How to Fix Royal Icing Problems

How to Fix Royal Icing Problems

Royal icing can be used in many ways, e.g., to cover a cake, intricately piped designs, pipe flowers, and ice cookies, to name a few. Unfortunately, there can often be problems with using Royal icing, so here I will tell you how some of them can be easily solved.

Royal icing not setting, overmixed icing, air bubbles forming, pits and craters in flood work (runny Royal icing piped into an outlined shape), colors bleeding into each other, and icing not shiny when it dries. All these mistakes can easily be put right.

Read on…

Why did my Royal icing not set?

This can happen if you use Royal icing to flood an outlined shape for a cake or cookie design. If it hasn’t dried within 24 hours, the only thing you can do is scrape it off and start again.

If it’s a flood work design for a cake, it’s usually worked off the cake and added when dry, so starting again is not a big problem. However, if it has been applied to a cookie, you may be unable to save it as the cookie may have absorbed water and become soft.

If Royal icing has been used to pipe designs on a cake and they have not kept their shape and set, or you have used it to cover a cake, and it hasn’t set.

The reason this has happened …

  1. The icing was thinned with too much water.
  2. You’ve used an oil-based flavor.
  3. You’ve used a flavoring containing glucose or inverted sugar.
  4. You’ve not used gel food coloring.

If your icing is too thin, add more powdered sugar to it to thicken it.

Read the labels on flavors and buy ones that are not oil-based, glucose, or inverted sugar-based, as they are ingredients used in icings to prevent them from drying too hard.

Always use gel food colors to tint your royal icing because using powdered or liquid colors will affect your icing consistency. 

If you are using a recipe with meringue powder instead of egg whites, then make sure you use the full amount. Most recipes use three tablespoons of meringue powder to 1 lb/450g powdered sugar.

Do you know how to test the consistency of your royal icing?

How to test the consistency of Royal Icing

You can test if you have the correct consistency of Royal icing for your purpose is to make the base icing and then add water to it until it is suitable for your purpose. 

A spray bottle gives you more control over how much water you add.

Base icing – the thick icing to which various small amounts of water are added to achieve a working consistency.

To test the Royal icing’s consistency after adding water, drag a knife across the surface, and see how long it takes for the line to disappear.

For piping – 25 seconds
For outlining – 15 seconds
For flooding – 10 seconds

The Base Royal icing is also used to pipe flowers.  When glucose is added, it’s used to cover a cake. (glucose is used to prevent it from setting too hard).

If you over-mix Royal icing, it can cause you problems you may not be able to solve.

Testing the Consistency of Royal Icing
Testing the consistency of Royal Icing

What happens if you over-mix royal icing?

When over-mixing Royal icing dries, it has a crunchy sponge-like texture that easily crumbles.

This is because it may have been beaten in a mixer at high speed for too long, so too much air will have been incorporated into the icing.

If Royal icing has been overmixed to that extent, it’s best to discard it because there isn’t anything you can do to save it.

The only thing to do is start again, using your mixer’s slowest speed to ensure you don’t make the same mistake again.

Did you know It’s pretty easy to prevent air bubbles from forming in your Royal icing?

How to prevent air bubbles in Royal icing

Place the ingredients for your Royal icing in your mixer bowl, turn the mixer to the lowest speed and mix until it forms stiff peaks. Doing it this way ensures that too much air is not incorporated into the icing.

After mixing, place a piece of plastic onto the icing’s surface to seal it and stop it from drying. Leave it for several hours before using it to allow air bubbles to rise to the surface, then stir it gently, making sure you pop any large air bubbles, and it will be ready to use.

If you have made it by hand (without a mixer), you need not leave it to stand for so long as not as much air will have been incorporated into the Royal icing.

If you find that your Royal icing has pits or craters on the surface, you can do a couple of things to prevent it from happening.

Why does my Royal icing pit or crater?

Pitting or cratering is caused by air bubbles popping as the icing dries. It sometimes occurs when you use Royal icing to do flood work for cake decorations or cover a cookie. It can also happen if you cover a cake with a smooth coat of Royal icing. 

It’s caused by incorporating too much air into the icing, so when you make it, use the lowest speed on your mixer and don’t make the icing too thin.

Stir the icing gently before you use it, and pop any air bubbles you see.

If you have used it for flood work, draw a toothpick through it to pop any air bubbles that may be lurking beneath the surface.

Do the colors of your Royal icing bleed into each other? If you follow these guidelines, you may be able to prevent it from happening.

Get Rid of Pits and Craters in Royal Icing
Get rid of pits and craters in your Royal icing

Why did my Royal icing bleed?

The definition of “bleeding” Royal icing is when one color of icing spreads into another color. This is usually a total mess, mainly if you use a dark color on top of or beside a light color.

However, there are ways to prevent this from happening.

  1. Use gel paste colors to tint your Royal icing, as the colors are more stable and won’t alter your icing consistency.
  2. After you have colored the icing, leave it to stand for an hour or two so that the color saturates the powdered sugar crystals. Remember that the color will intensify as it stands, so don’t add too much for a start.
  3. Don’t make your icing too thin. Follow the rules on how to test the consistency of your icing. (I’ve put them again at the end of this list)
  4. Let one color of icing dry thoroughly for several hours at room temperature before adding another color beside it or on top.
  5. Cover cookies with Royal icing; ensure they are completely dry before putting them into a package.

Base icing – the thick icing to which various small amounts of water are added to achieve a working consistency.

To test the Royal icing’s consistency after adding water, drag a knife across the surface, and see how long it takes for the line to disappear.

For piping – 25 seconds
For outlining – 15 seconds
For flooding – 10 seconds

Basic Royal icing is also used to pipe flowers, and when glucose is added, it can be used to cover a cake. (glucose is used to prevent it from setting hard).

You’ve worked hard to get your Royal icing right, but what do you do when it’s dry, dull, and not shiny?

Why is my Royal icing not shiny?

There are several reasons why this could happen to your Royal icing…

  1. It dried too slowly.
  2. The kitchen is too hot and humid.
  3. High humidity in the atmosphere could cause it to dry slowly and leave it with a dull surface.
  4. Overmixed icing, causing a spongy texture and a dull finish.
  5. Icing too thin.

It needs to dry fast to get a shiny, smooth finish on your Royal icing.

  1. Using a fan will speed the process up but don’t set it too near, or it will blow the icing out of shape.
  2. If you are using your kitchen for baking, dry the icing in another room.
  3. Use a humidifier if the humidity is high where you live.
  4. Don’t use overmixed Royal icing (as mentioned above).
  5. Use the icing consistency guidelines when making your Royal icing.

I hope this has solved some of the major problems you may be experiencing with your Royal icing.

I have experienced these problems, but I’m sure there are more, and as I come across them, I will update this post.

If you have any other problems I have not covered here, let me know in the comments box below, and I will do my best to solve them.

Joyce Freeman

Joyce Freeman

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12 thoughts on “How to Fix Royal Icing Problems”

  1. I’ve seen many people say that their Royal icing was overmixed when they use it a day later and it’s all spongy. Mine is always that way. I just stir it really well and use it. Am I overmixing?

    1. Hi Leanne,

      You are not overmixing your Royal icing.

      I make royal icing the same way as you do.

      I beat the icing well with an electric mixer to eliminate most of the sugar crystals; then, I leave it overnight to melt any remaining crystals. The following day, I stir it well and use it.

      I have never had any problems doing it that way.

      Most of the icing/powdered sugar available nowadays is made from sugarbeet, and it doesn’t always tell you on the packet.

      Sugarbeet sugar crystals take longer to melt than cane sugar crystals. If I don’t do it that way, I find that the Royal icing is sometimes gritty.

      There will always be someone who thinks they know better, does it differently, and criticizes your method. My answer to them is if your method works for you, then carry on. My method works for me.

      Best wishes

  2. I used fresh lemon juice to my royal icing, i over queezed the lemon,i can taste the zest, is it the zest that didn’t get hard my royal icing?

    1. Hi Mei,
      If you over squeezed the lemon until you reached the skin then some of the oil from the skin may have prevented the Royal icing from getting hard.
      Next time don’t squeeze the lemon so hard and I think your Royal icing will be successful.
      Best wishes

  3. Hi. I’m frosting my gingerbread cookies with royal icing. The icing goes on well. But when it dries, it separates from the cookie and curls up. It also begins to crack. I live in Colorado Springs where the humidity is low. I’ve tried To dry them in the oven at 170 degrees F. I use Splenda, dried milk and corn starch as my icing. Could you help me?

    1. Hi Bob,

      I have not had any experience with Royal Icing made with Splenda, dried milk, and corn starch.
      I think perhaps you need an egg white to bind the ingredients together.
      170F may have been too hot to dry the icing so if you cannot let the icing dry naturally set your oven to the lowest heat it will go.
      I need to make some Royal icing for a cake for a diabetic friend in the New Year so please let me know how you get on with your icing.
      Best wishes

  4. Hello Joyce,
    This was my first time making royal icing and I unfortunately fall into the category of spongey, air bubbley, dull and not completely set icing! Whilst mixing, my icing became shiny and stiffened, but definitely not into stiff peaks that held it’s shape. After 15 minutes of using a mixer I gave up and presumed that I had reached the desired consistency. How can I avoid over beating the egg whites if it’s still not forming peaks?
    By the way I had to use fresh egg whites as in the UK we don’t seem to have meringue powder.
    Thank you,

    1. Hi Bex,
      I am sorry that your first time making royal icing was unsuccessful.

      If you read my blog post, “How to Choose the Best Royal Icing Recipe for Cakes or Projects,” you can find a recipe for royal icing and also some tips about making it.

      If it doesn’t seem to be thickening up enough after a few minutes of mixing, don’t be afraid to add a little more icing sugar.
      Also, when you have made it leave it to stand for a couple of hours or even overnight, then stir it to eliminate the air bubbles.
      Please don’t give up on Royal icing, as it can be used for so many decorating projects.
      Best wishes

  5. Hi Joyce,
    I can’t seem to find an answer anywhere for my problem.
    When my iced biscuits dry, the colour is sometimes blotchy. I read it could be butter bleed from the biscuits.
    I have cooled the biscuits in the fridge before decorating. Some were okay.
    Since then, I used some freshly made royal icing and used it on grease proof paper to pipe some hearts. When they dried, a lot of them were blotchy in colour. I have no idea why, I don’t know what else to do. Obviously it’s the royal icing before I’m using it to decorate the biscuits.
    I use icing sugar, egg white powder and water.
    Thank you for your help in advance.

    1. Dear Claire,

      It could be any number of reasons why you have blotchy icing.

      Use cane icing/powdered sugar if you can get it as it is much better than sugar beet icing/powdered sugar at absorbing colors.

      I know in the UK Tate +Lyle sell Fairtrade cane icing sugar but I am not sure who does in other countries.

      Some manufacturers don’t state which sugar their icing/powdered sugar is made from and I have gone so far as writing to them to find out what it is.

      There is a difference between cane and beet sugar and you can read about it in this blog post

      Buy finely ground icing/powdered icing sugar. Some of the cheaper sugars are not ground very well and the color will not be absorbed by them very well.

      Make sure you sieve your egg white powder with your icing/powdered sugar.

      When you color your icing use ‘gel’ rather than a ‘liquid’ color as it doesn’t alter the consistency of the Royal icing.

      Don’t make your icing too wet. The longer it has to dry the more chance it has to become blotchy.

      After you have mixed your icing and colored it let it stand overnight to make sure the color is absorbed into the sugar crystals and remix gently before using.

      I can only say to experiment with different brands of icing/powdered sugar and gel colors until you find one that works for you and does not end up blotchy.

      Best wishes

  6. Thank you so much for these great tips. I do fine with making the base icing and getting it to flooding consistency. My problems have been with outline and piping consistency; my icing is always too translucent looking and doesn’t hold a firm shape or line (the recipe I use contains liquid pasteurized egg whites and lemon juice). When I’ve used less water, the thicker consistency clogs the piping tips. You’ve given me two new suggestions to try: 1) running the mixer at low speed for a longer amount of time (the recipe I use calls for beating at high speed for 10 minutes!); and 2) using the “15 second” test once the base is diluted with water. Greatly appreciate your guidance!

    1. Hi,
      Thank you for your kind comments.
      It is always so nice to hear from anyone who comes to my website.
      I am delighted that I could help solve your icing problems.
      I hope my tips work for you.
      Best wishes

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