How to make a few hundred eyes from royal icing

Royal sugar eyes

A smaller batch of eyes for all your spoopy decorating needs. They don’t taste too bad, either–I’m not the greatest fan of plain royal icing, so just a bit of vanilla extract makes these rather nicer to eat.

Royal icing

Royal icing

Mainly I made these because I couldn’t be bothered to order candy eyeballs. It’s puzzling how that works out sometimes–I can be bothered to go out and get icing, mix it, and pipe several hundred eyes, but I can’t summon the effort and four quid to buy some eyeballs.

But this way you do get to control the size, shape, and flavour. Also, some ready-made decorations contain pork gelatine, which may not be suitable for a range of diets. If you check your icing mix and food colouring, you can make sure more people can, er, enjoy these eyeballs.

Royal icing eyes

They might be pointy at first, but will settle perfectly well
They might be pointy at first, but will settle perfectly well

Now, these are very simple and they don’t look like much on their own–they’re just cartoonish googly eyes, after all. But once they’re added to something in an uncanny number–just one, or more than two–it’s instantly transformed into something wonderfully creepy. That said, I think you could have a lot of fun making cat or goat eyes, or any other eyes with a colourful iris and interestingly shaped pupil.

Royal icing eyes

ROYAL ICING EYES

Adapted from HowDoesShe.com

Yield: I made 346 eyeballs before I got bored, and I had a bit of icing left over. My eyeballs were mostly around 1 cm, with a few dozen closer to 1.5 cm. That’s sort of between 1/4 to 1/2 inch. That may sound like an impossibly huge amount but it fills a small ex-jam jar, and they keep for ages.

Storage: Years in an airtight container.

If you already have a batch of royal icing, you need only a small amount of flooding icing. I don’t necessarily think it’s worth making a from-scratch recipe just for this, but you do you.

ingredients

150g (approx 5 1/4 oz) royal icing sugar mix
4 1/4 tsp cold water or the amount required by the packet
1/4 tsp vanilla extract (or any other flavouring as long as it’s water + alcohol-based, not oil-based–viz. if you want citrus flavour, replace some of the water with juice, not zest or pure oil)
Black food colouring, I used a whole 10g tube of those Dr Oetker gel food colourings, but you’ll need less of stronger ones, of course.

equipment

2 small to medium squeeze bottles or piping bags. It’s a small batch and you don’t want to be wrestling with acres of plastic just to get the icing out.
2 piping nozzles for the bottles/bags, 1 fine (~1 mm) and 1 slightly larger (2 – 3 mm). Doesn’t have to be too precise: choose a fine writing tip and anything bigger, basically.

You could also make your own icing bag but be careful with snipping off the tip!

instructions

Prepare your piping bottles or bags.

Make the royal icing according to packet instructions, scaled appropriately. Most require you to use an electric hand mixer to beat the icing mix and a tiny amount of water until soft peaks form, but you can get away with a toothpaste texture.

Once your icing is beaten, stir in any flavourings and separate about 1/4 of the mixture to a small bowl, covering the rest. Tint this smaller portion until it is deep grey or black, then thin it until you have 15 second icing, which is to say add water in tiny drops (or, ideally, sprays) of cold water until it flows thickly and slowly. If you draw a knife through the mixture, the cut should take between 15 – 20 seconds to smooth away. A stopwatch is genuinely helpful, here, rather than prissy. Once it’s the right consistency, transfer to the piping bottle/bag with the smaller nozzle.

Thin the white icing in the same way and transfer to the bottle/bag with the slightly larger nozzle. If you’re not icing immediately, put toothpicks in the nozzles and refrigerate until needed.

Line two trays with greaseproof baking paper.

Pipe the eyes as follows:

  1. With the white icing, pipe small round shapes onto the paper. You can just hold it in one spot and squeeze gently to make a blob. You really don’t need to smooth these with a finger; they’ll settle down by themselves. Make these as big or small as you wish.
  2. Do a row of whites, then go in and add the pupils with the black icing, working wet-in-wet.
  3. Squeeze until only the tiniest bead of black icing comes out and lightly attach it to the white, taking the nozzle straight down and up. Don’t worry if it comes out pointy or goes skew-whiff; any points will settle smoothly into the whites, and variations add interest. Use a toothpick to pull the eyes into pointy shapes, if desired. Make the eyes look in any direction you like!
  4. Continue working in rows until you run out of icing or get bored. You can store leftover icing in the fridge if you plug the nozzles.

Allow to dry uncovered at room temperature until completely set, at least 6 hours. They should peel off cleanly and be completely hard.

To remove them, simply lift one end of the paper, gently crumpling it and brushing off the eyeballs–they’re sturdy enough to withstand a bit of a tumble. Then, simply tip them into an airtight container. These keep for yonks.

How to use your eyes:
  • Push them into soft, still-warm cookies.
  • Add to sugar cookies while the icing is still wet, or iced cupcakes/full-size cakes before the icing has fully set.
  • Sprinkle on top of hot chocolate with whipped cream
  • Use as actual eyes for cookie or cake pop decorations
  • Anything else you can think of! Bear in mind these can’t be baked and will probably dissolve if directly added to hot liquid, and that they’ll add crunch and a bit of extra sweetness to whatever they’re in.

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