Let’s talk about all things Royal Icing. I put together a comprehensive guide to royal icing that covers frequently asked questions. Bellow you’ll find answers to your questions like “how to make red royal icing?” How to eliminate cratering in royal icing. Why is my icing not drying and much more.
updated from 2015
ULTIMATE GUIDE TO ROYAL ICING
Royal icing is a wonderful decorating medium with endless possibilities. In my ultimate guide to royal icing I share my answers to the most common and some not so common questions about royal icing. I wish for this to be a guide to royal icing that you can come back to time after time. I’m actively updating and adding new information as I learn something new.
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 the increased risk of salmonella poisoning when using fresh egg whites, especially for those with a 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, corn starch to prevent clumping.
Check the label on the packaging; each brand’s 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
- Genie’s Dream Meringue Powder
- Judee’s Meringue Powder
- Chefmaster Deluxe Meringue Powder
- Celebakes Meringue Powder
- King Arhur 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 beat them for longer without becoming dry and grainy.
- Cream of tartar has thickening and anti-caking properties.
- I use it in my Thick Caramel Sauce, cream of tartar works as a 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 it 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 add extra cream of tartar. If you don’t have the cream of tartar, you can substitute it 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 powdered 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 that royal icing doesn’t dry well.
HOW DO YOU STORE ROYAL ICING?
Store royal icing in an airtight container, cover the icing with food wrap to prevent the top from crusting. You can store it at room temperature, in the fridge or your can freeze royal icing for later.
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 keep it in the refrigerator 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, I prefer storing mine in the fridge it. It doesn’t separate as much as 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).
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 need to remix the icing. More liquid is added to the icing more visible, and faster separation occurs.
TIP: Often, royal icing can separate in a piping bag. If that’s the case, massage the piping bag well with your hands until the icing is homogeneous. Decorate as usual. Or pour the icing into a bowl, stir with a spoon, and pour into a new piping bag.
MY ICING CRUSTED IN THE BOWL WHAT CAN I DO?
One thing you don’t want to do is to stir the crusted icing layer into the remaining icing. Bits of hard icing will make cookie decorating a torture. What you can try to do is to soften the icing. Mist crusted icing or bits of icing clinging to the sides of the bowl/container, using a spray bottle and room temperature water. Let the misted icing sit for several minutes. This should soften the icing enough so you can either mix it with the remaining icing or carefully wipe the side of the bowl without having crusted icing crumble into the remaining icing. In case the icing doesn’t soften, remove as much of the soft, non-crusted icing and strain it thru a clean nylon stocking before using for a project.
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 piping bags and 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.
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/dropper/or a decorating 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 – 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?
The piping consistency is thicker than flood icing. When you pull the icing up with the spatula, the peak should slowly fall down, but it never becomes completely blended with the rest of the icing. Learn more about royal icing consistency with my Guide To Royal Icing Consistency.
HELP, I HAVE AIR BUBBLES IN MY ICING, WHAT TO DO?
When thinning icing with water, often, with 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 countertop, this helps pop some of those stubborn bubbles.
- Air bubbles in the piping bag? Try spinning the bag or gently tapping it onto a counter.
- Pop the bubbles on a 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 separate as early as 4 hours after filling them. You don’t need to panic, you can gently massage a piping bag to fix the separation. If you had icing in the piping bags for over a day or 2, it might be 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. For the best results, Master Elite powders need to be activated with a few drops of water before using.
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 the icing turns red with a pink hue. Let the colored icing rest overnight and if you have time for a couple of days at room temperature. As the colored icing matures, it deepens in color. After this, if your icing is not as red as you wish, you can add a 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 1 tablespoon 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 food color 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.
CLOGGED PIPING TIPS
- To unclog a piping tip already secured on a piping bag, turn on the water in your sink and let it run till hot, and then hold the piping tip under the hot water for a minute and it will unclog the tip.
- If your icing has lumps it will clog up your piping tips, especially if you are working with small piping tips like round #00, #1. Make sure to sift the powdered sugar, meringue powder and cream of tartar when preparing royal icing. Additionally, you can strain royal icing thru a clean nylon stocking.
- Don’t push a metal scribe inside of the piping tip to unclog, it can scratch the metal and damage the tip, use a toothpick instead.
ICING IS CURLING WHEN YOU PIPE
- Size of the piping tip and the pressure you put on the piping bag filled with icing matters. It requires balance. If your piping tip is small and you squeeze the piping bag hard, icing is trying get out of the piping bag thru a small piping tip; it starts to curl under all that pressure. Try easing the pressure when you squeeze the bag.
- Icing that is not entirely smooth with bits of either crusted icing or powdered sugar clumps can become a problem. It can create a blockage from the inside of the piping tip and as a result, icing curls as it comes out of the piping bag.
- Defective piping tip can also be a culprit of this problem. Check the inside of the piping tip for any visible damage, like scratches and dents.
HOW DO YOU DRY COOKIES DECORATED WITH ROYAL ICING? DO I NEED TO COVER COOKIES AND PUT THEM INTO THE FRIDGE?
Don’t cover decorated cookies when they are drying. Leave them at room temperature. Don’t put them into the fridge.
- I place cookies on a flat tray and and let them air dry overnight at room temperature.
- You can also use heat lamps and small portable heater to promote faster drying.
TIP: I use a fan to promote air circulation to speed up the drying process. 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 to place the fan too close to the cookies, though very rare, you can experience rippling on the icing.
WHAT DEHYDRATOR CAN I USE TO DRY MY ICED COOKIES?
You can also use food dehydrator to dry icing, be sure to do a 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 (via Borderlands Bakery).
HOW TO DRY ICING IN THE OVEN?
Depending on your oven settings, set the oven to the lowest possible temperature setting, my oven goes down to 120-130F (50C-54C). If your oven has a fan, turn it on. Fold a kitchen towel and use it to keep the oven door ajar. This allows moisture to exit the oven. Dry icing in 5-10 minute intervals. 5-10 minutes is enough time for the icing to crust and you can add another layer of decoration on the top.
Suppose your oven doesn’t go as low as 120F-130F. Preheat the oven to the lowest possible setting. Use an oven thermometer to gauge when to turn it off; turn the oven off at about 150F, place cookies into the oven for 10-15 minutes, and keep the oven door ajar. This helps to develop the crust faster.
IT’S REALLY HUMID AND MY ICING IS NOT DRYING FAST ENOUGH
If you can, use a dehumidifier to help manage air humidity. Drying cookies in a closed room with the dehumidifier running is the best. You can also follow the tips mentioned above with fans, food dehydrator, and oven drying. Avoid using too much food coloring in your icing.
WHY MY ROYAL ICING WON’T DRY AT ALL?
Well, this only happened to me once. It happened with black icing. If I can help it, I don’t use black icing. But sometimes designs look better with a black outline, or a project requires black icing, and you can’t help it.
- Here are few things that can cause that your royal icing is not drying:
- 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.
- Oil-based flavorings.
- High humidity (see tips above)
- Also, too much cocoa powder in royal icing, if using to make chocolate royal icing.
TIP: Use concentrated gel food colors. And allow deep colored royal icing to mature for several hours and ideally for up to 24 hours. 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. Try adding 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, it can take 6-12 hours.
MY ICING FELL OFF THE COOKIE
From my experience, this can happen when there is a greasy layer on top of the cookie or if the cookie has been dried for a long time.
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 means that icing developed a shell layer on the top. Don’t be fooled; icing is still wet underneath. You pipe a new layer of icing on top without 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. The time needed for icing to crust if factored by royal icing consistency, size of the iced area, and drying technique.
I HAVE HAIRLINE CRACKS IN MY ROYAL ICING, HOW TO PREVENT THIS FROM HAPPENING?
- There are several possible causes why your icing has hairline cracks:
- From my experience, hairline cracks can develop on iced cookies, especially larger, fully iced ones that are lightly crusted over, and lifted by the edges, and handled. Icing under the crusted layer is not fully dry, and there is friction between top crusted layer and wet layer under the crusted layer, causing hairline cracks. If it’s necessary to move cookies, try sliding them instead lifting them up by the edges.
- Overbeating can cause icing become to dry and this can also contribute to formation of hairline cracks in icing.
- When icing dries rapidly, it can results in formation of cracks.
How do hairline cracks happen: you iced a 5-inch cookie with a base layer. Then 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. Rapid moving of the tray with cookies and placing it on a table or lifting individual cookies by hand can disrupt the icing and causes hairline cracks.
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.
- What causes cratering in royal icing?
- Icing that is overmixed. Overmixed icing tends to have a lot of tiny air bubbles. These air bubbles can cause the icing to “collapse” as it dries, causing craters. Mix icing at low speed.
- Icing that is too runny and used for decorating small sections is often a culprit of craters and cave-ins in royal icing. Use thicker icing that can be smoothed with a scribe -20-25 second consistency works great.
- High humidity can cause unusually long drying time, icing absorbs moisture from air and it takes a long time to dry, possible causing some cratering.
- 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 – there is an actual hole in the icing
- How to combat cratering in royal icing
- Don’t overmix icing
- Use thicker royal icing
- Dry icing evenly
- Or use a support layer of royal icing
- Cover the crater section with an edible decoration, like piped flowers or what ever feels fit for the design you are working on
HOW TO CREATE A SUPPORT LAYER ? Pipe a line across the middle of the section you are going to ice, and you think it will most likely develop a crater. Allow the line to crust (step 1). This line will act as a support so the icing that you pipe on top of it will not sink or dimple (step 2).
WRINKLED/RIPPLED ROYAL ICING
- When royal icing on decorated cookie dries with wrinkled / rippling effect it could be for couple of reasons
- Too much airflow – you are running a fan at high speed and too close to freshly iced cookies
- Not enough airflow – this can happen in a dehydrator, keep the doors ajar
- Temperature difference – decorating chilled cookies with room temperature royal icing and vice versa. It’s best when both, cookie and royal icing are at room temperature.
- Icing that is too thin.
WHERE DO YOU GET YOUR EDIBLE PENS?
You can look on my Shop page; they are listed there. You can get edible markers on Amazon and in specialty stores.
My favorite brands are Rainbow Dust and FooDoodler markers.
- Rainbow Dust Markers are dual-tip markers. I love their gray and black for tracing outlines onto the dry icing, and for drawing facial details onto the character cookies. (Steps 1-2)
- FooDoodlers Markers are great for tracing designs onto cookies and for coloring page cookies.
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. Learn more about different Cookie Decorating Tools.
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 3-D royal icing flowers.
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 wax paper, parchment, or food-grade acetate. 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.
- Useful tips on preventing color bleed
- Try letting dark colored icing rest overnight and if possible for several days (follow the steps on how to color red and black royal icing above) before using on cookies.
- Add a 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 tablespoon of corn syrup per 1 cup of icing.
- Use concentrated gel or powder food colors to color icing. Avoid using liquid food colors.
- Icing that is too runny can take a long time to dry, potentially causing bleeding.
- Use drying systems to promote air circulation to help icing dry.
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 a little bit of corn syrup dies with a softer bite. Don’t use icing with corn syrup to make piped flowers.
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 hard to fight, so try not to panic when this happens. Over time butter bleed usually spreads over the whole surface of the cookie and makes the icing a little darker.
TIP: Place freshly baked, cooled cookies upside down on a piece of paper towel overnight. If there is an 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, agave or invert sugar syrup 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 with a couple of cookies before you try to freeze whole 200 of them.
- Ideally you’d want to package your cookies in clear poly 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.
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 extra tissue paper, bubble wrap, or styrofoam packaging peanuts. Close the box and shake it. Do you hear and feel the movement inside the box? If you do, then you need to add more packaging material to prevent the shifting from occurring.
FAVORITE COOKIE DECORATING TOOLS?
Do you have a question you don’t see an answer to in my Ultimate Guide to Royal Icing? Message me about it