Many people have posted here about issues with their royal icing, especially black and dark colors. There are always many helpful suggestions, but I don't see many follow up posts to let us know what worked, and I am curious. Have you had a problem that remains a mystery, or one you solved by making a change, and what fixed it?

There are regular questions about r.i. crumbling, breaking, falling off, or simply having a strange or rough texture, becoming crystallized, more bubbles, being matte or shiny, or even not drying, and taste, among other issues with it. Suggestions of the cause are all over the place, and sometimes even polar opposites. I am starting to think some of what I do is nothing more than cookier superstition, lol! Here are just a few of the suspects, and please jump in if you have any difinitive experience with any of them, even if you only know the cause but not the solution.

Brand or old age of meringue powder, using powdered, fresh or pasturized egg whites, adding or omitting corn syrup, glycerine, cream of tartar, flavored non-dairy creamer, white food coloring, black food coloring, the type (such as gel, paste, powder, etc.) or brand of coloring, extracts/emulsions or lemon juice, change in ingredients or ratios of recipe, or even when using glaze or a mix of glaze and royal icing, etc. (We all know oily is bad, but why exactly?)

Under-mixing, over-mixing, handheld electric mixers, beaters, whisk or paddle attachments, thickening with powdered sugar, thickening by whipping for a long time, thickening and then thinning back out, re-use of old icing, length of storage, refrigeration, freezing, mixing separated icing, heat from hands, environmental humidity or dry air, temperature, air movement such as a fan, dehydrators, drying time, using fresh from the oven cookies, etc.

What works for you? What caused a disaster? What advice do you ignore, yet everything works great? What issues are still elusive, without a known cause or solution? Are there other ingredients, procedures, or environmental factors you suspect are a problem? Altitude? Witchcraft?

Please take a moment to weigh in, and I might just do some experiments to try and solve anything we are still perplexed by.

Original Post

I have been to both cookiecons, taken classes from several cookie decorators and even sat with Julia uUsher and talked to her about royal icing. They use plastic bowls and spatulas and don't worry about the possibility of grease and yet the icing is perfect.  It's like the icing wouldn't dare misbehave.  being an analyst I have come to realize a few things.  First, some people have a natural talent for decorating.  Seconod, many things can effect icing and I have started using a royal icing recipe of someone who lives near me.  Last, the key to better royal icing is practice.  The more times you do it the better you will get at making and using royal icing.  I still need lots of practice!

Wow! So many directions this can go! I use liquid egg whites and powdered sugar only. I think the more ingredients in your icing the more problems you'll have. My icing has never cracked, fallen off, bubbled, etc. It does crater when it dries sometimes but that's because I don't use a fan or dehydrator. The only times I have problems with coloring has been when I mix paste and gel colors. Again, I think the more ingredients that are being mixed the more potential problems. It'll be interesting to see what others say.

Originally Posted by Robin H@Sweet Hart Bake Shop:

Wow! So many directions this can go! I use liquid egg whites and powdered sugar only. I think the more ingredients in your icing the more problems you'll have. My icing has never cracked, fallen off, bubbled, etc. It does crater when it dries sometimes but that's because I don't use a fan or dehydrator. The only times I have problems with coloring has been when I mix paste and gel colors. Again, I think the more ingredients that are being mixed the more potential problems. It'll be interesting to see what others say.

I agree with all of this.

I guess that was a little open-ended, lol! I guess what I am hoping to do is get confirmation about royal icing experiences from cookiers that have experienced both sides. If we are all humble enough to share our mistakes, we can all learn from them and avoid the problem in the future. Share our ah-ha moments.

For example, if someone had a cracking problem, then tried adding glycerine and kept everything else in the recipe and environment the same, what was the outcome? Did it work, make a disaster, or cause no change? Has anyone made a small change to a recipe they consistenty use and know, but the outcome caused a noticeable difference? Was it the expected change? Was it a good or bad thing?

The one time I got a tiny smidge of vegetable shortening (Crisco) in my royal icing, it looked and acted the same for piping, but stayed a sticky, tacky, melted saltwater taffy consistency, and a lighter shade, and was not dry days later. It was only a couple of small royal icing transfers, and all the other ones, including lighter and darker shades of the same color came out fine. Therefore, I have good reason to to believe that shortening is a bad thing for ri, and I will likely know what went wrong the next time I see it. Also, if I wanted a spot to stay sticky (for sprinkles maybe?) on a future cookie, I have an idea of something to try.

I have a pretty good ri recipe that works for me most of the time. But no clue why it sometimes doesn't. I feel for other cookiers posting here with the same problems, especially experienced ones. I wonder how much people base advice on experience, and how many are just passing along advice from elsewhere?

Maybe I just need to think happy thoughts while I mix mine, or keep it afraid of me so it's too scared to misbehave, lol! I know if I were royal icing, I would defy physics if Julia told me to.
I was trying to make burgundy. I started with Wilton burgundy but it was still pink after using the whole container (it was enough icing for 65 cookies). I added some gel red and black gel and let it sit for an hour or so. It looked okay but it never stopped darkening, and it turned more brown. I used it anyway (big mistake) and in the morning they were even more brown.  Also it's the only time I had a problem with drying. In the morning some were still wet. That has never happened to me before. I tried scrapping the icing off and found that the brown was on top and underneath was a red color.  Its something I'd like to test out, to see if I can make it happen again, to make sure that's what it was from.

Robin H.  Hi!  I don't think I have ever mixed liquid colors with the gel colors.  This has me curious.  I'm going to mix a small quantity to see what happens.  I'll do it by mixing/stirring the colors together then add to RI.   In the other small batch, I'll add them directly into the RI, mix/blend in.  Sometimes I'll add corn syrup and/or water after coloring and sometimes I'll add before coloring.  I have Wilton gels and Americolor liquids, and a few bottles of Duff's.  I also have a few teeny tubs of Wilton icing color, liquid/concentrated.  I used it one time in RI and loved it.  I just made a batch of RI that I think will end up a wasted batch.  lol  Yeah, yeah, I got distracted, then panicked, and goofed.  I guess it doesn't matter though.  I can use for practice. 

Wildflower!  Hi!  I have been practicing lettering.  I didn't think I could do it but was surprised that I could.  I'm not perfect but neither is my penmanship - lol.  During the challenge my RI was usable/doable.  The other day I was curious and in different bags I put as is RI, RI with a touch of corn syrup, RI with a touch of piping gel and RI with water.  Maybe I had a splendid batch of RI because I don't know which mix I like best.  All were usable.  No problems.

I forgot to say that I don't put anything on my wax paper, parchment paper or acetate/film when I pipe for practice or for transfers.  I saw that Hani (Haniela's) wipes her mixer bowl with vinegar.  Although I don't do that I know what she is saying - vinegar equalizes/sanitizes (don't know the words to use) and ensures the bowl is clean.  I know that utensils have to be "clean" or the RI won't come out.  All of my utensils, except the mixer bowl and attachments, go in the dishwasher - sanitized.  I use a clean cloth to clean the mixer bowl/attachments.  No, I don't go to extreme measures.  lol  Oh, I hollered both times when my daughter put my beaters (yes two) in the dishwasher.  Big butt groan...

Originally Posted by Econlady:

I was having problems with the frosting falling apart when dry, until I started cleaning the bowl and beater with vinegar.  I know many experienced cookie decorators who don't bother and yet get perfect royal icing..

 

Robin H., thanks for all the info. I wonder if it was mixing the type colors, or simply a lot of added color, or a lot of extra mixing, or a combination of all. The different color on the top layer is very interesting. Was it the same for the ones that dried well and the ones that were still wet? It is also interesting that it was an icing gone wrong with black in it again.

I know deeper colors like red and black darken quite a bit if you let them sit for a day or two, but that sounds excessively dark. Chef Allen over at Global Sugar Art recently put out a video introducing his new line of colors, and specifically shows how both red and black darken. He says most colors will develop when it oxidizes/is exposed to air. I wonder if this means the top of the icing will darken more, as it is exposed to more air, or if the fact that the outside dries first would stop that action. As far as I know, the darkening stops when the icing dries, but not sure.

If you try repoducing it, I would love to hear how it goes. I mostly have gel colors because almost all my Wiltons leaked everywhere, so I tossed them. If they came in a tube or bottle similar to Americolor gels, I would still use them because I love the intensity, and mix my colors by eye anyway. Chef Allen claims his black was specifically formulated for his line, and is the best out there. Wonder if anyone has tried it?
Dona and Econlady, I have never used vinegar before, and always thought it was just to remove grease or oil from tools and bowls. Apparently plastic bowls have a porosity to the surface that makes them more likely to harbor residue. I have never before seen someone who had icing breaking and fixed it with cleaner/vinegared bowls. It is definitely something interesting to try out. Do you rinse it with water after, or just let dry?

Dona! It sounds like royal icing is afraid to misbehave for you too. �� You said they all came out fine, but was there any difference in the appearence when they dried? Was the icing any more shiny? How much corn syrup did you add?

Congrats on piping your lettering! I knew you could do it, and I will be waiting to see if you post photos. I bet you get better all the time.

Yes I do rinse after cleaning with vinegar.  It is just to get out any residue oil.

 

Yesterday at my cookie cutter club meeting a woman was complaining about royal icing and a very experienced cookie decorator said use a different meringue powder.  She uses either CK or a professional one (she wouldn't disclose the brand).  I have had better results with CK meringue powder.

I use the CK powder as well, and have yet to hear a complaint about it from anyone. I bet she won't disclose it because she knows its the only thing keeping you from out-decorating her, lol! I get mine from CountryKitchenSA, because they have good prices and many sizes to choose from, but it's available in a lot of places. I need to post a thread about the instruction for it though...
Originally Posted by Wildflower:
I use the CK powder as well, and have yet to hear a complaint about it from anyone. I bet she won't disclose it because she knows its the only thing keeping you from out-decorating her, lol! I get mine from CountryKitchenSA, because they have good prices and many sizes to choose from, but it's available in a lot of places. I need to post a thread about the instruction for it though...

The woman owns a store that sells cookie and cake decorating supplies and sell the professional meringue powder.  I think she buys it in large lots and then sells in one pound containers.  It is probably only sold in the larger quantities and she knows I won't buy a huge size.  I buy CK from Karen's Cookies or the friends store.  She also said if you really can't get your icing to work buy CK royal icing mix.  It works every time.

Originally Posted by Wildflower:
I have never tried royal icing mix of any brand. Have you ever tasted it? I wonder if anyone who has used it can weigh in with an opinion?

Hi, I'm forking (moving) this question to a new forum topic. It's an entirely new question, and I think it's going to get lost here (see link to the new forum topic one post up). Wildflower - these questions are all great, but please remember to stick to one general topic/question in a forum. It's easier for people to find what they want later if we stick to this procedure. As it is, the initial question on this thread is HUGE!  Thanks.

In the spirit of keeping this thread on track, please let's keep discussion here to the royal icing issues you have solved, and ones that remain unsolved.

 

Let's answer the "experiences with royal icing mixes" question in the new forum topic that can be found in the link two posts up, or here: http://cookieconnection.juliau...with-royal-icing-mix 

 

Thanks!

Hi Wildflower!  I don't wipe my bowls/utensils with vinegar.  It didn't look like Haniela (in her vids when she mentions vinegar) washed/rinsed after wiping with vinegar.  She only wiped the mixer bowl with vinegar. 

Yes, plastic is porous but I have not incurred my icing cracking...  (I get craters now and then - lol.)  I use Wilton. 

Maybe the RI ratios are off and that caused cracking.  As for coloring - it will darken as it sits/dries and can continue to darken.  All products don't contain the same ingredients.  (Hope I said that right.  And some colors, to me, seem to make the icing thicken.  I seem to have that problem with Duff's.  Maybe I'm wrong...  But, the combination of colored products (gel/liquid/concentrated (Wilton garden set) in an unbalanced icing ratio may factor into cracking.

 

Reading this thread has me worried that some icing problems will come to roost with me.  I haven't had problems to speak of but sometimes colors are just a little south of what I want.  I always use Wilton Merangue powder, I mix both ameri gels and Wilton gels together with no adverse result. I beat my base icing for around 5 minutes and keep it in the frig when not in use. One trick I really like is to put icing in a double bag. I place a scoop of icing in plastic wrap twist the ends, clip one, then I place that in my piping bag.  It stays fresh, and last much longer- have fun in the kitchen! 

 

I am currently experiencing a problem with my royal icing coming out with little tiny hard clumps in it. I did just recently buy a big 50lb bag of powdered sugar and it’ was not 100% completely sealed when I closed it up after the first time I used it so maybe that is the issue. I have my R.I. recipe down packed and I am trying to figure out why this is happening all of a sudden! Could that possibly be an issue that anyone has had? 

Or maybe my bowl was not completely dry before adding the dry ingredients?! 

I’m LOST 

Katy Guidry posted:

I am currently experiencing a problem with my royal icing coming out with little tiny hard clumps in it. I did just recently buy a big 50lb bag of powdered sugar and it’ was not 100% completely sealed when I closed it up after the first time I used it so maybe that is the issue. I have my R.I. recipe down packed and I am trying to figure out why this is happening all of a sudden! Could that possibly be an issue that anyone has had? 

Or maybe my bowl was not completely dry before adding the dry ingredients?! 

I’m LOST 

Check your powdered sugar. Is it lumpy to start? Or if you use meringue powder, perhaps that's changed, and it's got a coarser feel to it. I'd just inspect my ingredients and do some controlled experiments (swapping in different powdered sugar, for instance) until you find the culprit. It's got to be either the sugar or the meringue powder, as they are the only two ingredients that might not fully dissolve - unless you've changed the quantity of liquid added or how long you're mixing.

Katy Guidry posted:

It does look lumpy to start! Should I sift it?

I would certainly try that and see if it makes a difference. Did you also change brands of powdered sugar? It could be that you got a more coarsely (<10X) processed sugar, which is contributing grit. Most major brands of powdered sugar in the US are 10X (finely processed and good for use in royal icing), but perhaps you got something that wasn't. In that case, sifting may not help unless you have a very, very fine-meshed sieve.

Hi all!  Well, I do have a problem where a fix-it seems to be a mystery, or maybe I haven't searched hard enough? 

I was making RI for the 4th of July cookies, and in my frustration to make a bold red (waiting hrs between mixing in more food coloring hoping that it darkened to what I needed), I accidentally put one tiny drop of red candy coloring (oil! Noooo!😱)... It wasn't until I started mixing that I could see something was terribly wrong. It began to separate (it looked like it was "seizing" as it would in the chocolate world) and with panicked mixing it came together again, but it was then very loose and runny. I didn't try to mess around with it any further, atleast it was finally the right color. 😅 I had to use it, and it had all the troubles of any runny icing (bleeding, hard to work with), however it did dry hard. (Not rock-hard, which is normal as my icings are stackable but not crackable on cookies)  My question is... When this terrible oil mistake happens, is there a quick fix to remedy it? Or is it normally always destined for the trash bin? 

Added note, as it might affect the answers, this batch (all colors) was made with raw egg whites.. and the usual p/c sugar, cream of tartar, artificial flavorings, water.. and the other colors did turn out fine. (Fyi, I do regularly mix liquid and gel food colorings with no adverse effects. Currently using Wilton, Americolor, McCormick, and India Tree)

DonnasDoggies posted:

Hi all!  Well, I do have a problem where a fix-it seems to be a mystery, or maybe I haven't searched hard enough? 

I was making RI for the 4th of July cookies, and in my frustration to make a bold red (waiting hrs between mixing in more food coloring hoping that it darkened to what I needed), I accidentally put one tiny drop of red candy coloring (oil! Noooo!😱)... It wasn't until I started mixing that I could see something was terribly wrong. It began to separate (it looked like it was "seizing" as it would in the chocolate world) and with panicked mixing it came together again, but it was then very loose and runny. I didn't try to mess around with it any further, atleast it was finally the right color. 😅 I had to use it, and it had all the troubles of any runny icing (bleeding, hard to work with), however it did dry hard. (Not rock-hard, which is normal as my icings are stackable but not crackable on cookies)  My question is... When this terrible oil mistake happens, is there a quick fix to remedy it? Or is it normally always destined for the trash bin? 

Added note, as it might affect the answers, this batch (all colors) was made with raw egg whites.. and the usual p/c sugar, cream of tartar, artificial flavorings, water.. and the other colors did turn out fine. (Fyi, I do regularly mix liquid and gel food colorings with no adverse effects. Currently using Wilton, Americolor, McCormick, and India Tree)

Hi! I can’t claim to have any experience with this one, as I’ve only ever used oil-based candy colorings with chocolate. But I’m not surprised to hear you had the troubles you had (delayed drying, bleeding, not coming together easily, etc.) with it in a water-based icing, as the two typically don’t mix well. All I might suggest is adding more powdered sugar (and perhaps even cornstarch) to thicken the icing back up and to accelerate drying time. Please let us know how this “fix” works out if you have any of the icing left to experiment with! Thanks!

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