9 Mistakes Almost Everyone Makes With Royal Icing

That colorful coating might look pretty on your Christmas cookies, but royal icing can be, well, a royal pain. Here are the most common frosting faux pas—and how to avoid them.

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Electric hand mixer with whipped cream and whisk

Overmixing the icing

You should blend the icing using the lowest speed on your mixer. If you overmix or mix the icing on a high setting, you’ll whip too much air into the mix, leaving you with a frosting that looks more like a crunchy sponge than a smooth finish.

Follow our step-by-step guide to make perfect royal icing.

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Preparation of pink icing in a bowl on the table
Shutterstock / Ahanov Michael

Using icing that’s too runny

As much as you don’t want to overmix your royal icing, you also don’t want to undermix or you’ll be left with a runny mess. If your sugary spread isn’t stiff enough, try adding a little more powdered sugar until it reaches a creamier consistency.

Psst: Here’s the best hand mixer to use, according to the pros.

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Mixing food coloring into royal icing to decorate unicorn sugar cookies.
Shutterstock / Arina P Habich

Not properly mixing in coloring

Craving cute and colorful cookies? You can tint your own royal icing at home, instead of spending money on pre-blended tubes. However, make sure to thoroughly stir the gel coloring into the base icing. Otherwise, you’ll end up with sloppy streaks.

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Decorating unocrn shaped sugar cookies with royal icing for little girl birthday party.
Shutterstock / Arina P Habich

Ignoring air bubbles

What starts as a tiny air bubble can quickly become a disastrous dent in your frosting if you don’t catch it soon enough. To prevent these pesky problem spots, lightly tap the cookies on a flat surface after you ice them to bring the air bubbles to the surface. Then, use a toothpick to carefully pop each bubble and blend it into the rest of the frosting.

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Mixing food coloring into royal icing to decorate unicorn sugar cookies.
Shutterstock / Arina P Habich

Not coloring white icing

To make these sugary snowflake cookies a wintry white hue, you can just leave the icing plain… right? Nope. While the royal icing base might look like the color of fresh snow when it’s wet, it’ll dry as more of an off-white, cream shade. If you want a pure white tint, mix in a couple drops of blue color.

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Step by step. Flooding a sugar skull cookie with white royal icing.
Shutterstock / Arina P Habich

Flooding without outlining

Flooding is the popular decorating technique that refers to coating the top of a cookie in a thin layer of frosting. Sounds easy enough, but there is one key to flawless flooding: piping a border around the end of the cookie first, using a slightly thicker icing. Skip this step, and, well, your royal icing shall runneth over. Eek!

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Confectioner sprinkles powdered sugar on marshmallow
Shutterstock / Oleg Kashaev

Forgetting to sift the powdered sugar

This is most likely the reason your piping tips keep getting clogged. If you don’t thoroughly sift your powdered sugar when you’re mixing it into the royal icing, you’ll wind up with clumps. It will make decorating difficult and make the final result look sloppy. So sift, sift, sift!

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Learning how to make and decorate Halloween cookie decorating class.
Shutterstock / Arina P Habich

Using too much icing

You can definitely have too much of a good thing when it comes to royal icing. Avoid the urge to pile on your frosting and instead use a very thin coat.

Check out all our easy cookie decorating ideas.

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Decorating unicorn themed sugar cookies with royal icing.
Shutterstock / Arina P Habich

Not waiting for the icing to dry

Make sure you give your frosting plenty of time to harden before you try to move the cookies or transfer them to a container. By plenty of time, we mean at least 24 hours of uninterrupted air drying so you don’t end up with smears. If you want to speed up the process, place the cookies under a fan (on the lowest setting) while they set.

Amanda Tarlton
Amanda has more than a decade of media experience, specifically in product testing in the cooking and lifestyle space. As a freelancer for Taste of Home, Amanda writes mostly about foodie finds, home and lifestyle goods and cooking and baking utensils that make life easier (and more fun!). Outside of freelancing, Amanda is the executive editor of commerce at Field & Stream.
When she's not working, Amanda is on the lookout for the best pizzas in town or testing out secret menu items at restaurants and coffee shops.