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Royal Icing Consistencies: What’s the Difference?

Royal Icing Consistencies: What’s the Difference?

Icing consistency is something that every cookier will struggle with now and again.  Even the most experienced among us will occasionally have to dump a piping bag of icing back into a bowl and start again (if they claim otherwise, they’re either fibbing or cookie-decorating robots).   You’ll often hear cookiers talk about icing in terms of “seconds.” What that means is how long it takes for your icing to settle back into itself seamlessly after dragging the edge of a knife through it.  But what consistency is the right one?  Well, it really depends on what you are trying to do.  Here are four basic categories of icing consistencies and what you’d use them for.




“Original” consistency

You can give this icing all the time in the world, but if you drag a knife through it, it’s going to stay exactly as it is.

When we say “original,” we simply mean the icing consistency that you typically get from a fresh batch of royal icing, straight out of the mixer.  Most recipes get you to a nice thick icing that you can then thin down by adding water, but this is usually your starting point.  This icing is perfect when using piping tips to make flower petals, ruffles, drop flowers, star or leaf designs, etc—basically anything you need to keep its shape.  You can also use this consistency to stencil cookies and assemble gingerbread houses!


Outline/detail consistency

20-25 seconds

Some cookiers like to outline their cookies with a thick-ish icing that they can use as a dam to then contain the flood icing that will come afterwards.  This is usually a toothpaste-consistency icing that is also good for small details (think eyeballs and smiles).  This icing has more water than the original consistency, so it is more elastic when piped, but it doesn’t spread and settle the way thinner flood icings do. The stiffness combined with elasticity means that this is often a good choice for writing on cookies (depending on the font choice, of course), because that small amount of extra water means that the writing will hold its shape while also not being so brittle that it breaks off.


Medium/hybrid consistency

15-18 seconds

Probably the most commonly-used consistency, this is stiff enough for you to be able to outline your cookies and fluid enough to be able to then flood with that same bag.  Because it still has a little body to it, this consistency helps your flood retain that lovely puffiness we all strive for in our dried icing—no flat, limp details here!  For that reason, this icing is also great for writing on cookies or filling in lettering that you already outlined with that slightly stiffer detail-consistency icing.  Small areas are more prone to cratering (the horror!), so this thickness can keep your lettering and small areas nice and puffy.  This is a great versatile consistency, and it’s probably the one we use the most.


Flood consistency

10-15 seconds

This is the thinnest icing consistency due to its higher water content, so it works best when used in conjunction with an outline made with a stiffer icing; this will keep the thin flood icing from simply spilling over the sides of your cookies.  This consistency works great for wet-on-wet designs, as well as for dipping cookies (quick tip: when marble-dipping cookies using multiple icing colors, make sure that all the colors are the same consistency so that everything settles together and smooths out without leaving behind lumps and valleys on top of your finished cookie).


As you can see, there is a little variation within each category, so the best thing you can do is experiment and see what works best for you.  To move from a thicker icing to a thinner one, you simply add water a little bit at a time and mix; use a spray bottle or dropper so that you can carefully control how much water you are adding—you can always add more, but you can’t take it out once it’s in there, so it’s best to add water with a light hand and then assess your consistency.  If you do accidentally add too much, it’s not the end of the world: simply add more powdered sugar to regain some stiffness in your icing.  And if you start decorating and realize that the icing in your bag is going to put you on the struggle bus for your entire project, do yourself a favor and dump that icing back into a bowl and adjust as needed!

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Sue - April 2, 2024

Thank you so much for this!
Im a newbie and will be attempting stick cookies for Mother’s Day!
I chickened out trying for Christmas and Easter 😀😂

Lori - February 27, 2024

When coloring royal icing do you use any regular gel colors? I know that you use oil base for chocolate, but I’m assuming not in royal icing?
The Cookie Countess replied:
Hi Lori! That is correct, gel colors work best for royal icing 😊

Barbara Papandrea - January 3, 2024

I will definitely reference this a lot as I practice over the year. Thank you so much for the clear explanation and demonstration. It is very much appreciated!

Tricia - January 2, 2024

Thank you so much got sharing your experience and techniques. I love learning from your articles and videos. It is greatly appreciated!!! ❤️❤️
The Cookie Countess replied:
Hi Tricia! So glad we could help! Feel free to email us at<> if there are any other topics you might need some help with. Our blogs are a direct result of customer questions, so it’s always worth reaching out 😊

Susan - December 12, 2023

Thank you for this. I feel like consistency is the hardest part for me. Maybe I will finally get it after watching your video!
The Cookie Countess replied:
We have faith in you, Susan! 😊

Karen - November 14, 2023

Thank you for this extremely helpful video. I’m making my first batch of RI today (excited & nervous)!
The Cookie Countess replied:
You’re welcome, Karen! Good luck!

Jackie B. - November 7, 2023

Your videos and products are my “go to”! THANK YOU for all of your education and sharing!!
The Cookie Countess replied:
Thank you, Jackie! ❤

Carlene Youngblood - June 2, 2023

Thank you so much! Your videos have helped me so much! I’m new at this, but I’m so glad that your videos provide me with the simplest guidance !
Thanks again!
Carlene Youngblood
“I Love Suga Cookies”

Jan Husak - May 11, 2023

Thank you so much for the information. I am brand new to cookie decorating and your videos and comments are extremely helpful. I have so much to learn!
The Cookie Countess replied:
You’re so welcome, Jan! Have fun!

Nancy A. - February 27, 2023

Thank you, this is so helpful!. Makes me want to get going on a batch of Easter cookies!! Love your site!!

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