Cookie Decorating Troubleshooting

{My original post on troubleshooting was published waaaay back in 2010. After asking on Facebook last week about what cookie decorating issues you're experiencing, I thought it was time for a reprise. I've also updated it a bit.}

Royal Icing and Cookie Decorating Troubleshooting

Every single one of these things has happened to me, too.  Here are my fixes: 

Royal Icing and Cookie Decorating Troubleshooting

My royal icing is staying "tacky" even after several hours and overnight...any ideas?

My experience is that this is due to flood icing that is thinned too much. When flooding cookies, if the icing runs quickly to fill the entire cookie with having to be spread without a toothpick, it's too thin. Pour your icing back into the bowl, sift in some powdered sugar and let sit again for several minutes. More details on this specific problem here.

Why is my royal icing pitted looking and still wet?

Same answer as's happened to me before, too. I'm crying with you. More details on this specific problem here.

Help! My cookies dried overnight and now they have dark splotches all over them! know how humidity is so lovely for your hair? It's just the same with cookies. Close the windows, run the A/ whatever you can to make your cookie drying area humidity-free. The good news is, the splotches will normally spread across the entire cookie to darken the icing to a consistent color.

troubleshooting decorated cookies and royal icing

See that horse cookie? This is also known as "the day I almost divorced my husband." I kid, I kid! BUT, he did open the windows in the room where the cookies were drying, right after the sprinklers had run outside. Take my advice...have a heart-to-heart with hubby about humidity.

Why do my cookies have white splotches on them?

When stirring in water to flood the cookies, be sure to fully incorporate the water. Those white splotches are water. Also, if you are using a squeeze bottle, make sure it is completely dry before adding your flood icing. If a drop of water is in your bottle, it will come out on your cookie. If you notice a drop of water, grab a paper towel, blot it out and re-coat the area with icing. It will smooth out.

Why is my royal icing full of bubbles?

Two hints here...ONE: Stir in the water for flooding gently with a rubber spatula, not a mixer.  TWO: once the water is incorporated, cover with a damp dish towel and let sit several minutes. Most of the bubbles will rise to the surface. Stir gently again and you're good to go. Any other stray bubbles can be popped with a toothpick or a pin.

Do not ever, EVER add water to a squeeze bottle of icing and shake. EVER.

I've tried royal frosting once and it hurt my hands so bad I swore never to do it again.

Try filling your icing bags only 1/2 full. I know it sounds strange, but it makes such a difference!

Why does my red or black icing taste terrible?

My guess is that you are using the food coloring brand sold in craft/grocery stores. While this company does a lot of things and black food coloring are not those things. I strongly recommend AmeriColor Super Red and Super Black. You can find them here, in my Amazon shop, or in many online baking supply stores.

Why does my piped know...the outline...or maybe just some piping done on gingerbread men...well...why does it dry up and just fall off in little bits.

I think this is from overbeating. It's happened to me, too. Try to beat it until it's glossy and just coming to a stiff peak. Also, use the paddle attachment of your mixer. (Check the Royal Icing 102 post for more info.)

I can not write names or outline without the icing breaking.

This just takes practice...lots and lots of practice. Try getting used to your icing bag and printing on a plate or sheet of wax paper before going to your cookies. It's possible that your royal icing may be a little overbeaten. Check out the Royal Icing 102 post, too.

Why are my colors bleeding?

Well, that happens to me, too, sometimes. First, try to use AmeriColor food colorings. I had this problem a lot more when I used "the other guy's" food coloring. Second, when using a wet-on-wet technique for something like flat dots, let the base color sit for a few minutes before adding the dots. And sometimes, especially with the flat dots, it just happens. What helps me deal with it is to know that it WILL BE EATEN and there will be no evidence. People will just remember "cute cookie."

My icing consistency is never right.

Try reading this post on royal icing....both piping and flooding consistency are covered.

Why doesn't my royal icing dry shiny?

I know it IS disappointing because it looks SO shiny when it is wet. Two tips: ONE. Try drying the cookies while an oscillating fan blows over them. TWO. Food dehydrator.  More on this coming soon! They'll never look as shiny as they do wet, but those two techniques will help.

Help! The small filled areas on my cookies are drying with craters!

Ugh.'s happened to me, too.  Try not to overfill small areas; just flood until the area is covered. Also, even though it looks like you don't need to, run a toothpick through the wet icing. This seems to dislodge air bubbles.

Why are my cookies spreading while baking?

I always freeze my cut-out cookie shapes for 5-10 minutes before baking to prevent spreading. A great recipe is key, too. My favorite cut-out cookies are here.

Why is my icing separating?

Piping consistency royal icing can be made ahead of time and stored in the fridge. You may see a little liquid in the bottom of the bowl, just stir it together. Flood icing, on the other hand, needs to be used the day you make it or is will separate and become unusable. If you'll be decorating for many hours using the same icing bottles, stir occasionally, very gently, using a chopstick or knife to swirl the icing in the bottle.

My piping icing is spreading and won't hold the pattern from a star tip.

More than likely, your icing has loosened up over time...either from being made ahead of time, or from sitting out for several hours.  Squeeze all of the icing back into a bowl and add sifted powdered sugar. Stir until stiff again.  The icing can even be re-beaten.  Test the consistency by pushing a little icing through the tip onto a plate to see if it is still spreading.  If so, just keep adding more powdered sugar.

Please be sure to check out the previous two F.A.Q. installments...
  1. F.A.Q.'s
  2. Royal Icing 102, or 201, or whatever comes after 101

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