**Fair Warning-- This post is a little wordy and full of numbers and zero actual cookies.**
Remember last spring when over TWO THOUSAND of you poured your icing covered hearts out to me in an icing issues survey? I promise I didn't forget! I wasn't keeping it a secret. I *may* have lost my notebook for a few weeks this summer...but here is what I've been up to --
First -- I compiled all the numbers and made a bunch of charts and mathed things out in percentages looking for patterns and possible theories that might solve all of our icing problems.
Second -- I asked for volunteers to help test those theories (and was overwhelmed by the very generous lot of you that said yes!!) I sent out different ingredients with varying methods of mixing, storing, and coloring icing. All my volunteers tested those ingredients and methods and reported back.
Third -- I put all *that* information together in more charts with lots more scribbles. Some of my theories were completely off base and some of them were right on. I put together new theories based of this first set of experiments and .... went for another round of experiments! (It's a good thing my husband loves me just the way I am! Even *I* am starting to worry about myself.)
Fourth -- I spent months and months trying to figure out butter-bleed (THE DREADED BLOTCH) and came up very nearly empty-handed. I still have a few things I'm working on, but decided that I've waited long enough. And I'm just going to tell you everything we've figured out together so far. And some day (hopefully soon) when I figure out the ol' blotching issues.... I'll let you know about that too!
MERINGUE POWDER VS. POWDERED EGG WHITES: I was actually pretty convinced going into this that powdered egg whites would prove superior to meringue powder. As it turns out... I was super wrong. Whether you use meringue powder or powdered egg whites -- we've all got the same royal icing issues!
BRAND OF ICING: There was no noticeable difference between brands of icing and the royal icing issues that were experienced by decorators with one exception. Wilton had substantially more issues than the other brands. At first I thought we were on to something...until I realized that most new decorators use Wilton. When experienced decorators were sent Wilton meringue powder instead of their regular MP...the only noticeable difference was that 17% of them experienced harder icing than they do with their regular brand.
METHOD OF DRYING: Using ANY type of fan (dehydrator, heater fan, or a regular fan) reduced the occurrence of craters but only a regular fan substantially reduced the occurrence of color bleed. (by 65%) Both heater fans and dehydrators slightly reduced the occurrence of color bleed. (by 43% and 27% respectively) And all three of them slightly reduced the frequency of craters and denting.
AMOUNT OF TIME BETWEEN BAKING AND DECORATING: There was absolutely no correlation between how long the cookies sat between baking and decorating on ANY of the icing issues the survey addressed. Not even blotching. And for those that freeze your cookies first -- also
THICKNESS OF ICING (ICING CONSISTENCY): I was really excited when I saw the results of the survey. All of the issues seemed to happen at the same frequency - no matter what consistency of icing was used -- except BLOTCHING! Blotching occurred 24% less for people that used one consistency of icing (on the survey) than for people who used a thick outline and a flood icing to decorate their cookies. Unfortunately, this didn't hold up as well under the experiments. Don't worry... I won't stop until I figure this one out!
MERINGUE POWDER TO POWDERED SUGAR RATIO: And now we get to the surprises. I kind of thought that everyone pretty much used the same ratio of meringue powder to powdered sugar. You don't. I simplified all the recipes so that I could see how many tablespoons of meringue powder were used for 2 pounds of powdered sugar. 5-6 tablespoons for every 2 pounds of powdered sugar is pretty average. Some people use as much as 10 tablespoons and some people use as little as 1 or 2 tablespoons of meringue powder. Those on the lowest end of the spectrum seemed to have the most problems with color bleed...but definitely had no problems with hard icing! Using more meringue powder reduced the likelihood of color bleed, but didn't solve the issue entirely. Using more meringue powder, of course, also increased the occurrence of brittle icing. (So if you live somewhere humid and/or have major color bleed problems, consider experimenting by adding 1 or 2 tablespoons more meringue powder to the recipe you currently use. Try to find that sweet spot where the additional meringue powder reduces color bleed without making your icing too hard.)
METHOD OF MIXING ICING: And the biggest surprise of all goes to METHOD! Who knew it would make such a difference?! Are you guys ready for this? Mix your meringue powder with the water and beat until it reaches soft or stiff peak. (Stiff peak is ideal, but not all meringue powders can get there because of other ingredients.) Then add your powdered sugar and flavorings. Get this -- only 6.5% of the people who mix their icing this way have craters occurring more than once a month.
So... in summary...
Seriously... I LOVE you all for asking questions and answering questions and accepting my invitation to test out my theories! We'll keep working on this together and find even more answers and probably even more questions...and somewhere in there we'll make cookies! THANK YOU!!!!!!
And if I've learned anything from this icing issues madness... it is that some things will work for one person and they won't work for another person. If you have a system that's working for you -- keep on using it! But if you want to make some changes...hopefully this information will point you in a direction that will help you find joy and success in decorating!
You can find MY icing recipe HERE. If you have questions, please email me or leave a comment below! I will do my best to answer them all.