Seven Colours of Frosting

Let’s talk about food colouring. I happen to be publishing this on the eve of our Wool n’ Spinning “Year of Colour,” so it seems appropriate!

Colouring cake

You can absolutely use food colouring on your cake as well as your frosting. I love making vanilla cakes with different colours inside. I don’t get a lot of requests for this, but sometimes I offer.

I mean, how can you go wrong when the inside of the cake is as fun as the outside? I get unreasonably excited about this.

But most of the time, I am colouring frosting.

What food colouring to get?

I started out with this little starter box of Americolor gel food coloring. Gel is the way to go! It gets nice bright colours without changing the consistency of your stuff.

As I said, I started out with my little starter kit. But very quickly, I ran out of the primaries and black. So I ordered these huge 13-oz bottles of Americolor sun yellow, bright red, royal blue, and black, and I’m seeing how I can do just mixing those. I ordered directly from Americolor as’s options are limited and expensive.

I’m still learning a lot about colour, which you will absolutely be hearing about very soon. I’m still wrapping my mind around the idea that there exists more than one of each primary. I’m finding that three primaries are not enough! Mostly, I find myself wanting a turquoise, though having a magenta would be good too. Having only a royal blue means that purples are hard to mix, and greens are mixing kind of earthy. So I’m not entirely sure if I’m going to just buy another little starter set so I have those brighter secondary and tertiary colours when I want them, or get larger bottles of turquoise (read: cyan) and magenta.

For example, this Fortnite cake I made recently was coloured only with the primaries listed above. I had to be very careful not to put too much royal blue in, and there was no way I was going to get a nice bright sky blue with it. But I very much liked the earthy, grassy green I got with yellow and royal blue.

Re-whipping for deeper colours

I’ve already noted how colouring a buttercream ahead of time and then re-whipping it after it has been chilled, or even coloring a chilled and re-whipped buttercream, can get you a deeper colour. This can be something that you use to your advantage, or not. Here is a buttercream that I coloured after re-whipping, and it accidentally came out too dark.

The blue on the cake below was intentionally coloured ahead of time and re-whipped to get the brightest possible sky blue.

Generally, I would almost always prefer to use freshly-made buttercream. It just makes my life easier. But sometimes I want to intentionally make ahead for a brighter colour – especially a red. And once in a blue moon, I will have just the right amount of leftover buttercream to complete an order without making new – but in those cases, I have to be really careful to avoid making the colours darker than intended.

Colour dragging

There’s one more technique I’d like to talk about, which is colour dragging. This is 100% a JJR technique. When I first saw him do it, I thought, that doesn’t look very useful. But I’ve used it so much! Especially when I’m left more independence to come up with a design myself, it adds a lot of pizzazz. You just put your final coat (in white, usually) on your cake, then before you even do the crumb coat, you add some colour. Dab a tiny bit of gel colour on the tip of your offset spatula, and dab it around the cake while you spin it. Then use the bench scraper to scrape it around, and you get this great watercolour effect. (Also, I’m noticing that it’s nice to have the pre-mixed colours for this, rather than just primaries.)

Colour dragging on the top as well as the sides is more challenging, but I love how this looks.
I was proud of myself for working out this sunset effect by colour dragging with orange and red on top of a solid yellow final coat.

You can get a related effect in your piping if you dab a bit of gel colouring inside your piping bag before adding your frosting.

The cake I made for Christmas, which you’ll hear more about over the next several days, included many of these elements. I was very pleased with the solid night-sky colour I got, with lots of royal blue and a touch of black, and with intentionally re-whipped frosting. I used colour dragging on the bottom layer to get more of a sunset effect.

How do you like to play with colour when you decorate? What have you found most effective and convenient? Are there any dye brands or hues you really like?

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