Though bright artificial colors are a critical ingredient in decorated, iced cookies, I almost hesitate to bring them up, because I know there are more than a few folks out there who experience acute anxiety around them. This anxiety frequently arises from outdated concerns about safety, though some people dislike them on purely aesthetic grounds. I’ll speak to some of those issues shortly. For now, though, I want to discuss different coloring products and their relative merits.
At the entry level, you’ve got the little plastic bottles of primary colors one can find in the grocery store. I don’t want to slam these, since I’ve used them for years to good effect. They are however rather limited in their uses, since they don’t mix terribly well. Sure, you can make a green or an orange fairly easily, but try to fine tune much more than that and you move toward the brown family with alarming speed.
The next step up is gel colors, and for the home baker, they’re truly hard to beat. You won’t find them in grocery stores, but rather in specialty shops, candy making supply stores, and the like. The great thing about gel colors is that they deliver a lot of color per drop, but because they come in squeeze bottles, they’re manageable in a way powders and pastes aren’t. Another nice thing about gels is that they come in a fairly wide range of colors. My local kitchen equipment shop carries about 30 different ones, which is plenty, at least for me.
Last stop on the color train is paste colors, which are strictly pro gear. This doesn’t stop a lot of high-end home equipment purveyors from carrying them, but I caution you that unless you’re used to using pastes, leave them on the shelf. A tiny amount of paste color goes a very long way…too far, in fact for the home baker. And because these colors come in jars, it’s easy to be sloppy with them. And THAT, as you can imagine, can have a devastating effect on one’s wardrobe. Nope, find yourself a place to buy some nice, easy and potent gels. You won’t be sorry.