How to Color Icing

February 7, 2012

I’ve seen a few posts lately on Facebook and on my message board asking how to color icing, so I thought I would write up a quick tutorial.

When you think of food color, you probably think of this:

The basic liquid food coloring in the little squeeze droppers. This kind of color is great for coloring liquids (like for dying eggs) or for making pastels where you only need a tiny bit of color.

The problem with liquid colors is that if you need to make a dark color, you’ll need to use a ton of dye and the liquid will affect the consistency (and possibly taste) of your icing. So what’s the alternative? Concentrated gel colors.

The above pictured gel colors are made by Wilton and are available in tons of different shades. You can get them at stores like Michael’s, Hobby Lobby, or JoAnn’s (or online too of course). They cost about $2 for a 1 oz jar.

To give you an idea of the difference in concentration between the liquids and the gels, let’s look back to a full sheet cake I made about a year ago. I was making red velvet cake and I would have needed about 12 oz of liquid red color for that cake (to the tune of about $30). Instead, I used gel color and used about 1/2 an ounce (about $1).

So how do you use gel colors? It’s pretty easy actually. All you need is…

  • Bowl of icing
  • Gel colors
  • Tooth picks
  • Spatula and/or mixer

To color your white icing, dip the tip of a toothpick into the jar of color and then swirl the toothpick around in the bowl of icing. A little goes a long way, so just add a tiny bit at a time. Mix with a mixer and/or spatula.

If the icing isn’t dark enough yet, get a new toothpick and dip it in the color again, then swirl in the icing and mix. Repeat until you have the color you want. Color the whole batch at once since it will be very difficult to mix up another batch later and match the color.

The color will darken the longer it sits. Check out these cupcakes for example:


These were both iced from the same batch of icing (and cropped out of the same photo). The one on the left I iced first, then stuck it in the fridge. I also put the remaining icing (in a sealed plastic container) in the fridge overnight. The next morning, I put the remaining icing in the mixer for a few minutes, then iced the cupcake on the right.

Mixing the right shade can be a little difficult. Especially with a dark color, like red. True red is so difficult to get right! Wilton has 3 different shades of red to choose from: Christmas Red (kind of blueish), Red-Red (true red), and No-Taste Red (more coral-y). The fact that a no-taste version exists is proof that it takes A LOT of dye to get a true red. However, I always use Red-Red for my reds because I don’t like the lighter shade of the no-taste version and I have never noticed a taste left by the dye.

Below on the left is one of my very first cakes, when I still used liquid red food coloring (and before I learned how to pipe a shell border – yikes). The one on the right was made using a gel color.


For more info on decorating cupcakes specifically, check out my Cupcake Tutorial post!

Cupcake Tutorial

September 12, 2010

September 2010

Several people have asked me how I ice my cupcakes, what tip I use, etc.  Others have commented on my piping skills and wondered how I do it. I’ll share my secret…it’s the tip. That’s really all it is. If you have the right tip, the rest is a cinch!

So this weekend I had some extra cake batter and made a couple cupcakes so that I could do a tutorial on how to pipe icing on cupcakes. This is the first time I’ve taken “process” pictures (I normally just take a picture of the final result). It makes for an image-heavy post, but hopefully that will be helpful in this case!

First, my supplies…Cupcakes, icing, an icing bag, a large coupler, and large tips.

Large tips are the key. The regular sized tips are great for piping borders on cakes and things like that, but these giant ones are what you need for cupcakes. I am going to demonstrate 3 different techniques using 3 different tips: the Swirl (1M), the Ruffle (2D), and the Blob (2A). (Disclaimer: I totally made those names up, they may or may not be the official names of these techniques!)

First, we need to assemble the icing bag. I’m using a coupler so that I can easily switch between tips, but a coupler is not necessary. If you are not using one, you start by dropping the tip inside the icing bag and pushing it down as far as it will go. The wide end of the tip will make an indentation on the plastic bag.

Next, take the tip out of the bag and cut the end off of the bag with a pair of scissors. Make your cut about 1/2 to 3/4 of an inch below the indentation in the bag. Next you would put the tip back into the bag.

I’m using a coupler, so I have done the above step with the coupler base. The tip fits over the coupler base.

And the coupler top screws in over the tip holding it in place. Once the tip is in place, I filled my bag with some icing.

And now we are ready to go!

The first technique is the basic Swirl using the 1M tip (a large open star tip). You’ll want to start by holding the icing bag over the cupcake at a slight angle. Hold the bag in your non-writing hand (twisting the top of the bag to keep it closed). Hold the bottom of the bag similar to how you would hold a pencil. You’ll use your writing hand to guide the bag and your non-writing hand to control the pressure on the bag.

Using light pressure, pipe a circle around the outside of the cupcake. (Sorry for the blurry picture – I had the camera in one hand and the icing in the other.)

Next, cut inside and make another smaller circle to fill in the middle. Stop squeezing the bag, then pull up and away.

And that’s it – a Swirl!

Next up is the Blob. This one seems to be a favorite of bakeries and it really couldn’t be easier! We’re using a large round tip for this, 2A.

Start with your icing bag held about 1/4 inch over the cupcake, straight up and down. I’m holding it at a slight angle, and you’ll see in a minute what effect that has.

Keep your tip stationary and apply moderate to hard pressure to the bag. Icing will spread out in a circle around your tip. Don’t pull your tip up!

Once your blob has reached the size you want, stop pressure on the bag, then lift the tip. (You can see that because I wasn’t holding my bag exactly upright, my blob is slightly skewed.) If you want a single blob, you’re done at this point. I did a double blob so after the first one was done, I repositioned my tip at the top of the blob and piped a slightly smaller one on top. And that’s it for Blobs!

The last technique is the Ruffle. This uses a drop flower tip, 2D. It’s not my favorite, but I’ve used it before so I included it here. For this, you’ll be using the same outside circle, inside circle technique as you did with the Swirl. I use a lot of pressure on the bag and a very slow movement around the cupcake. This gives the icing room to “ruffle”. I also try wiggling my hands up and down very slightly.

Once you’ve done the inside circle, give it an extra squeeze to ruffle in the middle. Stop pressure on the bag, then pull up and away.

So that’s it! Three different techniques and tips for lovely cupcakes.

Making Roses

July 16, 2010

July 2010

Roses. You see roses on practically every grocery store cake and many bakery cakes. They are a standard in terms of decoration. And after all this time, I had never learned how to make roses – out of icing or fondant. And this seemed like a major oversight on my part.

Since I’ve been experimenting with fondant decorations lately, I decided to tackle fondant roses first.  I found this video on YouTube and I basically copied what is shown here. I honestly found it to be relatively easy.

Next I will have to tackle icing roses 🙂

Here is a picture of the finished roses on a cake. See more about this cake here.