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Royal Icing Consistency [Video]

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.

heart cookie decorated with 15 second royal icing consistency

Updated post from 2013

ROYAL ICING CONSISTENCY DEMYSTIFIED

Today I’m going to show you how to thin royal icing and in my video you can see real examples of when different consistencies are being used in the cookie decorating.

In this post you’ll also find several examples of consistencies used in real cookie projects. In my video you can see the fluidity of icing from stiff to 4 second consistency.

HOW TO THIN ROYAL ICING?

But how do decorators create smooth royal icing finish on their cookies?

To create a smooth royal icing finish we have to thin stiff royal icing with room temperature water to more fluid consistency.

spray bottle and stiff royal icing consistency

To create a smooth, satin like royal icing finish we have to use icing that is fluid enough to cover surface of the cookies with a thin, smooth layer of icing.

Use water at room temperature. Tap water is fine. Avoid using chilled or hot water.

thinning royal icing with water

Though you can use a spoon or a dropper 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, being 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.

When thinning royal icing with water add small amounts of water at a time. Whisk well, check the consistency and repeat if necessary. Little water goes a long way. 

STIFF ROYAL ICING

What does this 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 consistency

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.
sugar succulents, gingerbread house cookies
roses pipes with stiff royal icing consistency

When using royal icing with stencils it is best to use thicker icing. Thin icing can leak underneath of the stencil.

Spreading a thin layer of royal icing over a seashell stencil.
Spreading thick royal icing over a stencil.
Royal icing stenciled cookies on a plate.

PIPING CONSISTENCY

What does this 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 / 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)
day of dead, snowflake, dragon fruit decorated cookies

FLOOD ROYAL ICING CONSISTENCY

What does this 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.

heart cookies iced with red 15 second royal icing consistency

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. This icing can also be use to create windows panes, eyes.

  • Pumpkin, Vampire Cookies (black sections)
  • Cookie Monster (mouth)

Notice black sections are sitting lower than the rest of the icing around it.

elmo and halloween decorated cookies

10 SECOND ROYAL ICING CONSISTENCY

Works great for Dipping Icing Method, general flooding, and icing larger cookies, for example gingerbread house panels.

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.

rainbow pot of gold, captain america shield cookies decorated with 15 second royal icing

20 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.

tufted heart cookies
soccer ball, pizza, succulent and dinosaur cookie decorated with 20 second royal icing consistency
royal icing 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.

cookies decorated with marbled 15 second royal icing consistency
decorated cookies iced with 15 second royal icing consistency

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 disposable tipless piping bags. I think most people use piping bags.

Decorating cookies with royal icing

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.

If you don’t want to invest into piping bags right away or don’t have any on hand try using sandwich bags.

  • 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.

6 shades of purple icing in piping bags

FLOOD CONSISTENCY ISSUES

  • My royal icing is too thin? Add more stiff royal icing. Or you can also add little bit of sifted powdered sugar : 2tbsp 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.
  • Royal Icing FAQ
  • Air Bubbles
  • Craters
  • Hairline Cracks
  • Blotching/Butter Bleed

ROYAL ICING RECIPES

TOOLS YOU NEED TO THIN ROYAL ICING

PIN IT for later

red heart cookie decorated with royal icing

This post was originally publish in 2013, in May of 2019 I updated this post with new photos, written text and a video.

This post contains Amazon affiliate links that earn me a small commission, at no cost to you. I only recommend products that I use and love. Learn more about my affiliate policy here.

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26 Comments

  1. How to say “thank you” for the time and detail provided in this post??? Just when I was ready to give up on cookie decorating, I found your site and this Incredibly detailed post. It’s like having my hand held through the process. Haniela, you are a gift to me (and countless others, I have no doubt). I am actually excited to make (yet another) batch of royal icing and do so with enthusiasm ~ ALL thanks to you. ❤

    1. HI Maria,
      thank you so much. I’m glad my tutorial provided you with what you needed to succeed with your cookie decorating project.
      Thank you for stopping by.

  2. You are so talented! I love your videos and your cookies are gorgeous!! My question is I see alot of cookies with really puffy icing and I was wondering how to get that effect. I have tried a thicker consistencies but it never looks right. I hope you can help me please.

    1. HI Brynne,
      for puffy icing you need to use thicker consistency. Try using the piping bag only, no scribe to smooth the flood, pipe and fill the section with thick icing while using the tip of the piping
      bag to agitate the icing to make is smooth.

  3. Hi Haniela! WOW! This is the first time I have seen your website! I am AMAZED! You are sO talented, and I cannot tell you how many great tips I have learned from your site in the last 30 minutes !! You now have another new Fan!! Thank you for all of your easy to follow instructions, tutorials, recipes and tips! I LOVE IT! Thank you Haniela!

    1. Hi Mary,
      thank you.
      As far as an airbrush goes, there are several on the market that are reasonably priced and work well.
      Cookie Countess Airbrush System on cookie countess website
      AirGenie Basic Airbrush Kit on creative cookier website
      I use Master Airbrush Cake Decorating Airbrushing System (amazon). I’ve had it for years, and it works great but it’s not very compact, so if you are looking for something smaller in size I’d go with the ones I mentioned above. Hope that helps.

  4. I want icing that is not matte. Tried fan and it works. Just read where put decorated cookies in the oven on 170 degrees for 30 minutes. I experimented with a few cookies and I was amazed. Have you heard of this. Is this recommended?

    1. Hi Linda,
      yes, fan helps to promote quicker drying. Yes you can also dry them in the oven, just be sure not leave them in there for too long as it can dry out cookies. I usually do 10 minutes to get a quick crust on it. You can also use oscillating, portable heater to dry icing quicker, resulting in shiny royal icing finish.

    1. Hello Selina
      in my experience thick icing works the best, it doesn’t have to be super stiff but thicker the better. If it’s too runny you are risking it will leak underneath of the stencil.

  5. Hi Hani! I was watching one of your videos showing how to make 3D Christmas Stockings Cookies. I notice that your royal icing is so shiny in the video! May I please know how you make it shiny? Mine turns matte in color after the icing dries 🙁 Also would you be able to recommend a good airbrush to buy?

    Thanks you for your time reading my comment,

    Regards,
    Jc

    1. Hi Jc,
      I find that when icing dries fast it maintains a nice shine to it.And also it depends on the meringue powder you use and what is an actual dry egg white ratio in the mix. My advice would be to try speed up drying process by employing fans.

  6. Hi, the video doesn’t have any sound. I’ve watched it on several different internet browsers and the sound doesn’t play on any of them.

    1. Hello Elizabeth, when starting with white royal icing I add Super Red gel food coloring by Americolor brand until icing turns dark red with a pink hue. Let the colored icing overnight and best for couple of days at room temperature. As the colored icing matures its color get richer. After this if your icing is not desired red color you can add little more food coloring.

      1. Any recommendations for dye free red coloring. The once’s I have tried do no come out red but nor dark pink😩

      2. Hi Karin,

        you can try freeze dry fruit, for example red beet, or red raspberries, pulverize them and use to color icing. However, with natural colors it can be difficult to achieve a true red color.

  7. Hi Haniela!
    I loved your explanation! It’s very simple to understand. When I decorate my cookies, craters appear on them. I don’t know what I am doing wrong…. can you help me?

  8. What is your technique for cutting the tipless piping bags? How much do you cut? Do you cut on angle? I get mixed results, sometimes icing will squirt out slightly sideways, etc. Any tips would be helpful! Thanks

    1. Hi Vikki,
      I show how I cut the tipless bag in the video in the post, at about 2:40.
      Find the seam, flatten it in the middle, cut straight. Then, most like you might need to shape the opening so it’s not flat from the task before. Hope it helps.

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