Piping with Royal Icing: The Basics
Who among us hasn't watched a cookie decorating tutorial in fascination, thinking “I can totally do that”? The confident and capable cookiers in these videos always make it look so easy, from flooding, to making florals, to even something as basic as loading a piping bag with icing. Well, let's get back to basics by talking about piping--something every cookier will need to learn, practice, and master over time. Knowing how to properly hold your piping bag, how much pressure to apply, and even deciding whether or not to use piping tips--these are all basics that can make or break your project, so let's dive in!
Consistency is Key in Piping
Your icing's consistency is probably the most important factor in determining whether what you are trying to achieve is going to work or not. Are you flooding? A thin consistency is key to making sure you can achieve a smooth, level finish to your base icing. Making flowers? A stiff icing is imperative if you don't want your petals to immediately wilt and melt into themselves. It is important to understand when you would use the different consistencies of icing, as well as how to achieve them. (Definitely take a minute to check out our Icing Consistencies blog here.)
Here's the most important thing at the end of the day: if your icing consistency isn't working for you for some reason (too thick, too thin, etc), dump it back into your bowl and fix it. Struggling to make the wrong consistency work is basically self-sabotage. Don't do it!
Piping Bag Options
There is a huge variety of piping bags available to choose from, so test them out and see what works for you. From reusable silicone and fabric bags to disposable bags (standard and tipless), there are plenty of choices, along with several different size options that can make a difference
When choosing a piping bag material, consider the type of consistency you will be piping with and your personal preferences for ease of use and sustainability. Don't want to have to wash piping bags? Disposable is the way to go. Hate the idea of single-use plastic waste? Grab some washable bags that can be used over and over. By selecting the right piping bag for the job, you can achieve great results and enjoy the process of decorating your cookies.
When choosing disposable bags, there are also variations in the thickness of the plastic. Which thickness you choose is generally related to two things: 1) how it feels in your hand (personal preference), and 2) the thickness/consistency of the icing you will be piping. Using thinner bags to pipe florals, for example, is a popped seam and a mess waiting to happen. Use the 40 micron bags for flooding and piping thinner consistencies; use the 55 micron bags for stiffer icing.
And finally, size matters! Bag size, that is. Do you have 100 cookies to flood? You're going to go through a TON of 8" bags, or you're going to be filling it up every fourth cookie. That does not make for a very efficient process. Instead, grab the 10" or 12" bags for larger capacity. And if you only need a tiny amount of a particular color for small accents? Don't waste a 12" bag when an 8" will do perfectly. Having an assortment of bags on hand is always a good idea in general.
When to Use Tipless Bags
My love of tipless bags aside, however, there are just some things you can do with a piping tip that you simply can't without one. Although a vee can be snipped into a tipless bag to result in a simple leaf design, florals, starbursts, etc really require the assistance of a piping tip. You can either use couplers attached directly to your bag, or you can use your loaded tipless bags as “bullet bags” and pop them inside a second prepped piping bag loaded with a tip. Again, easy cleanup, and the ability to use that one bullet bag of icing with multiple tips, if desired.
It's All in the Angles
Holding a piping bag at the right angle is crucial when decorating cookies with royal icing. The angle at which you hold the bag will affect the shape and thickness of the icing lines you create. When decorating cookies with royal icing, hold the bag at a 45-degree angle in order to allow you to apply consistent pressure to the bag and control the flow of the icing as it comes out.
Holding the piping bag too vertically can cause the line of icing to break off as it is held at an angle that is not conducive to good flow; as the icing exits the cut tip, it will drag along the side of the hole instead of flowing from it smoothly. Similarly, holding the bag too horizontally can cause the line of icing to become too stretched, resulting in broken lines that have to be repiped. By holding the piping bag at a 45-degree angle, you can create clean and precise lines of icing that are the perfect thickness for decorating cookies.
It also helps to keep the tip of the piping bag close to the surface of the cookie (but not directly on it!) for maximum control and accuracy. Practicing your technique and finding the right angle for your piping bag can take some trial and error, but with a bit of practice, you'll find that your piping comes more easily and naturally, and your projects will benefit from your newfound confidence.
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