Let’s talk about Royal Icing Consistency. Learn how to get it right and how to use different consistencies for different decorating projects. Any cookie decorator will tell you that getting the thickness of royal icing right is a game changer. It’s a single most important thing in the world of cookie decorating.
Updated post from 2013
ROYAL ICING CONSISTENCY DEMYSTIFIED
Today I’ll share with you how to thin royal icing with water for your cookie decorating projects. And I’ll share tips on how to use different royal icing consistencies in real projects. Let’s dive in.
TOOLS YOU NEED TO THIN ROYAL ICING
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ROYAL ICING RECIPES
HOW TO THIN ROYAL ICING?
But how do decorators create a smooth royal icing finish on their cookies?
To create a smooth, satin-like royal icing finish on cookies, we have to use icing that is fluid enough to cover the surface of the cookies with a thin, smooth layer of icing. You need to thin stiff royal icing with room temperature water to create a more fluid consistency.
WHAT KIND OF WATER YOU SHOULDN’T USE
Use water at room temperature. Tap water is fine. Avoid using chilled or hot water.
HOW TO ADD WATER TO ICING?
Though you can use a spoon, dropper or a squeeze decorating bottle to add water to icing, I recommend using a Spray Bottle.
I learned this tip from a seasoned decorator, One Tough Cookie. Gail is no longer decorating cookies, but her clever spray bottle spritz method is still going strong, used by hundreds of cookie decorators.
WHY SPRAY BOTTLE WORKS
Spray bottle allows you to easily control the amount of water you add. Too much water added at once can yield to icing that is too runny. And runny icing can be difficult to work with.
STIFF ROYAL ICING
What does stiff consistency look like?
When you first make royal icing it should be thick with a stiff peak.
Royal icing with a stiff peak doesn’t spread. It stays in the shape you pipe or shape it. You can shape stiff royal icing with a palette knife, fork, decorating combs or with a toothpick.
Stiff Royal Icing Uses
- Piped flowers such as roses, succulents, leaves, pressure piped decorations
- Glue/cement for building gingerbread houses.
- Use it to create different textures, for example brick, wood grain, scales, use decorating combs to create fun textures.
- Beaded borders or brushed embroidery.
- Use it with stencils to create beautiful patterns, messages on cookies.
- It works great with specialty piping tips to create beautiful life like patterns, such as basket weave or grass.
- How to make Succulents
- 3D Easter Egg Cookie Baskets (basket weave)
- Holiday Gingerbread Birdhouse (wood grain)
- Nightmare Before Christmas Gingerbread House (roof)
- Love Shack Gingerbread House (roses)
- Mermaid Gingerbread House (sea shells)
- Graduation Cookies (tassel)
- Easter Gingerbread House (roof)
- Patriotic Sea Shell Cookies – When using royal icing with stencils it is best to use thicker icing. Thin icing can leak underneath of the stencil.
- Beauty and the Beast Gingerbread House (roof rose pattern is stenciled)
- Dipped Marbled Cookies ( leaves and roses are stenciled)
- Butterfly Cookies
What does piping consistency look like?
Icing when pulled up with a spatula it forms a peak that slowly falls down. It’s flexible and soft but doesn’t become blended with the rest of the icing.
Piping Consistency Uses
Piping / Outline consistency is used to create piped details on cookies. Such as writing, fine details, outlines and so on.
- Jiff Peanut Butter Cookies (outlines)
- Skull Cookies (black outlines)
- Pink Snowflake Cookies (white design)
- Dragon Fruit Cookies (black outlines)
FLOOD ROYAL ICING CONSISTENCY
What does flood consistency look like?
Flood consistency refers to consistency that when used to decorate it results in a royal icing with a smooth, satin like finish.
Flood consistency royal icing is often referred to as 5, 10, 15 or 20, 25 seconds icing. Seconds refer to the time it takes for the icing to become smooth after you run a spatula through it. Or you can take a spoonful of icing from a bowl and let it fall back into a bowl. Count how long it takes for the icing to become smooth again.
For example when you run a spatula through icing, it may take 20 seconds for the line to disappear. If you only need 15 second consistency this simply means you need to add little more water. And vice versa.
Depending on the project, size of the cookies, your skill, different flood consistencies can be used to achieve desired look of smoothly iced cookies.
4-SECOND ROYAL ICING CONSISTENCY
I use it to brush a thin layer of icing on cookies. This is especially useful when creating depth. You can use this icing to create window panes and eyes.
- Pumpkin, Vampire Cookies (black sections)*
- Cookie Monster (mouth)*
Notice black sections are sitting lower than the rest of the icing around it.
10 SECOND ROYAL ICING CONSISTENCY
Works great for Dipping Icing Method, general flooding, and icing larger cookies, for example gingerbread house panels.
- Star Wars Gingerbread House (roof)
- Pink Marbled Sugar Cookies (dipping method, gluten free sugar cookies)
- Marbled Dipped Hexagon Cookies
15 SECOND ROYAL ICING CONSISTENCY
In my YouTube instructional cookie decorating videos you may have heard me say “use 15 Second Consistency Royal Icing” more times than I care to count.
I mostly use 15 second royal icing consistency to flood the cookies. Slightly thicker than 10 second, it doesn’t spread too fast and works great for both : outlining and flooding the cookies.
- Pot of Gold Cookies (black and rainbow)
- Captain America Shield Cookies (red,white, blue base, star is 20second)
- Purple Heart Cookies (purple base)
- Yellow Cherry Mixer Cookies (yellow base with cherries and leaves)
- Witch Hat Cookies (blue and orange)
20-25 SECOND ROYAL ICING CONSISTENCY
I use this consistency to create tufted, puffy designs. It’s ideal for flooding of smaller sections. And it’s also great for adding dimension to a design.
- Soccer Ball Cookies [Template] (white and black is 20 sec)
- Succulent Cookies (borders are 20 sec)
- Dinosaur Eyes Cookies (eye lids)
- Pizza Cookies (cheese, pepperoni, peppers, olives)
- LOL Surprise Doll Cookies (dolls eyes)
WET ON WET DESIGNS
10 and 15 second royal icing consistencies, both are great for creating fun wet on wet designs. For example : marbling, wet on wet roses, polka dots, bubbles, animal prints and so much more.
- 3D Dinosaur Cookies
- Flower Cookies
- Heart Cookies
- Mushroom Cookies
FLOOD CONSISTENCY TROUBLESHOOTING
- My royal icing too thin; what to do? Add more stiff royal icing. Or you can also add a bit of sifted powdered sugar: 2-3 tablespoons per cup of icing.
- Icing starts to crust too fast. This can be caused by: ambient temperature (if you work by a heat source) or accelerated air circulation (fan running close by). Or perhaps your icing is too thick, or you haven’t yet developed a skill to flood quickly. It’s normal. Add white gel food coloring; it contains stabilizers that can amend rapid crusting problems.
- Royal Icing FAQ – here you’ll find answers to many of the commons questions.
- Air bubbles in royal icing
- How to prevent craters/cave-ins in royal icing.
- Preventing hairline cracks
SHOULD I USE PIPING BAGS, DECORATING BOTTLES, PARCHMENT CONES OR SANDWICH BAGS TO DECORATE?
To apply royal icing onto cookies you can use sandwich bags, piping bags, decorating bottles or parchment cones. These all can be used to pipe the royal icing.
Which you use is entirely up to you. I used sandwich bags for years before switching to tipless piping bags. I think most people use piping bags. And when using a piping tip it’s definitely a good idea to use a piping bag.
There are quite a few decorators using piping bottles, too. During one of the classes, student told me that she prefers to use bottles as they cause less strain on her wrists. So, it’s definitely something to consider.
Use what feels the most comfortable for you. Be mindful of your body and if something is causing you pain try to modify either consistency or tools you use.
IT’S SO CONFUSING, I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT ROYAL ICING CONSISTENCY TO USE?
If you are beginner then this all can seem overwhelming. No need to panic. Start with one or 2 consistencies : 15-second consistency to flood and piping consistency to add some piped details.
HOW TO START DECORATING COOKIES WITHOUT SPENDING TOO MUCH MONEY
If you don’t want to invest in piping bags and other special tools right away or don’t have any on hand, try using sandwich bags and a toothpick instead of a scribe.
- Start by flooding cookies with 15 second consistency.
- Let the icing dry.
- Then use a piping consistency royal icing to add some details.
- Or have fun with wet on wet designs : make polka dots, flowers, hearts, leopard print.
- As you learn some basics about how royal icing behaves it will be much easier to determine what royal icing consistency to use for a project.
- Cookie Decorating Guide
- Beginner’s Guide To Cookie Decorating
- Ultimate Guide to Cut-Out Cookies (tips, tricks, troubleshooting)
- Royal Icing Recipe
- Small Batch Royal Icing Recipe
- Cookie Icing Recipes (includes vegan royal icing, glaze, fondant)
- Guide To Royal Icing Consistencies with Visual Help(what is stiff, flood icing, etc.)
- How To Freeze Royal Icing
- How To Make Royal Icing Transfers
- Royal Icing FAQ ( for example: how to make black icing, color bleeding, storage, and more)
- How To Make a Cookie Cutter Template
- Ultimate Guide To Cookie Decorating Tools
MORE DECORATED COOKIE TUTORIALS
This post was originally publish in 2013, in May of 2019 I updated this post with new photos, written text and a video.