UPDATED: February 2016
Because the frosting is so essential in a perfectly decorated cookie, the food coloring you use is just as important. There are plenty of food coloring options out there, many of them superb, and you may use a brand and method totally different from mine. But I’ll share what I use and do with the disclaimer that this isn’t comprehensive, it merely works for me. At the end of this post, I included a COLOR CHART you can print on 5 x 7 photo paper, if desired.
concentrated pastes vs. soft gel pastes
First and foremost, I use soft gel pastes exclusively. Craft stores usually carry the more accessible concentrated pastes. Both work well and in much the same way and both come in a huge variety of colors. So if your only option is the baking aisle of your craft store, then these will work fine. But I find concentrated pastes have a bitter, metallic taste. So I don’t use them. Instead I use:
Americolor Soft Gel Pastes (You’d think I own their stock, but I promise I have no connection to the company other than as a customer, and they have not paid me to write this.) Another brand option is Ateco Spetrum food coloring, also very good.
You can find Americolor soft gel pastes at many cake decorating supply stores, or, click on their site HERE and click “LINKS” for a list of some web resources.
beryls (they ship internationally)
Cincinnati Cake and Candy Supplies
Golda’s Kitchen (for Canadian bakers!)
which soft gel pastes to buy
To see the full line of 40 colors available, CLICK HERE. I don’t own all of them. I’ll let you be the judge of what colors you like best, of course, but here are the colors I own and use frequently. Some great colors are missing from my collection, but pretty much everything I need to decorate works with these colors, so I rely solely on these:
which size to buy: the pastes come in small, .75 ounce bottles, and larger, 4.5 ounce bottles (and even larger, but I think those are wholesale). Even with all the decorating I do, I buy the .75 ounce bottles. A few drops go a long way, so stick with these unless you have a business and decorate hundreds of cookies a day. Some colors take lots of drops to get the right shade, so you may consider the larger size if you decorate a lot (for example, white, black, brown and the darker shades of any color).
how to use soft gel pastes
You can add coloring to batches of buttercream frosting, to royal icing, to fondant and even to cake and cookie batter before baking.
- always start with one drop and add more as needed. While some colors take a lot of drops, you can always add more, you can’t take it away (if you do go too far, add more frosting to lighten).
- for whole batches of frosting, simply add coloring (one drop at a time) to the mixing bowl when the frosting or icing is done and mix with the mixer.
- when making colors for cookie decorating, I usually work with about 3/4 cup to 1 cup of frosting for each color, mixing in a bowl then moving to a prepared frosting bag or a sealed container.
- you MUST use white coloring to make white frosting!!! Don’t try and use plain, uncolored frosting for your white. It won’t look right.
- to get different shades of one color, simply add more drops. Dark colors may take lots and lots of drops.
- you can mix colors, too, for different effects (for example, mix egg yellow and leaf green for lime, mix purple and royal blue for cornflower, etc.)
- the pastes work well to not affect the consistency of the frosting, but for colors that need lots and lots of drops (like white, black or dark colors), you may get a runnier frosting. Just compensate by adding more powdered sugar if needed to thicken.
- to mix coloring into fondant, simply add a couple drops to the top of a wad of fondant and knead very, very well until fully blended. If fondant gets sticky from overhandling, just let sit uncovered for about 15 minutes.
Below is a color chart with more tips on which pastes I use for which frosting colors. Again, this isn’t comprehensive! There are plenty more options.
Click on the chart to enlarge and or CLICK HERE to print on 5 x 7 photo paper with your color printer for a postcard to keep for reference.
UPDATE: how long will they last?
Another reason to love Americolor products? Their customer service is always spot on. Whenever I’ve dealt with the company, they are always quickly responsive. Joan asked in the comments about the shelf life of the soft gel pastes, and I realized I’ve used some of mine for years. Yikes! Well, I asked the company and they quickly responded as follows:
“This product will last many years if stored properly i.e. ambient temperature, away from any source of ultraviolet light. The reference to ultraviolet light is generally for the end user maintaining that any light source will fade certain FDA Certified Food Colors. If this product is stored in its carton the light radiation will not be a factor. Ambient temperature is defined as common range of 18°C (64°F) to 23°C (73°F) Variations in temperature +/- 20° will not affect product. After several years the Soft Gel Paste may break down, if stored properly the color will remain intact, generally recognized as safe for human consumption.”
Phew!!! Looks like I’m in the clear….
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