How to Make Dark-Colored Frostings That Taste As Good As They Look

dark red buttercream swirl

When your frosting needs to be a deep, dark color — like a luscious burgundy or jewel-toned purple — there are a few important tricks you want up your sleeve to get the results you want. Otherwise, you might end up with a dull tone, a runny or sticky frosting, or an icky food-coloring aftertaste. Here’s what you need to know to master those deep hues.

1. Start With the Right Food Coloring

bottle of food coloring

In our experience, gel or paste food coloring is better than the liquid variety. Liquid food coloring contains more water, 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.

When it comes to color, it’s best to avoid natural brands, as they are more prone to producing a dull, greenish or brown tone.

2. Keep Your Flavors on Point

brown buttercream

When you want a dark-hued frosting, start with a chocolate buttercream. (As long as you’re OK with the chocolate flavor, of course.) That will allow you to use less food coloring, so it’s less likely you’ll get any weird aftertaste.

It’s also best to always use high-quality natural extracts and essences when flavoring 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 regardless of how much coloring is in it.

3. Be Patient

The secret to really deepening your color: plastic wrap and time. After mixing your buttercream or frosting, simply cover the bowl with plastic wrap so it’s airtight. Set it aside for 30 minutes to two hours, depending on how much time you have. The colors will deepen over time.

4. Become a Mix Master

You may think 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 in a few.

For 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 noted above. Then, to create the exact shade of red you want, mix in another color:

  • For cherry red, add bright pink
  • For maroon, add dark brown
  • For burgundy, add purple
  • Remember to use just a little at a time, stirring it in well before adding more.

    dark buttercream

    5. Fix Any Mistakes

    When you over-dye your frosting, there are a few ways to fix it, depending on how far you’ve gone off-track.

    If your buttercream is almost black and tastes a little odd, start again and take it a little easier on the colors. It pays to be cautious, so only add a little at a time.

    If your frosting is a few shades darker than you hoped, add plain buttercream (the same you used for the base) one tablespoon at a time. Gently mix until well combined, then check the color and add more if needed.

    Photos by Juniper Cakery

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