Royal Icing – Consistencies and Troubleshooting Tips

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What is royal icing? Royal icing is made from confectioners sugar, water, egg white, and flavorings. This is the only icing that I use to decorate my cookies. The egg white is what allows it to dry hard, which is what makes royal icing so versatile.

I make my royal icing with meringue powder, which consists of dry powdered egg white and stabilizers (you can read more on the different forms of egg white below). I use 10 tablespoons of meringue powder per 2 pounds of confectioners sugar (yes, that’s a lot of meringue powder. More on that later in this post), 3/4 cups of water, plus more for thinning.

A video on how to make royal icing is available in my tutorial shop. You can learn more about decorating cookies with royal icing in my online class on Craftsy.

This post contains affiliate links. Read my affiliate disclosure here.

Royal Icing Consistencies
Icing Consistencies: There are three different consistencies of royal icing that I use most often when decorating cookies: Stiff consistency, medium consistency and flood consistency.

Stiff consistency royal icing

Stiff consistency

This is the consistency I refer to when the icing comes off of the mixer. It is spreadable, but able to hold a peak. It’s sort of like cream cheese. I mix my icing on medium-low speed (speed 2 on a stand mixer) so as not to incorporate a too much air. While the icing will increase in volume and lighten in color as it is mixing, it turns out thick and dense rather than very fluffy.
Uses: Brush embroidery, borders, roses, ruffles, basket weave (video tutorials on these methods are available in my shop)

Medium consistency royal icing

Medium Consistency

The best way to describe this consistency is that it is similar to soft serve ice cream that’s on the verge of melting. It holds a very soft peak, and doesn’t spread on its own. It can, however, be smoothed out with a scribe tool. To achieve this consistency, start with stiff icing and add a few drops of water at a time. It doesn’t take much water to get there, so be careful to not add too much at once.
Medium consistency icing is thin enough to flow smoothly out of a small tip, but is not so thin that it spreads and loses the shape of the design you are piping, which is why it’s great for piping script and filigree.
Uses: Tufting (or quilting), royal icing transfers, filigree, lettering.

Flood consistency royal icing

 Flood Consistency
This is the consistency that is used for applying a super smooth layer of icing onto a cookie. The icing should be thin enough that it smooths out on its own within 14-16 seconds, but not so thin that it runs off the edge of the cookie. I use flood icing to outline and fill in my cookies, so it’s important that the consistency is just right. It will take some practice, so don’t get frustrated if you don’t get it the first time.
To achieve this consistency, start with stiff icing and add a couple of tablespoons of water at a time. To test the consistency, take a spoonful of icing and drop it back into the bowl. It should take between 14-16 seconds for the icing to smooth itself out.
Depending on how much icing you apply to your cookie or the pressure that you put on your piping bag, the consistency of your icing may need to be adjusted. I find that somewhere between 14-16 works best for me. Trial and error is the best way to learn what will work for you.
If you’ve added too much water, do NOT add more powdered sugar. Instead, add a spoonful of stiff icing to thicken it back up. Keep a batch of stiff icing on hand for this purpose.
You can see the process of making flood consistency icing in my flooding with royal icing video, which is available in my tutorial shop.
Uses: Flooding, wet-on-wet technique, wet-on-wet filigree, tiny details (such as the reindeer on this cookie).
Meringue Powder, Dried Egg Whites or Fresh Egg Whites?
The form of egg white you use to make your royal icing is really a matter of personal preference. These days I prefer to use meringue powder, but during culinary school when I first learned about royal icing, we only used fresh egg whites.
From a food safety standpoint, I feel more comfortable using meringue powder. If you can’t find meringue powder where you live, you can replace it with dried powdered egg white in the same amount. However, in my experience, royal icing made with meringue powder is more stable and has a better consistency for decorating cookies than when it’s made with fresh egg white or dried powdered egg white. 
Like I mentioned in the beginning of this post, I use 10 tablespoons of meringue powder per 2 pounds of confectioners sugar in my royal icing. This is about double what a lot of recipes call for, but I prefer it this way because it helps with the consistency and also gives a few more minutes to work with the icing before it starts to crust over. 
Storing Royal Icing
It’s better to have too much icing than not enough, so I almost always have royal icing left over after finishing a project. Even when I’m going to be using the same icing the next day to finish up a set of cookies, I never store the icing in the bags overnight – I always empty the bags into an air tight container and put the icing in the refrigerator.
When I was in culinary school, we would put a damp paper towel over the icing inside the container so that it wouldn’t form a crust. I don’t do this now because the moisture from the paper towel changes the consistency of the icing. As long as you clean the inside edges of the container before closing it up tightly, it will be fine.
The icing will separate after sitting for several hours, so you’ll need to give it a good stir before using it again. 
If you won’t be using the icing within 10 days, you can store it in the freezer. I’d recommend not storing it longer than a month, just to be on the safe side. Freezer burn does not taste good.  
Royal Icing Troubleshooting Tips:
Most of the problems I’ve encountered with royal icing can be solved by making sure the icing is not over-mixed. The icing should be thick and creamy when it comes off the mixer rather than light and fluffy. I mix my royal icing on medium-low speed for no longer than 5 minutes. For a more detailed look at making royal icing, you can download my video tutorial here
Dull or Bumpy Icing
In order to get a smooth, shiny finish on your flooded cookies, make sure to dry them in front of a fan. Or, better yet, keep the cookies in an air conditioned room.
Humidity will cause the icing to dry slowly, which will make it become porous, dull, fragile, and sometimes leave you with a bumpy and uneven surface.
Dull or bumpy icing can also be caused by icing that is too thin, so make sure your flood consistency is not too runny. 
Air Bubbles and Color Bleed
Icing that is too thin can also lead to air bubbles, uneven texture, fragility (a big problem with royal icing transfers) and even color bleed. It helps to keep the icing on the thick side so that you don’t encounter these problems.
When making flood consistency icing, try making it a day ahead of time so that the air bubbles can rise to the surface. Then, when you’re ready to use the icing, stir it by hand to get rid of the bubbles.
When making dark colors, try to use as little color as possible in order to get the shade you want. Too much food coloring in the icing will lead to color bleed. Make the icing several hours ahead of time so that the color can darken on its own.
Icing Dissolving When Painted

When you’re trying to paint on royal icing with luster dust or food coloring, there’s nothing more frustrating than icing that pits or completely dissolves when it comes in contact with the brush. This is most likely caused by over-mixed icing. Make sure that you mix your royal icing on medium-low speed for no longer than 5 minutes. When you’re finished mixing, the icing should be thick like a paste, not fluffy. See also, “Dull or Bumpy Icing” and “Air Bubbles and Color Bleed” above.

Clogged Tips
The smallest tip I use is a Wilton #1, which has a larger opening than a PME tip 1. I’ve never used those super small tips, such as a double 0, so I rarely have issues with clogging.
If you are having issues with clogged tips, you can strain your icing through a nylon stocking while filling your piping bag. 
Butter Bleed
When the weather is too warm, butter bleed can become a big problem. This is when the butter from the cookie melts just enough to seep into the royal icing and make it look blotchy or yellow.
Unfortunately, once this happens, there’s nothing much you can do. There are creative ways of covering it up, such as adding luster dust or hand painting some designs over the stained areas. If that’s not an option, you can wait and hope that the butter bleed covers the entire cookie so that at least it’s not blotchy.
It’s best just to keep the cookies as cool and dry as possible to prevent butter bleed in the first place. The same rules for preventing color bleed apply here. Thin, porous icing can exacerbate the problem, so make sure that your icing is not too thin when flooding and also make sure to dry your cookies quickly in front of a fan (no heat guns!).
You can also make tweaks to the cookie recipe, like adding more flour, for example. The outcome of any recipe depends on lots of different factors, so it might take some trial and error to make it work for you.
To browse the decorating products that I use most often, visit the recommended products page.
Read this post for tips on making cookie dough and storing cookies. cookies              
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566 thoughts on “Royal Icing – Consistencies and Troubleshooting Tips

  1. I never used to use meringue powder or egg whites in my royal icing for decorating cookies and they would dry with a slight sheen, but would never get very hard (I couldn’t stack the cookies without messing up the icing). I just started using the meringue powder to hopefully help with hardening the icing; however, now after drying for 18 hours they have a very dull, matte finish and are almost powdery. They look dry, but when touching them the icing just sticks to my finger. What am I doing wrong.

    • As she stated above: In order to get a smooth, shiny finish on your flooded cookies, make sure to dry them in front of a fan. Or, better yet, keep the cookies in an air conditioned room. Humidity will cause the icing to dry slowly, which will make it become porous, dull, fragile, and sometimes leave you with a bumpy and uneven surface. Dull or bumpy icing can also be caused by icing that is too thin, so make sure your flood consistency is not too runny.

  2. New to decorating sugar cookies. My first attempt mixed two consistencies of icing using a meringue powder & icing sugar recipe. one to pipe one to flood. Second time I mixed again the same recipe but for a 15 second consistency only to avoid having to mix so much icing. in both cases I found that the piping icing and the 15 second gradually became more of a flooding consistency over the course of 2 hours of decorating. How can I stop this from occurring while I decorate? Is it the heat from my hands, in the air?? I’m using wilton disposable piping bags and tips. TIA!

    • I tend to have the same issue. My hands are always hot. When I find that my RI is getting too loose, I place the bag in the freezer for about a minute to help stiffen it back up.

  3. Hi Amber! I live in a humid, and sometimes wet climate. Would you ever suggest using a Dehydrator to set up my icing quicker? I have been drying under ceiling fan and air conditioning and still experience some pitting and discoloration on some of the cookies while drying on my racks. Many Thanks for your help!!

  4. When I make the royal icing I have problems with undissolved granules in it. I think it is the meringue powder. what do I do to prevent this?

    • Hi Avery! You could try dissolving the meringue powder in warm water or even try a different brand. I use Wilton meringue powder and haven’t experienced any issues with it. I’ve heard great things about Genie’s Dream Premium Meringue Powder, although I haven’t tried it myself yet.

  5. Hello- I just purchased your royal icing recipe and every time I make it my icing turns out with a small granular texture due to the merengue powerder not fully dissolving. Any tips for this?

      • I’m wondering the same, going to try and dissolve the meringue powder in warm water (the amount needed in recipe) first and letting it cool back down to room temperature before making icing. May be a huge mistake but I am going to make a half batch first to see how it does so I don’t waste my meringue powder that’s with it’s weight in gold, haha.

        Previously I have sifted my powdered sugar and meringue powder together before mixing and it’s been okay thus far.

        Will let you know how it turns out.

  6. Hello! I love your cookies 🙂 I’m wondering if you have suggestions for white icing when piping on a darker color. My white sometimes begins to look transparent ans pick up the color of the base. Do you and white coloring to yours when using plain white?

  7. I’ve been searching for the best royal icing recipe and so far most of what I’ve found use half the amount of meringue powder as your recipe. I’m going to try yours because you have beautiful cookies – so you must be doing something right! But I’m wondering what the reasoning behind using so much meringue powder is? I’m genuinely interested in knowing! Thank you 🙂

    • Hi Maria! I use a lot of meringue powder in my recipe because I find that it gives the icing more of an elastic quality, allowing me to work with it a few minutes longer before it starts to crust over 🙂

  8. do you put flooded cookies into the refrigerator after you flood them to get the icing to harden? I have had problems with the writing bleeding onto the flooded top of the cookie! Why is this happening and how do I prevent it from happening? Also do you refrigerate or freeze cookies at all to get them to harden faster and stay fresh? How do you keep them from getting condensation on the frosting top too when you want to bag them up for favors?

  9. Pingback: How To Decorate Nail Polish Cookies! – Health and Beautology

  10. Whenever I do liner work,I cant seem to start without making a small lump of icing with my initial starting point.
    Ive tried different angles with the tip, applying hardly any pressure at the beginning etc.
    I watch the videos and the directions,touch down on cookie,then gently pull the icing just doesn’t seem to work.
    Help !

    • Hi Debbie! It’s difficult to avoid those little bumps at the beginning of a line. I still get them sometimes, so I just use my scribe tool to clean up the edges when I’m finished piping 🙂

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