So I tried the technique of creating a royal icing plaque/run sugar that dries hard for the first time. I've been so excited about it because I need a technique like this to help me make some stunning mandala/yantra patterns on cakes for my East Indian relatives. This was also my first batch of royal icing, made straight from the Wilton recipe. I was in a rush to get to cake class so I may have whipped not quite long enough or at too fast of a rate, but it had stiff peaks like it was supposed to and the mixture was consistent. I was suprised at what it was like because it seemed so different from buttercream in how light it was, but I have nothing for comparison.
I understood that royal icing dried very hard, but this incredibly stunning and complex plaque that I spent hours working on crumbled to pieces the second I tried to place it on my cake. As did the little scroll pieces I made with the leftover icing that I intended to put as decorative projections on my cake. Supposed to peel right off the wax paper, but the icing is just too fragile even for how slow and careful I was.
All the upcoming Advanced Cake Courses are full near where I live, and I can't wait until the Winter to figure out what I did wrong! So did I screw up the recipe or is royal icing supposed to be more fragile than the pressed powder in your eyeshadow!? If so will I just have to use chocolate or is there an alternative that is harder and really edible?
By the way I made this cake to learn on really, and brought it to a temple prayer service and potluck as as suprise. Everyone LOVED it, and there were no expectations about what I had originally planned. I overcame every problem and still turned out a stunning cake that I hope to post pics of soon. For only my 6th cake I am very proud of myself, and I shouldn't be so suprised I ran into so many problems and "cake lessons" when I was trying so many new things at once. (First time making and using royal icing, first time making/using MMF, first time with tip#1 and making mehndi designs, first tiered cake, first eggless cake, first shaped cake.) Now that I'm writing it out I'm realizing how overambitious it was to think that my design would be realized when I trying so many new things!
Anyway, I've figured out how to avoid all the problems I had for the future except this royal icing deal. What did I do wrong???
Did the royal come in contact with any grease (shortening, butter, even the residue from buttercream on your tips and bags) as it breaks down the royal icing? When I use royal I have bags and tips specifically for that icing, so I don't run into any problems. I'm no expert tho, so hopefully someone else may be able to shed some light on this for you.
I'm so sorry this happened to you!
I've made many, many royal icing plaques. I prefer the Wilton recipe and meringue powder.
You very well may not have beaten it long enough. Depending on the humidity, I beat mine for a minimum of 8 minutes and as long as 15 minutes. The speed shouldn't make a difference.
You said you were on your way to cake class. How much time elapsed between making the icing and using it? You must use it when it is freshly beaten - within an hour or so. Rebeaten icing is no good for plaques.
Crumbling is an indication of deflated and/or rebeaten icing.
Did you make flood consistency icing? If so, you may have added too much water, weakening the icing.
I'm hesitant to blame the problem on grease coming into contact with your icing. If that was the case, it wouldn't have achieved the stiff peak stage.
A couple of other tips:
Forget the wax paper! Pipe your pieces onto plastic wrap (Saran). When they're dry, use an Xacto knife to cut a circle around your piece. Lift the plastic and your piece off the work surface. The plastic will literally fall right off. No prying. No peeling. No tears.
If you're piping freehand (no pattern underneath) you can use Reynolds Non-stick foil. Be careful, tho. Because the icing really won't stick to it. Once your pieces begin to dry, they may be tempted to slide around on the foil! It's great for tiny items, like snowflakes.
Make sure you outline and flood with nothing smaller than tip 2 for sturdiness. If you need tip 1 details, you can add them on top of the flood, or wait for the piece to dry, then add them.
And ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS make extras! No matter how careful you are, Murphy's law insists that when you don't plan for breakage, tears will be shed. I keep all the extra pieces I make. I was able to wow a customer with a last-minute cake topped with a royal icing pink poodle. She didn't know the thing was a year old!
You are right about everything, and the icing was a week old. Thank you so much...this is all excellent advice and I'm excited to try it again.