A Longhorn Story…Royal icing woes

I have been dealing with royal icing for a while now. It has always been my go-to icing for sugar cookies. I feel like I keep the meringue powder people in business myself.
Until now.

Here’s the story…got an expedited order for some Longhorn cookies last month. The sweet lady who ordered them is a repeat customer and more than a pleasure to deal with. She was shopping and found this cute longhorn cookie cutter and bought one for me! She figured I didn’t already have one (which I did not) and was going to order some cookies for a big game the Texas Longhorns were playing last month. Time was of the essence, so I had to receive the cutter, make and ship them to get to her in all under a week. I wouldn’t normally do cookies on such short notice, but like I said, she is a great lady…and she bought me a cookie cutter…the way to my heart šŸ˜‰
As soon as the cutter arrived I went to work; I made the cookies and the royal icing and iced the cookies all in a matter of a few hours. I wanted them to dry overnight so I could ship them out the next day…it worked out perfect, until the next morning when I came out to check on my sweet longhorns.
Uhhhh, they were still wet. Not tacky even, just wet. So I busted out the fans: ceiling, oscillating and even paper fans my kids made, I was desperate.
OK, no need to stress, I will get the fans on them and UPS is open until 7pm…there was still time.
Cut to 7 pm – SLIGHTLY less wet.
Are you kidding me? I went back over my steps making the royal icing, thinking what I could have done wrong. I honestly had NO IDEA. Royal icing is meringue powder, water and powdered sugar. If you add too much water, you would know because your icing would be too runny. It’s sort of fool proof. Of course I am the exception to the rule…of course.
Alright, another overnight and they will be dry, I will just have to 2-day them.
Next morning, wake up and discover the longhorns, still under fan (now for 24 hours) STILL tacky. Not only tacky, but the icing was drying in an unusual way…the texture of the icing looked like leather…how weird.
With no time to mess around I re-baked the cookies and made a glaze icing, instead of the royal, iced the new cookies, put them under the fans and prayed.
Glaze icing, for me, is powdered sugar, corn syrup and a little milk. It is easier and, in my opinion, tastier than its royal counterpart. I don’t usually use it though because it is stickier than royal and when shipping you don’t want any stickiness, also royal dries to a perfectly smooth matte finish while glaze retains some shine. Personal preference, I guess.
These cookies were dry by the next morning, so I wrapped them up and shipped them out on Wednesday to be there Friday.
They ended up arriving on-time, thank you USPS Expedited shipping and she got them in time for the big game, which the Longhorns won, btw.
So, what happened with my royal icing? The past 2 times I have used it for flooding I have experienced some drying issues. There is no humidity in my house this time of year with the heat running constantly, so I knew that wasn’t the problem.
The cookies did, finally, dry after 3 nights under fans.
I ended up taking the leathery-longhorns to my son’s Tiger Scout meeting. I figured the kids wouldn’t car what the icing looked like! I will admit the leathery finish on them was a neat texture…IF it was on purpose.
Not only did they look weird, the icing was crumbly and strange.
Over the holidays I only used the glaze icing to flood for fear that I would encounter another longhorn incident. The royal that I did make I used for piping and outlining, which worked great! My question to you is have you ever had this happen? Not drying, leathery outcome?
Let me know that I am not alone!!!

55 Responses

  1. Sue Sparks

    No, that hasn't happened to me yet. Do you think the meringue powder was "old"? Of course I'm sure it has a looooong shelf life! As you said, the leather look probably looks OK for a longhorn:) Well, hopefully you don't encounter such a problem again, and I'm glad it worked out well in the end! šŸ™‚ Happy New Year!

  2. High Heels and Aprons

    Yes! That has happened to me. I ended up starting completely over and was up until 4am fixing the problem! I figured that I didn't sift my powdered sugar before I threw it into the mixer. (I always sift now) I also wondered if I didn't let the icing sit after mixing in the color to let the air bubbles come to the surface… bizarre. Now I sift and and let it sit, and no more problems!

  3. Monica H

    YES YES YES! I'm glad I'm not the only one. I made cookies to send to a friend and half of them came out like this. After 3 days they were still tacky and I could figure out why. I shipped them anyway and some of them looked like this and were flaky. I was/am so embarassed!

    This time though I noticed the icing was really fluffy and thick when I added the right amount of ingredients. I added about 1 cup extra water (that's a lot of water) to the mix to get it thin enough to flood. I figured the extra water would just dry out. I don't know, maybe that's what i did wrong but like I said, only half of them dried like this. So frustrating!

    Will you give me the measurements for your glaze icing? I'd like to try it out. thanks!

  4. Chic Cookies

    Hmmm, I've never seen that happen, but sounds like it's a common problem! Sheesh, baking really is a science. Anything slightly off can go haywire. Wonder if it's in the meringue powder… assuming it fluffed up nicely before adding the confectioner's? I use a pretty non-runny icing if flooding, too, b/c of the drying issue. I just spread it with the back of a spoon if it doesn't run to the edges itself. When at the store, we never flooded, only piped. You can see the lines (a negative), but they dry quicker for shipping (a positive).

  5. vertigoxcured

    i dont think the sifting would have anything to do with the icing not drying. i have never sifted my powdered sugar and i have never had this problem. i would think that it had something to do with the meringue powder. maybe it was old or something when you bought it from where ever you bought it from!

  6. Robin

    Yes, that has happened to me and it is SO frustrating!! I asked Bridget at Bake@350 for advice she said that I was probably putting too much water in the flood icing. So now I don't water it down as much and haven't had any problems since! Hope that helps, love your cookies!!!

  7. Amanda

    It has not happened to me, but my guess would be you could have possibly whipped the water and meringue powder a little too long before adding the powdered sugar? Weird!

  8. Shauna from Piece of Cake

    Oh, I was all stressed for you just reading this story!

    My only thought beyond what was already mentioned–what did you use for coloring? I find if I use liquid coloring instead of gels or powders, the extra liquid can really mess up the finished product when you need an intense color.

    Nice save, though!

  9. Mrs. Baron

    It has happened to me!!!!!!! Not sure why either-I thought maybe I whipped it too long?? I had to put on anther layer of royal icing and cover with sprinkles to hide it all!

  10. SprinkleBakes

    I've never had that happen, but I have had some other really odd things happen with royal icing. Once, one of my large orders developed craters in the drying process – I believe it was a humidity issue. I was feeling your pain for sure about getting them out on time.

  11. Mimi

    Yes it has happened to me. I decided to try a short cut and thin the icing while still in the mixer. This only made the icing fluffier not thinner, so then I thinned it in a bowl, resulting in to much water and probablly to much air in the icing.

  12. A & W

    Well they turned out great in the end! Hope the Rose Bowl goes better for the Longhorns, for my brother's sake at least! He'll be at the game cheering on his former school clad in burnt orange.

  13. VanillaSprinkle

    Thanks so much, Cookies and Cups, for your kind words about my blog! Growing up in a butcher shop, I learned all kinds of "useful" skills, it was tying my shoes and telling time I had trouble with.
    I really enjoy your blog as well, I can't get over the melted snowmen cookies, they're really the cutest things I've ever seen!

  14. Ingrid

    I second Leslie. No clue but they were VERY cool looking.

    Sorry that I haven't been around. Hope your Christmas was a wonderful one and that 2010 brings no more cookie (or icing) troubles! šŸ™‚

  15. Mara...

    That is weird! I've been using royal icing for a while and never seen that happen before. Glad you were able to work it out in time. The cookies did turn out great, though!

  16. cookies and cups

    Thanks everyone for the comments, it's nice to know I am not alone!!
    Amanda – that was a thought of mine…do you think it's possible to whip it too long and that would mess it up? Really, I don't know what else I could have done.

  17. Amanda

    I'm thinking it might be possible. After all, meringue powder is just dried egg white, so when adding the water to the meringue powder, you are essentially rehydrating the egg white, and whipping those too long can add too much air to them. When I make mine, whether I use meringue powder and water or real egg whites (I have done both) I just use a hand held wire whisk and whip them just enough to get them frothy. Then I dump in all the powdered sugar, turn the mixer on the lowest setting and let it mix for ten minutes.

    I don't think adding too much water would be a problem, because all that is going to do is thin it out. The solution to that is just to add more powdered sugar to thicken it back up.

    Did you whip the meringue powder and water past the frothy stage?

    I love the Longhorns by the way šŸ™‚

  18. Amanda

    That has not happened to be, mostly because I use what you called 'glaze' icing for all my decorating. Its the first recipe I ever learned and sorta 'ruined' me on royal icing because it is so easy to use and tastes so very good! šŸ™‚

    Here is my recipe for the 'glaze' frosting for the one gal that asked… I would be curious to know if its the same as yours??? I have a hard time shipping cookies (so I just dont!) because they never fully dry to hard! šŸ™‚



  19. cookies and cups

    amanda #1 – I think that I must have whipped them past the frothy stage…I have made this icing for so long now, I might have done it and not realized, it's the only logical thing that I can think…yes, you are correct on the liquid…too much would just make it too thin, I don't think that would have anything to do with the weird drying.
    Amanda #2 – Yes, that is what I use for the "glaze", minus the lemon juice. Can you explain to me what that does? I would have never thought to add it…is it for flavor or does it do something else to the icing. How interesting! Thanks!

  20. bridget {bake at 350}

    YES! This has happened to me and I think I know why…well, a few reasons. (I'm going to do a new royal icing post on the blog in January going over some of it, but here's what I've learned.)

    1. I always used to use the whisk attachment and beat the *ahem* crap out of it. Now…I use the PADDLE attachment and beat it *just* until it reaches a peak. It looks really glossy & fluffy.

    2. I add less water than normal. If it's too runny, I stir in sifted powdered sugar. This makes it look a little funny (you can see the sugar bumps) when wet, but the smooth out when drying.

    I've always been afraid to try the glaze, but your longhorns look so pretty with it and Amanda's cookies always look beautiful, too.

    Hope that helps! I'm sure there's more yet to learn!

  21. Amanda

    I'm with Bridget, paddle attachment all the way. šŸ™‚ I just use that hand whisk till frothy then add the paddle attachment on the lowest setting for ten minutes.

    What a great troubleshooting session this turned into! šŸ™‚ Happy New Year ladies!

  22. cookies and cups

    Yes, I use the whisk attachment, maybe this is the problem. I will switch to the paddle and not beat as long.
    Thanks ladies, hope this has helped everyone as much as it helped me!
    also, can't wait for your post bridget!!

  23. Mrs. Baron

    Just wondering if after 10mins on the paddle everyone finds they need to add water to achieve proper piping/flooding consistency. If so, do u add it in mixer or by hand?

  24. Amanda

    Yes, I've always found that I need more water. I add some in the mixer until the ribbons disappear after 5 seconds. Then I keep a little glass of water near me in case I need to thin any while I'm decorating. I mix my colors in ramekins, so I may add a few drops of water after the color has been added as well. šŸ™‚

  25. cookies and cups

    Yes, I always add water after the mixing. I mix colors separately also.
    I can't wait to try this again, with the paddle.

  26. Cindy

    OMG…I am so glad to hear someone else has experienced this problem. Fans, bright lights, hair dryer…nothing got rid of the stickiness. I would really like to know what causes this. I so felt your pain reading your post.

    By the way…I work with your friend Joni…I sit right next to hear. I would really like to email you sometime…have questions!!

  27. Bea

    This happened to me MANY times driving me crazy, guessing what I did wrong… what worked for me is to use the paddle attachment and beat until just mixed… it looks silky and shiny… like a thick glue… I then divide in two, leaving one in the bowl to add more water for a thin consistency… again I beat it until just mixed… I have 2 containers in which I keep them from drying… hope this will help šŸ˜‰

  28. The Duchess of Wessex

    This hasn't happened to me (yet), and doesn't mean it won't… However, I believe the reason this happens is over-mixing. A pastry chef told me only to mix the royal icing recipe until the mixture begins to shine – then STOP! Over-mixing breaks the meringue powder, (dried egg whites) down, which is why you have this "crackle" look. Kinda looks like the egg white on the side of a hot skillet, huh? Any way, I believe this is the answer. I quit using my whisk attachment and moved to my paddle and I do not mix for 6-12 minutes, as most royal icing recipes recommend.

    I hope this helps – and by the way, who cares? Cookies with this, "problem" only look more interesting to me! :o)

  29. cookies and cups

    Thanks duchess! (never thought I would ever be saying THAT šŸ˜‰
    I am now ready again to break out the meringue powder and not cry!!

  30. Anne

    You all are a bevy of information for someone who is just starting out in cookie decorating. Thanks for all the ideas!

  31. andrea

    i have had this happen to me. it looked EXACTLY like this. i think it was from adding too much water, mixing too much and not letting it sit to let the air bubbles rise to the top. i remember i was in a hurry doing some cookies and it back fired on me. i had this same exact look. i know now i really need to take my time & follow all the steps…patience! šŸ˜‰

  32. Anonymous

    Was the royal icing old or was it just made? Because when you store royal icing for too long and its humid where you live, it gets like that. That has happen to me before.

  33. Anonymous

    I know this may be inappropriate but I swear I saw the cookies fast and I thought they were ovaries šŸ™

  34. Angie

    This happened to me just hours ago. I'm still looking at the cookies and I think I might cry. The cookie part is just perfect, the icing is garbage….what a waste. At least I know I'm not the only one to have a mishap with the evil royal icing.

  35. Nathalie Smith

    Yes it happened to me and I cried!!!!! Since I was charging for them! I can’t find out for the life of me why this happened, but I am going to take everyone’s advice and try to make some christmas cookies. Wish me luck.

  36. Felicity

    I had my first attempt at decorating cookies yesterday (for my sister’s birthday) and had that exact same problem. I thought I must have put in too much water, but I also used a whisk and I don’t think I mixed it for anywhere near 6 or more minutes. Have to start again toay and will try some of these suggestions. Thanks everyone!

  37. Fran

    How did you get the icing to be burnt orange? Did you use a mixture of food coloring and if so, how many drops of what colors?

  38. Ab


    This has also happened to me. I just made cookies and they dried the same. I believe it was because I put too much thick flow icing. With the same batch of royal icing, I iced a green apple and a red apple and strawberries. Only the green apple came out cracked with bubble like holes. Exactly like your first horn batch. Anyways…. with the green, I decided to make the flow thicker by not adding too much water, so that it would have a nice bubble like effect . I believe that because it was too thick, it did not dry nicely, whereas the other were too thinned, but they came out beautifully. The green apples just cannot dry evenly since the edges dried first and then the centre of the cookie.

    It all has to do with water. At least this is what happened to mine since it was the same royal icing but only coloured differently will gels and different water consistencies.

    I am selling mine as well and I just decided to do a cover up. I has a little green icing left and added more water to it. I then coated them once more. I will update with the results as to how it turned out.

  39. Gina

    I know I am three years late on contributing but I see that some of your comments are from this year.

    I had to do 60 cookies for my gf’s baby shower and ALL of my onsies came out this way. I had time (by “time” I mean between the hours of 11pm – 6am when normal people are supposed to be sleeping) so I carefully scraped the icing off and re-iced, same issues.

    After contacting Amber from SweetAbs who is a complete darling, she gave me some advice which helped me figure out what went wrong. Hopefully I am able to help future readers:

    1. The extract. I wanted lemon flavored RI but I didn’t notice that the one I used contained oil of lemon meaning my RI had no chance what-so-ever. I thought extract = alcohol, WRONG! Make sure you read your ingredients!

    2. Attachments and time: I used the whisk attachment and beat it on med-high for maybe 4-5 min. WRONG! (at least for me)
    – I use the RI recipe from Sweetopia since hers incorporates Cream of Tartar which acts like a stabilizer. Weather in NYC can be unpredictable with regards to humidity, so I like throwing it in there.
    – After adding the sugar (per the recipe) I beat on med-low with paddle attachment for 8 min then crank it up to med-high for 2 min. I know its ready when my stand mixer starts to protest.

    I don’t go overboard and wipe down my tools with vinegar, I just make sure that I’m diligent while cleaning, especially if I am making cookies and icing in the same day (creaming that butter than wreak havoc on the icing later).

    This is just Amber’s opinion, but she said that she rather add water to her flood icing very slo-o-o-wly and get the right consistency first than over water and add more confectioner’s sugar. She went to culinary school and all that, so I trust her judgement on that one.

    I hope I was able to help if anyone still has problems šŸ™‚

  40. Cookie Cheers

    This has happened to me twice. Both times I whipped the meringue before adding powdered. Now I mix it all at one time and haven’t had it happen again. My fix was sprinkling the colored sanding sugar on top to hide the texture.

  41. Monique

    I have not had that happen to me and I’ve never seen it.I have been searching for a good Royal Icing recipe as mine was never the right consistency and it never came out really white – I found one that adds cream of tartar and it is mixed with a mixer for about 10 mins. It’s worked for me so far. Maybe the cream of tartar is the trick. Good luck!

  42. Wendi

    Yes!!! This happens to me frequently!! Thank you for posting. I am hoping that the hints shared here will help me. I have pretty much given up doing sugar cookies due to cracking and drying issues. šŸ™

  43. Vicki

    I had the exact thing happen, and the common denominator seems to be the brown food coloring!
    It happened to me with basketballs, brown horses, and hands.. The hands had less brown in them, but brown nonetheless.

  44. Arjay Wingrove

    I know this posting was a long time ago but I have only had issues like this just recently and was wondering if there was a reason and solution out there myself. Where I live, there is a lot of moisture in the air (during all the seasons). I thought it was due to humidity. But when I tried to rectify that with fans (heat fan or oscillating fan), I still had that issue. I’ve also had it where the cookie looked like it dried fine but the icing crumbled with the slightest touch. I’ve read that both issues were caused by over mixing which put too much air into the icing. I am wondering if it also does have to do with the meringue powder (how good and old it is). I have yet to try out this theory. If anyone has a fail-safe royal icing recipe out there, please share! Thanks!

  45. Josefina

    Hello, this happened to me today, iā€™m really frutrated. If someone has any idea what went wrong and how to fix ir. The only thing I changed was the confectionary sugar (supposly to a better one, ja). The cookies are for my 5 year old,.

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