Cream of Tartar – What is it?
Cream of tartar, what is it? Do you really need it in your royal icing? Can you make royal icing without it? Some royal recipes list it in the ingredients and some don’t, why? Let’s see if we can demystify this simple little ingredient today.
Cream of Tartar:
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Did you know that cream of tartar is a byproduct of the winemaking process because it is?
When grapes are fermented during the winemaking process a powder forms on the inside of the barrels. Then, it’s scraped off, cleaned, and then ground into the powder form we all know. Isn’t that interesting? Who knew that wine barrels are where we get cream of tartar because I was clueless about it!
Why do we use Cream of tartar?
We use cream of tartar for stabilizing egg whites because it helps strengthen the structure of the bubbles and gives the whipped eggs more volume.
How else can you use it?
You can use it to make your own baking powder.
1/2 teaspoon of Cream of Tartar
1/4 teaspoon of baking soda
1/4 teaspoon of cornstarch
Mix the cream of tartar and baking soda together. Add the cornstarch and store in an airtight container. I had no idea making baking powder was so simple.
Should I add cream of tartar to my royal icing?
It depends. The first thing you need to do is look at the ingredients list on the meringue powder to see if the cream of tartar is listed as one of the ingredients? If so, you don’t need to add it to your royal icing recipe because it’s already been added. You’ll need to add it if it is not listed.
There may be times you make royal icing with egg white and if you do, you should add it so your royal icing will have volume.
Cream of Tartar will help prevent sugar crystallization.
Have you ever seen honey that was grainy because if you did you’d remember? Honey is supposed to be super smooth and if it isn’t, its because the sugar has crystallized causing it to become grainy.
Crystallization is a chain reaction that occurs in melted sugar as it tries to reform into its crystalline (grainy) state. If you are boiling sugar syrup and a few sugar crystals stick to the side of the pot, it can make the entire syrup become crystallized. As you can imagine none of us want that because grainy royal icing isn’t what we’re looking for.
Adding a cold spoon to the sugar syrup can also cause it to crystallize. But the good news there are things you can do to stop crystallization. Adding an interfering agent like cream of tartar or lemon juice can help prevent it.
When you think about the cream of tartar it’s really a neat ingredient that can help add volume to whipped eggs and help keep our sugar syrups smooth and not grainy. You may need it for your royal icing or maybe not so check the meringue powder ingredient list for the answer.
Hope this information helps answer some of your questions because know what the ingredients do can make baking a little easier.
Cream of TarTar
Here are more little baking tips for you:
Salted or Unsalted Butter
Flour and Sugar Weight Chart Cheat Sheet
Eggs-How to Test for Freshness
How to tell if Baking Powder is Good
Lisa, thanks for the tip. Since I use a recipe that calls for powdered egg whites and lemon juice, the acid in the lemon juice works as a stabilizer, therefore, there is no need for cream of tartar. However, if I ever try a different flavor, I will add cream of tartar to the mix.
You go girl! Can you tell us how much lemon juice you add to your recipe?
I use 2 lbs. of powdered sugar, 2 Tbs. of lemon juice, 1 Tbs of corn syrup, (1/4-1/2 cup) water depending on the consistency that I want. Put all the ingredients in the mixer and mix for about 3-5 minutes.
Thank you so much for taking the time to write this out for us Diane. I am going to give it a try. Thanks for sharing!
Wow Lisa sometimes I think you are reading my mind. I just had this conversation with my husband about cream of tater! Thank you and it was very helpful. Now to read my meringue powder ingredients.
I WAS reading your mind Diana! LOL Thanks for pointing me in the ‘cream of tartar’ direction!
Let’s see if I can guess what your thinking next! 😉 LOL
Great post Lisa!!!
Thanks Janine! I hope it helps someone figure out if they need to add it to their royal icing recipe. 😉
Nice article! I just want to point you to a small error under “How else can you use it?” You typed that cream of tartar can be used to make baking soda. I know you mean baking powder since I’ve made my own and you state it at the end of that section. 😉
UGH! I did do that! I will fix it now! Thanks for pointing it out. I read it at least three times to make sure I got that part right. Oops!
YOU are so SMART! I did know what it “does”, but I did not know that it came from the powdery residue left from making wine. I wonder who thought to themselves….”Gosh, look at all of this residue. I wonder what would happen if I scrape it from the inside of this barrel, turn it into powder form, and add it to egg whites?!” Hmmm……
Thanks for sharing…. now the rest of us can be almost as smart as you!! 🙂
It is so funny you said that! I asked my husband that question all the time! I never would have scraped the “bottom of the barrel” and add whatever residue I gathered to my eggs! LOL
I am always amazed at how smart people are.
Your article was great do you have information about how to charge for your cookies so you know how to price them in your order.
Some use aexcell to weghh there flour butter sugar. Thank you felicia
Selling cookies and coming up with a price is very difficult. I have found that cookies sell for different prices depending on where you live. I don’t have a handy guide to help price cookies but it is something I will try to work on in the future. I don’t know how successful I will be but I will work on it because I know it is something that a lot of decorators have issues with.
Sorry I couldn’t be more help.
Hi Lisa, you just made me realised something, I made my royal icing with egg whites and last time it came out all grainy, I have absolutely no idea why but now come to think of it I may have forgotten to add the cream of tar tar in there! So I put them into a Tupperware and stuck them in the freezer coz I couldn’t use it. Can I add the cream of tar-tar into the icing after it was finished being made? I still have the grainy icing in my freezer and wondering what I can do with it. If I add lemon juice to it will it help get rid of the graininess? Your advice would be much appreciated 🙂
You know Natalia, I am not sure if royal icing can be rescued after it turns grainy. You could take a small amount out and test it by using the lemon juice.
Will you let me know how it turns out?
Has anyone else had this issue or brought grainy icing back to life?
So if I’m boiling white sugar to make caramel, adding a little cream of tartar will help prevent the mixture from crystalizing? Should I mix it into the sugar before I begin cooking? I’ve only tried to make caramel twice, the sugar crystallized, so I gave up! Thanks Lisa!
I hate your caramel didn’t turn out well. I hope you don’t give up because I know you can do it and there is nothing better than homemade caramel!
Cream of tartar works great when you make caramel. I found a video that might help you know when to add it to your recipe: http://www.bonappetit.com/test-kitchen/cooking-tips/article/caramel-sauce
Let me know if you need anything else. 😉
PS-It took the video a few minutes to load. Just thought I would let you know.
So glad you published this. I have meringue powder and knew I didn’t need cream of tartar since it was in there. But the recipe that came with it said to add cream of tartar anyway, I was confused but followed the recipe and it was ruined. So thank you for confirming for me that the recipe was wrong!
Your welcome Susan. I am glad it helped! 🙂
You are a cookie baker/decorator’s dream come true!
Thank you for this article. I was wondering exactly how the Cream of Tartar is listed as an ingredient in MP. Does it simply say “Cream of Tartar”? I looked on mine, Wilton and Genie’s Dream and they don’t list as “Cream of Tartar” but they do list” potassium acid tartrate”. After researching I did discover that potassium acid tartrate is Cream of Tartar. In your RI recipes, you list both ingredients with no mention of not using Cream of Tartar if your MP already contains it.
My question is, would you still find it beneficial to add or would you not add? I’m still working out my RI recipes and consistencies ( a whole other subject because I live at a high elevation in a VERY dry climate (AZ) and I’m having quick crusting issues! UGH)
I appreciate hearing back from you!!