Dye-Free Cake Decorating

Star Wars Angry Birds birthday cake with naturally dyed frosting.

For our family, the most challenging times to eat dye-free are holidays and birthdays.  We’ve been conditioned to think brighter is better.  More colors = more fun.  I think that’s the main reason people think our kids are missing out on “the fun of childhood” when we turn down artificially colored things.

But here’s one of the great things about kids – if it’s sweet, they think it’s a treat.  🙂

I LOOOOOOVE birthdays.  And holidays.  And basically any occasion for which you could throw a party and celebrate something with loved ones.  Decorating, baking, organizing, friends, family.  All the things I love!  Naturally, I had to figure out a way to continue to incorporate some colors into our celebratory foods.  Especially the kids’ birthday cakes.

I want to share with you my tried and true natural food dyes for frosting, fondant, and batter.  They’ll work on any of them. Keep in mind the colors will not be as bright as artificial colors, but I’ve never heard a complaint about the shade of these natural dyes.

This is the basic vanilla buttercream frosting recipe that I always use.  It’s quick, easy, and you can even make flavor variations like orange, almond, and cinnamon if that’s how you like to roll.

If you haven’t yet tried making marshmallow fondant, I highly recommend it.  It’s really not that hard.  Stacy, my sweet friend and owner of The Welch Cupcakery, has a great Marshmallow Fondant Tutorial.  She graciously walked me through the process before she had the tutorial. Check out her blog, and learn from the master.  She has tons of great tips on cake making.  🙂

Marshmallow fondants colored with raspberries, carrots, turmeric, and chocolate.

Prepared marshmallow fondants chilling in the fridge.  I love things you can do ahead of time!

Used the fondant to make Star Wars Angry Birds cupcake toppers for my son's birthday party.  Not too shabby for winging it.  :)

Used the fondant to make Star Wars Angry Birds cupcake toppers for my son’s birthday party. (Please don’t judge my artistic skills too harshly. The kids thought they were cool…)

List of Natural Food Dyes

RED/PINK – Raspberries or Beets.  (I think beets can leave a bit of an odd aftertaste, but some people don’t notice it.  Probably depends on how much you’re using, but I prefer raspberries.  You won’t get a deep red using these natural colorants, but you’ll get a pinkish red if you use a lot.  Use a little and you’ll get a nice light pink color – perfect for princess cakes!)

How to: Raspberries – Put a handful of fresh or thawed raspberries in some cheesecloth and squeeze the juice out into a bowl.  If you don’t have cheese cloth, you can squish your berries up in a bowl and stir in a little hot water, or heat the berries in some water in a saucepan on the stove.  Try to filter out any chunks of berry before adding it to frosting or fondant.  Beets – Same as raspberries.

ORANGE – Carrot Juice.  (Usually found with all the other health juices, like Naked Juice, Bolthouse Farms, etc.  Since it only comes in larger bottles, and I don’t care to drink it straight, I usually freeze what’s left in ice cube trays and store it for next time.)

How to: Pour it straight into your frosting/fondant/batter a little at a time until you reach the desired color.  Too much juice may make buttercream frosting a little chunky.

YELLOW – Turmeric.  (Found with the spices.)

How to: Sprinkle a little turmeric directly into your frosting/fondant/batter.  A little goes a long ways.  Too much will give it a strange aftertaste, so err on the “light” side.

GREEN – Avocado, Matcha Tea Powder, or Green Health Juice.  (Matcha can be expensive and vary in color. Yours doesn’t have to be the most expensive, but just make sure you’re not buying a brown one.  Or, obviously, your food won’t turn green.  Personally, I dug the avocado frosting I made, but my husband wasn’t a huge fan.  My favorite thing to use is Green Juice, like Naked Juice’s Green Machine.)

How to: Avocado – Smash it up until it’s a very smooth consistency, then add it a little at a time to whatever you’re coloring. I used about half an avocado to color a batch of buttercream frosting that covered about two dozen cupcakes.  Matcha – Add the powder directly into your frosting/fondant/batter.  It tasted a little like tea, but nobody seemed to mind it.  Green Juice – Pour it straight into frosting/fondant/batter.  Too much juice may make buttercream frosting a little chunky.

BLUERed Cabbage.

How to: Boil sliced up red cabbage leaves in some water for about 15 minutes.  Strain out the leaves, then let it boil down (reduce) until it is a syrupy consistency.  It will be purple, and you can use it as is for purple dye.  To make it blue add in tiny pinches of baking soda until it turns blue.  I’ve heard if you put in too much baking soda it’ll turn green, but I haven’t tried this myself (plus too much baking soda seems like it might taste weird).  You don’t need much of this syrup to make a good blue.  The rest can be frozen in ice cube trays and used another time.

PURPLE – Blueberries or Red Cabbage.

How to: Blueberries – Same as raspberries/beets under RED. Red Cabbage – See approach used in BLUE.

BROWN – Chocolate Powder.

How to: Stir chocolate powder into your frosting/fondant/batter a little at a time until you reach your desired shade of brown.  Don’t be afraid to go dark….there’s no such thing as too much chocolate.  😉

WHITE – Add nothing.  Buttercream frosting is off-white, and marshmallow fondant is bright white.

BLACK AND GRAY – Activated Charcoal Powder. (Sounds gross, but doesn’t really taste like anything.  And it is totally safe to eat.)

How to: Break open a capsule of Activated Charcoal and pour it into your frosting/fondant/batter a little at a time until you get your desired shade.

 

India Tree makes some great dye-free sprinkles.

India Tree makes some great dye-free sprinkles.

If you are looking for an easy way to add color, or maybe just a little extra flair, to your cakes you should try these dye-free sprinkles from India Tree.  We’ve had ours for two years now and still have about half a jar of each left. They seem kind of pricy at first, but they’ll last you a long time.  Some dye-free luxuries are worth it.  We use them on cupcakes, cakes, ice cream, and even our homemade yogurt.  Sprinklesssssss!

Have fun playing with your natural food colors!

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