Black royal icing is one of the most challenging icing colors to make. Why is that? Because it requires so much food coloring to achieve a rich black. Good thing this post is about to tell you all the things to do to avoid that 😉
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What happens if I add too much black food coloring?
Drys crumbly/not totally hard
It’s hard to describe the texture of black royal icing when it’s “dried” and has too much food coloring in it, but it’s something akin to crumbly and soft. It won’t dry completely hard. This is extra noticeable when black is used for lettering: after you’ve packaged the cookies and/or stored them, just to wake up the next day to find that the lettering has smooshed.
Doesn’t dry at all
Too much food coloring isn’t always the culprit for royal icing not drying at all, but sometimes it definitely contributes to this tear-inducing conundrum!
What tends to be most noticeable about using too much food coloring is how it makes the black royal icing taste bitter. Now, if you use my lemon royal icing recipe the lemon juice masks any bitterness quite well. But no matter the recipe you using, there’s no doubt too much food coloring makes the icing taste less than desirable!
The color bleeds
Color bleed is when one color kind of bleeds into the next once dry. This largely happens either because there is too much moisture in the icing (this can come from the recipe, consistency, environment, etc) and/or there is too much food coloring in the icing. The good new is: it’s largely preventable!
Tips for the best black icing
Use a high quality food coloring
Not all food coloring is created the same! For black royal icing, I usually recommend:
- The Sugar Art Master Elite in black – this is a highly pigment powder and you don’t need as much as gels (but make sure you activate/melt/incorporate the powder in water first before adding to the icing)
- For gels, I recommend:
If you’re a beginner, just stick with the gel colors as they’re easier to use and make sure you follow the next step (allow colors to develop) closely.
If you’re more advanced, I recommend starting your coloring with The Sugar Art Master Elite (powdered) as it takes less coloring, and then having the gels on hand to fine tune the color day of.
Allow the icing to develop at least 24-28 hours
The color of the icing naturally gets darker over time as the color is allowed to develop in the icing. Whether it be 30 minutes, 1 hour, 6 hours or overnight, it all helps! I always color my icing the night before a couple shades lighter than I need.
The next morning I survey the situation and will add more color if needed. It’s always the most nerve-wracking to have to add a lot of color morning of because I usually only have 1 hour max between finessing the color and then decorating (which is not enough time to really know where the color is going to land).
But with black, I make sure to start my icing at least 24 hours in advance for the best success. Sometimes I’ll even start 48 hours in advance if I’m using black to flood an entire cookie (as opposed to just using the black for detail piping).
This is what my black royal icing looks like when I first color it:
And this is what it looks like 24 hours later and right before I bag the icing:
Here are the two side-by-side for easier comparison:
The bowl tip
Number on rule of thumb: if the icing is the exact color you want it in the bowl, you’ve added too much color! The color will continue to darken as you bag the icing, decorate and dry. So, you want the icing still to be a shade or two lighter in the bowl than you ultimately want.
In the case of black, that means you want the icing to be a very dark grey in the bowl but NOT yet a true rich black. This tip takes some trial and error to know just how dark the grey needs to be, because it’s always a leap of faith once you start to bag the icing.
Be OK with a dark grey
Something I always tell my beginner cookiers in my online cookie decorating classes is to be OK with a super dark grey instead of black sometimes. Personally, I think a super dark grey is much better than risking having way too much food coloring (and risking all of the aforementioned issues that result). Yes, sometimes there are designs that really need black, but 9 times out of 10 a dark grey will do. #goodenough!
Other posts you might be interested in:
- What Is Royal Icing: A Beginner’s Guide
- My Royal Icing Recipe
- My Cookie Recipe
- Royal Icing Consistencies
- How to store royal icing (more detailed instructions)
- Troubleshooting Royal Icing: Common Problems While Cookie Decorating
- How to prevent color bleed
- How much icing per cookie – coming soon!
- All of my favorite cookie decorating supplies
- Left-Handed Cookie Decorating
- Cookie Decorating Practice Sheets