How to Test Royal Icing for Consistency

Consistency describes the behavior of Royal Icing required to achieve your objectives. The right consistency is based upon:

<+> Recipe: The behavior and outcome of differing Royal Icing recipes can be very dissimilar, especially when corn syrup is added.

<+> Timing: This measures the period it takes to transform its shape after being manipulated from mounded to flat.

<+> Piping Tips: The ease of extrusion from a very small tip and a large one is different. When you test, test with the tip or tips you plan on using. One consistency might not be good for all. Possibly you’ll need to strain the icing to eliminate any imperfection in order to work with tiny tips.

<+> Humidity: Some Royal Icing is more affected by humidity than others. Knowing this ahead of time can prevent a presentation failure at an outdoor event.

<+> Tooth: Some designs require very hard icing that results in crunchy chewing, and others, medium hard icing that is softer to bite. Select the recipe that meets your needs.

Click HERE to review recipes posted on this site. Decide whether you want hard or medium hard texture, as well as whether it should have a glossy or dull exterior. Choose your recipe accordingly.

Examples of Iced Cookies

Here are a few examples of Royal Icing art I collected on Pinterest.

When you plan your icing project, be aware that every distinct section of a Royal Icing decorated cookie requires a unique batch of Royal Icing. Each unique batch is defined by consistency (use), its color and possibly the tip sized used to pipe it, with all batches being subsets of the initial batch.

A single cookie design, like the green hearts below, can easily be made up of multiple batches. The green hearts below might require 4 to 6 batches, each with its own piping bag, and the same for the smiling faces.

Many designs require a smooth base layer, others might need a lot of semi-stiff outlines first. Pay attention to your batch consistencies and the order in which you will use them.

In the example to the left, below, a pink semi-stiff outline was applied first, then a white flood icing filled in the space. To the right, a purple outline was applied first, then a white flood icing, and then a purple flood icing was piped into the white icing, making a smooth top. Below is an example of icing adjusted to make pearls (or dots). Note they have rounded tops without any points.

If you do not test all of your design’s batches for consistency prior to using them, sections of your design might fail, rendering overall disappointing results.

Consistency Testing Benchmarks

Every batch is similar in use to a pan of paint in a watercolor set, or a tube of acrylic paint. The difference is that you can buy individual paints, but you usually cannot buy the royal icing consistency and color that you need. You must mix your icing so it can be used in stages, as follows:

  • Flood: Used to fill large areas with icing as well as for wet-on-wet designs. Settles from lumpy to flat in approximately 8 to 12 seconds.
  • Slightly stiff: Used to pipe dots or pearls. Settles from lumpy to flat in approximately 10 to 12 seconds.
  • Flexible: Used for piping borders that keep flooded frosting from spreading uncontrollably. Settles from lumpy to flat in approximately 15 seconds.
  • Stiff: Used to make crisp piped lines that hold their shapes.  Settles from lumpy to flat in approximately 20 or far more seconds. When you pipe stiff icing, its extracted shape when pushed out of the tip does not spread.

Tools to Test Your Batches

My article, Royal Icing: Test for Royal Icing Consistency by Using Tiny Piping Cones, describes disposable “mini-tools” for use in consistency testing.

When you decide that a batch is perfect, cover it with plastic wrap or other material that makes an air-tight seal, or immediately fill your piping bag.

Cookie Substitutions

Ideally, you can test your batches on cookies, scraping the icing off your samples so you can reuse the cookies. Instead of wasting cookies, however, pipe your samples onto small pieces of heavy paper or plastic. I recommend using twelve-by-twelve inch Grafix Craft Plastic Sheets. Cut the large sheets into smaller sections, then use the sections for test surfaces. The sheets are reusable.

Note that I do not remove their backing which would render them crystal clear in order to make them easier to see on my work surface.

Digital Timer

Your initial batch of Royal Icing must be thick. Cookie guru, Julia Usher, calls it her “glue.” The way this glue looks depends on your recipe, but rest assured, it should always be thicker than the individual batches you make as subsets of it.

Guard against adding too much water, which is extremely easy to do. Avoid using measuring spoons or cups. Instead, add water to any stage of preparation with a food-quality (glass) spray bottle. Spray a tiny amount of water at a time.  It is better to under-moisten, than over.

Until you become highly skilled, use a digital timer to measure your icing’s consistency. The measure of consistency is the time in seconds that it takes your icing to settle from a disturbed surface into a flat one. I use my iPad’s timer, but a cell phone’s timer, or a separate $5 digital timer commonly available at Walmart is sufficient.

Consistency Timing

To test how long it takes your batch to flatten, disturb it by running a toothpick or knife through the center of the batch. As an example of how to do this, you might be able to see the disappearing crease in the photo above.

With the digital timer running, watch the groove you just made heal (come together). When the groove is just about flat, check your timer’s display. Repeat this process until the batch flattens during the expected time.

  • Flood: Settles from disturbed to flat in approximately 8 to 12 seconds.
  • Slightly stiff: Settles from disturbed to flat in approximately 10 to 12 seconds.
  • Flexible: Settles from lumpy to flat in approximately 15 seconds.
  • Stiff: Settles from disturbed to flat in approximately 20 or far more seconds.

The number of seconds your consistency needs is a matter of your observation.

If your icing is too stiff for the portion of the design you expect to cover, spray a tiny amount of water into it and mix well. If it is too loose, sift a small amount of powdered sugar into it and mix well. Keep testing until the consistency meets your needs.

Piping: When you are satisfied with your batch’s consistency, pipe a small amount onto thick paper or plastic, and watch it dry. Within a short time, flaws may appear and if so, make adjustments to your batch and re-test.

If your batch is perfect, seal its container, or load it into a piping bag. You are now ready to start decorating.

Speed Up Drying Your Royal Icing

A well-tested recommendation is that you dry your iced cookies under a fan or next to a small space heater with a fan (or even both). The photo below shows cookies being dried next to a small space heater.

Storing Your Cookies

Keep in mind that your recipe dictates whether your iced cookies will have an exceptionally hard surface or just a very firm surface. A very firm surface will be more susceptible to humidity than a hard surface, but it provides a softer bite.

Humidity also affects the physical cookie. The more humidity present, the softer a once-crisp butter cookie gets.

Your job is to protect the icing and the cookie, even though a hard icing probably can withstand the general atmosphere.

Should you stack your cookies in a single container, layer them on parchment so that they don’t sit directly on one another.

If your cookies are exceptionally important, such as being made for an event to take place in five days, consider wrapping each cookie in an air-tight bag.

For general storage, consider investing in vacuum storage containers such as sold on Amazon, Walmart, and Bed Bath and Beyond.

Planning Your Royal Icing-making Tasks

To simplify your planning, roughly sketch out your needs. In my sketches, I note the approximate consistency required by seconds, volume, color, and tip required. I show volume by drawing a “piping bag” relative in size to the other bags being used, from large to medium to small.

Article Series

For Royal Icing recipes, CLICK HERE.

For a list of all articles in this series in the order written, CLICK HERE

Questions? Comments? Additions? Corrections? Write to Karen Little at

Written for by Karen Little, publisher. All rights reserved, but feel free to re-publish this article after contacting Karen so she knows where to find it.

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