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Frosting. It’s delicious. It’s pretty. And, as with sausage, you don’t really want to know how it’s made. Frosting basically consists of two things: fat and sugar. No wonder it tastes so good.

My preference is for a butter-based icing, such as the caramel version I recently used. But for piped decorating such as the Klown Kake, a bakery-style, shortening-based buttercream has the right texture and a stable consistency, and it also offers a bright white base for mixing up vibrant colors like this.


There are several tricks to using multicolored frosting. The first is planning the colors you need. For the Klown Kake I went too far with shading, which didn’t work with such a small layout. That doesn’t mean you can’t adapt a complicated illustration (like this mallard), just that the scale of image-to-cake-surface matters. That mallard is more than twice as large as any of the other cakes shown.

When working with colors, make your frosting a day in advance. This ensures that it has time to set up again, and it allows the food coloring to settle. Plus, the more colors you have, the longer it takes to mix them all up, and you still need time for decorating.

I use high-potency food dyes from a local cake shop, but Wilton gel colors are strong as well and available at Michaels. (Does it bother anyone else that “Michaels” doesn’t have an apostrophe in its name?) If you need to mix a highly saturated shade like bright red or black, it won’t seem dark enough right away, but your color will intensify overnight, so check it again the next day.

The hardest part about mixing an array of hues is keeping your tools and kitchen clean. It’s messy work. The food coloring stains. And the frosting gets grease everywhere. Wear clothes you don’t care about (not that nice apron), and use paper towels instead of linens. You’ll need as many spatulas as you own, and enough lidded containers to store your rainbow of frostings.

Before even starting with color, set aside a supply of pure white large enough to cover what you’ll need for the cake, and also to re-mix any colors that go wrong. Then divide the rest of the frosting into appropriately sized portions for each range of colors (greens, reds, blues, etc). Put everything into the refrigerator until you’re ready to work with a specific hue. I also like to have a pint glass of hot water on the counter and a bowl of hot water in the sink. This gives you a place to dump your tools without spreading dye and grease all over.

Mixed Frosting

Grease is probably the worst thing that you can pour down your drain, but you won’t be able to avoid it when working with buckets of frosting. During both the mixing and decorating steps, you can keep your drain healthy and yourself sane by remaining organized and cleaning up regularly. Wipe large blobs of frosting from bowls and utensils and throw them directly into the trash. Rinse grease from your spatulas and mixer parts by soaking and running them in very hot water. Keep the water running for a few minutes to prevent build-up, and then follow with a soapy washing.

Whatever you do, DO NOT put frosting-coated items in the dishwasher. Not only will they not come clean, but they’ll distribute grease all over everything else and you’ll wind up washing them by hand anyway.

When mixing a lot of colors, I usually work from light to dark. And you can move from yellow to green to blue without having to clean everything scrupulously. But whenever you make a dramatic switch, you really need to clean everything off to avoid color contamination. Switching from blue to red, for example—unless you’re making purple. And definitely leave the black for last.

You can also take a fairly loose approach to parceling off similar shades of the same color. For example, if you have three blues that are based on the same hue, start by mixing a big batch of the lightest, save what you need, and darken the rest.

One reason I always have too much frosting left over is that you need enough in your piping tube to generate consistent pressure. So even if your cake only requires a few tablespoons of one color, you’ll need a half-cup minimum if you want to pipe it out. Still, I wildly overestimated the clown’s requirements last time, and I’m still sitting on oodles of frosting.


Fortunately, frosting will keep in the freezer for months. Blue holiday cupcakes anyone?


From → Crafty, Desserts, Food

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