Royal Icing Disaster
One of the BIGGEST complaints about royal icing is that it can be a royal pain in the wazoo.
The royal wedding fever completely missed me until yesterday morning. I was too busy to even think about it. I had a simple cookie design that I wanted to try as a gift for one of my childhood friends that I hadn’t seen in fifteen years. She was coming to town, and I wanted to make some special cookies for our little reunion.
Since the initial plan was for her to come by that afternoon, I got up early the next morning when Bernie headed to work to give them a looksie and turn off my new fan. I knew immediately something was VERY VERY wrong. The icing did not have the slightly shiny matte surface it should’ve and it looked as wet as it had the night before.
My heart sunk. I mean, even if I could re-bake and re-decorate them there was no way they would dry before it was time for her to arrive. Luckily, I texted her and was able to bump our date to Saturday but obviously, I was less than pleased. Besides the unplanned baking marathon at 4:00am, I was out of eggs and had to make an early morning convenience store run. Have you ever noticed you see the darnedest folks when you go to the quick stop at 4am?
When something like this happens the last thing you want to do is take a picture of ugly cookies, but truth be told, this is actually a common occurrence. So in the interest of helping others who encounter royal icing that won’t dry, here are my observations.
Texture-wise, the best way to describe the icing is like that marshmallow fluff that comes in a jar. It’s slick and foamy and when I touched the surface it stuck to my finger and peeled away in a layer just like Jello does if you touch it too soon.
As for an explanation of why this happens, I don’t really have an definite answer. All I can offer are educated guesses based on my experiences and those of some close cookie decorating friends.
- Too much color-I used leftover icing for this set of cookies. Perhaps adding more color caused this. Many experienced cookie decorators have suggested that deep colors such as red, black, blue and brown are notorious for this type of problem
- Oil contamination-check your extracts for oil. Use imitation flavorings if necessary. Oil can and will change the texture of royal icing.
- Humidity-I live in the desert, so I don’t have a lot of experience with this. However, I know several cookiers in humid climates that swear it affects everything from drying time to color bleeding.
- Overbeating- I am guilty of this. If you over beat royal icing, it dries to a crunchy almost foamy texture and often appears porous.
Here’s a few more shots of my cookie disaster.
As for the cookies, all’s well that ends well. I fixed my mistake and got to watch the most amazing wedding that I have ever seen. I even managed to catch an afternoon nap, which was an order after the morning I had.
On that note, I am praying for all of those affected by the storms last week. I must admit, I feel a little helpless and overwhelmed with all of the devastation lately.
I hope that everyone spend this Saturday thankful for what they have, and for those that are struggling, I hope that you have peace. I don’t have a lot of money and I am kind of grounded, but, if you are reading this, and I can help in some way, I am all ears.
Having the same problems with mine this week. I remembered reading this post a while back and thought I could find some insight! Icing is still tacky 2 days later and getting a funny pot-marked surface. UGH!!! Had to scrap a lot of cookies. I was thinking I wasn’t beating enough until I read that you thought you might have beaten too much! No clue what happened with these last 3 batches of icing! I have to find a way to fix this…FAST!!!!
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Ugh. This has happened to me twice. Funny thing is, I make several colors out of the same batch yet only SOME of the colors do this, and others dry fine. So for me I don’t think it was over or under beating. I noticed it only happened to the deeper colors, and only my flood icing. The deep colors of my piping icing dried fine. So I think it was a combo of a lot of coloring, and over-thinning my flood icing. Now when I’m working with deep colors I keep my flood icing on the thick side, and (fingers crossed) it hasn’t happened to me in a while. I even made it through Christmas (RED season) incident free.
I had this same problem, also when I was making Red for Valentine’s cookies. My outlining was too fluffy and my flooding dried sticky and you could not touch it without ruining the surface. That’s not to mention the sink holes the red caused in my other colors. From the same batch of royal icing I naturally did the white first then light pink then dark pink and last but not least the red. I thought it was the addition of too much color perhaps since I was having difficulty getting that nice deep shade of red. But I had also considered that I may have over-beaten it. Yes, I do believe that was the problem. Good thing I started the V-day cookies in January to allow time to perfect my system before the actual cookies are needed. I am a caker gone cookier as of late and been having a lot of fun with it. Thank you so much for all your wisdom and generosity in sharing your recipes and your knowledge. You are my cookie idol! =)
This frequently happens to me where I live which is high humidity and it happens frequently with the deep colors. I think it is a coincidental combination of things:
1) deep colors – black/red which when added too much infuses alot more of glycerine in the icing and makes it more difficult to set.
2) runny/flood icing – outline consistency is usually fine. but in flood icing, glycerine in combination with more water magnifies that difficulty.
3) humidity – if it’s a particularly rainy or humid day here, even with the fan or a/c on regular mode, blasting air directly can somehow hinder more than help because it just increases the amount of water in the air that hits the cookie in a faster period of time. The only way around this for me is to use the room a/c in dry mode AND use the fan.
4) overbeating – my theory is this, the more you mix the icing with color, the more the color and glycerine break down the eggwhites, so there is less solid “cement” in between the sugar particles to bond them. it is a challenge to find that fine line between mixing just enough without streaking and mixing without overbeating.
5) waiting too long to use the icing. – giving enough time for the icing to separate. Sometimes only the later batches of the cookies get icky. So I think that with deeper colors the time frame for separating is much shorter. Freshly made icing on my first cookies survived.
6) as you mentioned, oil may be a factor. Although I find this less of a likelihood because I’ve been very meticulous about this. I’ve dedicated a special soaping sponge, special bowl, special containers and special spatula just for royal icing that has never been in contact with anything oily. And yet I’ve experienced your same results.
By same results, I mean that my black turns out “gritty” and grainy and takes forever to dry. Under the weight of the cookie plastic it can turn to crumby moosh. =(
I hope this helps. =)
I don’t think humidity is the problem here. I live in North Queensland, Australia, which is one of the most humid places around, particularly during our summer. And I’ve spent many a day icing cookies in the humidity, and never had any results like this. So I think you could safely rule that out as a cause.
I have had the same issue with fluffy, tacky icing. It is usually with deep red, but it has also happened with light colored flood icing. The common denominator was repeated beating. In trying to make the red “redder”, I kept adding color, then beating to mix. I did the same with the light blue/grey flood icing: I was adding a little water at a time (distracted on the phone), too many times, and kept beating to mix. Other times, the same colors turned out perfectly, but I added more color or water initially or at each interval, so I didn’t need to beat as long or as many times between additions. This is why, I believe, the deep colors are usually the problem as you add more and more gel food coloring to deepen the color, you beat it over and over to get a homogenous color before you can see if you need more. I suggest adding more color at the beginning and beating less.
I always know within hours as the sheen/gloss should begin to disappear within 1 or 2 hours. Once the damage is done, no amount of drying time will help…….Toss and start over ASAP. If you are worried, pipe a test cookie and wait a few hours. At least you will have your cookies still and only need to redo the icing color(s) that didn’t work.
Oh crap. I made royal icing for the first time on Sunday, but didn’t have time to decorate the cookies straight away. I kept it in the fridge, covered with cling wrap and started decorating last night (Wednesday). The icing was fluffy, like others have described, but since I’d never made the icing before, I didn’t know any better, so outlined and flooded around 100 of the 150 cookies I made for our July wedding. This morning, they were still tacky to the touch. Upon reading others comments, perhaps they just need more time. But it now seems that I probably over beat the icing when adding the food colouring to make pink icing. Or that I didn’t clean everything with vinegar…. or….. it could be anything. I’m disappointed because now I have to make 100 sugar cookies, again, and that meringue powder isn’t cheap!
Your blog actually turned me on to royal icing and I pretty much only use your 20-second icing recipe now. This issue started happening to me with my last few batches of cookies, but only in certain colors. This week, I did a batch of Longhorn cookies (thanks to your post!) and unfortunately was able to prove the real issue and agree with Crystal above. I was never quite sure that dark colors really resulted in this texture/drying issue because I have had problems with reds but also light greens and pastels. This time, I used half white icing that had no dye and was only stirred with some water to get it to the correct texture and then the other half was burnt orange. I had no idea how to make that color and had to use a lot of dye and a lot of stirring! When I think back to all of my problem colors, they all had lots of dye and lots of stirring in common. I am also finding that icing that I use a good amount of the cheap Betty Crocker brand of gel dyes has this issue. I am going to completely switch to the wilton gel dyes and be more careful during the dying process with stirring next time! My white turned out perfectly and most of the burnt orange was gross! The cookies I did first were fine and then the later ones were bad, so you can see how it just won’t stay together over time with all of that dye and mixing. It may also help to stop and stir your icing periodically to ensure this doesn’t happen. Hoping for all perfect icing in everyone’s future!
Yes, we get the showing off part. This is no failure, this is hubris.
How is it hubris to admit that even an expert decorator can experience disasters?
I agree! This is not hubris! I needed this today! Yesterday I did ninja cookies for my nephew & the icing did not set. I needed to see that this happens to even those of Sweet Sugar Belle’s caliber!!! My cookies looked good, like hers, but were tacky to the touch! Thank you for posting this!! I almost felt like giving up on cookies! Now I know it was 90 degree weather, 50% humidity and dark blue and green icing! I shall live to cookie another day!!!
It’s happened to four times. And I specifically remember each time because it’s infuriating and everything in between. I hope you NEVER have to deal with this again =(
Is cookie thickness vital when decorating with icing? I usually roll them out thinly cause I love crispy cookies but they always end up soggy after drying.
hiiii!!! I have a question, is there a way to tell that you over mixed your icing BEFORE you use it? i beat mine for maybe, 4-8 minutes, and i read somewhere that it takes 30 minutes to get “over beaten”? is that true?!!!
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Hi, I know this is an old post, buut I have a question, for how long should I wait for a large batch of cookies to dry?? I have to make a lot (around 100) for a baby shower, and i’m not shure with how many days in advance I should start, to let the icing dry well.
Thanks in advance for your help!! =)
Hi, is there still a way to correct over mixed royal icing? Thanks!
So this is weird: I made icing from the same batch on the same night. I did not overbeat. The batch that was UNCOLORED is still marshmallowy after 18 hours. The batch that had 4-5 drops of Americolor Gold is firming up very nicely and is nearly completely dry. It’s been humid the past couple of days, but I have had my apartment basically hermetically sealed with the a/c running 24/7 for over a month now (we’re having a crazy heatwave in Los Angeles) so there is no issue with humidity. I used 10 second icing to outline and flood on both batches. The cookies are on stacked wire racks and had a moderate fan blowing on them the entire 18 hr drying time. The only difference is for the gold icing I used bakeat350’s vanilla sugar cookie recipe and for the uncolored icing I used Lila Loa’s chocolate cookie. Both recipes were followed exactly and both cookies baked perfectly. I have no idea what went wrong but I haven’t the time to rebake so I’m going to try to scrape off the marshmallow, use a bit of color in the icing and re-do them. Luckily the whole thing is getting spray painted with ColorMist so it’s a bit more forgiving, I hope. Crossing my fingers!
Thanx for sharing this post. I’m a great fan of you for yours. Now and than I pop by to just look at all the great pictures you shared with us. I’ve baked, through the years, some cookies. And this disaster happens t me one time.
By sharing you’re struckeling you encourage me, and I know many others, to keep on baking and decorating cookies, no matter what.
I also want to thank you for the inspiration you give. I’m not a real cookie baker, but visiting your blog make me want to bake… and that is what I will do this day of in the weekend…
Nice greetings, Willeke, The Netherlands
Just scrape off the icing! No need to rebake!
Hi Sugarbelle! I know this post is older but please help if you get this! I am following your recipe which I always use and it is great. ? I have now made two batches of icing and it keeps turning to a dry consistency. It doesn’t flow like before when I have used your recipe. It’s either to thick or too runny. It dries too quickly like it won’t harden. I have followed the recipe and it always comes out great. There are no new factors that have changed the elements so I am confused. I mix on medium for two minutes. PLEASE HELP!! Here is my email. If you can reply I would forever be grateful!! ?? [email protected]
Hi Sugarbelle! I realize this post is older but liked what you wrote about not having much money but being grounded. I’m constantly reading your site for ideas, tips and tricks! You are a master cookie decorator! I’m curious about how long you’ve been decorating cookies? I started in July of 2016 and have become much better. I study a lot online : ). I have a name for my site/blog and have someone that’s helping me build the page right now. I’m super excited about my future endeavors as a baker/cookie decorator and would love to start communicating with others in the baking community! If you’d like to converse, my email is [email protected]. Just some dets about me…I’m 47, married for 24 years, 2 kids, 2 dogs, 3 cats, and live in CO, Look forward to hearing from you!!
I find that if my icing sits too long before actually using it It takes this frothy texture where the solids and liquids separated, if I color it and don’t give it a good beating on High I get these ugly tacky results, so I get the Icing I’m going to use put it in a grease free glass bowl and give it a good beating with my hand mixer on high for 30 seconds or so this makes the icing come together again and then I can color and thin as desired, I just can’t let my colors sit too long or they separate all over again, so no more tha 2 colors at a time for me. I love how much I’m learning but my goodness…
This happened to me a few times and it only happens on rainy days or high humidity day. In my summer (Australia) humidity can be anywhere from 80-100% on some days. When this happens I dry my cookies in the oven. The dry air of the oven seams to work. I put my oven on the fan force setting and put it at the lowest temperature, which is 50 degrees Celsius for my oven. I then open the oven door about 3cm to keep the oven temperature as low as possible. This always works for me. On non-humid or non-rainy days, my royal icing dries perfectly in front of a fan.
Is there any way that the meringue powder is bad/old?
When I use Domino Sugar I have more icing problems. If I stick with generic sugar is works out better. I have not been doing this long, but always see a difference, even when sifting the Domino, I just don’t like it.
So I have an entire kitchen of iced WHITE cookies and all are doing the marshmallow thing. I know I did not over mix. I’m very careful of that, but I did use Wilton white colorant this time. And clear Wilton immatation vanilla flavoring. I swear up and down that it is one of those 2 things. I was very careful on the amount of white I used though as to not use too much.
I have had great success with my royal icing. However, it was raining this weekend and my icing is tacky and shiny but only on the icing that I used as flooding. I think it was just a hair too much of water. I think that was the culprit! I NEVER use flood icing, but I was in a hurry. I piped then flooded. NEVER AGAIN! I will only use a bit thicker icing from now on for both the piping and flooding.