Thinning the royal icing to flood cookies

I admit that thinning the royal icing to flood cookies frustrates me. Sometimes it goes well and other times, well, it takes a while to get it to the right consistency.

Consistency is said to be the absolute key to successful cookie decorating. So I need to make sure I thin it correctly.

And I know from following numerous cookie blogs that thinning the icing is something that perplexes many beginners.

It’s comforting to know that at least I’m not alone.

Flood icing yellow

I admittedly do not excel at the process. It’s not that I doubt my abilities, but it does take me a while to get it just right each time.

I demonstrate below how I thinned the royal icing today. However, I compare my explanation to a teenager giving driving lessons to another teenager: Someone who may know enough to get the behind the wheel of a car, but is probably not the most experienced driver.

Now why would I admit that to the world here? Well, the idea behind Royal Icing Diaries is that I am learning. And learning comes with its ups and downs. Each time I’ve made royal icing I’ve learned a little more about getting the consistency right.

At the end of this post I put links to some tutorials that offer explanations for thinning the royal icing to flood cookies. They are the words of some of the best cookie decorators, and they’re well-versed on the process.

Although each cookie decorator seems to do it just a bit differently, I’ve learned something from all of them.

So here goes:

To begin, I know I want to thin the icing using small amounts of water, and I want to get it to a consistency similar to real maple syrup, Elmer’s Glue, or honey.

Too thin and it runs all over the place and doesn’t really dry properly. Too thick and I end up with unwanted gobs of icing.

The proper consistency should be somewhere in between; thin enough to pour but not so thin that it’s like water.

I divide my thick icing, reserving some to use for piping. The piping icing is not going to be thinned so I cover it immediately.

I know I need a lot more thinned icing than piping icing. The stiffer consistency is used to pipe borders that act as dams on the cookies, and those borders need only a minimal amount of icing. I need to thin most of the icing to fill in, or flood, the cookies.

Set aside some icing to outline

I have a glass of water on my work table and add just a little at a time to the icing I want to thin. I start with a little less than a teaspoon. The amount of water is determined by how much icing I’m trying to thin. I only have about 1/2 cup here. It won’t take much more than two teaspoons to thin it, if it even needs that much.

Add a little water at a time

I mix it thoroughly with my spatula. This will also release any air bubbles that may have risen to the top.

Then stir it

I can tell it’s still a bit to thick because if I lift my spatula out and let the icing drip back down, it does not pour at all.

I add another 1/2 teaspoon of water.

I added a little more water

And stir it again until the water is completely incorporated. It’s important to stir the water in to the icing completely. I learned the hard way that I will end up with white splotches on my cookies if I don’t. Those are water spots and they’re ugly.

My cookies don’t need any outside interference at this point in my journey. I have enough problems on my own.

Once I’ve stirred the water in I test it to see if it’s the consistency I want.

As with so many things, the exact consistency is a matter of opinion. I’ve come to understand that everyone judges it a little differently. Many cookie decorators follow what’s called their “seconds rule” to decide if the icing has been thinned to the correct consistency.

There are 12-second rules, 2-3 second rules, and the 10-second rule, among others.

Drag the spatula through the royal icing

Confusing, I know.

What they are referring to is this: The length of time a line, formed by dragging the spatula or a knife through the icing, disappears back into the icing. Or some refer to their “seconds-rule” as the amount of time icing blends back into itself after drizzling it off the end of the spatula.

Either way, whatever works for you is what I would stick with.

I drag my spatula through the icing and have found that if my line disappears within about 7 seconds I’m good. That’s the consistency that seems to work best for me at this point. In other words, I guess you can say that I use a “7 second-rule”.

So I add tiny amounts (1/4 teaspoon at most) at a time, and stir, until I’ve thinned my icing correctly.

I cover it, set it aside, and I start thinning the next color.

Flood and stiff icing

Use the "seconds-rule" to determine consistency

I repeat the process for each color I’m using. In this case, yellow and then white.

Now I fill my pastry bags with the piping icing, and my squeeze bottles with the flood icing.

Maybe I have a coordination issue but I find it easiest to place the pastry bag in a cup and use my spatula to fill the bag. A lot of people hold the bag in one hand and the spatula in the other but I make a mess doing it that way.

I have to keep putting the bag down to scoop more icing from my bowl.

There are no hard-fast rules so I do what works best for me: I stick the bag in the cup and fold the top down over outside of the cup.

Place the bag in the cup

Fill the pastry bag

I get the last bits of icing off my spatula by slipping my fingers up under the top of the bag.

Clean the spatula

And then I gently push the icing back up towards the top of the bag, massaging it, to release any air bubbles that may still be lurking.

Try not to focus too much on my hands here: I am well-aware of how much I need a manicure.

Press out the air bubbles

Next, I push the icing back down towards the tip, fold the bag over a few times, and secure the top with a rubber band.

Oh, and I never fill the bag more than 1/2 way. A pastry bag is much easier for me to handle if it’s not totally filled. If I need more icing I just slip off the rubber band and scoop more into the bag.

Secure the pastry bag with a rubber band

Once the bag is filled I rest it in a tall cup with a damp cloth nestled in the bottom. This will keep the tip from drying out and my icing from crusting.

All of the piping bags will stand in the cup as I decorate.

My piping bags are ready

All that’s left for me to do is fill the squeeze bottles with the thinned icing.  I uncover them one by one, stir to pop the air bubbles that have most likely risen to the top again, and pour the icing into the bottles.

Flood icing yellow

I fill the squeeze bottles

I’m finally ready to start decorating.

Tinted icing, both stiff and flood

I’m going to practice some basic outlining and flooding on my cookies.

As promised, here are some of the most informative tutorials about icing consistency:

Georganne of LilaLoa offers an excellent explanation: Icing Consistency- – It MATTERS.

Bridget, from Bake at 350 has a great video tutorial at University of Cookie:  Thinning royal icing for flooding.

Marian of Sweetopia, also has a great video at University of Cookie:  Icing consistency

And the very talented Callye of The Sweet Adventures of Sugarbelle offers up all kinds of great information at: Outlining and Filling Cookies with Royal Icing


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