The Secret to Red Icing

Leighton Mickey Cake

Ugh, red icing. I am asked in almost every basic cake decorating class that I teach how to make a true red buttercream icing. Making the bold colors can be a pain in the neck. You end up using way more gel color than originally anticipated and your other ingredients can greatly affect the consistency and quality of the finished product. We will take a look at some of these things and how to remedy them here.

The Taste:

Many people, including myself, can’t tolerate the taste of red icing. I can’t eat any dark or bold color icing. YUCK! I can taste the color. To me, the icing tastes like chemicals and has a horribly bitter aftertaste. I have to fight the urge to immediately spit out the cake and scrape my mouth out with a squeegee.  It is absolutely intolerable for me. I have been left feeling sick to my stomach from eating boldly colored icing. Because of people like me, companies have created no taste colors. Wilton, for example, has a no taste red that you can purchase at most major craft stores. I highly recommend using this if you plan on achieving a true red, something like for a Mickey Mouse or Christmas theme project. Wilton recommends using 1 tsp per 1 cup of icing. And remember that the icing will darken as it sits and the icing rests.

People always ask me “is it really no taste”? My answer is mostly it is no taste.  I can still taste some of the chemical but it is nothing in comparison to using the normal gel color. I would highly recommend you use the no taste red. If you find that the bitterness is still there then you can add some more CLEAR flavoring to it. I would start with 1/4 tsp at a time until it tastes the way you like. Colored flavoring can slightly affect the consistency and quality of the icing.

Constantly Inconsistent

I experienced a cake-tastrophe once with red icing (pictured above). It was a larger cake, completely covered in buttercream, and the client wanted it completed red, a true bold Mickey Mouse red. I used an entire container of no taste red AND half of Wilton’s Red-Red icing color. Because of the amount I used, coupled with poor water quality of my city water, and probably the quality of the shortening, my icing didn’t hold up. It was drying out weird, crumbling, I couldn’t fix any mistakes because it would just make them worse.  It was every decorator’s nightmare. When making a true red or any other bold color remember to use clean pure water or milk and shortening that isn’t tinted at all like butter flavored shortening. These can greatly affect your icing.

Plan Ahead

Try to make your icing 2-3 days ahead of when you will be decorating your cake. The icing will darken as it sits. This will give you plenty of opportunity to tweak it and make adjustments as needed. And if the batch is a complete flop, then you have time to start over and make some more.

Adverse Effects

Red color can potentially stain someones teeth. Be mindful of this. If you are making a cake for a client then warn them ahead of time. I don’t know if a bride and groom would want their guests red teeth in every reception photo forever memorializing the effects of the wedding cake.


NY Mets Baseball

Pre-colored Icing Tubes:

If your project will only need a small amount of red, like the stitches in the baseball above, then a beneficial purchase are pre-made/pre-colored tube icing. The opening of the tubes will fit a piping tip and coupler ring! Extremely convenient where small amounts are needed.

Mickey and Minnie Cuppies

Color Mist:

Color Mist  is another awesome product that Wilton offers (other suppliers make similar products as well). It is basically spray paint for cakes. You can spray this around your cake to tint it. It does take a few coats to achieve a bright bold color. I would recommend playing with it on a cupcake or other area first to get the hang of using it.


I love to use my airbrush. I am not proficient in it but I do love to use it. You can add so much depth and beauty to your finished cake by airbrushing.

If you have any tips you’d like to share on preparing bold colored icing then I would love to hear them! Please leave a comment below. Good luck everyone in your icing endeavors.  I hope these little tips and tricks will help you in completing your projects!


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