Week eight in our ten part series is all about modern and artistic coloured icing.
I'm specifically talking about using coloured icing to cover cakes, and therefore creating coloured backgrounds. This is a technique I've only recently started using in my cake designs. For one reason really – I'd always associated coloured icing with very loud, fun, and novelty cakes...certainly not modern and artistic wedding and celebration cakes.
I started seeing glimpses of inspiration from other cake designers and even other industries, such as stationery and interiors, that peeked my interest in background colour and so I began researching some ideas. I realised I had been somewhat unfair to coloured icing, lumping it all into the same bucket, and discovered it is more than possible to use coloured icing in modern and artistic designs.
SOME OF MY FAVOURITE EXAMPLES
LIGHT GREY. One of the key ways to keep a coloured icing covering modern and artistic is to choose your colour carefully. Garish or very bright colours will always lend themselves to a more energetic, fun, and sometimes quirky feel, whereas soft pastels might tip a cake design too much towards being twee and 'pretty pretty' – if not balanced incredibly well with other techniques.
Grey is a colour that has been in the spotlight a lot in recent years, and you could even say it is a 'trend' – but first and foremost it is a neutral colour that pairs well with many other tones. It almost always looks style focused, it is a more modern neutral than cream or ivory, and it gives off a sense of quality that lifts a design.
White piping or painting on a light grey background can look stunning. White on white has been a popular, if somewhat classic, choice for many years – white on grey is the modern take. The balancing effect of light grey allows a design to be slightly bolder and more artistic, without looking childish or clumsy.
GREEN. I am a firm believer that many greens act more like a neutral than a 'colour' (or at least what I refer to as neutral...I'm not a qualified colour expert!). In particular I'm meaning the greens that blend into the background when other colours are present, and almost carry a design rather than become the focus. I always think nature is a brilliant example of this. Yes the different greens of trees and grass can in themselves be the stars of the show but think about when you then get a coloured flower in the scene, or some people walking past, or maybe even some buildings nearby – suddenly the greens blend into a balancing background, almost like a base for the real focus to shine. Even when people select a 'pink rose', for example, its the flower head colour that is most significant and the green stem is somewhat 'neutral'.
Of course, just as with greys, you get varying degrees of temperature within greens. Warmer tones often give off a more traditional feel so to create a modern and artistic cake they need to be balanced with more creative and style focused elements. Cooler greens tend to feel more modern but can easily feel too young or unnatural – so careful pairing with classic touches such as sugar or wafer flowers, or nature-inspired textures, can help keep a design artistic.
Different greens will complement different colours. Some will make your design pop and come alive whereas other might mute any other colours or perhaps even make a design feel heavy. Colour temperature is a very complex topic so I'm not going to go into any further explanation in this post, but to put it very simply – a more yellowy green will give a very different feel to a more bluey green...so experiment.
WHERE TO START?
Providing you have already mastered covering a cake with sugar-paste icing – covering a cake with coloured icing shouldn't be an issue. If you have never used a coloured icing before, however, here are a few tips and tricks...
Natural colours will never dry as intense as artificial colours. It's a shame, and it can be disappointing to discover, but it is very hard (if not impossible) to get a very dark or vivid colour using natural food colourings.
Pastes or gels work better than dusts. It is definitely possible to colour sugar-paste with food colour dusts but, especially when trying to achieve a bolder colour or when colouring a large amount of icing, food colour pastes and gels are more suited for the task.
Darker or more vivid colours can change the consistency of sugar-paste. Though we often think of icing (sugar-paste) as just being 'sugar' the recipe is actually a bit more complex than that. Adding in a lot of food colouring can greatly effect the icing mix. The sugar-paste might become too sticky, too dry, too greasy...there are so many potential disasters. If you are needing a very bold, intense, or dark colour then buying pre-coloured sugar-paste is a safer bet.
Be careful with the amount of colour you use. There are actually strict laws and guidelines around using food colourings as they can be unsafe when consumed in large amounts (and it's often less than you might think). Make sure you follow any instructions given on the food colouring packaging and always try to use as little as possible to achieve your desired colour.
If you are looking for a style focused and creative way to add something a bit different to your modern and artistic cake design then coloured icing is a great way to go. Use it sparingly to prevent it becoming too daring and, as always, balance it well with other techniques to really celebrate your personality.