want to make a simple glaze, for which the original recipe calls for 1/2 cup icing sugar and a couple of tsps of liquid.

    I know regular granulated sugar won’t work…what about berry sugar? Or taking granulated and whirling in the food processor for a couple of minutes in an attempt to break it to finer particles?

    1. Hey Ted! Alas you won’t be able to grind your sugar fine enough in the food processor to make icing sugar that way. It’s really either one or the other: simple powdered sugar icing or fondant. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news!

      – Joe

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