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Royal Icing Consistencies: What's the Difference?

You're ready to decorate cookies. You have your piping bags, cooled cookies, and royal icing mix ready to go. You've checked out some tutorials, and see that they mention "flood icing" and "piping consistency." What do these words mean? We're here to help you demystify the terms around royal icing so that you can achieve picture-perfect decorated cookies every time.

Before we dive in, it is important to note that achieving the correct consistency is more of an art than a science. There isn't really a specific formula for creating the right consistency, but getting the correct consistency is something that you will learn over time. Play around with it, and you'll eventually get perfectly decorated cookies every bake.

First, make royal icing.

How to thin royal icing:

Most royal icing recipes make a very thick icing consistency. To thin the icing, simply add water one drop at a time. Add tiny amounts of water-you can always add more but you can't take it away!

Pro tip: Use a mini spray bottle to spritz your icing with water to thin it. The spray will ensure even coverage (read: less mixing), and also ensures that you don't add too much at once.

How to thicken royal icing:

Confectioner's sugar is the answer. To thicken your icing, add confectioners sugar one teaspoon at a time to achieve your desired thickness. Mix well while adding to incorporate all of the dry ingredients.

What is Icing Count?:

This is a term you might see used by cookie artists. Once you have mixed your royal icing, use a butter knife to cut a 1" deep line through your bowl of icing. Once the line is drawn, count the seconds until it disappears. The number of seconds you count are referred to as the icing count.

Consistency Types:


Stiff Consistency

Most royal icing recipes will result in this consistency. This icing will hold its shape, and is great for decorative piping. If you have a larger-gauge piping tip or would like to pipe flowers, this is the correct consistency.

Apple Cookie with Royal Icing initial step
Pro tip:
when mixing this icing, mix on medium-low speed. The icing should be dense without air bubbles. Too much air will cause your piped details to collapse.

Icing Count: Forever-the line in your icing should hold indefinitely, the icing is that stiff.

Consistency: Cream cheese or buttercream

Uses: Piping decorative flowers, embroidery, or details. Best for wider-gauge piping tips.

Piping Consistency:

This consistency is a bit thinner than stiff consistency. It will typically take 2-4 drops or sprays from a bottle to achieve the correct piping consistency. Piping consistency royal icing will form soft peaks in the bowl that slowly lose their form. If it is too thick, the frosting will break as you squeeze it from your piping bag. If it is too thin, it will run off of the cookie. This icing consistency is used for piping borders and for lettering and details. When used as a border, it will form a wall around your cookie so that your flood icing stays contained.

Apple Cookie with Royal Icing second step
Icing Count:
25-30 seconds

Consistency: Toothpaste or soft-serve ice cream

Uses: Piping borders, lettering, & details

Flood Consistency:

Flood consistency icing is used for filling large areas in the cookie. It can be easily moved around with a toothpick or scribe tool to ensure full coverage of an area. It is also used for wet-on-wet piping techniques, which is when you pipe directly onto wet icing. This technique is great for marbling and for creating designs (like polka dots) that are all on the same plane. If you want dimension to your decorating, wait for the flood icing to dry before applying details with piping consistency icing. This icing takes the longest to dry, as it is the wettest consistency, so we recommend using a fan to dry your cookies.

Apple Cookie with Royal Icing third step
Pro Tip:
If filling a large area, pipe squiggles on the inside of the filled area to prevent dimpling or collapsing in the frosting.

Icing Count: 5-8 seconds

Consistency: Honey or Shampoo

And there you have it! A crash course in royal icing. Getting the right consistency takes a lot of practice, but understanding the terms and playing around with your icing consistency will result in beautiful, professional-looking decorated cookies.

Get inspired! Watch cookie decorating tutorials here.

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