Icing is a medium for decorating, whether it be cookies, cakes, or cupcakes.
Your baked goods are a blank canvas to do with as you choose, and once you know how to color icing you can learn to transform them into a parade of dazzling confections.
Just as a gardener skillfully arranges an array of plants and flowers to create visually appealing landscapes, cookie and cake decorators add a variety of concentrated colors to icing and frosting to create tantalizing and eye-catching treats.
The most difficult step in coloring icing is choosing the colors to use.
It’s easy to learn how to color icing but a few things you’ll want to keep in mind as you do:
- Start with a tiny amount of color. The colors are very concentrated. Once the color is mixed into the icing more can be added if need be. It’s easier to create a darker color than it is to lighten a color if you accidentally added too much color. Go easy!
- Colors will generally darken a bit after they are mixed and once the color dries after being applied to the cookies. Sometimes it’s best to make the color just a tad lighter than you want.
- Always color icing before you begin to thin some of it to make the flood icing.
Why is it better to color icing before thinning some of it to make the flood icing?
Royal icing is beat to a thick consistency at first. Some is then reserved at that consistency to be used for outlining, and the rest is thinned to make flood icing. The two consistencies should be the same color so the outline blends in with the flood icing.
A note here about different types of color: I have Americolor soft gel pastes as well as an assortment of Wilton concentrated gel colors. By no means am I a color snob but I am definitely partial to the Americolor products.
They come in squeeze bottles so I can add one drop at a time and it’s easy to control the amount I use.
The Wilton colors are applied with a toothpick: I put a toothpick in the bottle to grab some of the gel color and then swirl the toothpick into the icing. It’s messier, harder to judge how much color is needed, and I seem to use a lot more of the Wilton colors to achieve the same color as with a few drops of the Americolor gel pastes.
Not to mention that my fingers are stained a variety of colors by the time I’m done from handling all the toothpicks!
It’s not that I don’t like Wilton products. It’s quite the opposite. I use my Wilton cake pans, turntable, and a host of other baking accessories and tools all the time and I think that most of the products they sell are excellent. I’m just not crazy about the gel colors.
So let’s take a look at how to color icing:
The amount of color added will depend on how vibrant a color you’re trying to achieve, and the amount of icing you’re coloring.
The tub of royal icing I made has remained tightly covered.
I know that I will need to divide up my icing into three separate containers:
- One that I will color purple
- One that I will color yellow
- One that I will not color
There are two reasons that I will leave some icing uncolored:
- I want to use some white icing today to decorate with.
- Past experience has taught me how easy it is to add just a little too much color to icing. The only way to make it lighter is to add a little white icing to it.
I learn from my mistakes and this is one of those things I just always do, whether I’m using icing or frosting. I keep a little stashed just in case I need it.
When I open my royal icing the first thing I notice is some air bubbles. No need to panic. This is normal. It’s been sitting for a while and the air bubbles have risen to the top.
I use a spatula to gently stir the icing and pop the air bubbles.
I’m now ready to separate my icing. Since I’m just practicing some simple outlining and flooding with this icing, I divide it somewhat evenly into two containers and reserve a little of the white.
There are times when I might want a lot more of one color than another. For instance, if I plan on decorating apple-shaped cookies, red would be the most dominant color so I would color most of the icing red, and the rest divided among green, white and black.
By the time I had distributed the icing among the containers there were already air bubbles beginning to appear so again, I just stirred the icing with my spatula.
I’m going to work on coloring one bowl of icing at a time, so the other two I cover with plastic wrap; again, touching the icing to prevent any air from getting in.
And then I put the lids on them
I start with the Regal Purple. I’ve got only about 1/2 cup of icing here so I’m just going to use two drops to start. I drop it right into the icing.
And gently, but thoroughly, mix it into the icing.
Once I’ve incorporated the color completely I see that I need to add more to make the vibrant purple I’m looking for. I add two more drops and stir again.
Now I’ve got the approximate color I was hoping for.
I cover the bowl immediately with plastic wrap.
And then secure the lid.
Now I’m ready to start coloring my yellow icing using the same process.
And that’s all there is to it.
I’m ready to assemble my pastry bags so they’re ready to use for decorating.