Icing Your Cupcakes and Using Colors

When it comes to frosting (or icing) cupcakes, you basically have three choices, just as in frosting a cake. The first and easiest choice for non-gourmet-level cupcakes is to use canned frosting. Canned frosting, especially at room-temperature, is easy to work with and it takes both paste and dye coloring well. The two traditional choices for icing are based on basic recipes of buttercream and royal icing. Buttercream is considered to taste the best, while royal, according to the Wilton company, dries harder and thus works best for flowers, trims and if you are going to be photographing your cupcakes. (They’ll last longer under hot lights.) Consistency of the icing is not as critical if you’re not planning elaborate designs.

If you’re making icing from scratch, it’s best to use an electric mixer. Homemade icing will keep in the refrigerator for about a week in an airtight container, but beat it again before use. Wilton recommends covering freshly made icing with a damp cloth if you’re not using it right away.

To tint or color your cupcake icing, add a little color at a time to avoid making the color too deep. Paste food colorings (sold in little jars for about $1.50 to $2) are concentrated and thus much more vivid than the dye drops you may be used to from coloring Easter eggs. Additionally, you could use a lot of liquid food colorings and still never achieve the desired color, and you may thin your icing too much in the process. Here at Easycupcakes.com, we use both paste and liquid food colorings, depending on what color we want and what supplies we have on hand. If you’re using paste food coloring, use a toothpick (a new one each time) to add a little at a time. You can easily make icing darker, but it’s very hard to make it lighter once you’ve gone too far. Buttercream frosting might darken a bit after a couple of hours. Some cupcake makers prefer to tint a small amount of icing first, and then mix that tinted icing into the rest of the batch. Be sure you mix enough of the color you want! It’s pretty much impossible to match a color exactly. Also, if you want brown frosting, it’s easiest to just use chocolate icing, either store-bought or made with cocoa powder.

Random tips: Sometimes red food coloring adds a bitter aftertaste; if you’re using a lot of red consider masking it with an extract or other flavoring, or buy “no-taste” red paste. If you’re using purple food coloring, Wilton suggests that you can keep the icing from turning blue by using milk instead of water in your buttercream frosting.