I would say that its against my nature to tell people what to do, but that would be totally lying. I love telling people how they should live their lives, or exercise, or what kind of car to buy. Its just that people don't usually ASK. So as you can imagine, this is a little weird for me.
I get a lot of emails from new friends just beginning their journey into the cookie decorating world. They tell me their stories (love that) and sometimes show me some pictures (love that too) and then they ask if I have any advice for them. And then I lose all sense of time and food and bedtime hours and write them a little novel that I could feasibly sum up in one little sentence.
You can forget EVERYTHING you have ever learned about decorating cookies as long as your icing is the right consistency.
But, here's the deal. Not all of you are emailing me. And since I'm so good at dispensing unwanted advice, you are going to get the mini novel right here and now. (And then go pay your cell phone bill. Credit ratings are a real thing.)
The most important thing to remember about icing consistency is that it is YOUR CHOICE. Not everyone likes royal icing. Some people use glaze. Not everyone makes a vanilla sugar cookie. Some people make chocolate sugar cookies. Not everyone likes bacon. Some people are vegetarians. And not everyone outlines a cookie with a 20 count and then floods it with a 10 count. Some people just use one consistency of icing. And sometimes its an 18 count icing. Or a 12 count icing. It's YOUR CHOICE. Don't let anyone else make that for you. And don't get stuck on one type of icing if its not working for you. And at the same time...when you find a consistency you like, don't feel like you have to keep experimenting. Do what you want.
And if you've only just begun discovering you cookies you have another question burning in your head at this very moment. WHAT IN THE WORLD IS 12 COUNT ICING?! Let's talk about how you figure out how thick your icing is. And what to call it when you do figure it out.
Perfect icing FOR ME.
I know how thick I like my icing. I've made it a jillion times. I almost don't even have to draw a line and count anymore, because I can tell how thick it is by the way the knife feels in my hand as a I stir my icing. But I still count. Because it matters. Because having the wrong consistency of icing is the single most frustrating cookie decorating problem there is.
Once you've figured out how thick your icing IS and how thick you want it TO BE, its a simple matter of powdered sugar and water to get it there. You will learn very quickly that you want to add tiny amounts of either one. If your icing is too thick, add water literally one drop at a time or use a spray bottle to lightly mist the surface. If your icing is too thin, add sifted powdered sugar one teaspoon at a time. Then stir it up and repeat your icing consistency test until it is perfection in sugar form.
Trust me on this. Once you get your icing as thick or as thin as YOU LIKE IT, you will LOVE decorating cookies. Its going to change your world. It is always worth the time to get the icing right before you begin.
MORE royal icing help --
Recipe for royal icing with dried egg whites
Royal Icing Consistency at The Bear Foot Baker
Making Royal Icing at The Sweet Adventures of Sugarbelle
More on royal icing at Haniela's