Royal icing is a simple mixture of egg whites, water and finely-processed icing sugar. It is a common topping for cakes and cookies, as it is easy to make, can be prepared and stored ahead of time, and adapts well to food colourings and thinning additives. Bakers frequently have problems with air bubbles forming in royal icing, which ruins its texture and appearance.
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Many air bubble problems are caused by overbeating the icing. This is usually due to overzealous beating with an electric mixer, which incorporates too much air into the light, delicate ingredients. To prevent bubble formation, use a hand mixer or whisk or turn the mixer speed down to a lower setting and turn it off right after the icing ingredients are fully combined.
If you already mixed your royal icing and need to remove bubbles from it, put in it an airtight bowl to keep it moist and let it rest for several hours. This allows the bubbles to rise to the top, at which point the icing can be slowly folded or stirred to make it less airy and more manageable.
While you apply the icing to the top of the cake, use a back-and-forth paddle motion with the icing spatula as you rotate the cake on its pedestal. This motion dislodges the air bubbles, while creating a smooth surface on the cake. Do not hesitate to apply a gentle pressure to hasten the process. You can also get rid of the bubbles before you apply the icing to the cake by smearing the amount you need on a cutting, pastry or cake board, and rubbing it with the icing spatula to make it smooth and flat.
Royal icing dries to a sturdy finish, so it is often used for piping decorative flowers and flourishes onto cakes. Piping bags contain a lot of air, so pack the icing in them as tightly as possible without making the icing impossible to manipulate. Fill the bag about half full using a flatware tablespoon, and gently press down each spoonful as you go, occasionally squeezing the middle of the bag to get rid of the air inside. During piping, keep the top of the bag twisted to keep air out. If the piping starts to get sketchy or looks incomplete, check the tip for clogs and air bubbles and add more icing to the bag to replace the air.
Tips and Hints
Keeping the consistency of royal icing uniform prevents air bubbles. If you thin the mixture with water or glycerine, incorporate it fully to create a smooth icing that covers the cake evenly. To write on cake surfaces with piping bags, thin the icing to a workable consistency and test it on a plate or board for air bubbles before using it to decorate.
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