Decorating cookies in the summer can be a nightmare if you don’t know some key tips!
Have you ever spent hours making your cookies and lovingly decorating them, only to find, hours later, that the cookies have splotches or spots on the icing?
I’ve received numerous emails from you, imploring for help with this ‘mysterious’ issue. While it has rarely happened to me (and I’ll explain why in a minute), many of you have shared your photos with me, and we’ve worked together to try and resolve the issue.
So, I’m writing today to hopefully help prevent it from happening to you, or if it has happened to you, to share with you how to avoid it again.
Why are there spots on the icing?
I mentioned that this issue rarely happens to me… Well, I’ve figured out that it rarely happens because I live in area which only experiences real humidity during the months of June – August. It does seems to be humidity which is the real culprit.
I’m no scientist, and would love to hear from you if you have more theories and/or information, but it seems like somehow the fat from the cookie (i.e. butter), seeps into the royal icing. I’m guessing that it happens more when the cookies are drying in a warm/humid area because the butter isn’t as solid, and ‘melts’ up into the icing.
Take for example, these owl cookies I made in early May. Although we were experiencing a warm spell here, I decided not to buy a new de-humidifier (more on that coming later), to make these cookies.
My de-humidifier broke at the end of last summer, and I guess I just hoped the cookies would be fine. Well, even though it was early May, it was humid, and the base of little guys ended up getting spots.
As soon as I noticed ‘splotches’ on a few cookies, I was off to Walmart to buy a dehumidifier, so only the base layer ended up getting the spots.
I decided that the brown kind of looked textured with spots (well, hoped really!), as I didn’t have time to start them over. (Oh terrible confession! Jenn and her mom seemed to love them though).
Before I shared with you what I did to prevent this from happening again, I wanted to test the “theory” out.
I picked the colours which are most likely to get spots and to bleed (darks such as red & navy and very light colours, such as white and pale yellow), and made summer cookies.
So, what exactly do you do to prevent this from happening to you?
How to Avoid Getting Spots on Your Cookies
1. De-humidifier and Air-Conditioner
The most important solution; work in a room with a dehumidifier and air-conditioner. I work in a room with the windows and doors shut, and with the de-humidifier and and air conditioner on. Even though the air-conditioner has a de-humidify function on it, our summers are so humid here, that I find I need an extra de-humidifier as well.
Here’s a pic of the ‘pretty’ dehumidifier I have. 😉
If you’re not able to purchase an air-conditioner or de-humidifier, there are a few things which will help:
2. Colour your white icing, white
It may seem redundant, but besides making the icing look whiter and fresher, it really seems to ‘hide’ small spots if they tend to appear.
3. Make your icing thicker
The consistency of the icing seems to make a difference. It seems the spots can ‘permeate’ through thinner icing easier. Watch a video tutorial on icing consistency here.
4. Cookie thickness
If you make your cookies on the thicker side, and it’s something you don’t mind changing, bake them so they’re approximately 1 cm or 1/3 of an inch thick.
5. Use a good royal icing recipe
I love Antonia74’s recipe. It’s ‘creamy’ and velvety. If you’d like to try it, you can find it here.
6. Let the icing on your cookies dry at room temperature
When you enclose your cookies in an air-tight container, the humidity/moisture in the container will affect the icing. Once the icing is dry, you can seal the cookies in tupperware, gift-bags etc.
7. Bake your cookies a little bit longer
If your cookies are bit underdone, or soft, the fat in your cookie seems to affect the icing with splotches more. If you do like your cookies soft though, solution #1 should work.
More to Discuss
That being said, there are questions which have stumped me when it comes to the ‘cookie-spotting’ issue. For example, Pamela of Adventures in Biscuits, wanted to know why only her purple poodle cookie got the spots.
Could it be that the type/brand of food gel coloring makes a difference?
I personally really like using Americolor because they have easy to dispense squeeze bottles, and I find the colours bleed less. Pamela has since emailed me and mentioned she found the spots happened less with the Wilton brand.
There are so many variables; what has been your experience?
Do you have any favorite decorating tips for working in a warm or humid environment?
There’s much more to learn, so I’d love to hear from you on my facebook page here, on twitter, you tube, or in the comment section below.
Happy ‘spot-less’ decorating!
p.s. ***Some of the summer-themed cookies, for example the flip-flops and shorts, are copied from Martha Stewart Crafts stickers. I noticed on facebook that there were requests on how I made them. I will do them again and take pictures but for now:
How to Make the Flip Flop Cookies:
a) Pipe outline of flip flop base (I used a projector, but you might not need to), and fill in right away. For the dotted ones, pipe the dots right away (wet-on-wet technique).
b) Once the base is dry, pipe the white straps.
c) To make the gum paste flower, you’ll need this small flower plunger cutter and gum paste. Here’s a tutorial on making gum paste leaves. Follow the same directions.
d) Once the flower is dry, pipe a little yellow dot for the center, and adhere it to the flip flop with a little royal icing.
p.s.s. Tried making two versions of the sand castle cookies; one with brown sugar on top, and one just royal icing. If you end up making these, know that the flag breaks off very easily. 😉
p.s.s.s. If you’d like to never miss a post, and/or receive more tips on cookie decorating, click on this purple RSS button at the top right of the site.
Thank you to all my lovely readers here, on facebook, twitter… I am so blessed to receive your sweet comments, emails, facebook comments and tweets. You make blogging fun!
Hello Marianne, Thank you again for all your good advices ! Do you think a glazing agent such as carnauba wax would prevent royal icing from having spots ? Thank you. Fab
I loved your article! How do you keep them from bleeding during shipment? I mailed cookies from Texas to Virginia and when they got there 6 of 13 had bled. Should I have mailed them in heat sealed bags? Thanks in advance for any assistance. Michelle
Interesting, @ Fabienne: I’m not sure, I’ve never tried it. Please let me know if you experiment with it.
@ Michelle: Yes, I’m fairly certain sealed bags would have helped. xo
I love your blog its so inspirational, and truly helpful, and your stuff is so beautiful!
I don’t seem to have an issue with spots, mine is more that my biscuits go soft after they have been iced, where I am in South Africa its relatively humoured, but buying an air-conditioner is out (due to electricity prices)is there anything I can do to stop this, as I know you have previously said that closing them in a container while icing dries will cause it to go soft?
Pls contact me.. I am in south Africa and struggling along with you.. My number is 0835643621.. Mechele Marian, is there any way of connecting me with the other SA.. As it world be helpful to chat with her.. I have tried everthing.. Not sure what else to do.. Xxx tx Mechele
Rebecca Higginbotham says
I’ve been practicing with putting lemon juice right into my spray bottle instead of water. Works like a charm and saves time. I just leave the bottle in the refrigerator. Is there any information out in cookie cyber land that contradicts this practice? So far I haven’t had any problems. Good luck and let me know if you have any problems with this practice. Happy Decorating! Absolutely love your blog and tutorials!!
Sounds like a great idea, @ Rebecca Higginbotham! I haven’t heard anything either way, thanks for sharing!
Thanks for all of your wonderful pic’s and tutorials. I’ve been decorating for just over two years and have grown so much from all of you amazing cookie bloggers; I appreciate all of your time and effort.
As to the spotting question, I’m unsure if anyone has mentioned this before, but I always let my cookies sit out for a full day or overnight before I decorate them with RI. This allows the butter/fat to rise and dry out rather than rising under the icing, and causing oil spots. I don’t even cover them, I just leave them on the cooling rack. However, if I’m not going to decorate them for a few days, etc. I will freeze them right after baking and decorate them after they have defrosted, without the “drying” time. I have never had spots in my icing following this tip.
Hopefully that helps a little!
Marian (Sweetopia) says
@ Jacqueline: Thank you so much for your valuable input – it is helpful!
MaryJean McMillan says
I live in southern California and always bake my cookies the day before decorating (leaving them out) and I still have trouble with very heavy blotching). The only thing I haven’t tried yet is a de-humidifier. I guess that’s my last hope. When my orange, white and lavender pumpkins were all blotchy today when I awoke, I just went with it , added luster dust and now they have an antique-y sort of look. Works on a pumpkin, but that wouldn’t work on most other things. This has really become a huge issue for me. I even thought I had an ingenious idea and I used thinned out icing (applied quickly with my finger) to act as a base coat. Didn’t work! But at least I know I don’t have to waste that extra time. Someone told me I could put the cookies in the oven all day with just the light on and the blotches would go away. Haven’t had time to try this, but also question if that could really work. Also, I just wouldn’t have the extra day to do that. If you’ve had any new insights since this original blog, I’d love to hear them! Thanks so much, (you’ve also really helped me with the consistency issues.)
I have always been told to let your cookies dry overnight to keep from getting splotches. That way the cookie can crust over a little bit and the fat can dry. Never had problems with spotting. Love your blog by the way.
Hi @ Asia: Thanks so much for sharing! xo
I just experienced a lot of splotching on a set of cookies I was working on. It was sooo upsetting.I had the flooded cookies lined up on their sides in a 9 x 13 pan in a large plastic bag. When I took the cookies out to do the detail work, I noticed that many of them had developed light colored splotches. (Interestingly, the white tinted icing ones were OK) I thought that it happened because the uniced side of one cookie was in contact with the iced surface of the cookie in back of it. Buut maybe it was the humidity. Who knows? I think next time I’ll store the iced cookies flat with parchment paper in between the layers, just to be sure.
I had the same problem with some royal icing transfers so it couldn’t have been the butter in my case. I had dark green 6s that were done and dry and when I put them on wet turquoise icing they started to darken at the edges. The first and last 12 were the worst. I thought I needed a fan on them when I noticed it on the first tray so the last batch had a fan the whole time and they were just as bad. Some of them turned almost completely dark, but for some reason the 2 trays I did 2nd and 3rd had just a small hint of it at the edge. I saved the order by painting kelly green disco dust and hiding the splotching, but I have no idea why it happened. Any ideas if fat from the cookies couldn’t be the problem? The layer of icing that touched the cookie was perfect, just the transfer got all weird.
My experience with royal icing transfers is that the base layer must be much lighter than the transfer… The transfer will soak up the color even if they are similar in color. For example I never use a white royal icing transfer, it will soak up any color and I never use black or any other saturated color as a base layer. Even if the both layers are a similar color family or similar shade/tone, the transfer will definitely soak up the color. I have sometimes found that if the transfer is thicker then this will happen less.
For others on this feed, I have found that the thicker the icing the less soaking up or blotchiness will occur. And I also agree with the thicker cookie concept as well as letting them dry out at least overnight…
I have noticed that when I have iced my cookies and put them in a sealed container, they are worse than any other time. It’s also very hot where I live as it is summer. Perhaps the are sweating in the sealed container..
Hi @ Gitty: Oh dear! I let mine air dry (not in a container) too, because I find moisture gets trapped in a container so they’d be more likely to spot… and yes humidity seems to be a huge factor. Have you seen my video on ‘drying cookies’?
That is so interesting, @ Emiko! So humidity again, but no butter involved this time! Did you grease the sheet the royal icing transfers were sitting on? Maybe somehow it’s the food coloring and the humidity combination… Thanks so much for sharing!!
Hi, I am having problems with the red Icing. I use an icing that has egg whites. I love it because the cookies dry fast. However, I have problems with the color red. It starts changing as soon they dry. Do you Know why this is happening??
Hi @ Adriana: Does it look like the spots in the photos above? is it humid where you live?
I made cookies this week for a friend’s daughter’s birthday party. I came here wondering why on some of the cookies the icing dried kind of bumpy. It went on smooth but appears almost like the texture of sandpaper, but didn’t feel very rough. No spots like this page describes. I haven’t had this happen before, but it is very humid where I live right now. I know I’ll have to make cookies for a friend’s baby shower in early August and it will certainly be humid then. Do you think the humidity caused this? I will use a dehumidifier in the room next time and see if that helps.
For sure, try the dehumidifier. By any chance though, did the icing look like #3 in this post? https://sweetopia.net/2010/12/10-keys-to-cookie-decorating-success-or-10-mistakes-to-avoid/
I was just wondering what do you consider to be high humidity in the house? I am making cookies for the 4th of July so was wondering at what humidity level do I need to use the dehumidifier? Our temp during the day is around 80 and the humidity outside is 58% but inside with my air on the temp is 73 with the humidity level around 43%. Should I use my dehumidifier or not? I have noticed in the past when I use my dehumidifier that it makes my air run more because it puts off a lot of heat.
Yes, it definitely puts out heat, which is why the a/c is important too. Maybe in your case I would see how the first few cookies you start decorating dry, and if they’re taking too long or starting to spot, get the dehumidifier going. xo
Robin H says
Hi! I just found this article but wanted to comment. My house is centrally air conditioned and heated but I was still getting splotches. I figured out that if I used water to thin out my icing it was causing the colors to dry unevenly. I use an egg white-confectioners sugar royal icing. I’ve since stopped using water to thin, I’ll use some more egg white if I have to, and the problem has disappeared. Hope this can help someone!
Wendi T says
Hi there. I live in Vancouver, B.C., Canada where we get loads of rain :). My Christmas cookies, iced with royal icing, went off without a hitch (it was warmer and wetter here this Christmas). Then, in late January we got snow and it got cold and dry and my Valentines cookies were a nightmare! The flooding cracked horribly and the piping bled into it, and continued to bleed over the course of a couple of days. I tried the fan and that did not work. One day I cranked the heat up in my kitchen with a space heater and that helped prevent the flooding from cracking but then the piping bled… What a mess. I cannot find anywhere a straight answer about how dryness affects them so I came on here in the hopes that someone might be able to give me some insight? Does cold and dry mean they crack? Thank-you so much!
Hi Marion – I found you this week and LOVE your work! Thank you for the myriad of ideas and tips! I’ve been feasting my eyes 🙂 I live in Singapore which is 70-90% humidity and 31-35 degrees Celsius all year which presents challenges. I find running the aircon about 22C on the dry cycle to dehumidify works well, with kitchen doors and windows firmly closed. I leave cookies on the drying rack for 3+ hours before decorating. I think the cooler, drier air allows the cookies to dry out a little on the surface. Then when I decorate them it seems to avoid the spots of oil coming through. When completed, I keep the cookies on the drying rack another 12 hours or so, usually overnight, before packaging them. I lived in Japan too and summer was around 40 Celsius and almost as humid – I found that the same trick worked there too. Wilton colours work best for me and I make royal icing using egg whites, not meringue powder. (Interesting I find fondant a bit trickier here though as it sometimesgoes sticky.)
Gilly, thanks SO much for your reply and input! Please come back and visit! xo
I just read a page that describes the temperature/humidity as not the only contributing factor to blotchiness and quite possibly not even the reason. It might possibly be the meringue powder. One baker swears by the Henry and Henry (also CK) brand and that it also tastes much better! Wilton brand she says always causes blotchiness even when using a dehumidifier. I have ordered the CK brand and will update if I find this works!!!
Help! I have iced and dried my cookies (w/ royal icing) for 24-36 hrs!
When I put them into Wilton plastic bags & scotch tape them shut, some of them will start to get wet spots?!? Anyone know if it’s the Wilton bag? It IS humid here- been raining all week but royal icing should be DRY after 24 hrs right? I even put a fan on them for the first 2-4 hours
Thank you so much for this post!! I had spots on cookies that I labored over and was very upset. I read your post and put them in the oven over night with the oven light on and VOLIA! The spots disappeared!!! Can’t tell you how much I appreciate your help. I am very new to this industry and am overwhelmed by the amount of help and support everyone gives. So happy to be part of such a wonderful family!!!!
I am wondering if you still have a location in Cedar Rapids. Also do you sell ready made royal icing?
Hi Summer, I’m sorry, I don’t sell, I just blog about how to make sweets.
Irene Abbey says
I live in Ventura, California where we currently have very dry conditions (see news articles re: Thomas Fire, which came to within a few blocks of our house). My cookies developed white splotches, so humidity is not a factor. I will try the overnight oven light tip, however. I’ve been making these cookies for over 30 years and never had a problem with this until about 4 years ago. I don’t use royal icing except for piping on details. The icing I use is just powdered sugar, milk & vanilla. I let the cookies dry/cool for several hours, then froze them. I did let them thaw for a day before I frosted. Could this be adding to the spotting? It’s so disheartening to spend several hours frosting cookies, only to have them look so horrible. Thanks for offering the tips you have all shared, and hopefully the oven light will fix my cookies. Blessings and Merry Christmas to all, and please keep praying for the residents of the over 400 homes that have burned to the ground here.
Aruna Ramkissoon says
I’m relatively new to cookie baking/decorating. the first time making some cookies, It didn’t not leave spots, blotches etc. The second time around I made the cookies and after it had been individually wrapped I noticed the white icing looked dull as if it had been tinted, so I tracked back to see what I did differently from the first set – which was after I icing the cookies I placed it in the oven to dry overnight.
Ruth Baker says
Do you feel the length of time to allow the cookie to rest after baking and before decorating is important in the icing not spotting as much? How long do you allow your cookies to rest before decorating?
I found your article and hope it’s not too late to comment. I’ve been baking & decorating several years, and have tried all the suggestions with random failures over that time. Always thought it was something about the cookie. But I piped decorations on parchment last night to add to the top of some cookies later. And this morning, after drying out, every single one of the 93 had splotches and several looked cracked. My icing is powdered sugar, corn syrup, almond extract, water, and Americolor gel. Any additional thoughts?
I am so glad I found your article. I live in the Midwest and have started to have problems with spots showing up on my icing in the winter months, none before unless I froze them. I have never been able to thaw without my icing getting spots. The spots start showing up 2 to 3 days after decorating and once fully frozen, I can see the discoloration in the bag without thawing.
Any suggestions or theories? Thank you so much.