Royal icing is very pretty, but it doesn’t taste like much. The hard, super-sweet cookie topping is more decor than anything, but if you want to add a little bit of flavour, reach for a bottle of cocktail bitters.
Bitters, much like vanilla, are really nothing more than intensely flavored alcoholic extracts. A little goes a long way, and just a teaspoon is enough to flavour three cups of icing. Plus, thanks to the cocktail renaissance we’ve been enjoying this past decade, there are many fancy flavours to choose from. Orange is especially good with sugar cookies and gingerbread, but I think pecan bitters would perform outstandingly well here.
Cocktail bitters can be added to any royal icing recipe—I usually use this one from the Food Network—just add them as you would vanilla. If you’re using egg whites, whip the bitters and whites together until frothy before incorporating your sugar. If you’re using meringue powder, just mix everything together all at once. Start with a teaspoon per three-cup batch, taste, and add more if you desire. Portion into bowls, colour as usual, and decorate your cookies with an icing you’ll actually want to put in your mouth.