April 27, 2012

The Great Blotchy Royal Icing Mystery

******** Feb 5, 2014 UPDATE *********

Hey all, just wanted to give you a quick update on this complete PITA of a royal icing problem.  

I recently decided to give Americolor meringue powder a try because I read that it doesn't separate as readily as some other brands.  Within about 12 hours of flooding, all of my darker icing colors were starting to get blotchy at the edges.  ACK!

This is a problem that I haven't experienced since I switched to Henry and Henry meringue powder in 2012.  I will definitely be going back!  This solidifies in my mind that this problem (at least for me) is meringue powder based.  I can't wait for my H&H to arrive tomorrow!

~Jaclyn

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Has this ever happened to you?

You finish flooding your cookies late at night.  You go to bed with visions of the beautiful cookies you're going to decorate tomorrow.  Only to come downstairs in the morning and see this:


GASP!!!  Your icing has turned some sort of funky darker color at the edges!?!



After pulling out your hair and shedding a few tears, you realize you don't have time to make a whole other batch of cookies, flood them, let them dry for 8 hours, and then decorate them.  You HAVE to make this work...

Well, I have good news.  You can fix this.

Believe me, after struggling with blotches on my royal icing for the past year, I've had to develop some strategies.

The best thing to do, if you don't mind your icing turning just a little bit darker than you originally intended, is to turn your oven light on, and put your blotchy flooded cookies in the oven so they stay just barely warm.

Leave them there for several hours or overnight and they will all convert into the darker color (they usually eventually do this anyway, but this speeds up the process if you're in a hurry).

See?  These are the same exact cookies, before and after about 8 hours in a warm oven:

Lots of blotches


All gone!
So, you're probably thinking to yourself, well that's great and all, but how do I prevent the blotches to begin with?!

Excellent question.  Keep reading (stick with me...this is a long post)
About 2 months ago, I made a couple of changes and I haven't... had... any... blotches since!!!  WOOHOO!!!!

The scientist in me just had to figure this out, so I started doing some experiments.

Before I get into it, I want to share my royal icing recipe, because everyone does things slightly differently:

Royal Icing Recipe

2 lb confectioners sugar
1/2 c meringue powder
2/3 c water
2 tsp lemon juice

For all of the experiments, I added the water to the meringue powder, whipped until foamy, and let sit for 10 minutes.  Then, I added the sugar and lemon juice, and beat in my stand mixer with a paddle attachment on low for 5 minutes.
To prevent the possibility of grease contamination, I wiped out my bowl, paddle, and spatula with vinegar between uses.


OK, back to the experiments.

There were the two changes that I made when I stopped having problems:
  1. Bought a dehumidifier
  2. Switched from Wilton brand to Henry and Henry brand meringue powder
Now, I've done a lot of reading on this topic in various cookie forums and blogs.  The number 1 culprit that people tend to blame is humidity.

This kind of make sense to me.  I live in Maryland where it's frequently humid.  However, I have this problem year round, whether it's cold and dry outside and the heat is running, or if I'm running the air conditioner, or if it's hot and humid outside and the windows are open.

So this can't be the only issue, right??  That brought me to change #2: the meringue powder.

I did a head to head comparison between the Wilton and Henry and Henry brand meringue powder, both with humidity control and without:

Uncontrolled
Humidity controlled



The top cookie is the Henry and Henry brand and the bottom cookie is the Wilton brand.  These pictures were taken 24 hours after flooding.

As you can see - no blotches in the Henry and Henry, but the Wilton is splotchy around the edges.  Even with humidity control!

This was a HUGE discovery for me.  And I think it pretty conclusively says that if you're having trouble with blotchy icing, try Henry and Henry brand.  

I need to mention that I have no idea what's different between the two brands, and that this problem doesn't just apply to the Wilton meringue powder.  I've also tried this before with Ateco meringue powder and got blotches:

Royal icing made with Ateco meringue powder
I've read that another theory is that the amount of time you allow your cookies to cool before icing matters.  So, in this case, I wanted to evaluate the impact of the cookie cooling time on blotching.  The cookie on the left was iced 1 hour after baking, the one on the right was iced 24 hours after baking.  No difference - still splotchy - the one on the right just hasn't had as much time to develop.


Now, one other note: this only applies when the icing is being applied directly onto the cookie.

See what happened when I used the same icing for these Penn State cookies?  (I used the Wilton icing because I wanted a darker blue color).  The base icing is the dark blue that I wanted.  But what I forgot was that the blue icing that I added on top of the white didn't change colors, so it's much lighter than the base color!  Oops, next time I'll make darker icing with the H&H meringue powder.


Many people have guessed that the reason for the blotchy icing is due to oils seeping up through the cookie and causing the discoloring.  From the experiments that I have run, this seems most plausible.  So, if changing the meringue powder branddoesn't work for you and you're still having problems with blotching, I'd suggest putting a thin layer of icing on the cookie to act as a barrier before you flood.  If you have other ideas for ways to create a barrier between the cookie and the icing please share it!

I'd love to hear your feedback.  Obviously, this is just what has worked for me.  If you use Henry and Henry meringue powder, do you ever get blotches?  Would using more or less meringue powder in your royal icing solve this problem (maybe this will be my next experiment)?  Do you have other suggestions for ways to correct blotches once they happen? 

Please let me know!

29 comments:

  1. I don't know if I'm just lucky or what, but I don't think I've ever had this problem in the year I've been doing cookies. Now that I've typed that out-loud I'm sure I will ALWAYS have splotches from this point forward. It might also help that I decorate my cookies on paper towels, and they soak up A LOT of grease from the cookies. I also decorate cookies that are at least 24 hours out of the oven. When I stack them, I put paper towels between the layers because I always store my cookies in the freezer until I'm ready to decorate. Maybe the paper towels are just absorbing the extra oil, which keeps it from seeping thru the icing. Hmmm. Great blog post!

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    Replies
    1. Great idea to use the paper towels! I'm going to give that a try.

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  2. wow, you did your research. I too switched meringue powders after a "sticky" incident. Plus, anything tastes better than the Wilton!

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    1. And it doesn't smell bad when you make the icing!

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  3. Hi Jaclyn! After our conversation about meringue powder, I went on the search for Henry and Henry meringue powder. I came upon a post Callye did and she said that CK meringue powder is actually Henry and Henry meringue powder packaged in smaller amounts. So that brings me back to square one. I tried your recipe since it uses twice as much meringue powder as mine, thinking maybe that was the only factor that was different. I still had blotching. I almost couldn't tell but for a couple of lighter spots on the cookie the next day (although it was yellow duckies, so it wouldn't be quite as obvious as it would on a darker color icing.) Hope that helps...I can't wait to hear all of your scientific findings.

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    Replies
    1. Hi Debbie, I contacted CK to make sure that they're exactly the same, but haven't heard back yet. I'll let you know if I hear anything. That stinks that you're still having the issue :(

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  4. Hi Jaclyn! What a great post - it's a sore subject with a lot of people! Luckily, I have never had this issue - I almost never ice the same day I bake (or I let them sit out 3-4 hours first) & I use a little bit of glycerine in my icing which I think helps with this, and bleeding as well. Of course, I have no idea if that theory is right lol! I have heard a few say that they have pre-base-coated and still had the blotching issue. But great comparisons - thanks for sharing!

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    Replies
    1. It's so frustrating, seems to be different for everyone!

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  5. Oh, and btw, GREAT tip about putting them in the oven - I never knew that & will keep that tip in my back pocket in case I ever need it!!

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  6. After your experiments, I have to believe that the majority of your issue with blotching was your Wilton meringue powder. I don't think I've had blotching and I don't use either Wilton or Henry and Henry but I also don't have the humidity issues to deal with that you do. I wonder if the lemon juice has anything to do with the blotching or even the amount of meringue powder you use in each batch? My recipe calls for only 4 tablespoons for each batch which I believe works out to 1/4 cup.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Good thought about the lemon juice, I've never tried it without. I'll have to see if that makes a difference!

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    2. I don't use the lemon juice & still end up with the blotchy icing :(

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  7. Love this post! I'm so glad to have met you MY SCIENTIST friend!

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  8. Finding and using your oven trick was an answer to prayers...literally. I had my 1st official order due... using royal blue for graduation caps and 2012 cookies... I woke up the day after doing them to find AWFUL splotching! Overnight in the oven saved the day!! I can't thank you enough!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ugh, I feel your pain! So glad to hear that the oven trick helped you!

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  9. Do you mean that you use the oven light alone to keep them warm? This just happened to me this morning and I need my cookies for Saturday! :(

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    Replies
    1. Hi Kelly, yes, the oven light alone keeps them warm enough (at least in my oven). Hope this helps you!

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  10. OMG! I just came across your post and am in dire need of fixing my own icing problems. Can you believe how finicky this icing can be? I am on Long Island and my major problem is bleeding. When I switched over from Wilton to CK, I thought that it would be fixed. No such luck. I found that I got the best results with half and half of each brand. This mix gives me the best icing. I use a ton of icing...about 55 dozen cookies a week, so this is VERY important for me to figure out. The change of the seasons always makes everything bleed. We have used ac and I can't seem to see a difference. I also wanted to say that I ice as soon as the cookies cool and have never had problems. Any insight would be great!

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    1. Wow! 55 dozen a week! That's some major output. I haven't had too many bleeding issues to be honest so I'm really not sure. That's good to know that you've noticed differences in the MP too though.

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  11. I feel like I can echo the above post. I have cookies in the oven with the oven light on right this moment. I really hope it will work for me - I have 130 wedding cookies going out in two days and have NEVER had this issue before.

    Thank you for posting this!

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  12. Help,
    I am glad I came across this article. I have been searching for a solution to this trouble. I made some chocolate cookies and wanted to ice them in chocolate glaze, I made the glaze with the recipe I always use, powdered sugar, corn syrup,wtaer and a bit of flavoring adding in some cocoa powder. I got bloches this morning! I did however make some royal icing just to use for some pretty borders and flowers for my cookies and placed them on top of the dry cookie glaze. I do not know if it is from the cookie glaze or the decorations. I never use royal icing for icing my cookies as personally I do not like it. Thanks for any help

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  13. Well I made my very first batch of RI yesterday and I was so upset to find that the RI was sticky to the touch on some of my cookies. The white icing dried up fine with no problem but the pink, dark blue, black and yellow is sticky. I have them in the oven with the lights on as I type this and I'm praying that this does the trick. I have to have the cookies bagged and tags on them for a birthday party tomorrow at 10:30 in the morning. They seem to be drying a little bit and they only have been in there for a little while. I have to bake 6 dozen cupcakes this afternoon so I need my oven so hopefully they will be done in a few hours. I will post to let you know if this works so if anyone else has this same problem. I have always just used powder sugar, caro syrup and a little milk for my cookie icing with a little flavoring and it worked great for white icing but if I colored it it didn't turn out nice so that is why I wanted to try the RI. Guess I should have practiced with it a few weeks before.

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  14. I always dry my cookies in the oven, I keep the oven on the very lowest temperature, around 30ºC, and with the fan on. I put them in freshly iced, on the wire cooling racks (so the back of the cookie doesn't bake or sweat)

    I find that the oven-drying technique means less bleeding (almost none), the cookies are ready for more layers of decorating within about 20 minutes (so long as you are gentle, because they are still "wet" deep down for 12 more hours) AND I almost never get blotches. Also, because of the fan, the icing dries shinier and smoother than being left out. The biggest advantage of all, and the reason I started doing it, is that it prevents craters. No matter how crater-prone my design, if I get the cookie into the oven right away, it dries without cratering every time.

    Not only this, my cat (who LOVES them) cannot steal the unguarded, cooling cookies!

    Downside to using the oven this much is that the cookies cost a lot more to make - with the extra electricity, and I worry about wear and tear on my oven fan! Also, IF I let the temperature creep up in the oven, that can CAUSE the blotches. I always make sure the oven is cool enough that I can take out the wire cooling trays without needing oven mitts, and that the dried cookie is only just warm to touch.

    We're all still learning - its such a crazy hobby, so simple yet so complicated!

    PattyMac

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  15. These are all such great tips and I'm so glad to have happened upon this blog. I've been baking and decorating for years, but just recently got addicted to cookie cutters and I'm having so much fun. None of mine are for sale (yet), just doing it to relax and share with friends and family who don't care nearly as much as I do about splotchiness or bleed over. I sometimes find that instead of dark splotches, some colors dry with lighter splotches, almost grayish-white. The oven method helps a lot. I turn it on to the lowest temp it will allow and as soon as it reaches that (175) I turn it off and crack the door open. It's probably at about 100 when I put the cookies in. I have a beagle with a sweet tooth, so the oven is the only safe place for cookies in my house! I want to try some different meringue powders because Wilton smells and tastes like chemicals. I've been using corn syrup glaze instead and love the taste and flexibility, but sometimes I want to use more detail, and it just doesn't stand up enough for defined ridges, etc. Happy baking and decorating everyone!

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  16. Drying your cookies in the oven is a great idea! A little while ago I bought a dehydrator to dry my cookies in and I love it. It's basically the same thing, low heat and a fan. But it really helps with cratering and bleeding.

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  17. This post and all comments are awesome. I am just beginning my journey with decorating. I have been spending time gathering recipes for cookies, icing, etc. And reading this post has prepared me for what challenges lie ahead. I am so excited to begin this journey. The creations I have seen are wonderful and so I'm hoping that it is something I will enjoy doing as I get ever closer to my retirement years. Thanks to everyone for all the input you have put out there. I will look forward to making my creations!

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  18. I don't use the oven, but I've started putting my cookies in front of a cheap table top fan that I bought at Target - Little to no bleeding now, and hardly any more craters. It's been a life saver and my cookies are on the dining room table drying as opposed to taking up space in my kitchen. One problem I just had for the first time a few weeks ago is dark blotchy spots on white flood icing. So weird. I flooded them and let them dry in order to use the KK machine. A few (not all) of the cookies had a sort of yellowish ugly tint on them, but only in some areas. It almost made them look old or something. Can't explain it but it was ugly. I never had that before, haven't used any new products, etc. I assumed it was grease seeping up from the cookies but I just don't know.

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  19. Thanks for this post--just did my first ever batch of cookies with royal icing and was dismayed to find that a few off them had dark, weirdly colored spots coming through the white icing. I'm glad to know it's not contaminated or something!

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