How to Get Super Red Buttercream Frosting. If you're looking for a bright and vibrant Super Red Buttercream Frosting to top your cake, then you've come to the right place! This recipe is easy to make and I'm sharing tried and true tips to get really bright red frosting every time.
With simple ingredients, the right red food coloring, and a few good practices, you'll be able to solve this neverending problem of the pink, coral, and not-so-red, red frosting.
I even have a couple of bonus tips for going from bright red to dark red frosting, if that's your goal.
Originally published January 2017, republished September 2023
With Christmas, then Valentine's Day just around the corner, the need for bright red buttercream will shoot up and the questions will start rolling in. Why? Because red buttercream can be problematic
This is one of those problems everybody in the cake decorating world has had problems with at one time or another. In fact, for years I struggled with this myself!
I hope by sharing these simple tips, maybe some of you won't have to struggle as much as I did! So let's get to it!
- How to Make Red Frosting
- Red Buttercream Recipe Pro-Tips
- #1 Use Gel Food Coloring to Make Red Frosting
- #2 Start with white or light frosting (or pink... keep reading!)
- #3 Plan Ahead: Make Your Red Frosting A Day Early
- #4 How to Make Red Food Coloring Darker
- How to store Red Buttercream Frosting
- More Buttercream Recipes:
When you're figuring out how to make red icing, the first thing you need to do is make sure you have quality ingredients.
- Butter, room temperature - I almost always use salted butter, but unsalted would work just as well. You may want to add a pinch of salt if using unsalted butter to offset the sweet a little bit.
- Vegetable shortening* - I use Crisco and only Crisco. You can also skip this and use all butter if you want, but the frosting will not be as stable.
- Powdered sugar (aka confectioners sugar)
- Water or milk - this is used to thin the frosting to the consistency you need. I mostly use milk but water does the job as well! You could also use heavy cream if you want.
- Vanilla extract - don't skip out on using quality vanilla extract, or homemade vanilla extract if you have it. This really make the frosting so much more delicious!
- Butter vanilla - this is optional but I swear it's what makes my clients go crazy for my buttercream. It really makes the buttercream smell so great and enhances the butter flavor!
- Pink gel food coloring - this is optional, see pro tips below
- Tulip Red gel food coloring (or other options listed in the post)
Butter & Vegetable Shortening: this recipe calls for equal amounts of butter and shortening. For super stable (in heat) frosting, you can use all shortening. OR you can use all butter and skip the shortening if you want. The buttercream won't be as stable but will be even more delicious!
Tulip Red Gel Food Coloring: as mentioned below, you can use other gel colors if you like - such as Americolor Super Red or other brands of red. As long as it's a gel color, I'm confident you can make it work.
Want to avoid the bitter aftertaste that comes from some red food coloring? Use Red Powdered Food Coloring.
Another substitution for the red gel coloring is a red powdered food coloring. This will yield a gorgeous red buttercream but be warned, you will need a LOT of the powder. However, as mentioned above, it has no bitter aftertaste, so that's a big "pro" for powdered colors.
How to Make Red Frosting
The recipe below is my vanilla buttercream recipe + the instructions to make it red! Let's get started so you'll know how to get red buttercream.
- Add the butter and shortening to the mixing bowl and cream together. I prefer to do this in my Bosch mixer but you could use any stand mixer or even a hand mixer if that's what you've got!
- Scrape down the sides to be sure that it's completely mixed together.
- Add the vanilla and butter vanilla flavors to the creamed mixture and mix again.
- Slowly add in the confectioner's sugar, a little at a time until completely incorporated. This will take time and might make a mess (unless you use a Bosch Mixer). Again, scrape down the sides of the bowl often. When all the sugar is added, your frosting will be super thick and dry.
- At this point, start adding tablespoons of milk or water to "thin" the frosting to the desired texture. I usually use milk, but either works just fine. I make fairly thick frosting to cover and fill cakes and make it slightly thinner to decorate.
- If you're starting with pink, add pink gel coloring and mix until you get a bright pink color.
- Add a generous squirt (start with approximately a tablespoon) of red gel coloring to the frosting and mix until well incorporated.
- Cover the frosting with plastic wrap or place it in an airtight container and allow the color to deepen and develop for a few hours or overnight at room temperature.
- You can use this immediately or keep it in the fridge in an airtight bowl for up to 2 weeks. It can also be frozen for several weeks. When you're using it out of the refrigerator, make sure it's completely thawed and rewhip it, adding milk as needed to get the desired texture again.
Watch me make vanilla buttercream in the video below... with NO powdered sugar cloud, thanks to my Bosch. After finishing the frosting, follow the instructions to add red and create the beautiful red frosting you're looking for!
Red Buttercream Recipe Pro-Tips
Usually, the scenario goes like this... You start mixing in the red food coloring and your red icing looks pink. Or coral. You add more and it doesn't seem to be getting any better. It feels impossible to get red icing.
The frosting is still a pink-orange-coral color. You add more coloring. Maybe your frosting starts to get runny. Your buttercream starts to separate. You panic.
I've been there. But the one-product solution to this problem is very simple.
So first up - the most important thing:
#1 Use Gel Food Coloring to Make Red Frosting
I know, I know - most people are just gah-gah about Americolor Super Red. And honestly, I like that particular red and still use it for some of my cake-decorating ventures.
But Tulip Red is a much better color in my opinion to get bright red buttercream.
Now I'm sure other decorators will have different opinions or tips about getting a good, bright red, but this is it for me.
Why gel coloring? It's more concentrated than liquid food coloring so you get more "bang for your buck" without ruining the consistency of your frosting.
Liquid Food Coloring
DO NOT USE THIS. Liquid red coloring is great for a red velvet cake but not great for coloring frosting red.
I know liquid food coloring, which is water-based, is probably the easiest to get your hands on because it's sold in almost every grocery store on the cake and baking aisle. But trust me - you do not want to try to use liquid food coloring for coloring frosting. The colors are diluted and not nearly strong enough to give you a bright, vibrant red without making your frosting runny.
#2 Start with white or light frosting (or pink... keep reading!)
You can also jump-start your red buttercream by starting with pink frosting. Whether you make it pink on purpose or want to use up leftover pink - this gives your frosting a good base to start from.
This is a tip I mentioned in my book, Cake Decorating for Beginners. I like to use Americolor Electric Pink - especially when going for a really vibrant bright red. Americolor Deep Pink will also work but it seems to have a slightly purple hue, so don't use too much!
#3 Plan Ahead: Make Your Red Frosting A Day Early
As with any deep/dark color combined with buttercream, you'll want to mix it up and take plenty of time for the color to develop. It will always get darker with time!
Start with white buttercream (or pink as mentioned above, if you like). Mix in red until you get it barely red enough... like a medium red? Then cover it and let it sit for an hour or two for the color to develop. If it's still not red enough, add more and again... let it sit as long as you can.
I actually prefer to make my red buttercream a day before to really give it time to develop. I'll go back to it every 1-2 hours and add more here and there until I get a true, bright red buttercream. For the red buttercream cake above, it wasn't quite deep enough when I finished it, but after chilling overnight, it was perfect!
#4 How to Make Red Food Coloring Darker
Use Americolor Super Red
For those of you trying to figure out how to make deep red frosting, I've got you hooked up too! The first tip for how to make red frosting darker (and the easiest way to make red buttercream darker) is to use Americolor Super Red gel coloring.
My problem with Super Red gel coloring is that I'll think I have the perfect red color, then I come back a few hours later and the red has gotten too dark... too deep. However, this is not a problem at all if you're trying to make deep, dark red icing.
You can see the final color when using Super Red Gel coloring on this Raggedy Ann cake:
I took this picture the day I finished the cake and you can see already the red buttercream frosting is darker than the nose/mouth. But when I got up the next morning for delivery, it was really, really dark and I was quite disappointed.
But if that's what you're looking for - Super Red is for you!
With Tulip Red, even when it sits, it will get a little darker or richer, but it won't go super dark on you. But if you have a choice between Super Red and Tulip Red, Americolor Tulip Red is your best bet to get bright red buttercream (vs dark red buttercream)!
Use a Dot of Black Gel Coloring
Another tip you might try if trying to figure out how to make dark red icing is to use black gel coloring! But only the tiniest amount.
Grab your red frosting and then add the tiniest dot of black gel coloring. And I do mean tiny. Like, use the point of a toothpick to add an itty-bitty dot of black.
Mix it up and let it rest and develop for at least an hour, then check it again before adding more. You can very quickly end up with maroon frosting or even a muddied brown-gray-reddish mess if you add too much black gel so be very careful!
But if done right, you can end up with a darker, richer red buttercream by just mixing in the tiniest dot of black.
Microwave Hack to Make Red Buttercream Frosting Darker
If you want to make red frosting darker or richer and you've tried other tips, here's one secret hack that's almost guaranteed to work. But it does have a downside! Try microwaving (and melting) a small portion of your frosting, then mixing it back into the whole (see more detailed tip above).
How to store Red Buttercream Frosting
Red Buttercream can be kept it in the fridge in an airtight bowl for up to 2 weeks. It can also be frozen for several weeks.
When you're using the red out of the refrigerator, make sure it's completely thawed and rewhip, adding milk as needed to get the desired texture again.
If you are using it out of the freezer, thaw it overnight in the refrigerator, then set it out to come up to room temperature before mixing it to a smooth consistency again.
One issue you might encounter after refrigerating or freezing your frosting is air bubbles. Use a rubber spatula to stir it and smooth out the air pockets.
First, this is not limited to red, but I hear you. Any colored frosting that has a lot of artifical coloring will possibly have a bitter aftertaste - red and black are particularly prone to this. So, can you avoid it?
Yes, as mentioned above, you can use powdered food colors and avoid the bitterness. Just be prepared to use a lot of powder.
Another option is to buy a "no taste" gel food coloring. Both Wilton and Chefmaster offer these. Chefmaster actually has a Tulip Red (not taste) that would be the first I would try! I don't have any personal experience with these but they might be worth a shot!
In short, you haven't added enough red food coloring yet - or you haven't added the correct (ie., gel or powder) red coloring. Follow all of the tips in this post for the BEST red buttercream.
More Buttercream Recipes:
I'd love to hear your thoughts. Have you struggled with this? Do you have any other tips or thoughts? Leave a comment!Print