When your frosting #goals include deep, dark color — maroon red, say, or jewel-toned purple — you're going to need a few tricks to get the results you want. Because if you mess up you might end up with a dull tone, a runny or sticky frosting, or an icky food-coloring aftertaste. Read on to learn our secrets.
1. Start with the right kind of food coloring
In our experience, gel or paste food coloring is better than the liquid type.
The problem is that liquid food coloring has more water in it than the other kinds, which can affect the consistency of your frosting or fondant. Use too much and you might end up with something that's sloppy and unstable or sticky and unusable.
In terms of color, we generally recommend avoiding natural brands, as the ones we've tested left us with a dull, greenish or brownish tone.
2. Keep your flavors on point
When you want a dark-hued frosting, our best hack is to start with a chocolate buttercream (as long as you're OK with the chocolate flavor, of course). That way you can use less food coloring and are less likely to get any after-taste.
Secondly, always use high-quality natural extracts and essences to flavor your frosting. Avoid anything labeled "flavoring" — these are more likely to be imitation. For vanilla, a concentrated vanilla bean paste should be your default. You don't want to go overboard, but a more intense flavor will make your frosting taste better no matter how much coloring is in it!
3. Be patient
The secret to really deepening your color: plastic wrap and a little time.
After mixing your buttercream or frosting, simply cover the bowl with plastic wrap, making sure it's airtight. Then set it aside for 30 minutes to an hour or two. Colors tend to deepen a bit over time.
4. Become a mix master
You may think that just adding one food coloring to your chocolate buttercream is plenty, but you can create richer, more complex colors if you're willing to mix together a few.
As an example, let's say you want to make red buttercream. Start by mixing red food coloring into chocolate buttercream and letting the frosting hang out in a bowl for a while, as above. Then create the exact shade of red you want by mixing in another color. Remember to use just a little at a time, stirring it in well before adding more.
Add bright pink.
Add dark brown.
5. Become your own fixer
When you over-dye your frosting, you have a few options for correcting it, depending on how much you've overshot the mark.
If your buttercream is almost black and tastes a little odd, then our advice is to start again and take it a little easier on the colors! It pays to be cautious.
If your frosting is a few shades darker than you hoped, add untinted buttercream (the same you used for the base) one tablespoon at a time. Mix it in well and check the color, adding a little more if need be. But move slowly: Use too much and your frosting might become too light.