Week One – Entering the Mystical World of Royal Icing

Week One – Entering the Mystical World of Royal Icing

I actually started to read Eddie Spence’s beautiful book on The Art of Royal Icing, no not just looking at the pretty pictures everybody, actually reading the words. So far so good BUT then I started trying to replicate the steps and fell flat on my face!

I began the challenge of learning to Royal Ice with no illusions or so I thought. I am a fairly good modeller with lots of imagination and I clearly imagined I would be better at this – week one, sail through that I planned, but no alas fell at the first hurdle – coating a cake in royal icing

Icing Bags
But let me start at the beginning of the week, I had asked a question re piping bags on fb attached to my first blog post Challenge 2017 and thank you to everyone that not only wished me well but took the time to give me advice, the consensus definitely seemed to be that parchments bags were the way forward so I have paper on order.

Meanwhile I perfected my bag making in different sizes with some baking paper I had previously used (now I know why I didn’t get such great results)

Was going to insert picture of various icing bags here …… but it bored me just thinking about it so decided not to put you to sleep too early on!

Now I do want to make you all aware that I’m not going into this completely blind. I did as part of my training, a 6 week course on Royal Icing about 8 years ago but then barely touched it since. I now pattern, embellish, add dots, snail trails and glue with it plus the odd inscription if I am pushed. Gingerbread houses and cookies if I really must all necessitate the mixing or rather the use of RI – on the whole since Renshaw developed their Ready to Use RI in a tub the most I have done is pop the lid.

Mixing RI
So first step – mix up RI and play with the different consistencies. Fun and interesting – NO the first steps to a nasty place, yuk, RI is so sticky and messy. First you need to rinse every that’s already clean in boiling water to get rid of all the fat (wish a hot bath would work on getting rid of my fat!!) and make it extra extra clean.

Clouds of Fluff – over beaten

I went the Merrywhite route for my first batch, reconstituted that and sieved my icing sugar and then ………. completely lost my nerve.   Was Eddie watching me??    What a stupid idea this blog had been??   Challenge 2017 – well you can’t even make RI!!   When I used to make up small batches I did it without really thinking – I knew my measurements and the consistency and job done but to coat a cake, this seemed like a giant step forward. And it stopped me dead in my tracks…. I re-read the chapter in the book twice, procrastination was upon me but it was Friday and I knew I could not miss my first weekly update post on Sunday so it needed to be done.

I thought about, beating the mix with a wooden spoon for 10mins and then another 10mins as per Eddie’s instructions, for oh about 3 seconds and decided that my hand mixer was the answer. My big stand mixer is at home where I do all my baking but at the studio I have a hand mixer for extra butter cream and emergencies etc. But I think I fell into the over-beating trap – I had created fluffy meringue instead of air- pocket free soft peak RI.


I divided the fluff up and added more icing sugar or water as per the instructions on P33 to create all the different consistencies. I had little bowls everywhere and felt like a Hogwarts Potions students but seeing and playing with them all together, it made much more sense to me now. As I said, I used to only make up small amounts to do specific jobs so learning to alter and adapt one batch to perform so many tasks was an eye-opener.

Rubbing down or paddling

Next the instruction to rub or paddle it down! It felt like me – down the stream with-out a paddle! over something that should have been so straightforward. I put a damp cloth over the bowl as instructed and sat down.    Song and dance over nothing?

Possibly but this is the point I need to confess that on Jan 1st – now 7 days ago I gave up Diet Coke, yes my true love, nectar of the Gods and for those that know me this is a HUGE step, enormous, vast, colossal even gargantuan and I have struggled. Caffeine and Aspartame detox is no fun and while I knew my concentration was at an all time low what I had not thought of was my nerves or rather lack of or my sense of adventure being affected.




Coating the Cake
Stumbling on, paddling the air out of it at each dollop I started to coat my dummy (yes I skipped the marzipan stage, I can do that bit and didn’t want to waste my luscious marzipan on some poly dummy cake that didn’t need it as much as I did – discovered that bites of marzipan can distract me from my Diet Coke cravings!) I had attached my dummy to my board with PVA and let that dry so I was not fighting it sliding around the board.

Paddling it on the top of the cake – good so far and then….. ‘hold your straight edge at both ends and pull it towards you to create an even finish’’ One line from Eddie and 14 attempts from Jacqui. Thank goodness for my little dummy cake, simply not as easy as it sounds. I was far too heavy handed, then uneven, then cut off just before the end…. I think we just leave this under NEEDS MORE WORK on my report card! And the same for the sides – basically a fail I think. But I can slightly blame my tools. Need to get a new side scraper and a heavier metal ruler/straight edge. But mainly just ME!

Very dodgy looking first top coat

Honestly not being too harsh on myself because I rarely make a flat cake. 99% of my work is sculpted so when I look at straight sides and sharp edges I admire people’s work so much. Harriet Childs of Childs Cakey Cake is one of my cake coating heroes along with  Zoe Clark.  Seems I just do not have that neat gift. HOWEVER going to keep working on it – so sorry if you know me but from now on you will all be getting straight sides and flat topped birthday cakes with perhaps a wee unicorn if I really like you!

Needed just a little more help so turned to YouTube – have now watched so many YouTube’s I seriously have square eyes and these are just the beginners cake coating ones, although on some of the tutorials I am unsure who is the beginner, the teacher that I am watching or me. Quantity of posts huge but quality of posts – a whole mixed bag and on occasion genuinely so bad they made me laugh out loud. I did learn small tips form many of them but my personal favourite was Dawn Pennington’s Cake School see the videos on her fb page! Such confidence it came out the screen and surrounded you, wonderfully relaxed, no frills instructions. Going to start all over again and then move on to coating a square cake

Yes my schedule will fall behind but I want to learn it properly and not rush it. As a larger busted woman I can tell you everything boils down to solid foundations!!

Week one conclusions

  • Not as blinking easy as some people make it look! But an unexpected upside is that this challenge is already making me a better teacher, as I am struggling to grasp actions and new techniques I now understand fully how some of my students must feel in class. Note to self to stop saying ‘this part is easy’ to my students
  • With a new technique comes new and unfamiliar tools and language – prepare better and don’t assume I know
  • More washing up liquid and hand cream, RI is mainly about sticky mess and cleaning up so far, hoping that side improves.
  • Very glad I took off and stored the glossy cover to Eddie’s RI bible; my copy is looking used already!

Huge thankyou to Kim Chapman for all her WordPress assistance – Knight in shinning.
Read her wonderful bog Eat the Evidence