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How to Color Icing

A little food coloring can transform icing into an artist's medium for decking out cupcakes, cookies, cakes, and more with color, from a pastel palette to wild and vibrant hues.

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The first step to coloring your confections is to choose the base, either icing or frosting. Is there a difference? The answer is debatable, as these terms are often used interchangeably. But usually frosting is fluffy and holds its swirly shape when spread, and icing is thinner and a bit glossier. You can also color a glaze, which is thinner yet and slightly translucent. For frosting, you can tint buttercream, cream cheese, and white frostings. For recipes, see below.

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How to Make Decorating Icing

  • Using a sifter or fine-mesh sieve, sift enough powdered sugar into a medium bowl to measure 3 cups sifted powdered sugar.

Stir in enough milk (about 3 to 5 tablespoons) to make the icing piping consistency or other desired consistency.

  • Color the icing as directed below. Makes about 1 cup icing, enough to decorate 5 dozen cookies.

How to Make Royal Icing

This icing is easy to color and pipe, plus it sets up firmly when dry. It is used for decorating gingerbread cookies and for piping decorations and writing onto any kind of cookie or cake.

  • In a large bowl stir together 1-3/4 cups powdered sugar, 4-1/2 teaspoons meringue powder, and 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar. Add 1/4 cup warm water and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla. Beat with an electric mixer on low speed until combined. Beat on high speed for 7 to 10 minutes or until mixture is very stiff.

Tip: Meringue powder is a mixture of pasteurized dried egg whites, sugar, and edible gums. Look for it in the baking aisle of your supermarket or at a specialty food store.

  • Color the icing as directed below. Makes about 2-1/2 cups icing.

For piping and cake decorating tips, see

How to Color Frosting

There are two ways to add color to icing or frosting.

Paste or gel food coloring: These highly concentrated food colorings are available in a many colors and shades. Look for them at hobby stores and specialty cooking stores. A little goes a long way when using these types of food coloring, so start with just a speck. To use, twirl a toothpick into the coloring and then into the icing or frosting and mix well. If desired, add more color a little at a time.

Liquid food coloring: Readily available at most grocery stores, liquid food colorings generally come in four color options: red, yellow, green, and blue. To use, stir drops of food coloring into the icing or frosting until you achieve the desired shade. You can also mix colors to get the color or shade you want.

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