Nothing adds pizzazz to your cakes and cookies like COLOR. Color can make your creations really stand out. But finding the right color and shade can be tricky. Most jars of color have a picture of the color on the jar. However, there are many factors that can cause the color to vary. To be sure you are getting the color you are hoping for, test it by mixing a small amount of the color with a small amount of icing before adding color to the full batch. This could save lots of time and money. It’s also a good idea to keep jars of the primary colors (red, blue and yellow) to adjust colors when trying to obtain an exact match. When you are mixing color with icing, the shade can vary from pale to deep depending on the amount of color added. It’s best to add a little color at a time until the correct shade is achieved. Most food colorings do not have an expiration date, but the color can separate, harden or change over time. For best results, keep food coloring no longer than a year.
Be aware that food coloring will stain porous surfaces, including countertops, hands and clothing. Water will remove stains from your hands. Bleach or a powdered cleanser should remove stains on countertops. To remove stains from fabrics, spot the stain with lukewarm water. Rinse thoroughly and allow to dry. Use commercial cleaner if color is still visible.
Dark colors such as red, burgundy, dark purple, dark blue and black require a lot of food color. Too much coloring may make icing bitter and may also leave a tinge on mouths when eaten. For best results use food color gels or paste. If adding food color to buttercream the color may intensify over time. Mix dark colors into the buttercream at least an hour ahead of time to allow them to intensify. Add white icing if the color has become too dark. Use a small amount of color for light shades, or a lot of color for deep shades.
To make brown icing, mix cocoa powder with vegetable shortening to make a dark paste. Blend the cocoa paste into rolled fondant or buttercream. If the cocoa powder thickens the buttercream, a small amount of water may be added to thin.
Black icing is probably the most difficult icing color to achieve. To make black icing, follow the instructions for making brown icing. After the icing becomes brown in color, add black food color.
Red icing is another color that is difficult to achieve. Every brand of food color will vary. Some reds appear orange-red while other look dark pink. Super red is a highly concentrated vibrant red. If adding red to buttercream the color may intensify over time. A lot of red may cause the icing to become bitter.
Gel and paste colors are great for adding a vibrant and rich color to icing. They are water-based and highly concentrated. Some gel colors come in easy to squeeze tubes. Others come in small jars and must be scooped out with a toothpick. Gel colors can also be used to color fondant, dough, cake mixes and more. Most manufacturers have switched from making paste colors to making gels. Gels and pastes are used similarly, but gels have a longer shelf life. You can find gel colors in a wide range of colors, everything from ivory to bright, electric colors.
To mix gel color with buttercream icing, add a small amount of gel color to buttercream. Mix with a spatula until the color is dispersed evenly through the icing. For colors in tubs, follow the same procedure, but use a scoop for color to avoid accidentally adding too much.
To mix gel color with fondant, create a small indentation in a ball of fondant to squeeze color into. Knead until the color is evening dispersed throughout the fondant. This may take a few minutes. It is best to wear gloves when kneading the fondant to avoid getting color on hands.
To add gel color to candy coating add flo-coat then add coloring. The ratio should be 5:1 flo-coat to gel. Mix the flo-coat and color together with a spatula then mix until the color is dispersed evenly through the candy coating.
Gel colors may also be used to paint. (More on how to make this cake, click here.) Use colors “as is” for a bold strong color or dilute with a small amount of water for a water color effect.
White food color can be used to write on a black fondant covered cake for a chalkboard effect.
Powdered color is another form of highly concentrated color. There are many unique powdered colors available that are unlike any shade of gel or paste color you can buy.
To mix powdered color with buttercream icing, using a scoop to avoid accidentally adding too much color, add a small amount of powder to shortening then add the mixture to buttercream. Mix with a spatula until the color is dispersed evenly through the icing.
To add powdered color to candy coating mix the color with oil to avoid specks. Add mixture to candy coating. Mix with a spatula until the color is dispersed evenly through the candy coating.
Dust can be brushed directly onto dry icings and fondant. Brush onto pre-made flowers or paint onto chocolates. Dust can also be used in an airbrush when mixed with vodka or lemon extract. The dust is fade resistant.
Just Right Color
Finding the right color can be half the battle. The shade of color will depend on the amount of color that you use. A small amount of color will yield in a lighter color, and more color will give you a deeper, richer color. Be careful not to add too much coloring right away. Start with a small amount and add more if necessary. It always easier to add more color than to try to lighten a color once too much as been added. You can test the color by adding a bit to a small portion of your icing before adding it to the whole batch.
There are several factors that can contribute to your icing changing colors. Natural and fluorescent lighting can cause colors to fade. To avoid fading, keep cakes in a cool, dark room or even in a cake box. Colors may also lighten or deepen a couple of hours after the icing has been colored. You can make your icing up ahead of time to be sure of the color before adding to your cake. Color bleeding can also change the color of your icing. To help prevent bleeding, wait until the icing has crusted to pipe colored details. Also keeping an iced cake away from moisture and heat can help to reduce the amount of color bleeding.
Color Mixing Tips
Color a little more icing or fondant than you expect you will need. It is difficult to duplicate the exact shade.
To avoid getting the icing too dark, color a small amount of icing then add it to additional icing. This will also make blending the icing easier with fewer streaks.
When attempting a custom or new color, experiment with a small amount of icing and food color so large amounts are not wasted with an undesirable color.
Rub a small amount of shortening in hands before kneading color into the fondant to keep hands from getting badly stained. Plastic gloves can also be worn to keep hands stain free.
INFORMATION USED WITH PERMISSION FROM “THE COMPLETE PHOTO GUIDE TO CAKE DECORATING” BY AUTUMN CARPENTER.