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Red Royal Icing: How to Make the Best Red Icing

Red royal icing is one of the most challenging icing colors to make. Why is that? Because it requires so much food coloring to achieve a rich red. Good thing this post is about to tell you all the things to do to avoid that 😉

ornament cookie decorated with red royal icing

*DISCLOSURE: This post contains affiliate links which means that, at no additional cost to you, I may earn a small commission if you make a purchase from one of my links. I greatly appreciate your support!

What happens if I add too much red food coloring?

Drys crumbly/not totally hard

It’s hard to describe the texture of red royal icing when it’s “dried” and has too much food coloring in it, but it’s something akin to crumbly and soft. It won’t dry completely hard. This is extra noticeable when red is used for lettering: after you’ve packaged the cookies and/or stored them, just to wake up the next day to find that the lettering has smooshed.

Doesn’t dry at all

Too much food coloring isn’t always the culprit for royal icing not drying at all, but sometimes it definitely contributes to this tear-inducing conundrum!

apple cookie decorated with red royal icing

Tastes terrible

What tends to be most noticeable about using too much food coloring is how it makes the red royal icing taste bitter. Now, if you use my lemon royal icing recipe the lemon juice masks any bitterness quite well. But no matter the recipe you using, there’s no doubt too much food coloring makes the icing taste less than desirable!

The color bleeds

Color bleed is when one color kind of bleeds into the next once dry. This largely happens either because there is too much moisture in the icing (this can come from the recipe, consistency, environment, etc) and/or there is too much food coloring in the icing. The good new is: it’s largely preventable!

santa belt cookie decorated with red royal icing

Tips for the best red icing

Use a high quality food coloring

Not all food coloring is created the same! For red royal icing, I usually recommend:

If you’re a beginner, just stick with the gel colors as they’re easier to use and make sure you follow the next step (allow colors to develop) closely.

If you’re more advanced, I recommend starting your coloring with The Sugar Art Master Elite (powdered) as it takes less coloring, and then having the gels on hand to fine tune the color day of.

heart cookie decorated with burgundy royal icing

For red more like the above (burgundy), use The Sugar Art Master Elite in Burgundy.

Or, if you’re looking for just a slightly richer red than a bright red (like the ornament at the top of the post), you can either:

  • Add a touch of blue to the red icing
  • Add a touch of the burgundy to the red

Allow the icing to develop at least 24-28 hours

The color of the icing naturally gets darker over time as the color is allowed to develop in the icing. Whether it be 30 minutes, 1 hour, 6 hours or overnight, it all helps! I always color my icing the night before a couple shades lighter than I need.

The next morning I survey the situation and will add more color if needed. It’s always the most nerve-wracking to have to add a lot of color morning of because I usually only have 1 hour max between finessing the color and then decorating (which is not enough time to really know where the color is going to land).

But with red, I make sure to start my icing at least 24 hours in advance for the best success. Sometimes I’ll even start 48 hours in advance if I’m using red to flood an entire cookie (as opposed to just using the red for detail piping).

This is what my red royal icing looks like when I first color it:

red royal icing

And this is what it looks like 24 hours later and right before I bag the icing:

red royal icing

Here are the two side-by-side for easier comparison:

The bowl tip

Number on rule of thumb: if the icing is the exact color you want it in the bowl, you’ve added too much color! The color will continue to darken as you bag the icing, decorate and dry. So, you want the icing still to be a shade or two lighter in the bowl than you ultimately want.

In the case of red, that means you want the icing to be just shy of a true rich red. This tip takes some trial and error to know just how dark the almost red needs to be, because it’s always a leap of faith once you start to bag the icing.

star cookie decorated with red royal icing

Be OK with a less saturated red

Something I always tell my beginner cookiers in my online cookie decorating classes is to be OK to use a less saturated red sometimes. Personally, I think a less saturated red is much better than risking having way too much food coloring (and risking all of the aforementioned issues that result). Yes, sometimes there are designs that really need a rich red, but 9 times out of 10 less saturated will do. #goodenough!

barn door cookie decorated with red royal icing

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