As decorators, we know how frustrating bleeding icing can be… I remember it being one of my biggest pet peeves when I first began. It turns out that learning some tips and tricks on piping is only one step to having an enjoyable cookie decorating experience. If you don't know the following 7 tips already, I hope they help you eliminate bleeding icing on your cookies.
First, what exactly is bleeding when it comes to decorating cookies?
Basically, it's when one icing runs or spreads into another. Take a look at these flood work butterflies as an example here; you can see the brown starting to diffuse into the light yellow.
Whenever an intense color such as red or black is beside a light one, such as white or yellow, bleeding seems to happen more. The red and white mushroom cookie above has none happening though. Here's how you can do it too:
How to stop your colors from bleeding into each other:
1. The consistency of your icing is key – If it's too runny, your colors will tend to seep more. Especially if you're layering a dark color onto a light one. A good rule of thumb is to follow the '10 second rule'. See #2 of Top 10 Decorating Tips or detailed info. at the cookie tutorial here. To be safest, your icing should gloss over closer to 10 seconds than to 5.
2. The icing recipe is also important. I use Antonia 74 or Peggy Porshen's recipe. They seem to have good 'body'. Some royal icings which are more like a glacé or glaze don't work as well because they tend to be thinner.
3. Americolor soft gel pastes seem to have better results than other brands of paste colorings, specifically with intense colors such as black, brown and red.
4. Tint your icing at least a few hours in advance as the colors usually deepen with time. That way you're not necessarily adding as much food paste coloring as you can adjust your color later.
5. Let your outline or first layer of icing dry for 12-24 hours; again especially if your two colors are a stark contrast between light and dark. You can try less time depending on the humidity… Maybe 4-5 hours for a first layer, and 15 minutes to an hour for an outline, however, it is riskier.
I have to say; I usually err on the safe side. Preferably 24 hours for me!
If you have a few extra cookies, you can test if it's dry by touching the surface (does it make a dent?), or even by biting into a test cookie.
Putting your cookies in an oven with the light on can help dry them faster, according to Colette Peter's in her book, Colette's Birthday Cakes (p. 170). I have also heard that some people actually put the oven on extremely low and leave their cookies in for a few minutes, or some use a heat lamp and others a fan on low air. I still need to experiment with that, so I can't really comment at this point. Another future post!
6. Never store your decorated cookies in the fridge or freezer as they can absorb moisture there. Some people say they have luck with it – If you have I'd love to hear from you in an email or a comment at the bottom of this post. Maybe the cookies are exceptionally well sealed?
7. If it's really humid outside, use a dehumidifier in the room you're decorating in. A climate controlled or air-conditioned room works too! Too much humidity can make the colors bleed, no matter how hard you've tried to do everything else right. Here's a post with a little more information on it.
These have worked for me so far but I'm always happy to learn more; if you have any tips which you'd like to share you're welcome to leave a comment below.
Happy cookie decorating!
p.s. Here are the rest of the fall cookies I made along with ones above. They're sugar cookies decorated with royal icing and edged with copper-colored disco dust.
p.s.s. Since I've posted this I've had a few emails about the leaf and acorn cookie cutters. They're from a Wilton Leaves and Acorn Cookie Cutter set.