The first few times I tried royal icing I failed miserably! I was determined to get it right, so I did a lot of research. Watched endless videos, read blogs and experimented. Finally I got the consistency right and everything else fell into place. I wish someone had told me that consistency is the key right from the start.
There are so many different techniques you can use with royal icing but if you dont have the right consistency they wont be right.
Whatever method you are using, (outline and flood consistencies, one consistency for everything, dipping) always start with the same base recipe, mix well (don’t over mix) and then colour and thin from there. There is a chemical reaction that needs to happen in the right proportions before all the alterations can be made.
There are loads of videos about what each consistency should look like.
You want to get the surface dry sooner rather than later. This allows you to keep decorating, add another layer, prevents colour bleed, and generally speeds the whole process up so you can package. I use a dehydrator but you can also use a desk or pedestal fan, or the oven with only the light on.
The dehydrator doesn’t have to be an expensive one but it does need to have a temperature that goes down to around 37 degrees celcius. It is also preferable that the fan blows from the back not the bottom. The fan that blows from the bottom will dry the cookies substantially more.
The exception to the get it dried quick rule is airbrushing. Drying with a dehydrator creates a smooth finish which is the enemy of airbrushing with stencils. If you would like more tips on airbrushing and drying Stencibelle has a facebook group called Stencibelle Squad which is a wealth of information.
Always add your colour before thinning the icing to your desired consistencies. Even gel colour adds moisture and will contribute to a change in consistency. If you are using outline and flood as separate consistencies this method will also ensure your colours match.
Add the amount of icing I need to a separate bowl,
add gel colour to desired colour (allowing for colour deepening over time),
add water to get outline consistency,
remove amount required for outlines,
add more water to get flood consistency,
There are almost as many answers online as there is people asking questions about problems with royal icing - trust me I read most of them when I was trying work it out. I am going to add just a few that are the key things for me
Clogged tips - take the tip off the coupler and use a tooth pick or similar sized pointy item to push the clump of icing out through the small end of the tip.
Craters - are usually one of two things. Either icing that is too thin or a second layer of icing on top of another that is touch dry but not dry the whole way through. There is a whole spiel about surface tension and leaching blah blah blah but I won't go into that. My solution is dry it quickly. Don’t give it time to do it thing. See my suggestion about drying above.
Pitting and general weird surface finish - the most common culprit here is cross contamination. Usually flour residue in your sieve or hanging around on you mixer. Flour particles fly around like crazy and stick to stuff, then randomly fall off when shaken. So get up under you mixer and give it a clean and wash everything else well.
Honestly I have never had icing not dry at all, however sometimes it takes a really LONG time.
I live in a humid area and this affects drying time. Summer is a killer for me. The heat thins the icing and the humidity makes it think it can have a pool party. Fan, air conditioning, dehydrator!
Then there was the time I forgot the egg white powder in my icing...yep I essentially beat up some water and icing sugar into a regular runny icing. It set eventually but was all wrong!!
And then there was that time I halved the recipe...but left the water the same. I was dipping that day so wanted a flood consistency - not that floody!!!!
Colour bleed - this is common with dark colours more than anything else. The most common reasons are
Too much gel colour. Back off the colour a bit, remember that it will darken over a few hours and will also be a little darker when it dries.
The drying time is too long. When the two colours are in contact and wet for a period of time the colours want to get together and have a party. The answer is quick drying - either a dehydrator, fan or in the oven with only the light on.