Common Royal Icing Problems You Can Avoid (and How to Fix 'Em!)

Honestly, there’s nothing more satisfying than flooding a sugar cookie with royal icing. But as fun as decorating can be, it’s also super easy to make mistakes. Don’t fret: for all the common errors cookie decorators can make, there are simple ways to fix ’em. Soon you’ll even learn how to avoid them altogether!

Problem 1: Air Bubbles

From Cookie Decorating Season by Season.

Pesky air bubbles lurking under the surface of your icing can be a huge pain. And if you don’t spot them immediately, they can become craters in an otherwise flawless design. They’re commonly found in the flooded sections of your cookie, but can also pop up in delicate piping work.

Avoid It: Once you’ve flooded your cookies, carefully lift them a few inches above your flat work surface and drop them. This helps push any air bubbles up to the surface — they’ll look like tiny, shadow-y dots in your icing. Pop ’em with a cocktail stick and smooth the icing over. If the bubbles are in your piping, use a slightly dampened cocktail stick to move the icing into the gap and fill the hole. Voilà!

Fix It: If you spot an air bubble after your icing has set, try tweaking your design. Patch up the bubble with a dot of royal icing, or cover the area with edible glue and sprinkles.

Problem 2: Unwanted Drips

Stray drips down the side of your cookie are the worst. There are a few reasons why it happens — your icing consistency might be too runny, your cookies could be baked unevenly or you may have used too much icing. Tiny cookies can be harder to decorate, too, so they’re super susceptible to dripping icing.

Avoid It: First and foremost, icing that’s too runny will flow over the piped outline, so it’s vital that you nail your royal icing consistency. It’s also important that your cookies and work surface are completely flat, allowing the royal icing to settle evenly without any running or dripping.

To make sure your cookies are baked evenly, roll the dough evenly and use a palette knife or spatula to transport the dough to baking trays. It also helps to chill the dough for 30 minutes to an hour before baking.

Fix It: As soon as you see a drip, use a cocktail stick to gently wipe the excess icing away from the sides of your cookie. Keep checking your cookie every few minutes to monitor for more dripping. If the icing stays in place, you’re good to keep decorating!

Problem 3: Losing Detail in Your Piping

Generally, any piping work that loses its detail is the result of royal icing that’s too runny. Runny icing loses its shape and looks sloppy because the moisture causes it to pool on the cookie’s surface, turning your intricate design into a muddled mess.

Avoid It: Again, it’s all about consistency, and there are two for piping royal icing: stiff and loose. For detailed work like writing and lettering, you should have a stiff consistency. The loose consistency is great for borders, but can easily muddy your fine details. If your icing is too runny, add small amounts of powdered sugar to your mixture (just a little bit at a time!) until it stiffens up.

Also, make sure you’re using the right piping tip. For most fine details, you’ll want thin, round tips called writers. As always, test out your consistency and tip on a scrap piece of parchment paper to make sure you’ve got everything right before putting icing on your cookies.

Fix It: It’s best to try to avoid this problem altogether, but if you do need to fix a messy cookie, try using a cocktail stick to reshape or lift the icing you can, or cover it up with more royal icing.

Problem 4: Color Bleed

Color bleeding is pretty common when detailing with contrasting colors. If you’re piping white dots into red icing, chances are your dots will begin to absorb the red and turn pink, which can be a big bummer.

Avoid It: The best way to avoid this problem is to plan ahead and learn how to work with your colors. Let darker icing dry fully before piping lighter icing on or around it. And look for ways to achieve the same look without icing — for example, instead of piping white dots, use white sprinkles. It’s also a good idea not to go overboard with bold, saturated colors when using royal icing.

Fix It: While there isn’t really a perfect fix, you can find some clever ways to cover up bleeding. You can pipe detail over the top, add sprinkles and other decorations to hide the mistake, or pipe outlines around the edges of each colored section to mask the bleed.

Problem 5: Your Icing Isn’t Smooth

From 21 Techniques for Playful Cookies.

Flooded royal icing that has peaks or unsettled sections is likely cause by unsifted powdered sugar or, you guessed it, the wrong icing consistency. This can cause lumps to settle into your design, and can even clog your piping tips.

Avoid It: When making your royal icing, always, always, always sift your powdered sugar so it’s free of lumps of larger crystallized pieces. If you don’t, these bits could make your icing look lumpy and your cookies totally unprofessional. Stiffer royal icing also keeps its shape rather then settling or smoothing down like more liquid, flooding-consistency icing. Make sure to test and check your icing before decorating!

Fix It: If you see small peaks that aren’t smoothing over as the icing settles, make ’em less prominent by lightly dampening the tip of a cocktail stick and gently swirling the peaks into the surrounding icing. Don’t wet the stick too much though, as this can warp the icing color and even create a crater in the design.

Problem 6: Fragile Icing

Sometimes royal icing can dry to a breakable, porous texture. There’s often one pesky culprit behind this: humidity, aka a pastry chef’s worst nightmare.

Avoid It: If you’re baking in an especially humid climate, you can’t exactly control the weather. But there are a few precautions you can take. Leave your decorated cookies to set in a cool, dry room away from any windows. If that doesn’t get the job done, invest in a good dehumidifier.

Fix It: Unfortunately, you might not run into this problem until your icing is already dry and past the point of no return. We highly recommend going the dehumidifier route if your icing keeps breaking.

Problem 7: Your Icing Is So Dull

Right when you finish decorating, you’ll love that bright, shiny texture fresh icing gives a cookie. But once it dries, sometimes it can take on more of a matte look, which some bakers might not love so much.

Avoid It: Try mixing a little light corn syrup into your royal icing and leave it to dry so you can see what it’ll look like before you decorate.

Fix It: If you just whipped up a batch of dull cookies, never fear — simply paint your fully set cookies with confectioner’s glaze or pearl luster to really restore that shine.

Problem 8: Your Piping is Crooked

Piping outlines around your cookies or intricate details on cake can be easily ruined if your piping is cooked. The good news: it’s most likely not your fault!

Avoid It: Inspect your piping tip before using. A lot of tips have a seam along one side, which causes your icing to come out crooked. PME supatube tips are seam-free, so you don’t have to worry.

Fix It: While it’s best to avoid this problem altogether, you can use a toothpick or cocktail stick to try to smooth out your piping.

Photos by Juniper Cakery unless otherwise noted.

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2 Responses to “Common Royal Icing Problems You Can Avoid (and How to Fix 'Em!)”

  1. Theresa

    When piping dots or eyes , etc- how to avoid sinking or pitting - I get it frequently.

  2. Joan Davis

    Can you give me some help? I am just learning how to pipe and the outline for the cookies became quite a challenge for me. The lines were not straight, nor even thickness. I do feel the icing may have been too thick, but I also think more importantly my pressure was not consistent. HELP! Can you give me some advice? Thanks so much!