Swan Cookie Tutorial (and my battle with butter bleed)

One good thing about summer coming to a close is that cooler and dryer weather is on the way, which is perfect for cookie decorating. Warm weather during the summer can bring on butter bleed, which happens when the butter from the cookie stains the royal icing and leaves it looking blotchy. It doesn’t have to be humid for it to happen, just hot (humidity brings on its own set of issues) I was even struck by butter bleed in the winter at one point, when I had my cookies sitting directly under one of the heat vents in my bake shop. Lesson learned!
While butter bleed is preventable for the most part, there are still times when it’s just beyond our control. There’s more information about preventing and covering butter bleed in this post about royal icing.
These brush embroidered swan cookies were a personal gift from me to a family member, so fortunately I had complete control over how they were decorated. My original design just included the swans, but when butter bleed struck, I had to change my plan.
For products used in this and other tutorials, visit the recommended products page.
Swan25This cookie was made using my Orange Vanilla Spice recipe and measures 2×4″. My cookie recipe is available in my tutorial shop. Begin by icing the cookie in flood consistency royal icing and a tip 3. The pink color shown here is Wilton aster mauve and the blue is delphinium blue, both from the garden tone set (you can find these colors on the recommended products page).
Once the cookie is completely dry (8-12 hours of drying time), use a scribe tool to trace a heart template onto the icing. I traced a small heart cookie cutter onto card stock to make this template.
Then, use the scribe tool to sketch the swans, using the heart as a guide for the shape of their necks.  Swan3
Using a tip 1 and flood consistency royal icing, outline and fill in the swans.
Use the scribe tool to help shape the icing.
Let the swans dry for about 4 hours, preferably in front of a fan. Notice the dark areas on the edges of the pink icing. That’s what butter bleed looks like.
Once the swans are dry, add the wings using the brush embroidery technique.
Swan8 Swan9
Swan10 Swan11
Make a beak with a little bit of orange icing and shape it with the scribe tool. A piping bag isn’t really necessary for this step. You could apply a drop of icing using the tip of the scribe tool or with a toothpick.
Swan12 Swan13
This is where I started to improvise. I used the scribe tool to draw some swags and then added a lacy brush embroidered decoration.
This is similar to how I added the curtains in the baby bassinet tutorial.
Swan16  Swan17
I added a bead border with a tip 1 and a medium shade of brown royal icing. I also painted these beads using a mixture of gold luster dust and alcohol, which you can learn all about in this post on painting with gold.
I finished the detail on the swans using an edible ink marker.
Have you ever encountered butter bleed? How did you deal with the situation? Let me know in the comments!
Click on the images below for more cookie decorating tutorials     Royal-Baby-13 Gold-leaf10 Beach-Cookie2

43 thoughts on “Swan Cookie Tutorial (and my battle with butter bleed)

  1. I don’t know if it’s butter bleed, but I had splotches all over my cookies when I switched meringue powder. I used wilton, switched to CK and had major issues. Could it be the powder?

    • I have heard that some meringue powders do better than others when it comes to butter bleed. I pretty much always use Wilton MP, so I can’t say for sure whether or not this is true.

  2. After allowing iced cookies to dry during the day, I noticed discoloration in the evening. I placed them in a 350 degree oven for 2-3 minutes. The next morning the discoloration was gone. Please let me know if this works for you.

  3. I used to have a huge problem with “butter bleed”. It’s so frustrating!

    About 2 years ago I switched to Henry and Henry brand meringue powder and haven’t had the problem at all (knock on wood). I actually recently tried Americolor MP and they all started bleeding, so immediately ordered more H&H.

    When I was having the bleeding problem, I would put my cookies in a cool oven with the light on. The heat from the light would make them all turn the darker shade after about 8 hours.

  4. I made some chalkboard back-to-school cookies last august (in Phoenix) that got some terrible butter-bleed splotches. It looked awful, and it was right on the “chalkboard” surface where I couldn’t add embellishments to hide it. I ended up popping the decorated cookies in the oven on very low heat for about an hour to melt the butter and make the butter bleed spread over the whole cookie, so at least it looked uniform and good, though darker than I originally intended!

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  6. A cookie friend of mine told me to put the cookies (after decorating) in a Tupperware and the bleed goes away! (Or the bags they are packaged in) and it worked for me! 🙂

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