Gel food colors produce a deeper, more vibrant color than the average water-based food coloring you find in the grocery store. These concentrated colors provide you with exact shade matching -- meaning what’s on the bottle is what you get. Today, you can find gel colors in just about any color, including pastels, neon colors and themed color collections. But these nifty jars of gel coloring aren’t just for dying your buttercream or making a colored cake batter; you also can use them to paint your fondant decorations.
Gel colors are viscous and cannot be painted directly onto the fondant out of the bottle. Instead, you need to mix the gel with a liquid to thin it out to a paint consistency. The best thinning medium is alcohol. Alcohol evaporates quickly so your fondant isn’t wet and sticky after it’s been painted. Use a clear alcohol, such as vodka or rum. You won’t taste the alcohol on the cake. Place a small amount of the gel color into a small bowl. Add enough alcohol to thin out the gel. It must be thick enough to coat your brush -- almost like a watercolor. Don’t over-thin the gel; if it’s too watery, it might bleed into the fondant. Water is an alternative to vodka, but your drying time could be up to one hour after you’ve painted, while alcohol is dry within just a few minutes.
While painting, use a paintbrush made for culinary applications; these are found in cake decorating and craft stores. The bristles won’t shed into the gel paint or leave marks on the fondant. To keep the fondant from getting too soft, paint in sections and allow each to dry before adding more paint. Before you start painting, outline your design with a toothpick or fondant tool. Gently press the tool or toothpick down to make an outline you can see. Once the paint is on the fondant, you cannot take it off, so first practice your design on parchment or wax paper.
Make a wood-grain pattern on fondant using gel colors. Mix brown, black and yellow in separate bowls. Start by brushing brown across the cake with a large brush. Use black and yellow to make notches and grooves in the "wood." Another decorating idea is flames. Use red, orange and yellow colors to paint flames onto a cake. Use gel food colors to paint flowers or add accents to fondant-covered cakes. For example, with a fondant-covered cake with hand-piped royal icing, let the icing dry and harden, then paint over the icing with a homemade gel paint. This is especially popular on cakes that need gold or silver scrollwork, since you can’t make gold or silver royal icing.
Edible paints and paint pens are available in craft and cake decorating stores. These are commercially made and colors are limited, but they’re handy if you need to quickly paint or write on a fondant decoration. Pre-tinted piping gel in tubes from a grocery store can be used instead of gel paint; just brush the piping gel straight from the tube onto your cake, but note the texture might be thicker than homemade gel paint.
- The Essential Cake Decorating Guide Book; Wendy Stephen
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