Red Buttercream Frosting

I’ve started sharing my Valentine’s Day cakes across social media, and a few of them are decorated with super vibrant, red frosting.

This has to led to tons of comments and messages asking how I make such red frosting! I’ve experimented with different techniques, types of food coloring, and even natural food coloring!

image of red buttercream made with different types of food coloring, red powdered food coloring, and natural food coloring like beet powder

Below are the most important tips I learned while testing out what ingredients and methods work best for making bright red frosting.

Use The Right Type of Food Coloring

There are a few tips I have to make frosting that is a deep, true red color. The first is to use gel food coloring!

Photo of my Valentine's Day sprinkle cake, with bright red buttercream
Photo of a cake made with bright red frosting, colored with Americolor red gel food coloring.

When it comes to coloring your frosting, these are an absolute must.

Liquid food coloring can throw off the consistency of your icing, especially if you have to add a ton to achieve the color you’re after.

Gel food coloring is much more concentrated, so you can add less and still get a deep color. The brand you use can affect the color too, as some are more true to color than others.

I always use the Americolor brand (not sponsored, just my very favorite food coloring)! I like to use the super red shade when making red buttercream.

Alternative Food Colorings

Powdered food coloring is less commonly used, but is another wonderful way to get a bright red frosting.

This red powdered food coloring isn’t expensive, and you can order it on amazon. The biggest benefit to using it is that it has NO bitter aftertaste. The only downside is you need a ton of it to make red frosting.

There also are some wonderful natural red powdered food colorings. If you’re looking for a natural way to make red buttercream, I suggest going this route.

I’ve also tried out beetroot powder, which doesn’t give as vibrant of a color, but is a great alternative to gel food coloring. Surprisingly it doesn’t really change the taste of the frosting!

image of cupcakes decorated with red buttercream rosettes

Most of my cakes are frosted with an American-style buttercream frosting. My frosting is naturally pretty white, which makes it a great base to be colored!

If your frosting is somewhat yellow, this can make it harder to make brightly colored frosting.

Make Your Red Frosting In Advance

My second trick to making red frosting is to make it in advance. Yes, time is another secret!! I cannot stress this tip enough. It is by far the most important tip.

If you make the frosting a few days (or more) in advance, the color of the frosting will deepen over time. Allowing the buttercream to sit out at room temperature (usually as it thaws) is what really deepens the color.

You can see below that the bowl of frosting that was made 3 days in advance is a much deeper and brighter shade of red than the frosting made the day of.

I actually added a lot more red gel food coloring to the frosting made the day of, and it still wasn’t really a deep shade of red.

photo comparing red frosting made ahead of time against frosting made the day of, showing that the frosting made in advance is a much deeper and brighter shade of red

This buttercream can be made weeks in advance, and stored in the fridge until you’re ready to use it.

I take the frosting out a few hours before I need it, to allow it to come to room temperature.  Once it’s thawed, it always is a darker color than when I initially made it.

Give Your Frosting a Good Stir Once It Thaws

While we’re on the topic, I have one important piece of advice around making frosting in advance. As buttercream sits and/or thaws, it usually gets tons of tiny air bubbles in it!

When you make frosting, it’s almost impossible not to incorporate air into it as you mix in the powdered sugar (I recommend using a paddle mixing attachment to help minimize this).

This becomes more noticeable overtime as the buttercream sits, and tiny air bubbles form.

To make your buttercream smooth again, all you need to do is give the frosting a really good stir with a rubber spatula.

close up photo of bright red buttercream

Work the frosting slowly from side to side, and spread it across the sides of your bowl for a few minutes.

It’s definitely an arm workout, but after working the frosting around the bowl and pushing out the excess air, you’ll be left with silky smooth frosting.

Avoid The Bitter Taste

My final tip helps manage the bitter flavor that bright red buttercream usually has. I am the first to admit that most frosting made with lots of food coloring tastes bitter.

Red frosting is one of the worst offenders, and there are a few ways around this. The first option is to use a “no taste” red gel food coloring, which helps reduce the bitter aftertaste.

It’s harder to find online, and while it does make the frosting taste better, there still is a tiny bit of aftertaste.

Red buttercream roses cake

Like I mentioned above, another great way to avoid bitter taste is to use powdered red food coloring! It works great, and you can’t taste it at all!!

Flavor Your Red Frosting

My way around this is to flavor the frosting, either with a strong extract (like almond or coconut), or with cream cheese! I love using my cream cheese buttercream recipe when making red frosting.

You could also use strawberry powder to flavor the frosting, and naturally begin to color it red (like I do with my strawberry frosting recipe).

The cream cheese flavor helps counter the bitter taste of the food coloring. My cream cheese frosting is thick enough to pipe with, and is what I used to make this red buttercream rosette cake.

Add In Another Color Like Pink or Black

One other trick to making red frosting can be to start with a pink frosting. Strange, I know. But a pink base coloring makes it easier to make red frosting.

You can achieve this by using either pink gel food coloring, or a natural base like strawberry powder or beet powder.

image of red buttercream made with different types of food coloring, red powdered food coloring, and natural food coloring like beet powder

It’s way easy to turn pink buttercream red than to start with a white buttercream base and make it red.

It also allows you to use way less red food coloring, which I think we can all agree is the goal here.

Sometimes this can still cause the frosting to have a bitter taste though. This is a good idea for achieving a red color, but not the best idea in terms of taste.

If you’re after a really deep red color, you can also add a tiny (and I mean TINY) drop of black gel food coloring to your red buttercream. This will really help it deepen in color, especially if you let it sit for a bit.

Tips For Making SUPER Red Frosting:

  • Use gel food coloring (preferable Americolor Super red) or powdered food coloring
  • Make this frosting several days in advance to allow the shade to deepen
  • Flavor the frosting with cream cheese or a strong extract (like almond) to avoid a bitter taste
  • Start with a pink frosting base to allow you to add less red food coloring
  • Add a tiny drop of black gel food coloring to deepen the shade more if needed

Making This Red Frosting in Advance and Storage Tips:

  • Make your frosting ahead of time, or save any leftover frosting! It can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a month, or in the freezer for up to 3 months.
  • Be sure to give it a good stir once it thaws to get the consistency nice and smooth again.
  • A frosted cake can last in the fridge for up to a week, or in the freezer for up to a month. The buttercream locks in all the moisture, keeping the cake fresh and delicious!
  • If you cut into the cake and have leftovers, use any remaining frosting to cover the cut section to keep it moist and store in the fridge for up to a week.

Whether you’re making a cake for Christmas, Valentine’s Day, or an angry birds cake, I hope these tips help you make the brightest, most delicious red buttercream!!

image of cupcake decorated with a bright red buttercream rosette

Share Your Creations With Me!

If you try this red frosting recipe, please tag me @chelsweets. Also use the #chelsweets so that I can see your amazing creations!

If you have any questions about red frosting that I didn’t cover, or if you have any tips of your own, please share them in the comments section below.

Other Recipes You Might Like:

Yield: 6

Bright Red Buttercream Frosting

Bright Red Buttercream Frosting

Struggle to make truly red frosting?? Learn my tips for making the brightest red buttercream, with a simple recipe that comes together in minutes.

Prep Time 10 minutes
Additional Time 1 days
Total Time 1 days 10 minutes

Ingredients

  • 2 cups unsalted butter, room temperature (434 grams; 1 lb box)
  • 7 cups powdered sugar (907 grams) - or a 2 lb bag
  • 1/2 tsp salt (3 grams)
  • 2 Tbsp heavy cream (or whipping cream) (30 grams)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract (4 grams)
  • 2 tsp of almond extract (8 grams) - optional
  • red gel food coloring
  • OR red powdered food coloring

Instructions

  1. NOTE: If possible, make this frosting at least three days in advance. As you thaw the frosting, let it sit out overnight at room temperature to develop a super deep red color.
  2. Beat the butter on a medium speed for 30 seconds with a paddle attachment, until smooth.
  3. Mix in the vanilla extract, almond extract (optional) and salt on a low speed.
  4. Slowly add in the powdered sugar, 1 cup at a time. Alternate with small splashes of cream.
  5. Beat on low until the ingredients are fully incorporated, and the desired consistency is reached. 
  6. If the frosting is too thick, add in additional cream (1 Tbsp at a time). If the frosting is too thin, add in more powdered sugar (quarter of a cup at a time).
  7. Add in a generous squirt of red gel food coloring or about a 2 tsp of powdered red food coloring once the frosting is fully made, and beat on low until it reach the desired colored.
  8. To allow the shade to deepen, place in sealed piping bags or an airtight container.
  9. Leave out overnight at room temperature, or place in the fridge for several days to help it deepend in color.

Notes

This recipe makes about 6 cups of frosting, which is enough to frost and fill an 8-inch layer cake.

Make your frosting ahead of time, or save any leftover frosting! It can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a month, or in the freezer for up to 3 months.

Be sure to give it a good stir once it thaws to get the consistency nice and smooth again.

A frosted cake can last in the fridge for up to a week, or in the freezer for up to a month. The buttercream locks in all the moisture, keeping the cake fresh and delicious!

If you cut into the cake and have leftovers, use any remaining frosting to cover the cut section to keep it moist and store in the fridge for up to a week

Nutrition Information

Yield

6

Serving Size

1

Amount Per Serving Calories 1154Total Fat 63gSaturated Fat 39gTrans Fat 0gUnsaturated Fat 21gCholesterol 168mgSodium 207mgCarbohydrates 151gFiber 0gSugar 148gProtein 1g

60 thoughts on “Red Buttercream Frosting

  1. So how much Americolor gel food coloring do you use for a single batch of frosting? And do you only add red, or do you add other colors to deepen the color?

    1. if you don’t have time to let it sit, you can add a TINY drop of black to help deepen it too! I add two generous squeezes, from my large food coloring bottles! not sure exactly how much that is, but I hope that helps! <3

    1. that’s interested! I’ve never heard of that before, but now I definitely want to try it!! thank you for sharing Janet 🙂

  2. Can i use these same tips for normal Whipping cream? And what about adding vanilla flavor to the whipping cream. Do u think it would hide the bitterness of the color?

    1. Sadly it doesn’t really work the same way with whipping cream :/ Whipped cream is a lot harder to vibrantly color!

  3. I’ve always noticed how colored buttercream gets darker over time, but I’ve never thought to use that as an advantage!

    How do you store your buttercream? Whenever I out it in the fridge, it tastes like the fridge later on ?.

    1. Great question! usually put it in an airtight container, or in a bowl with Saran Wrap directly on top of it! I also don’t keep much normal food in my fridge though, so I don’t really run into that problem!! <3

  4. when leaving the icing sit, aboit how long before you know whether its the red you need? I currently have in fridge since i do not need till the weekend, but its still pink looking to me

    1. after a day or two you should know! If it’s still pink, you can try adding in a tiny bit of black, or you may need to try a different brand of gel food coloring!

      1. thank you! i actually just added more red, i dont think I originally added enough lol, I do have to also thank you for all your tips, they helped me tremendously and made making cakes fun again instead lf stressful, thank you thank you!!

  5. Hi! Can you link which pink gel food coloring you use as the base for a red buttercream? Thanks!!

  6. I followed your directions about making the icing ahead of time and using the powder food coloring and it turned out so wonderful. I did Mickey/Minnie cupcakes and they were the most beautiful rich red. I did use the entire tiny container of the red powder but it was worth it.

    1. I usually don’t because my powdered sugar doesn’t get clumps in it, but if you live in a humid environment you may want to sift your powdered sugar <3

  7. Hello!! Thanks so much for your tips and recipe! I’ve just made this for a Mickey Mouse cake this weekend. So I’ve placed it in an air tight container in the fridge where it will sit for about 2 days. I followed the directions exactly (used Americolor red gel color) and my frosting looks a little separated…maybe I added too much color? Do you think there is a way to fix this or have you ever had this happen? Maybe when I pull it out on Friday to use it, I just will add more powdered sugar…any thoughts? I appreciate your advice!! :).

    1. I have seen that before! Usually if you give it a good stir once it thaws it will come back together just fine! I’ve never really seen American buttercream separate unless something really watery is added, like fresh puree (i learned that the hard way when playing around with fresh strawberry frosting). I hope your Micky Mouse cake was a big hit!!

  8. I remember visiting the paint shop and the sales clerk told me bright deep colours like orange, red, burgandy etc. Need a gray primer..the white primer doesn’t work bro g out the colour.
    That hot me thinking about colourong frosting and if the same concept can be applied. I haven’t tried it yet but i intend to.

    1. Idk about grey, but i do agree with this concept overall! For black frosting, I use chocolate frosting as a base (which is already dark). Sometime for red frosting I start with pink as the base, then build up to red, which can also make it easier!!

      In general though, time is truly the best thing for bright / dark colored frosting!! The gel food coloring really intensifies over time <3

  9. I ordered powdered color.(I’m short on time. Grandson’s Bday is Friday) Color came today. Only 5 grams. I thought it would be more and I’m freaking out! I have to cover an entire 5 layer (FLASH) cake in Red. The 5 grams won’t be enough, will it?

    1. A little goes a long way, but you will probably need to add in some gel food coloring too if you’re going to make enough frosting for that big of a cake. You also could fill the inside with a white buttercream, and just cover the outside with red frosting (if you’re not already planning to do that)!

      Also don’t forget the power of time! Make it in advance, and the color will get deeper!! Hope that helps, best of luck Anne! Please let me know how it goes <3

  10. I really wish you showed us a picture of what it looked like at the start before letting it sit. It’s great that there is an after but no before… I feel like my before is still too pink to even get close to a red

    1. Hi Erin,

      That’s a great point! I’m going to be making another batch soon, and I will take a before and after photo <3

      It should be a light shade of red when it goes into the fridge to sit. What brand/shade of gel food coloring did you use?? Maybe try adding a bit more red before putting it in the fridge. Hope that helps, happy baking!

  11. I want to make an Elmo from Sesame Street cake. Red is the majority color, but he has an orange nose. What would you recommend for the orange nose? Not sure what to do for his black mouth, any suggestions are much appreciated. Tyia

  12. Hi. I usually use white color and then add the red. However, all I have on hand is ivory. Will this work the same?

    1. Hi Amy,

      I’ve found that adding in light colors like that make a big difference in the end. Ivory can actually end up making the frosting a light shade of brown, so I don’t think I’d add it in! I like going the route of adding pink as the base is better in the long run. Hope that helps, happy baking!

  13. Does the red buttercream color your teeth when eating it? I need to make cupcakes and I’d be so embarrassed to see red smiles around the room. Also, any tips on how to achieve a deep navy without bad taser or tooth stain?

  14. Hi there! I just made a batch of buttercream (5 cups worth) added about 6 squeezes of red. Color at the moment is a dark pink, borderline red. I am frosting cupcakes thursday (4 days) do you think I should refigerate the frosting or leave on the counter for it to darken?

    1. Hi Chistale,

      So sorry for the delayed response! What brand of gel food coloring are you using? I find that with americolor red gel food coloring the frosting is always red, just a lighter shade in the beginning. If your initial base is pick, you might want to try a different type of food coloring.

      For the future, I’d say keep it in the fridge until the day before you need it, then let it sit out overnight the day before you plan to frost your cupcakes. I hope that helps, happy baking!

  15. That frosting is absolutely gorgeous!! Amazing, I do have a question for you. Every time I have tried to make red buttercream frosting in the past it has Always been pink. So if I use the Wilton brand paste food color will I have the beautiful results that you have had?

    1. Hi Tammy,

      Thank you! I find Wilton red really doesn’t work the same way americolor does. I highly recommend getting americolor gel food coloring, I’ve never been able to make truly red frosting with wilton’s red gel food coloring 🙁

  16. Hi… I just tried your red buttercream frosting as I want to make a ladybug cake for my niece…the buttercream frosting is delicious but I bought the americolor #220 super red and it’s not any where as vivid as your cake… I am going to let it sit for awhile to see if it darkens… what could I have done differently???

    1. Time really is my best suggestion! You can also add the tiniest (and I mean TINIEST) drop of black to deepen it. But other than that, just letting it sit out overnight is your best bet. I hope that helps, happy baking Susan!!

  17. Hi! So I’ve been struggling with my red buttercream. Everytime I ice my cakes smooth and let them sit in the fridge they develop tiny dark spots all over!! This has already happened a few time and I cannot figure out why ? any advice or tips?? Thanks in advance!

    1. Hi Cindy,

      what type of food coloring are you using, and what brand? it sounds like it might not be mixed evenly throughout your frosting. I’d recommend mixing your frosting more thoroughly next time, or trying a different type of food coloring (I love americolor super red: https://amzn.to/2WcOUN2). Hope that helps, happy baking!!

  18. Thanks so much! I was able find some online, and it’s so much better than even the Wilton!

    I want to attempt a burgundy color next. One method I found online said to start with a chocolate butter cream, add the red, then add a little violet until you get the right color burgundy. Do you think it would work? I worry about it looking too dark/brown.

    1. Thank goodness! Happy to hear that Stacy!!

      I think that sounds about right! just be sure your chocolate buttercream isn’t too deep a brown color when you start, so that you can get it to the color you’re after. Hope that helps, and best of luck!!

  19. Hi! Do you suggest making buttercream in advance for other dark colors? (Ex: navy, black, forest green, maroon)

  20. Hi, so I’m attempting a cake for my colleagues and would like to make a burgundy coloured buttercream, can I use red mixed with cocoa powder? Thanks

    1. Hi Mimi,

      I’d actually suggest using a mixture of red and black gel food coloring! Just add the black super slowly, and remember it will darken in color over time <3

  21. Hi! So if I were to make the red frosting, and ice the cake on the same day, then stick it in the fridge to be eaten about two days later, do you think the color will still deepen, even though it’s exposed to the cold?

  22. Hi, I’m attempting a burgundy frosting and I used the americolor burgundy…It was very mauvy and had a bitter taste. Will it darken to a burgundy if I leave it in the fridge? I’m baking a cake and cupcakes for a bridal shower and I’m afraid I’ll have to use some other method to get the perfect burgundy! TIA 🙂

Let me know what you think!