One of the most life-changing pieces of cookie decorating tools for me has got to be the dehydrator. It has significantly helped reduce how long it takes for me to finish a batch of cookies, and improved the aesthetics of my cookies. By the end of this post, I hope you’ll have a better grasp of how to use a dehydrator for your cookie decorating needs and whether or not you would be interested in investing in one.
This post is pretty in-depth (please get comfy with your beverage of choice), and if I missed anything, please do not hesitate to drop your questions in the comments! And I’ll be up front in saying that if you’d rather listen or watch over read, please make sure to check out our video on this (and please like & subscribe!! It helps us out a ton).
A dehydrator is commonly known as a kitchen appliance used to remove moisture from food placed inside of it. Most people use dehydrators to make jerky or dehydrated fruit/herbs. I’ve known many people to dehydrate their own dog treats! Think fish, chicken feet, etc.
When using a dehydrator in your royal icing cookie decorating process…
- Royal Icing dries faster and shinier if there is airflow — a fan would do something similar, though would not be as effective in drawing out moisture from the icing as a dehydrator
- IF you use a thick flood icing and get it in the dehydrator ASAP, that puff tends to stay much… puffier.
- The added element of heat from a dehydrator helps your icing set faster– this means you can work on the next layer sooner, saving time.
- Airflow and having your icing dry faster means reducing potential color bleed while also reducing craters in small areas of your icing.
The bottom line is that you want to use a dehydrator to set the surface of the icing, but not leave it in so long that it adversely affects the moisture in your cookie.
Is a dehydrator absolutely necessary for cookie decorating? No. But it can significantly impact your cookie production time and cookie aesthetics so if that’s of value to you then please read on.
So how do we use a dehydrator to aid in the cookie decorating process??
I can share some general guidelines/tips with you, but you HAVE to keep in mind the following:
- The dehydration process CAN dry out your cookies– especially if you bake your cookies for longer, or you have thinner cookies. If you have or enjoy a crispy cookie base, no big deal. Just be mindful. BUT since cookies are mainly FAT, it will take MANY HOURS (we are talking 12-16 hrs+) to dry out your cookies.
- Keep in mind — this is all happening at the steady low temp of 95 degrees F
- When you live in an area with low humidity, you don’t need the dehydrator for as long as those who live in humid climates
- My general rule of thumb is 15 minutes per layer you want to be dried before moving on to the next layer of piping
- If you want to airbrush, leave it in there on the lowest setting for up to 25-30 minutes
- Living in an area with higher humidity– you folks will love the dehydrator more than us who live in desert climates.
- If you live in areas with humidity 80%+– you can leave your cookies in there for hours (I’m talking up to 8 hrs) and be fine
- If you live in moderate humidity, total dehydrator time should stay under 4 hrs
I have accidentally left my cookies in the dehydrator for 4 hours straight and they were not particularly dry. No one could tell the difference from the ones left in there for a shorter amount of time.
Keeping all this in mind, be prepared, like with many other cookie decorating related techniques, to test, experiment, adjust, and most importantly don’t give up! Context is very important and I don’t have every combination of parameters to tell you exactly what to do.. I never will 😉 — learn to embrace the process, make tons of mistakes and learn along the way!
Here are my basic guidelines for using a dehydrator to speed up icing drying time and to get that shine (noting the challenges as well!!):
- I always use the dehydrator at the lowest setting, which is commonly 95 degrees F. You can go a tad higher (no more than 105 in my experience), but any higher and your icing starts to ripple, potentially crack while it’s in the dehydrator and will dry unevenly.
- Use a liner for your dehydrator trays– it keeps the bottom of your cookies from drying. DO NOT cut up silicone mats with FIBER GLASS: they can potentially cause harm if someone has a reaction to it. (this is new info learned in Dec. 2021, there have been reports of people having adverse reactions to exposed fiberglass – learn something, change appropriately) Wash or wipe clean between use. I would steer you away from parchment– it’s flimsy and you still need to replace it often. DO NOT use wax paper– that wax is gonna melt in heat and come off on your cookies. And of course, you can also consider dehydrator liner sheets. I actually use these Bright Kitchen silicone liners and they are AMAZING- they fit both my Cosori and Gourmia.
- I don’t see a difference if I kept the door on or off. My Cosori has a hinge door and I always keep it closed. I know people who prefer to keep it open – try both to see what you prefer.
- I like to dehydrate my flood layer for 15-20 minutes at 95 degrees F before moving on to the next icing layer. If I’m airbrushing, I do up to 30 in the dehydrator before cooling and applying airbrush with a stencil.
Pro tip- it really helps to get your icing consistency as thick as you are comfortable with — helps to dry faster, smoother, and puffier.
- Let your dehydrated cookies cool for about 5-10 minutes before moving them, or else risk them cracking if you’re not super careful. When the cookies are still warm, the icing is still soft– the icing will harden more as cookies cool. If you try to move them whilst still warm, make sure you put your hand DIRECTLY in the MIDDLE of the bottom of the tray to ensure that the weight of the cookies do not cause the tray to bend, transferring the force to the surface of the cookies, resulting in cracks in the icing crust. You can also move them one at a time, but best to just give it a few minutes to cool. I can’t tell you how many people have returned their dehydrator because of this.
- Preemptively taking out your cookies can result in reduced shine, ultra fragile crust that will crack easily upon any movement.
- Large, underbaked or high moisture cookies that have a lot of icing on them (usually 4 inches or larger in length), have the tendency to ripple and crack easier– just physics, look at that surface area.
- DO NOT put fondant or modeling chocolate in the dehydrator. Due to the heat, they will melt. … and slowly lose their shape. You’re going to be super sad.
- Dehydrators are not meant to be used to fully dry your cookies– they are meant to help speed up the layering process. You should still allow your royal icing cookies to dry uncovered for 8-24 hours depending on humidity levels. When they are FULLY dry, you can then package them. I usually bake, ice and package my cookies within a 24 hour period with the help of a dehydrator. It was 36-48 hours pre-dehydrator life– and living in a warm climate, leaving cookies out for 2-3 days was enough to dry my cookies out a bit.
- NOISE!! I forgot to talk about this point in the video, but some are definitely noisier than others– and it depends on the door design. The ones that have the hinge door closure tend to be quieter. But even after all this, it’s a gentle fan noise and pretty much is “white noise”.
OK, so which dehydrator should you buy?! The short is answer is that they all get the job done, but there are various parameters to consider based on how much money you want to spend and your personal preferences.
Things to think about — and I’m going to tell you what I personally find most important– this doesn’t mean it’s the same for you, so make your decision based on YOUR needs and preferences.
- You want a size that fits well into the space that you have. I would LOVE to have a dehydrator that fits as many cookies as possible, but it’s not practical.
- Dehydrators usually come in rectangles or rounds. I find that round dehydrators are usually trays that have to be stacked on top of each other, vs. rectangular models where trays slide out and there’s a door.
- I personally prefer rectangular models– they fit better in most spaces and because of the shape, are easier to find mats for.
- Most dehydrators are a mix of plastic and stainless steel. Plastic is usually more economical. Stainless or other colored metals are more aesthetically pleasing and easier to clean. I now own one of each finish and I’ll tell you I prefer the steel.
- Tray Logistics
- How much space is in between each tray and it is enough clearance for you? Some people have thick cookies, and sometimes we’ll have thick icing — look for at least 1.5 inches between sheets.
- Tray position — do they actually stack like THIS one and you’ll need to remove them one by one? Which is a huge pain. Or can the trays all slide out individually and you don’t need to worry about the skeleton of the dehydrator and other trays? I prefer the latter.
- Material and design: It doesn’t matter if your trays are metal or plastic. It does matter if they have ridges on the side to prevent your cookies from accidentally sliding off– it always helps to have ridges.
- Door Mount position
- If you choose a circular dehydrator, your lid is your door. You gotta unstack it one by one. Dislike.
- For rectangular models, most have doors that fully slide on or off, but some models have open hinges. I really like having hinges so I don’t have to worry about a loose piece of equipment
- Fan position
- Don’t get one with a fan on the bottom– the angle of the airflow is not best for drying out your icing
- If you use liners and the airflow is from the bottom– that can block air flow, period. So the trays on may not even dry properly.
- Just trust me on this one and get one with a top fan or side fan– if you have to pick, side fan so you get the most airflow at the best angle to hit the most cookies consistently.
- Temperature Control
- The lowest temp should be no higher than 105degrees F. If you can’t adjust to 105 or below, don’t buy it. It will ruin your icing. You’re going to be super upset. Luckily, most dehydrators I’ve seen and researched go to 95 degrees, which is ideal!
- Price is last on here, but that doesn’t mean it’s the least important. I have to be candid and tell you that get what you pay for when it comes to dehydrators (and so many other products).
- If you’re in an absolute pinch and can’t afford a dehydrator, using a fan can be similarly effective– it just won’t dry quite as fast, especially if you leave in humid climates.
- I find the sweet spot for dehydrators to be around $100 for the unit.
All that said, here are the top dehydrators I recommend based on overall best user experience- and no one paid me to say these things or put this guide together. For some links, if you end up buying from them, I get a referral kickback at zero additional cost to you– this is a great way to support us and help us keep the website ad-free.
If money was not a limiting factor, if you do higher-volume production (beyond hobby baking):
- Excalibur 3900B: High quality, high capacity.
Should you want other options for higher-end models, look HERE. All the Excaliburs are amazing quality models with a range of size options.
Practical, mid-line, decent quality dehydrators:
- Cosori Premium — I didn’t know this brand existed but have now owned their air fryer for a year and it’s a fabulous piece of equipment. The only downside for this guy are the trays. They are flat, stainless trays and I WISH they had ridges on the side so I don’t risk my cookies sliding off accidentally. (EDIT 05-Oct-2020: One of our readers NITA indicated in the comments that she flipped her tray and it’s got a ridge!!) Using silicone mats as a grip is helpful, but I still have to be super careful. I own this and love this.
- All rectangular Gourmia Dehydrators – holy smokes this option is POPULAR. I’ve owned one of these for years and it’s a solid choice. Well known brand, reliable, solid construction and super easy to use. I own an older Gourmia and love it. But if given an excuse I’d pick up one of the more modern models…
- Aroma Housewares Professional 6 Tray Food Dehydrator – solid reviews, super similar to the Gourmia.
- Chefman — looks pretty much EXACTLY like my Gourmia. I don’t doubt they are pretty much the same thing.
- Magic Mill — another alternative that looks just like my Gourmia. I actually know a few people who have this and the Chefman, both get the job done!
When you start looking at $60 or below — most of those are circular with heat and air source from the bottom– that isn’t the BEST for your cookies. However, if you are on a MAJOR budget, these two options seem like they’ve got the best reviews:
- NutriChef PKFD12 (Round) — I used to own a version of this and it did the job well– but noticed the air circulation was wonk (some trays got better circulation than others! And the round shape did me no favors. I didn’t use a liner when I first started dehydrating cookies — lining a round shape is a pain in the ass.
- NutriChef PKFD06 (Rectangular) — no personal experience, but the reviews are fabulous. Considering this is a brand I’ve used before, I feel good about recommending them. This still stacks, so not preferred, but definitely a good start if you’re on a budget.
- Cosori (Round) — I love Cosori as a brand. I own both their air fryer and stainless dehydrator. Both pieces of equipment are SOLID and I’m happy to recommend their brand as a solid choice.
EDIT – Other recommendations from our cookier firneds:
The bottom line: from my perspective, if you want to buy a dehydrator — go for the Mid-Line options since they typically have all of the features you would need to get the most out of your dehydrator. Try to opt for one with side ran rather than bottom fan.
I hope this post has been valuable for you, and answers some of your most dire dehydrator questions. If you have any other questions or comments at all, please leave them below, and I’ll be here to help you. If you also have dehydrator models you love OR hate, drop em below!