a quick guide to food coloring

A Quick Guide to Food Coloring

food coloringDecorating your cake with color is important, as this will help you set the right tone and mood for the occasion. When you are still in the process of planning your cake, after you have chosen the kind of frosting you will use, the next step would be choosing what to tint your frosting with.

Think about what the appropriate color to use for the fondant or gumpaste. Get inspiration from the theme of the event you are celebrating. The cake should blend in and emphasize the overall theme, and not distract from it. Ask the birthday celebrant or the bride-to-be what colors will appeal to them.

Before the actual assembly, you can have fun experimenting with different colors – from block, monochromatic colors to different color combinations – before you come up with a final decision. Experimenting with different colors will help you decide which color will complement the best with your cake design.

How to Color Your Frost

There are many ways to add color to your frosting. White frostings are the easiest to tint and work with, and you can use almost use any color that will match the cake’s flavor. Here are the types of food coloring you can use:

  • Liquid – Water-based color dyes that come in sets of small bottles. To use, just drip the dye drop into your batter or icing, and then stir and drop more tint until you achieve the desired color. You can mix and match the colors to get more creative tint. The color it gives off is less intense, so this is a good material to use if you are just starting out with food coloring. It is inexpensive and readily available in most grocery stores. While normally the amount of liquid dye you put in a frosting is insignificant, the amount of color to achieve an intense, deep color (such as the color of a red velvet cake) could be a lot, which could affect the outcome of the cake.
  • Gel – Corn syrup or glycerine-based color dyes. This kind delivers a more intense color than liquid. There is also a lot more variety when it comes to colors. A little goes a long way with this food color–just swirl in a toothpick into the gel, and then mix with your icing. Using a gel coloring will not change the consistency of the frost, which liquids can sometimes do. A gel dye can be somewhat difficult to find in grocery stores, and it might become difficult to mix into thick and stiff dough; also, the mixing required to fully incorporate the color into the dough can result to a tougher texture in the finished product.
  • Paste – A highly-concentrated form of liquid gel dye. It’s best to start with a small amount when using this color as it is very effective. And like liquid gel, it’s hard to mix in to stiff dough.
  • Powder – A completely dry food coloring. This dry mix is used when the recipe doesn’t call for moisture. Powder food color does not dry out, unlike the colors that come in liquid form, and it has an extremely long shelf life.
  • Airbrush – If the frost or icing has already been placed on the cake, or if you want to color in the fastest way possible, then an airbrush would be your best bet. This requires airbrush equipment which could be very intimidating to use for a beginner cake decorator.
  • Natural – Plant-based food colors, without glycerin or corn syrup added. Natural ingredients are used to create the color. For example, saffron flowers and turmeric powder can be used to create a yellow color. Juiced carrots makes for a great orange color, and spinach can be used to create a green tint. This is a great food coloring to use for people who are allergic to synthetic dyes, although these are harder to source and also more expensive than the other forms of coloring. The colors are also not as brilliant as synthetics.

Mixing the Color into Your Icing

Begin with white icing and use a concentrated food coloring which will not affect your icing’s consistency. Dip the toothpick into your chosen color, then swirl it into the icing. A little goes a long way, so make sure to add color one small amount at a time until you achieve the desired color. Every time you are going to add in a new swipe or swirl of color, use a new toothpick to prevent contaminating your jar of color with the icing. Use your spatula to blend the color well into the icing.

Always think through the total amount of colored icing you will use for the whole cake. Remember, it is difficult to duplicate or reproduce the exact shade of any color, so if you want to keep the color consistent all throughout the cake, make sure you produce more than enough of the colored icing to cover all of your bases.

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