Sunday, May 3, 2009

My Affair With Foodcoloring

Note: It's important to know that I'm the oldest of three children and that, for a time, my "baby" sister (12 years my junior) and I lived together while she was in high school. Being the elder of the two, and in a quasi-parent role, I was definitely uncool - at least to my sister. Every once in awhile, I did what every oldest sibling does: I set out to drive her crazy and therefore prove my uncoolness. This is one such story.

I'm a sucker for color, as the photo of the recently iced cookie I just made proves. Purple has been my favorite for awhile, but almost anything bright will catch my attention. I love bright flowers, bright clothing, bright paint on the walls of my house. But many of my favorite standard desserts are distinctly lacking in the color department.

Fortunately, there's food coloring.

Recently, I've adopted food gels from Wilton, which are available on-line and at most craft/baking stores. They come in a wide range of colors for anything I might need. I was watching "Good Eats" the other day and saw Alton Brown talk about powdered coloring and I need to check that out, but as of this posting have not.

But "back in the day" I only used the liquid kind you found in the grocery store. Red, yellow, green, blue. Occasionally, I mixed them to make something else. But mostly, I just stuck to the four basics. My goal was to hide it in unexpected places.

For example, Quick Mix Cake. This cake has been a family staple for decades. It's standard butter/yellow cake that's ridiculously easy to make and is perfect for teaching children how to bake. All you need is a "bundt" style pan and a mixer - hand or counter top - and lots of patience. I believe it's the first cake I learned how to make.

While delicious, it comes out of the oven a basic butter yellow. Nothing exciting about the color at all. Icing is definitely required to add pizzaz. But why stop with icing when you can add a little food coloring and you've got yourself an eye-catching dessert inside AND out.

When my sister was 15, she and I lived together and this cake became a regular of ours. But she liked it AS IT WAS - no color. Just plain, by-the-book butter color for her, if you please. I, of course, wasn't going for that.

So I'd make the batter and at the last second, add a few drops of food color. The batter would turn a lovely shade of light green, pale blue, or light pink. My sister would declare the finished product inedible (although I don't remember her actually NOT eating it) and refuse to let me serve it to her friends. It actually got to the point where she'd stand next to me, watching me pour the batter into the pan and put it in the oven just so I wouldn't add the food coloring.

I am not making this up.

But I am not so easily undone, especially in the kitchen. So while she wasn't really paying attention, I'd dump half the batter in the pan, smooth it even, dribble some food coloring directly onto the batter, and then put the remaining batter on top. A quick "swish" of a regular butter knife through the batter would disperse a swirl of color throughout the interior, without showing up on the exterior.

Of course, the color came through when the cake was cut. But by then it was too late and I had once again "ruined" another perfectly good dessert for my sister. And it made me laugh - every time.

So to all you elder siblings, parents and bakers out there I challenge you: Add color to your food and watch what happens.

RECIPE: Quick Mix Cake

Preheat oven to 350-degrees F
Grease bundt-style cake pan and set aside

In mixing bowl, add:
  • 2 sticks butter or margarine
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • pinch salt
  • food coloring, optional
Mix on low speed (hand-held mixer or counter top stand mixer) until all ingredients are incorporated.

Adjust mixer to medium/medium-high speed and mix for 20 minutes. Do not skimp on the time, or the cake won't work. Scrape sides of bowl occasionally.

Add optional food coloring.

Pour into prepared pan and bake in oven for 1 hour, or until toothpick inserted near middle comes out clean.

Cool for 5 minutes in pan, then turn upside down onto cooling rack. Allow to cool completely before icing/serving.

Variations: Makes for good cupcakes or layer cakes. Simply adjust the cooking time down and keep your eye on the cake.


  1. I believe you ARE making that up. I have no memory of such an encounter, nor do I ever remember being turned off by Quick Mix cake. My current waistline will prove it. :)

    Besides, it was the collection of Yanni and John Tesh CDs that REALLY made you uncool ...

  2. Welcome to the Blogosphere.

    WHOA! The visual...the cobalt purple!
    That color of frosting harkens us to the day
    of Donna Summer and's the hue of
    Liza Minnelli's eyeshadow those nights at Studio 54.

  3. Love the blog! Post enough recipes and you might even get ME to try baking...