Royal Icing: The Troubleshooter Guide - Volume One

Royal Icing….. just those two words can strike fear into the heart of any decorator!! From flooding and decorating cookies to elegant stringwork and overpiping, there is no doubt that royal icing has cemented its place in the glorious world of sugar art. Overshadowing its beauty and versatility, it is also known for the many issues that it brings along with it. But never fear, this troubleshooter guide looks at the problems we all have with royal icing and tips and tricks to avoid them.

Royal Icing… What is it?

Made from pure icing sugar and egg white or meringue powder and water, it’s a fabulous icing to work with. So which one is better? Well it all comes down to personal preference really. I honestly still use both pending on what I am decorating. If its flooding and decorating sugar cookies then I will use the meringue powder. I find this has a nicer consistency for this type of work than fresh egg white. For competition work such as fine piping, stringwork ect… I use egg white for its strength.

If you only want to make up a small amount of royal icing for those of you who don’t use it often , there are some great royal icing pre mixes available on the market. They are handy to keep in the cupboard and have a long shelf life.

When making your icing, mix it on the lowest speed in your mixer. This avoids incorporating too much air into the mix. Your icing needs to be beautiful and smooth, not light like a cloud and fluffy as this will cause air bubble issues later for you.

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Royal Icing Tip # SIFT EVERYTHING!!!! Sift your icing sugar or royal icing pre mix before you make your icing. The manufacture doesn’t always remove all the pesky little lumps when processing the sugar/mix. This saves you the tears and heartache of clogged tips when in decorating mode!

Yes…. Clogged tips did I hear you say?  If you still find you are having clogging issues after sifting, try straining your royal icing through some nylon stocking. This will be fine enough to remove any pain in the bum grit that might possibly have snuck through depending on how fine your sifter is.

Storage…. What do you do with it?

Like most decorators we all make more royal icing than what we need. So what do you do with it after finishing a days decorating? If you are going to be using it again the next day, don’t be lazy and keep it in the piping bag. The icing will begin to separate and you will need to give it a good stirring before you begin to use it again the next day. Put it in a clean, dry, air tight storage container, no need to put it in the fridge.

Egg white royal icing is good to use for the first two days of making it, after that it tends not to have as good consistency and is best to then make a fresh batch. Meringue powder and royal icing pre mixes last up to four days after making a batch but will then begin to loose its good consistency to pipe with. Your piping results will be better with fresh icing over old icing every time.

Consistency…. The key to piping perfection!

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This is where most people go wrong when starting out with royal icing. Not having the right consistency icing is a sure path to an  epic decorating failure and loss of confidence in your decorating skills. Here is an overview of the consistencies used in royal icing and what its best used for.

Firm- Used for Flowers such as roses, borders, ruffles fur, hair or grass ect… This is the consistency the the royal icing comes out of the mixer when you make it. It holds its peak straight up, and spreadable like butter.

Off peak Medium- Used for line work, extension work, scrolls, overpiping and pressure piping. This consistency is like soft serve ice cream. It holds a soft peak but still keeps its shape. Its doesn’t spread at all. To make your icing to this consisntency start with your stiff icing and add your water a couple of drops at a time. I use a small squirty water bottle so I can control how much I add. If you add too much water it will become too thin and loose its shape. You can always add more water but you cant take it out, so key is to only add a little at a time.

Soft- Used for line work, pressure piping and small figures.The consistency where it just holds its peak. Like a super soft, soft serve icecream on the verge of melting. It just holds it shape still. You can achieve this by adding a little water at a time, same as above.

20 Second Icing- Used for flooding cookies, runout work on curved surfaces. This consistency is mostly used for flooding cookies. Its thin enough that it forms a smooth surface within 15-20 seconds of piping it. This does take a little practice to get right but works beautifully. Start by adding a little water at a time until it starts to get really soft. Then test it by running a knife through you icing in the bowl. Count to 15-20 and your icing should smooth back together to form a beautiful glossy surface.

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I usually make my icing to form a smooth surface between a count of 10-15 as this works best for me. The smoothing ultimately needs to happening just after you count to ten otherwise it will be too runny and thin.

Icing too thin?? Royal icing that is too thin will be too much like liquid, and too runny to pipe. To fix this add a little more icing sugar, teaspoons at a time until you get a thicker consistency.

Icing too firm? Royal Icing that is to firm to pipe out of your piping tip makes it very difficult to work with, not to mention creating too much pressure on your piping hand causing cramps, and piping bag blow outs making a mess of your hands not to mention your work. With your squirty water bottle add a little water at a time to make it slightly softer. This should make it easier to mix as well. Mixing too firmer icing is hard on the arm muscles!

Feel free to pop by and view my Facebook live video on my page Vintique Cakes showing you how to make royal icing, my recipes and its different consistencies.

The more you work at something, the better you will become. Practice, practice practice! Royal icing is an amazingly versatile medium to work with. Don’t give up on it if you have had a bad experience. With a little love, and the three P’s, practice, patience and persistence you can achieve royal icing brilliance. It all starts by giving it ago.

Next time in Royal Icing- Troubleshooters Guide Volume Two I will be covering the conquest of cookie decorating. From Craters to color bleeding, blotching and other issues, I’ll give you all the tips and tricks to beautifully iced cookies.

Anita x