Colouring buttercream is something that many struggle with at first. Read on for helpful advice to get it right every time!
As butter is one of the key ingredients of buttercream (the clue is in the name!), it’s very common for buttercream or butter icing to be a pale shade of yellow. Most of the time, this is absolutely fine! But if you want to colour your buttercream this can sometimes get in the way, causing blue to look a shade of green, red to look somewhat pink and black to be a cloudy grey.
One of the best ways to get a vibrant buttercream colour is to first start with white – this isn't the case for black buttercream, which you can find more details about later on. Once you've neutralised the yellow colour in the buttercream and have a white base to work from, your buttercream will take colour a lot easier.
To make white buttercream, the first thing to think about is the butter you’re using. Some premium brands are paler in colour than others and will therefore make a paler buttercream and be a great starting point. Have a look around to see which one works best for you.
1. Once you have your butter and are ready to make buttercream, let it come to room temperature as this will make it really easy to cream with the icing sugar. If it’s too cold and therefore too hard, it won’t be a nice spreading or piping consistency.
2. Cut the butter into cubes and pop it in your mixer bowl, then beat it on a high speed for about 4-5 minutes. This will aerate the butter and create a paler colour. You'll see the butter lighten in colour as you mix.
3. Next, add in your icing sugar and make your buttercream as usual.
I use 250g (9oz) butter to 500g (1lb 1oz) icing sugar. I don’t tend to add liquid at this stage as it can make the buttercream too soft.
Keep mixing at a medium speed until you get a nice consistency. You want a firmer buttercream for piping onto cupcakes so they hold their shape and a softer buttercream for filling and covering cakes so it doesn’t rip the cake apart. If it’s too hard, the butter may have needed a little more time to come to room temperature, but you can put the mix in the microwave in 10-second bursts until you get the consistency needed for your cake.
4. To neutralise the natural yellow colouring in the buttercream, add a TINY amount of purple. Yep, purple!
For best results, you need to use a concentrated gel food colouring available from specialist cake shops. I don’t recommend using supermarket colours for this as they aren’t strong enough. The liquid ones are mostly water and even the new ‘gel-like’ colours aren’t pigmented enough to get a good result without using the whole tube and changing the consistency of the buttercream completely.
You only need a tiny amount of purple. What you can see on the cocktail stick in the picture is about right for the amount of buttercream I had, but I'd start off with an even smaller amount. The key is to add just enough to see the yellow start to turn white, we don’t want purple buttercream (that said, even if you DO want purple buttercream, I'd still advise making it white first).
5. Once you've reached the desired white colour, your buttercream is then ready to use on any white cakes you like! If a vibrant colour is what you seek, read on...
For any other colour of buttercream aside from white or black, I highly recommend using professional, concentrated gel food colouring available from specialist cake shops. As I’ve said, cheaper liquid colours aren’t going to give you the showstopping colours you are after. Spend a little more money on a concentrated colour – not only will the results be better but they will last much longer.
Once you've made your white buttercream as described above, you can then make any other colour you like! If you're making strong colours like red, dark green or dark blue I recommend purchasing the ‘extra’ colourings that you can get, as these are even more pigmented. It’s a case of using a bit of colour at a time and mixing well until you get the shade you’re after.
Buttercream, as with sugarpaste, ‘develops’ over time. Get close to the colour you want, then wrap the bowl of buttercream in clingfilm and leave it in the fridge for a few hours or overnight – the colour will deepen over time. Take it out of the fridge, pop it in the microwave in 10-second bursts and mix well until it is a spreadable consistency.
Whether it’s for a space-themed cake, Halloween, a specific colour theme or just because, black buttercream can look stunning. However, as it’s right at the end of the colour spectrum, it can be a tricky colour to achieve without using loads of food colouring which leaves a bit of a funny taste, but still using enough colour so you don’t end up with grey!
This is the best way I’ve found to get black buttercream while still having it super tasty and firm enough to decorate with.
1. As above, cut your butter into cubes and pop it in your mixer bowl, then beat it on a high speed for about 4-5 minutes. This will aerate the butter and create a neutral colour.
2. Next, add in your icing sugar and make your buttercream as usual.
3. Then, we’re going to turn it into a chocolate buttercream as it’s a lot easier to get from brown to black than yellow to black! Add 100g (3½oz) melted and cooled dark chocolate to your buttercream and 50g (1¾oz) cocoa powder.
4. Once you have a nice chocolate buttercream, then it’s time to add the colour. With black (as well as red, dark green and navy), I advise using the ‘black extra’ colour. Add a small amount, then keep adding until you have achieved your desired colour. Remember, the buttercream will develop and deepen, so give it time in between adding colour.