Pretty Bakes Blog

Cake decorating basics for pretty cakes, cupcakes, cookies and other sweet treats

Royal icing consistency problems

Royal icing is a royal pain in my butt.

I should’ve done more research before I filled my piping bag because if I did, I would’ve followed sweetsugarbelle’s advice re: getting the right royal icing consistency.

The right royal icing consistency

The perfect piping consistency is thick like toothpaste but still has enough “flow” so that it doesn’t break when you pipe lines. When mixed, a spoonful of it should gently plop back into the bowl.

But I was too eager to get decorating so I sort of winged it. Bad idea.

At first, my piping consistency was a bit too thick.

royal icing piping consistency

This royal icing consistency was a tad too thick for piping. Photo by Jennifer Melo

My flooding consistency was also too thick at first, and then too thin, and then too thick again. See what I mean? Royal. Pain.

When royal icing consistency goes wrong

If you make your mixture too thick, you lose control because your hands tremble as you try to pipe a smooth line of spackle-like icing. Make it too thin and it’ll unpredictably spread, lose its shape or leak and drip over the edges of your cookies.

royal icing flooding consistency

My royal icing flooding consistency was a tad too thick here, and then I made it too thin. Photo by Jennifer Melo

Leave royal icing out and uncovered for too long and it’ll go hard as a rock (so don’t delay clean-up when you’re done decorating).

Choosing a royal icing recipe

Many royal icing recipes call for raw egg whites but because I have young nieces and I don’t want to endanger them with the risk of salmonella, I tried a water and sugar-based royal icing recipe. But after making several batches of thin royal icing that didn’t hold its shape well, I decided to try a meringue powder recipe.

And I’m happy to report that I got much better results with the meringue powder method. I used joyofbaking.com’s royal icing recipe. Using 1/2 cup of water gave me a stiff piping consistency that could’ve used a bit more water for perfect piping flow. The recipe is good. My inexperience and insufficient research is to blame for my poor results.

It’s not all bad

The great thing about royal icing is you can easily change its consistency. Add powdered sugar to thicken it or water to thin it.

The trouble is knowing when it’s the right consistency for your needs and I need lots of practice to master this.

Patience is your friend

In hindsight, I don’t know why I didn’t take the time to research more before starting to decorate. I suspect it’s a mixture of excitement and an urgency to get things done.

Once I’ve filled a piping bag, I’m reluctant to start over again so I sort of give up, doing my best to work with what I’ve got. And then it’s back to do more research to find out what I could do to get better results next time.

Royal icing is a high-maintenance icing for decorating newbies like me but it’s an essential for decorating cookies and it looks great when things go right. So I’m committed to correcting my royal icing problems.

To fix my royal icing consistency problems, I did some more research and created this chart and thought I’d share it with you.

Symptoms of royal icing problems

Problem Probable Cause
Icing breaks while piping Icing is too thick.
Icing drips off cookie and/or doesn’t hold shape when piped Icing is too thin.
Bumpy surface Icing’s too thick. Use an “oops” stick to smooth icing when it’s still wet.
Curdled strangeness Grease got into in the icing. Use squeaky clean bowls and spoons. Wipe bowls and utensils with vinegar or another food-safe, grease-cutting agent of your choosing.
Bubbles in surface Icing didn’t settle. Let your icing settle in an air-tight bowl or container for about an hour before use. Stir icing gently, tip the bowl and use a spatula to gently press bubbles out of the mix. Inspect cookies and pop bubbles with a toothpick or scribe when the icing’s wet.

What else I learned about royal icing

  1. Royal icing takes about 24 hours to dry — longer if you’re in a humid environment, if your flood icing was on the thin side, and/or if your icing’s layered on thickly.
  2. Cutting the icing with a knife helps you to determine whether or not you have the right consistency. Some cookie decorators swear by the 10-second rule while others like the 20-second rule. Here’s how it works: Cut the icing with a butter knife, remove the knife from the bowl and start counting. By the time you get to 10 – 20, the icing should have just settled and smoothed over so that line you created with the knife disappears. I’m SO trying this method from now on.
  3. Watch Sweet SugarBelle’s videos on piping and flooding consistency icing BEFORE I fill my piping bag or piping bottle. :)

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