Dec 01

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10 Keys to Cookie Decorating Success {Or 10 Mistakes to Avoid}

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10 Keys to Improving Decorated Cookies {If you’re not already doing them}

These are just a few simple things which would have saved me some frustration had I known them when I first began decorating cookies.  I still make some of these mistakes now and then, especially if I’m in a rush, which leads me to my first point…

1) Time – If possible, give yourself enough time to make your cookies so that you enjoy the experience more and fewer mistakes occur. Of course, that’s not always feasible, especially if running a business, but as much as possible, make sure you’re not rushed or pressured.

2) Mixing food paste or gel colors – Make sure the coloring is thoroughly mixed into the icing.  When it’s not, you’ll often see a ‘streaking’ effect once the icing is applied (See image below).  This can also happen if your icing is too runny or when the water separates from the icing sugar (More on that coming up).

3) Avoid over mixing royal icing – When making your royal icing, over mixing it can create a sponge-like texture when the icing dries.  Too much air gets incorporated and when the icing is dry, it easily crumbles when touched.

In this case, over mixing means quite a while;  the royal icing in this image had been mixed on low speed in my kitchen aide mixer for a good 20-30 minutes! {Or more?  I had forgotten about it ;-) }.

4) Consistency of icing – The consistency of your icing is key for decorating success. Different consistencies can be useful for different purposes. For more detail, use a thicker icing, for a smoother finish, a runnier icing. For outlining and flooding the cookie right away, I use the 10 second rule.

The 10 second rule: Drag a butter knife through the surface of your royal icing and count to 10.  If the icing surface becomes smooth in anywhere between 5-10 seconds, then your icing is ready to use.  If it takes longer than approximately 10 seconds, the icing is too thick.  Slowly add more water.  If your icing surface smoothes over in less than 5-10 seconds, it is too runny.  Mix your icing longer or slowly add more sifted icing sugar to thicken it.

If you like visuals, here’s a video which shows the 10 second rule.

5) Runny royal icing – This ties in with icing consistency, but is worth mentioning on its own. If the icing is too runny it will flow too quickly out of the piping tip, making it difficult to control how you pipe, especially for outlining.

Runny icing is great for marbling, but even marbling isn’t as successful when the icing is too thin.

6) Make fresh piping bags each time – The water and icing sugar in your royal icing will separate over time.  How long it takes to separate depends on how runny your icing is; mine usually takes at least 4 hours or more before it begins to separate.

It’s for this reason that you cannot leave your icing in the piping bags for a long periods, for example overnight, and continue decorating with the same bags.  The water will pool in the piping bag and on your cookie when you go to apply it.

7) Planning your cookie design – Make sure you’re able to do a particular design before you say yes to it.  Years ago I said yes to a friend who had asked for 100 motorcycle cookies.  When I realized how detailed they would have to be to look good and when I realized I wasn’t capable of implementing the design (I didn’t have the KopyKake then and I’m really not good at drawing freehand), I had to go back to her and ask her to pick something else.

8) Bleeding - Whenever using intense color such as red or black, bleeding seems to happen more.  The best way to prevent bleeding is to minimize the amount of humidity the cookies are exposed to (de-humidifier, air conditioning, air-tight storage once they`re dry).  More on preventing bleeding here.

9) Tint your white icing white – Confused yet?  When I first began decorating I would leave my royal icing I was using for white cookies, untinted.  The difference is subtle, but to avoid an off-white look, actually color your royal icing white.   The snowflake above is an example of untinted royal icing, and the snowman is an example of icing tinted white.

10) Practice! – Although these tips all contribute to decorating success, good old-fashioned practice always helps!

 

For more detail and cookie decorating tips please check out my Cookie Decorating Tutorial or my Top 10 Tips.  If  you have any tips which you’d like to share you’re welcome to leave a comment below.

Happy decorating!

xo,

Marian

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115 Comments

  1. Jennifer
    October 23, 2011 at 1:32 am | Permalink
    57

    I’m new to decorating cookies, so please bear with me. When you say tint your white icing, what color do you use to tint with?

    Also, what do you use to color your icing with in the first place? Food Coloring? Gels?

    Thank you in advance!

  2. marian
    October 23, 2011 at 3:09 am | Permalink
    58

    @ Jennifer: I use Americolor food gel white to tint icing white.
    For all colours, I use Americolor or the occasional Wilton food gel.
    Hope that helps!

  3. Ali
    November 5, 2011 at 1:45 pm | Permalink
    59

    Hi Marian

    I made some decorated cookies and used the 10 second rule to make sure the icing was the right consistency before I started, however now that they’ve dried the centres of the flooded areas appear to have sunk a bit, so there’s a dip in them and they’re not nice and flat like yours.

    I did the outlines and left them to dry overnight as I didn’t have time to do the flooding the same day.

    Any idea what I did wrong with the flooding part?

    Thanks!

  4. marian
    November 5, 2011 at 2:30 pm | Permalink
    60

    @ Ali: My guess is that the centre of the cookie could just need more icing (fuller). It would be helpful for me to see a photo of the cookies – are you able to share it on Facebook or email me please?

  5. Ali
    November 6, 2011 at 12:29 pm | Permalink
    61

    Thanks Marian. I’ve upload a photo here: http://s917.photobucket.com/albums/ad13/AliPru/?action=view&current=IMG_0493.jpg – hope you find it helpful!

  6. Kelly
    November 16, 2011 at 3:15 am | Permalink
    62

    Hi Marian,

    I love all of your posts and there are all very inspiring!

    I have a problem with my royal icing, I’ve decorated my cookies 2 days back and until today, it’s still not hard yet…and for some that has turned hard, the texture of the icing is rough/spongy…I think I did over mixed the icing as there are a lot of holes in my icing….^__^
    I’ve also ommitted cream of tartar from my recipe, is this the main cause my icing couldn’t turn hard?

    It’s so hard to get the right consistency!….

    Hope you can help..Thank you…:)

  7. marian
    November 20, 2011 at 7:13 pm | Permalink
    63

    @ Ali: It says, the ‘specified media does not exist’. Paste another link maybe?

    @ Kelly: It sounds like the icing was over mixed, yes. Cream of tartar does help stabilize the icing too, but the recipe should still work without it.
    Have you seen my video on finding the right consistency?
    Take heart, once you get it, it will become much easier every time!

  8. December 22, 2011 at 8:09 pm | Permalink
    64

    I LOVE your website. Someone pinned one of your cookies and i followed the pin to your blog. You are amazing and I LOVE that you share ALL your secrets so we, too, can have the perfect cookie! Kudos to you….happy baking!

  9. marian
    December 22, 2011 at 8:25 pm | Permalink
    65

    @ Arrie: Why thank you, Arrie! What a pretty name btw.

  10. joann
    January 7, 2012 at 9:34 am | Permalink
    66

    Marian,

    I found your website while I was searching the net on how to decorate cookies. I was leaning toward making some Curious George cookies for my son’s birthday but was not sure, however once I found your page I fell in love with cookie decorating. I m hooked. I ve spent the past few days looking through your wesite. You’ve inspired me to try my hand at making cookies and decorating them. Wish me luck!! Keep up the great work. It really inspires newbies like myself. It’s nice to have someone “hold our hand” through the process.

  11. marian
    January 7, 2012 at 9:39 am | Permalink
    67

    Hurray @ joann! I’m so glad to be some help to you! Please don’t hesitate to drop me a line should you have any questions. Have you seen my cookie decorating schedule in the tutorial section? That might be helpful for you. Have fun!

  12. Michele
    January 7, 2012 at 10:57 pm | Permalink
    68

    First of all I LOVE your site!!! I always turn to it when I need help trouble shooting and I’m so greatfull that your willing to share your helpfull tried and true hints! I’ve been experimenting with Royal icing…. tricky and tempermental stuff ! A book I’ve been following said if I was using a stand mixer, which I have been, to mix on HIGH 5 minutes but it makes sooo many bubbles. I keep trying different things to alter my results, but it seems fool proof. I have read your tricks and tips for less bubbles, but could you please share the exact way that you do it? Nothing like piping a design, only to find the next morning, it has holes in it that can not be patched up unnoticeably! HELP!

    Sincerely,
    Michele D.

  13. marian
    January 7, 2012 at 11:13 pm | Permalink
    69

    @ Michele: Oh I feel your frustration! I mix my royal icing on low for sure, and once I’ve colored my icing I let it sit a bit, and air bubbles rise to the top… which I promptly pop ;-) and then fill my piping bags.
    Icing with a thinner consistency actually seems to get more air bubbles, especially when filling in smaller areas.

    That being said, it’s still a perplexing topic! See this post here:
    http://sweetopia.net/2010/02/part-2-how-to-prevent-air-bubbles-in-royal-icing/

    Have fun decorating, and if you have any more feedback as well, I’d love to have you come back and visit!

  14. Lindy
    March 15, 2012 at 3:09 pm | Permalink
    70

    Hi Marian,

    I love your website! I;m wondering how you get your icing so shiny? Mine dries to a really matte finish and I’m not liking the look.

    Thanks so much for all the info you share!

  15. marian
    March 15, 2012 at 3:37 pm | Permalink
    71

    Hi @ Lindy:
    It’s probably because some of them (photos) are taken when the icing is wet. Take a look at this post:
    http://sweetopia.net/2011/11/gluten-free-coconut-cupcakes-with-coconut-frosting-shiny-royal-icing/

  16. Staci
    March 20, 2012 at 11:21 am | Permalink
    72

    An earlier poster said that her cookies weren’t flat enough. I’ve found that by decorating the back of the cookie, I get a really flat surface with crisp edges AND I cover up what is normally the ugly part of the cookie!

  17. marian
    March 27, 2012 at 8:13 pm | Permalink
    73

    Hi @ Staci: Well that’s a really cool idea, thanks!!

  18. Mrs S.
    April 25, 2012 at 2:53 pm | Permalink
    74

    Hi Marian,
    I’m literally losing my mind here. My problem is I can never get good consistency when doing fine lines with tip nr. 1. I want to do nice thin lines and cursive decorations but the lines start to roll and curl which shows that icing is to thick. If I redo it and make it just a little more runny then the lines are to thick and not that fine anymore…. Please do you know what I’m doing wrong here? I see so much fine lace work and that is my goal, to be able to lace decorate. Thank you so much for all the helpful tips.

  19. marian
    April 25, 2012 at 5:37 pm | Permalink
    75

    Hello @ Mrs S.: Here’s a post which should help:
    http://sweetopia.net/2010/03/how-to-prevent-your-tips-from-clogging-and-what-to-do-if-it-happens-top-10-tips/

    It’s about clogged tips, but, use the same process to ‘sieve’ your icing… it may help!

  20. Tammy
    August 20, 2012 at 2:46 am | Permalink
    76

    marian wrote:

    @ Jennifer: I use Americolor food gel white to tint icing white.
    For all colours, I use Americolor or the occasional Wilton food gel.
    Hope that helps!

    Hi Marian,

    Firstly thanks for all your advice and fabulous website and videos. I’m 1 year into my iced biscuit obsession and it shows no sign of waning!

    I’m having a problem with my white icing, which is yellowing after it dries. I think it may be absorbing butter from the biscuit. I use meringue powder rather than egg white ( which always seem to start out yellower anyway) and the past couple of times I’ve also added Wilton white colouring. So it starts of a beautiful colour…I do my white base (outline and flood) but when I come back a few days later (I live in London but work in Switzerland so all my projects are rather protracted!) the base is no longer a pristine white but now a cream colour. Not the desired effect!

    My biscuit recipe is all butter and I use whole eggs. I’m wondering if I should try replacing some or all of the butter with white fat, but that sounds highly unpallatable!

    Any advice?

  21. marian
    August 21, 2012 at 10:34 am | Permalink
    77

    Hi @ Tammy: It could be that the butter is seeping up into the icing yes… Have you tried these suggestions yet?

    http://sweetopia.net/2011/07/how-to-avoid-spots-on-icing/

    Hope that helps!

  22. Tammy
    August 21, 2012 at 6:08 pm | Permalink
    78

    @ marian:
    That’s fantastic advice! Thanks for the tips! You’re a star!

  23. carolyn
    September 28, 2012 at 8:37 pm | Permalink
    79

    Hi Marian! Thanks for the tips. After looking at your photo, I’m 100% sure I overmixed my royal icing. My question is whether there is a way to salvage this icing in this case, or do I have to start over from scratch? Will it correct itself if I allow it to rest for a period of time?

  24. September 28, 2012 at 11:10 pm | Permalink
    80

    Hi @ carolyn: Oops! You’ll need to make a fresh batch in this case.
    All the best on the next one!

  25. October 13, 2012 at 4:31 am | Permalink
    81

    I find the snowman biscuit is really nice…

  26. Vania
    December 4, 2012 at 2:54 am | Permalink
    82

    Hi Marian! First of all, I just wanna say that you’re my source of inspiration when it comes to baking and frosting, you are trully talented :) I have one question, how do you add blush on top of your cookie just like the first picture? thanks xoxo

  27. marian
    December 8, 2012 at 12:53 pm | Permalink
    83

    Danke, @ Schokolade ;-)

    Hi @ Vania: dusted on with dry pink luster dust. Easy as that!

  28. Maria Hendriani
    December 28, 2012 at 10:40 am | Permalink
    84

    Hi Marian,
    I really inspired with your website ^^ Thanks before ^^

    I have a question that can’t be solved for a long time. When I have done decorate my cookies, they turn to soggy. So that I always bake them again to make them crunchy, but I always find that the icing color changed, it’s turn older and not beautiful as before it baked. So, What should I do to solve it?

    Thanks a lot

  29. marian
    December 29, 2012 at 2:55 pm | Permalink
    85

    My pleasure, @ Maria Hendriani, glad to hear it.

    Humidity wreaks havoc with baked goods of all kinds. Here are a few posts which should help;

    http://sweetopia.net/2012/01/video-how-to-dry-cookies-decorated-with-royal-icing/

    http://sweetopia.net/2011/07/how-to-avoid-spots-on-icing/

    They are both related to your issue, and the solutions are the same. All the best to you!

  30. Jill
    January 18, 2013 at 7:56 pm | Permalink
    86

    @ marian:

    In my family we have always made the shiny icing with only water, icing sugar, vanilla, and karo light corn syrup. I have never been able to get the same result putting karo in other icing.

  31. January 22, 2013 at 9:12 am | Permalink
    87

    I use royal icing to decorate my cookies but sometimes the icing all falls off in one perfect shape. Any help with this would be amazing. I just can not figure it out.

  32. marian
    February 2, 2013 at 12:18 pm | Permalink
    88

    Hi @ Melanie: Interesting. This hasn’t happened to me. I’m wondering if it’s really, really dry, where you live? Also, which cookie and icing recipes are you using?

  33. March 23, 2013 at 12:55 am | Permalink
    89

    A colleague linked me to this site. Thnx for the details.

  34. Dahna
    April 15, 2013 at 5:35 am | Permalink
    90

    Hello Marian, my husband and I make cookie cutters in which we do craft shows selling our cutters and demonstrate the shapes to the public, including decorating to inspire people. Our environments are various at different venues, ie hot cold etc and I am hoping you can assist me in the best ‘rolled’ icing to colour and use to demonstrate. I bought ready made icing and coloured it but found it to be thin and sticky, and due to the warmer weather it just didnt stay nice for the day and was difficult to use. I ended up of all things using playdoh as it had more substance however by the end of the day it had dried and curled and looked unprofessional. I probably need a lesson in fondant, gum sugar etc. and what is the best to use. would you mind me contacting you to have a quick discussion? I appreciate any assistance you may be able to offer me. Kind regards Dahna

  35. marian
    April 15, 2013 at 5:40 am | Permalink
    91

    Hi @ Dahna: I don’t do fondant covered cookies often, but have done it a bit, so hopefully these tips help:

    -if your fondant gets dry, massage a little shortening into it while you’re kneading it. Not sure if this works with play dough.

    -if it’s too sticky, knead some icing sugar into it, and roll it out on a marble slab (if you can bring a small one with you) covered in either icing sugar or cornstarch.

    Warm weather is tough for any sugar work, but hopefully those tips help!

  36. Dahna
    April 15, 2013 at 8:03 am | Permalink
    92

    Thank you big bunches Marian, those tips will definatley help :)
    I was thinking just for the demonstration exercise I could also try using gum paste as it seems to be thicker. Any thoughts on that rather than fondant in my demos? Thank you very much again for your time. Regards Dahna

    @ marian:

  37. marian
    April 15, 2013 at 8:30 am | Permalink
    93

    Yes, gumpaste might be worth a shot, @ Dahna. It does have a tendency to dry out, but try and see how it goes. Good luck!

  38. Dahna
    April 15, 2013 at 11:50 pm | Permalink
    94

    Thank you once again :)
    @ marian:

  39. Bee
    April 22, 2013 at 5:10 pm | Permalink
    95

    Hi, I’m very new to baking and need some help! Is it possible to pipe icing details on top of ready to roll icing cut-outs? I made some gumpaste cutouts and tried embossing them with a patterned rolling pin but the pattern was too faint no matter how much pressure I used, so hoping piping the pattern instead would be possible?

    Thanks in advance for any help, your tips really make a difference to amateurs like myself :)

  40. May 18, 2013 at 12:38 pm | Permalink
    96

    Great tips! I am pinning :)

  41. marian
    May 20, 2013 at 4:18 pm | Permalink
    97

    Hi @ Bee: Absolutely you can do that!

    Thanks! @ The 36th Avenue:

  42. December 15, 2013 at 2:42 am | Permalink
    98

    OMG!! thanks a bunch for this.
    This is great. I’m gonna start have my eye on ur blog from now on!!

    Keep up dear!

    • marian
      January 2, 2014 at 11:04 am | Permalink
      100

      Thanks Suna! :)

  43. December 27, 2013 at 4:21 pm | Permalink
    99

    Hi Marian! I just wanted to ask a question. What do you use to tint your white icing? Also, how much time do you mix royal icing for and how much water do you usually use for an average consistency? Thanks! –Emily

  44. January 24, 2014 at 5:57 am | Permalink
    102

    Hi Marian,
    Thanks for all the great tips. I have a few related questions for you. You say not to leave the icing in the piping bags overnight because the icing will separate, however, I’ve heard elsewhere (Haniela’s) that darker colors will develop better if they are left overnight, Additionally, your 6 day cookie schedule reccomends making and coloring icing on day 3, but, not applying the first layer until day 4.

    I love using the plastic-wrap icing bullets in my piping bags that Karen’s Cookies came up with, it really saves at clean up! http://www.karenscookies.net/Cookie-Decorating-Video-Color-Mixing-Bag-Filling_ep_74-1.html I had been putting my colored icing into the bullets overnight, but now I’m seeing that they are separating into liquid and solid. However, if I put it in a bowl, the top crusts. So, finally my first question: where should I store my colored icing overnight?

    Next, If my icing *already* crusts even while I’m making it, don’t I need to worry about the crusty bits getting into the mix and clogging the tips later? My icing was so thick it was crusting over before I could divide, color and thin each portion last night. I had a big bowl of icing that I’d mixed a whole recipe in, then I had a half dozen little bowls, and I scooped some out into each little bowl and I started mixing each color, but while I was mixing one color, the others were crusting over. I did use a mist bottle to remoisten the surfaces, that was my solution, but I just feel like there’s got to be something to the process that I’m missing.

    Okay, and next, when I’m making a complex design, I have trouble deciding how much royal icing to make in the first place. I don’t have a good sense of how many cookies (or how much area) a batch of icing will cover, and I have even more trouble knowing how to divide my batch into portions for each color. I always get nervous that I’ll run out of a color and won’t be able to match it again. How much icing should I make at a time and how do I determine how much of each color I’ll need? (I’ve finally learned that while I’m learning I shouldn’t bite off more than I can chew and I should only make and decorate a few cookies at a time to keep it fun.)

    Finally, if you need one color, but two consistencies, because you need to pipe and then flood, I assume you color it all first and then divide it and thin one portion of it more than the other. Again, how much do you need of each consistency, and where and how do you store it until the next day, will you need to mix it again the next day because it’s separated?

    What would be great, is a tutorial video of day three! Show us how you mix, divide, color and store icing, including all those little batches of colored icing, until you’re ready to decorate the first layer on day 4. I want to know how many times you have to rinse of you beaters. ;-)

    Thanks so very much!

  45. marian
    January 25, 2014 at 4:07 pm | Permalink
    103

    Hi Julie,
    I’ll try my best!

    Yes, darker deepen over time – http://sweetopia.net/2011/05/how-to-color-royal-icing-black/

    I only put my icing in the piping bag when I’m ready to use it. Let your icing sit in containers until you need it. Put plastic wrap over the top, inside the container, if you like: http://sweetopia.net/2011/01/how-do-you-store-royal-icing-and-how-long-can-you-keep-it/

    Never leave royal icing exposed to air for long. If I’m coloring a bit of my royal icing from a large batch, the icing I’m not coloring is stored in air tight containers.

    For how much for each color, practice helps (sorry). i honestly eyeball it and guess. Again, practice and experience helps.

    I generally use one consistency:
    http://sweetopia.net/2011/02/video-royal-icing-consistency-made-easy-the-10-second-rule/
    Check out my videos… I outline and flood with the same icing.
    (Category section at top of site.. choose videos).

    Hope that helps!! xo

  46. cheryl
    September 22, 2014 at 10:39 pm | Permalink
    104

    hi marian,

    i have a question. i live in south america where its always summer and hot. what can i do to make my cookie icing not melt. ps i dont have any airconditioning cause i tried keeping it in the fridge but once i put it outside it starts to melt. thank you
    ps love your site

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