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Decorating Basics

New to decorating? Help starts here! These basic instructions will guide you to decorating cakes, cupcakes, cookies and more like a pro.

Icing Consistencyicing consistency

If the consistency of your icing is not right, your decorations will not be right either. Just a few drops of liquid can make a great deal of difference in your decorating results. Many factors can affect your icing consistency, such as humidity, temperature, ingredients and equipment. You may need to try using different icing consistencies when decorating to determine what works for you.

As a general guideline, if you are having trouble creating the decorations you want and you feel your icing is too thin, add a little more confectioners' sugar; if you feel your icing is too thick, add a little more liquid. In royal icing recipes, if adding more than 1/2 cup confectioners' sugar to thicken icing, also add 1-2 additional teaspoons of Meringue Powder.

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Stiff icing is used for decorations such as flowers with upright petals, like roses, carnations and sweet peas. Stiff icing also creates your figure piping and string work. If icing is not stiff enough, flower petals will droop. If icing cracks when piped out, icing is probably too stiff. Add light corn syrup to icing used for string work to give strings greater elasticity so they will not break.

Medium icing is used for decorations such as stars, borders and flowers with flat petals. If the icing is too stiff or too thin, you will not get the uniformity that characterizes these decorations. Medium to thin icing is used for icing your cake. Add water or milk to your icing recipe to achieve the correct consistency.

Thin icing is used for decorations such as printing and writing, vines and leaves. Leaves will be pointier, vines will not break and writing will flow easily if you add 1-2 teaspoons light corn syrup to each cup of icing.

Color Chart

icing color chart

When mixing color always mix a small amount of color to experiment. Start with base color and then add very small amounts of secondary color. Be sure to mix enough color for the cakes to be decorated as it is difficult to match an exact color.

  • ANTIQUE GOLD Add just an extremely small touch of Leaf Green to Golden Yellow
  • AQUA Sky Blue and Leaf Green
  • AVOCADO Use Moss Green color
  • BLACK Our paste color or Royal Blue, Christmas Red, Orange and Lemon
  • CHARTREUSE 9 parts Lemon Yellow, 1 part Leaf Green
  • CORAL Creamy peach and a touch of pink or orange and a touch of pink.
  • FLESH Add just an extremely small touch of Copper to white icing. Ivory can also be used. Light pink with a small amount of brown.
  • GRAY Add just a touch of Black to white icing.
  • HUNTER GREEN Kelly Green and a touch of Black
  • JADE Leaf green, Royal Blue and a touch of Black
  • LAVENDER Pink and Violet
  • MARIGOLD Lemon Yellow and Orange
  • MAROON Burgundy and Red Red
  • MAUVE Touch of Burgundy with very little Black.
  • MISTY GREEN Leaf Green, Royal Blue and a touch of Black
  • MOSS GREEN Our paste color or Violet and Lemon Yellow
  • MULBERRY Mix Rose with a touch of Royal Blue.
  • NAVY BLUE Royal Blue and Black
  • PERIWINKLE Royal Blue and Violet
  • PLUM Use violet with a touch of Christmas red.
  • RASPBERRY Pink and Red Red
  • RUST Orange, Red Red and Brown
  • SILVER We do not advise attempting to simulate silver color in icing. Instead, add silver leaves or other silver accessories to the cake.
  • TEAL Use teal paste color or Lemon Yellow and Sky Blue
  • TURQUOISE Sky Blue and Lemon Yellow
  • WARM GOLD Use Golden Yellow with just a touch of brown.

Color Tips

Wilton paste food color is concentrated, giving vivid or deep colors without changing consistency. Add paste color to icing, in small amounts with a clean toothpick or spatula.

  • Deep Colors: When making deep colors, such as black, brown, or red use Wilton paste food colors in larger amounts than normal. It can take as much as 1 oz. paste food color per one cup to obtain deep colors. Deep colors are recommended for accent colors only.
  • Darken and Deepen: Colors deepen in buttercream icings upon setting; color icing 1-2 hours before decorating. Colors fade slightly in royal, boiled or Color Flow icing as they set.
  • Fading Colors: Sunlight or fluorescent light will cause some colors to fade. After the cake is decorated, it is best to keep in a cool room and out of direct light.
  • Lemon Juice: Sometimes lemon juice or cream of tartar will cause colors to change, i. e. violet will become blue. If the recipe has one of these ingredients in it, omit it. In addition, some water (from various geographical areas) tends to cause color changes. If buttercream icing is made with water, use milk instead.
  • Bleeding: Usually, "bleeding" colors on a decorated cake is a result of improper storage. It is not recommended to ice cakes while they are still frozen, as the cake needs to "breathe" while it thaws. Allow the cake to defrost before icing to help prevent the colors from bleeding. An air tight cover on cake stored at room temperature may encourage condensation to form which can cause colors to bleed.
  • Stain removal: All deep colors in nature stain, like blueberries, but none of them are harmful. Paste colors can stain teeth and skin; however, simply washing skin area with soap and warm water will remove color. Bleach can be used on counter tops. Lukewarm water should be used first to spot stained color. Rinse thoroughly, allow to dry. If color is still visible use a commercial cleaner on garment, carpet, upholstery, etc. In the case of a color that has Red 3 as an ingredient use an acid such as vinegar or lemon juice to soak stain first. Proceed with lukewarm water and then allow to dry before using a commercial cleaner.

Notes About Wilton Paste Colors

  • Reds: There are three different reds: Christmas Red, a blue-toned red; Red-Red, an orange toned red; and Red-No Taste, a blue toned red. It can take as much as 1 oz. of red paste color to one cup of icing to get a deep red. When icing is colored deep red, a bitter aftertaste may be detected. Red No-Taste should be used when a large portion of red coloring is used on the cake. Red No Taste does not contain red 3 which causes the bitter taste.
  • Greens: Leaf Green is a brighter green with more yellow than Kelly Green. Both of these greens require very little color, how much color added depends on the tone of the green you want.
  • Pinks: Rose paste color will obtain hot pink with good results. Rose Petal is a soft, muted rose color. Pink is a traditional pastel with a slight yellow tone.
  • Blues: Royal Blue has a red tone. Sky Blue has a yellow tone.
  • Yellows: Daffodil Yellow is an all natural food coloring and does not contain yellow #5 (many people are allergic to this). It currently contains alcohol which all other colors do not have present.
  • Blacks: When white buttercream is tinted dark black, it also can have a bitter taste. Use dark chocolate icing with a small amount of black color added.
  • Browns: Brown color occasionally has a green overtone to it. This usually occurs with the presence of acid in the icing; lemon juice or cream of tartar. Omit the acid if tinting icing brown. Also dissolving brown color in 1/4 teaspoon water before adding to icing will eliminate the green tone.
  • Whites: Used for lightening icing that has been colored too dark. Also use it for making white buttercream made with butter or margarine.

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