Let’s talk Royal Icing Troubleshooting. I put together an extensive list of royal icing FAQ and answers. I tried to answer these most commons questions to the best of my knowledge that I acquired over the last 12 years of cookie decorating.
ROYAL ICING TROUBLESHOOTING
Royal icing is wonderful when it behaves like you want. But there are days when it just doesn’t. Here are the most common questions and answers to help you achieve your cookies decorating goals.
- TABLE OF CONTENTS
- How do you make Royal Icing, do you have a recipe?
- What is Meringue Powder and where can I find it?
- What brand of Meringue Powder do you use?
- I don’t have a meringue powder, can I use raw egg whites to make royal icing?
- Why are you adding cream of tartar?
- My royal icing is not stiff like yours, should I add more powdered sugar?
- What if I don’t like lemon flavored royal icing, can I use something else instead of lemon juice?
- Can I flavor royal icing?
- How do you store royal icing?
- How long does royal icing keep?
- How can I tell icing is bad?
- Can I freeze royal icing?
- I made my royal icing 7 days ago now there is liquid on the bottom of the container, is my royal icing bad?
- How do you thin royal icing to different consistencies?
- What does 10, 15, 20 second consistency mean?
- What is piping consistency?
- I have air bubbles in my icing, what to do?
- How long can you keep icing in the piping bags before it starts to separate?
- What kind of food colors do you use?
- How do you make Red royal icing?
- How do you make Black royal icing?
- Do I need to cover iced cookies or put them into the fridge? How do you dry cookies decorated with royal icing?
- What dehydrator is best for drying decorated cookies?
- It’s really humid, my icing is not drying fast enough?
- Royal Icing won’t dry at all, what to do?
- How long does it take for cookies decorated with royal icing to dry completely?
- Dry Icing became dislodged from a cookie.
- You say “let the icing crust” a lot. What does it mean?
- I have hairline cracks in my icing, how do I prevent this from happening?
- Where do you get your Edible Pens?
- Is it safe to use markers to draw on royal icing?
- What does RIT stand for?
- Why is my black royal icing bleeding and how can I prevent it?
- Does royal icing stay soft or does it get firm as it dries?
- Can I make my royal icing dry softer?
- Cookies decorated with royal icing have spots on them, what happened?
- My icing dries dull, why?
STORAGE, PACKAGING AND FREEZING COOKIES
- Where do you store decorated cookies?
- How to package cookies for favors?
- How long are decorated cookies good for?
- Can I prolong the shelf life of cookies?
- Can I freeze decorated cookies?
- How to prepare cookies for shipping?
- What are your favorite tools to to decorate cookies?
HOW DO YOU MAKE ROYAL ICING, DO YOU HAVE A RECIPE ?
What is Royal Icing? Royal Icing is made from egg whites and powdered sugar, flavorings and stabilizers are also added. Egg whites come in 2 forms fresh and dry.
- ROYAL ICING RECIPES
- My favorite is meringue based Fresh Lemon Royal Icing.
- If you can’t find meringue powder you can also use Liquid Egg Whites and Fresh Egg Royal Icing.
- For those looking for an eggless version – I love this Vegan Royal Icing.
Because of increased risk of salmonella poisoning when using fresh egg whites, especially for those with weakened immune system it is recommended to use dry egg whites or meringue powder.
TIP : When using fresh egg whites always make sure to use eggs from a credible source.
WHAT IS MERINGUE POWDER AND WHERE CAN I FIND IT?
Meringue powder consists of dry pasteurized egg whites, cream of tartar and in some cases also corn starch to prevent clumping.
Check the label on the packaging, each brand ingredients can vary slightly. Meringue powder is available at Crafts stores or specialty bakery store or online.
WHAT BRAND OF MERINGUE POWDER DO YOU USE?
I use Wilton brand meringue powder.
- Other Meringue Brands :
- Wilton Meringue Powder
- CK Meringue Powder
- Genie’s Dream Meringue Powder
CAN I USE RAW EGG WHITE TO MAKE ROYAL ICING ?
You can use pasteurized Liquid Egg White products or Pasteurized Shell Eggs(recipes). Always use shelled eggs from credible sources. You can also try using eggless Vegan Royal Icing instead.
Some grocery stores carry pasteurized in shell eggs. Eggs are marked with a red stamp – red Circle P stamped on a shell means egg has been pasteurized.
WHAT IS CREAM OF TARTAR AND WHY ARE YOU ADDING IT TO ROYAL ICING?
Cream of Tartar is a byproduct of wine and grape production. It’s acidic and is often used in food industry for several reasons.
- It stabilizes egg whites, they whip better and you can whip them for longer without becoming dry and grainy).
- Cream of tartar has thickening and anti-caking properties.
- I also often use it in my Thick Caramel Sauce, cream of tartar works as crystallization inhibitor. It helps prevent sugar crystallization.
- Baking Powder is made from baking soda and cream of tartar. Cream of tartar helps activate baking soda in baking powder.
- You can also use to stabilize whipped cream.
TIP : A lot of times Meringue Powder already has cream of tartar so if that’s the case you don’t need to use it. If you don’t have cream of tartar you can substitute for freshly squeezed lemon juice. It is not as effective but works well, too.
MY ROYAL ICING IS NOT AS STIFF AS YOURS. SHOULD I ADD MORE POWDERED SUGAR?
Yes, try adding a little more sifted powdered sugar.
If you are adding more than 4 cups of additional powdered sugar, be sure to add 1 more tablespoon of meringue powder. It is best to sift powder sugar before you add it to royal icing so you don’t end up having lumps in the icing.
I DON’T LIKE LEMON FLAVORED ICING. CAN I USE SOMETHING ELSE IN PLACE OF LEMON JUICE?
You can omit lemon juice and use water instead.
CAN I FLAVOR ROYAL ICING ICING?
Absolutely. Use alcohol or water based flavorings.
TIP : Oil based flavorings can cause some issue with royal icing not drying well.
HOW DO YOU STORE ROYAL ICING?
Royal icing can be stored at room temperature for up to 4 weeks.
TIP : I store my royal icing in the fridge in an airtight container with a piece of plastic wrap tightly covering the top, with the lid. I store it in the fridge as it doesn’t separate as much.
HOW LONG DOES ROYAL ICING KEEP?
Meringue based icing keeps for up to 4 weeks at room temperature. However if possible I prefer storing mine in the fridge it. I think it doesn’t separate as much than it does when stored at room temperature.
TIP : Icing that has been sitting for a while separates .You will have to remix icing that has been sitting for extended periods of time and has separated (liquid is on the bottom).
HOW CAN I TELL ICING IS BAD?
Icing that has gone bad has a sour smell to it. Gasses created in the icing cause solids to puff up significantly and often pressure can cause the lid on the container to pop. If you suspect icing is bad, toss it and make a new batch.
CAN I FREEZE ROYAL ICING?
Yes, you can freeze royal icing. I usually freeze it in the piping bags and in ziploc bags. It can be frozen for up to 3 months. Learn more about freezing royal icing and how to use icing previous frozen for cookie decorating.
I MADE MY ROYAL ICING 7 DAYS AGO. NOW THERE IS YELLOW LIQUID ON THE BOTTOM OF MY CONTAINER. IS MY ICING BAD?
This is called separation and it’s normal. Liquid separates from the solids and yellowish liquid accumulates on the bottom of the container. You just need to remix the icing. More liquid is added to the icing more visible and faster separation occurs.
TIP : Often royal icing separation occurs fast and when icing is already in a piping bag. If that’s the case massage the piping bag well with your hands until icing is homogeneous. Decorate as usual.
HOW DO YOU THIN ROYAL ICING TO DIFFERENT CONSISTENCIES?
To thin royal icing I use water. To add water to royal icing I use a spray bottle and room temperature water. For more details, and video samples of different consistencies check out my ultimate Guide To Royal Icing Consistency.
Why spray bottle works? Spray bottle works great as it eliminates adding too much water at once. Adding too much water can lead to icing that is to runny with excessive amount of air bubbles. This is a common problem and I highly recommend spray bottle method to thin royal icing.
WHAT DOES 10, 15, 20 SECOND CONSISTENCY MEAN?
10, 15, 20 second royal icing refers to the fluidity of royal icing. Different consistencies are often needed for completion of different cookie decorating designs.
For example : 15 second consistency refers to icing when you run a spatula though separation line will disappear in about 15 seconds. Generally flood icing is 10,15,20 second consistency. Flood icing is used to ice the cookies creating a smooth satin like finish.
WHAT IS PIPING CONSISTENCY?
Piping consistency is thicker than flood icing. When you pull the icing with the spatula up peak should slowly fall down but it never becomes completely blended with the rest of the icing. Learn more about roya licing consistency with my Guide To Royal Icing Consistency.
HELP, I HAVE AIR BUBBLES IN MY ICING, WHAT TO DO?
When mixing icing, especially when you are thinning it down for flooding, sometimes with all the mixing we mix in air, creating air bubbles. This is normal.
There are few things you can do to battle the air bubbles in royal icing :
- Cover icing with a plastic wrap and let sit for 20-30 minutes, bubbles usually rise to the top. Slowly stir to pop as many air bubble as you can.
- You can also bang the bowl on the counter top, this can also pop some of those stubborn bubbles.
- If you notice bubbles after you filled your piping bags tap the piping bags from all directions.
- Pop the bubbles on freshly iced cookie with a needle tool.
HOW LONG CAN YOU KEEP ICING IN THE PIPING BAGS BEFORE IT STARTS TO SEPARATE?
Thinned down icing in the piping bags can start to separate in as early as 4 hours. No need to panic, you can gently massage a piping bag to remedy separation. If you had icing in the piping bags for over a day or 2, it maybe necessary to remix it with a spatula.
TIP : Darker colors of royal icing tend to separate quicker.
WHAT FOOD COLORS DO YOU USE?
I use Americolor, Chef Master, Pro Gel (I love the claret color) and Wilton food colors. You can also try Master Elite food colors, they are highly pigmented and produce vibrant colors with small amount of coloring.
There are also all natural food colorings available on the market. Whole Foods store carries some and you can also purchase them online.
TIP : Avoid using liquid food colors, these are diluted. Instead use concentrated gel colors.
HOW DO YOU MAKE RED ROYAL ICING?
If starting with white royal icing I add Super Red gel food coloring by Americolor brand until icing turns red with a pink hue. Let the colored icing overnight and best for couple of days at room temperature. As the colored icing matures it deepens in colors. After this if your icing is not desired red color you can add little more food coloring.
HOW DO YOU MAKE BLACK ROYAL ICING?
Starting with white I add Super Black gel food coloring by Americolor brand until icing turns very dark grey. Then I stop and cover the icing and let it rest overnight or for several days at room temperature. Color deepens significantly overtime.
TIP : Another trick is to add 1tbl cocoa powder(not more) per one cup of white royal icing. So your starting point is not white icing but light brown hence less black to color icing. It also tastes super yummy. Then add black food coloring and continue with the same process as states above. Make sure you don’t add too much cocoa powder as it can affect how royal icing dries and pipes.
HOW DO YOU DRY COOKIES DECORATED WITH ROYAL ICING? DO I NEED TO COVER COOKIES AND PUT THEM INTO THE FRIDGE?
I place cookies on a flat tray and and let them air dry overnight at room temperature.
Don’t cover decorated cookies when they are drying. Leave them at room temperature. Don’t put them into the fridge.
TIP: To speed up the drying process I use a fan to promote air circulation. It really helps with faster drying. I only use the fan in a closed room, along with a ceiling fan. Always make sure fans are clean so you don’t have dust flying around. Try not place the fan too close to the cookies, though rare you may experience rippling on icing.
You can also use heat lamps and small portable heater to promote faster drying.
WHAT DEHYDRATOR CAN I USE TO DRY MY ICED COOKIES?
You can also use food dehydrator to dry icing, be sure to do few test runs to ensure you know how quickly it takes for the icing to dry when using food dehydrator. Cookies can dry fairly quickly. Learn more about using food dehydrators for cookie decorating over at Borderlands Bakery.
IT’S REALLY HUMID MY ICING IS NOT DRYING FAST ENOUGH
If you can, use dehumidifier to help manage air humidity. It is best to dry cookies in a closed room with the dehumidifier running. You can also follow additional tips mentioned above with the use of fans and food dehydrator.
You can also accelerate drying by preheating your oven the lowest setting, then turn off the oven and place cookies on a heat proof tray/baking sheet into the oven for 10-15 minutes. This helps to develop the crust faster.
WHY MY ROYAL ICING WON’T DRY AT ALL?
Well, this only happened once. It happened with black icing. Truth is I don’t like to use black coloring much. But sometimes designs look better with a black outline or there is a project that requires black and you can’t help it.
- Too much color in royal icing can cause issues with drying. And in combination with high humidity this can give you a major headache.
- Over mixing of royal icing.
- Also, too much cocoa powder in royal icing, if using to make chocolate royal icing.
TIP: Use a concentrated gel food colors. And allow dark colored royal icing to mature for several hours and ideally for up to 24 hours and more. This eliminates excessive use of gel food coloring.
MY ROYAL ICING DRIES TOO FAST
Royal icing can dry too fast when :
- There is too much meringue powder in royal icing.
- Ambient temperature. Be aware of your surroundings, do you have a heater close by? It could be affecting how fast royal icing starts to set.
- Fan running close by could also be a reason why icing is crusting too fast.
TIP : To make royal icing crust/dry slower try adding less meringue powder and use corn syrup or food grade glycerin – 1tsp per cup of thick royal icing. Or add white food coloring to icing, it’s know to delay drying time.
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE FOR ROYAL ICING TO DRY COMPLETELY?
Depending on the size of the cookies 6-10 hours.
MY ICING FELL OFF THE COOKIE
Very seldom dry icing can become dislodged off the cookie,(steps 1-2). When this happens, glue dry royal icing layer back onto the cookie. Pipe icing on the back of the dry royal icing layer, (steps 3-4). Then with a gentle shifting motion glue the royal icing piece back onto a cookies, (steps 5-8).
WHAT DOES IT MEAN “LET THE ICING CRUST?
Crusted Royal Icing simply means that icing developed a shell layer on the top. Don’t be fooled icing is still wet underneath. This crusted layer allows you to pipe icing on the top of it without it sinking into the base layer.
This step is especially crucial when creating dimension. Crusting can take anywhere from 10 minutes to 60 minutes or longer. Time needed for icing to crust if factored by royal icing consistency, size of the iced area and drying technique.
I HAVE HAIRLINES CRACKS IN MY ROYAL ICING, HOW TO PREVENT THIS FROM HAPPENING?
Hairline cracks are an easily preventable. I find they have a tendency to occur on larger and fully iced cookies that haven’t developed thick enough crust to be moved.
How do hair line cracks happen : you iced a 5 inch cookie with a base layer. Then you let it crust for 30 minutes. Crust has formed and it looks perfectly fine to add a pretty bow on top of the base layer. As you move the tray with cookies and place it on a table or lift individual cookies by hand this can disrupt the icing and causes hairline cracks.
At the end of the day this is not a big deal, they are hardly noticeable. Try to eliminate moving the cookies while the icing is crusting/drying.
HOW TO PREVENT CRATERING IN ROYAL ICINGS
Craters, dimples, cave-ins are pretty big nuisance in the world of cookie decorating. They often occur on small iced areas.
There are 2 levels of cratering/sink holes in cookie decorating :
- Small indentations/dimples in dry royal icing
- Sinkholes/cave ins in dry royal icing
How to combat cratering in royal icing :
- Use thicker royal icing
- Or use a support layer of royal icing
HOW TO CREATE SUPPORT LAYER ? Pipe a line across the middle of the section you are going to ice and you feel will most likely develop a cratering. Allow the line to crust. This line will act as a support so the icing that you pipe on top of it will not sink or dimple.
WRINKLED/RIPPLED ROYAL ICING
When royal icing on decorated cookie dries with wrinkled / rippling effect it could be for couple of reasons :
- Too much air flow – you are running a fan at high speed and too close to freshly iced cookies
- Not enough air flow
- Temperature difference – icing chilled cookies with room temperature royal icing and vice versa. It’s best when both cookie and royal icing are at room temperature.
WHERE DO YOU GET YOUR EDIBLE PENS?
You can look in my Shop page, they are listed there. You can get edible markers on Amazon and specialty stores.
IS IT SAFE TO USE MARKERS TO DRAW ON ROYAL ICING ?
Only use food edible pens. These pens are designed to be used with food. Perfectly safe to use.
WHAT DOES RIT STAND FOR?
RIT stands for Royal Icing Transfer. These are decorations made from royal icing. They can be made ahead of time. Royal icing transfers are used for decorating cookies cakes and even cupcakes.
Most common royal icing transfers are piped royal icing flowers. These are usually 3 dimensional.
You can also make royal icing transfers that are flat. Learn more in detail about different types of royal icing transfers. How to make them and use them in cookie and cake decorating.
They are piped on a piece of wax paper, parchment or if preferred food grade acetate. They need to dry overnight and sometimes even longer. When icing dries, backing sheet is removed and royal icing transfer is ready to be used.
WHY IS MY BLACK ROYAL ICING BLEEDING AND HOW CAN I PREVENT IT?
When icing takes longer to dry, or when it’s humid you can experience bleeding issue, especially with dark colors, like black and dark red.
Try letting dark color icing rest/mature overnight, best for several days(follow the steps on how to color red and black royal icing above) before using on cookies.
Add little bit of white food coloring to your icing.
Try adding corn syrup to the icing. I find it helps with bleeding as well. About 1 tsp of corn syrup per 1 cup of icing.
Use gel food colors to color icing. I use Americolor Brand. Avoid using liquid colors.
DOES ROYAL ICING DRIES HARD?
Royal icing dries firm it is not soft like buttercream frosting.
HOW CAN I MAKE ROYAL ICING WITH A SOFTER BITE?
You can add up to 1/4 cup of corn syrup per batch or royal icing (batch made with 2lb of powdered sugar). Royal icing made with little bi tof corn syrup dies with a softer bite.
COOKIES DECORATED WITH ICING HAVE SPOTS ON THEM, WHAT HAPPENED?
This is called butter bleed/blotching. It happens from time to time. Butter from the cookie bleeds into royal icing. I’ve had this happened probably 4 times. It would happen in the summer and with white royal icing (see the succulent cookies below)
Butter bleed is really hard to fight so when this happens try not to panic. Over time butter bleed usually spreads over the whole surface of the cookie and makes the icing a little darker.
TIP : Let freshly baked cookies rest overnight on a piece of paper towel. If there is and access fat it will get absorbed and it can help with the butter bleed. Try to improve drying process by using fans and humidifier. Or use food dehydrator. Adding white food coloring to royal can be also helpful.
MY ICING DRIES DULL, WHY?
Icing dries dull? This is a pretty common problem. From my experience it is usually caused by a prolonged drying period caused by icing that is too thin. It takes longer to dry because of all the additional water used to thin icing. Or perhaps it is taking a long time to dry because of the weather/climate. Humidity has no mercy and can cause quite a cookie headache. Use tips on how to dry cookies to help speed up the drying process.
HOW DO YOU STORE DECORATED COOKIES?
I store cookies, away from the direct sunlight, in the airtight container layered between wax paper sheets.
TIP : Colors can fade when exposed to sunlight for an extended period of time (days). I’ve had purple royal icing turn blue once. I left decorated cookies out by the kitchen window and in 2 days purple turned to blue.
HOW TO PACKAGE DECORATED COOKIE FOR FAVORS?
I use poly bags and a Impulse heat sealer to seal my bags, this helps to prolong the shelf life of cookies.
HOW LONG ARE DECORATED COOKIES FOR?
Generally 2-3 weeks if stored properly.
CAN I PROLONG THE SHELF LIFE OF COOKIES?
You can add 1tbl food grade glycerin or agave nectar per batch. Both are hygroscopic and absorb moisture from air, keeping the cookies moist for longer. If packaged properly cookies will last for up to 4 weeks.
CAN I FREEZE DECORATED COOKIES?
Some decorators freeze decorated cookies with no issues and then others can experience issues. I’d suggest you experiment if a couple of cookies before you try to freeze whole 200 of them.
Ideally you’d want to package your cookies in clear bags. Freeze cookies stacked in the freezer safe container vertically if possible. Then when defrosting the cookies, let them thaw on the counter in the container overnight.
Problems that can occur include blotching or bleeding of colors.
HOW TO SHIP DECORATED COOKIES?
Chose cookie cutter shapes that are less likely to break. Some of my favorites shape include : rounds, hearts, squares, cupcakes, plaques, strawberry shape (this one can be turned into 30 + different designs) Avoid shapes with long, thin, pointy sections as there are more like to break in the shipping.
USE BUBBLE WRAP
Make sure to use bubble wrap and line the bottom and inside walls of the box with the bubble wrap. Layer cookies into the box between sheets of bubble wrap, keeping little room between cookies so they are not touching but not too much of a room so they can’t shift too much while in transit.
It is important to fill every corner with either extra tissue paper or bubble wrap or styrofoam packaging peanuts. Close the box and shake it. Do you hear and feel the movement inside of the box? If you do then you need to add more packaging material to prevent the shifting from occurring.
WHAT ARE YOUR FAVORITE COOKIE DECORATING TOOLS?
Do you have a question to which you don’t see an answer in my Royal Icing FAQ? Be sure to message me.