I didn’t realize how ungroovy my cookie game was until I saw Rick Martinez’s Tie-Dye Butter Cookies on the cover of the December issue. Swirled with licks of hot pink and cobalt blue icing, they were developed with fierce holiday cookie swaps in mind, but they’d be just as welcome at a Grateful Dead tailgate or a VSCO Girl theme party. “I knew that I wanted colorful cookies that were festive but that didn’t scream Christmas,” Rick told me. Out with the green and red, in with the pink and blue.
Rick also knew that he didn’t want to use synthetic food coloring in his cookies. “The stuff you get at the grocery store does a number on your dough,” he explains. “If you add a tablespoon of it to a perfectly delicious, moist cake recipe, it’ll come out sad and dry.” The antithesis of the holiday spirit! Plus, what is synthetic food coloring anyway? According to respected scientific journal Wikipedia, the food coloring Blue #1, which is found in everything from Jolly Ranchers to canned processed peas to Blue Curaçao, is a “synthetic dye produced by the condensation of 2-formylbenzenesulfonic acid and the appropriate aniline followed by oxidation blah blah blah.” For our favorite recipes using 2-formylbenzenesulfonic acid, click here.
So Rick went in search of a natural food coloring alternative. “I certainly wasn’t going to ask anybody to make a natural dye,” he says—although if you are the extra credit type, check out Healthyish’s guide to making your own. He settled on Suncore Foods Supercolor Powders, which come in a wide array of hues, from violet to aqua to yellow. For the Tie-Dye Butter Cookies, Rick used the Pink Pataya (made from 100 percent pure red dragon fruit powder) and Blue Butterfly Pea (made from 100 percent pure butterfly pea flower powder). In addition to having pronounceable ingredients, the natural dyes impressed Rick with their vibrancy and variety. “If you were using that little four pack of green, blue, yellow, and red,” he says, “you’d have to do a lot of mixing to get such a specific fuchsia color. Even then it would be tough, and if you had to make several batches, you probably wouldn’t be able to achieve the same color consistently.”
Since the powders are derived from actual foods, they do come with a slight taste, but nothing too conspicuous. “If you’re using the red powder, you’re not going to take a bite of a cookie and go, ‘Whoa, beets!’ But it does have a faint flavor, so you know you’re not just eating red powdered sugar and water.” The Pink Pataya powder gives off tropical vibes while the Blue Butterfly Pea is more subtle, with a hint of flavor that Rick describes as “berrylike.” Together, they add a ever so slightly fruity hint to an otherwise classic, vanilla-inflected butter cookie.
Rick notes that while the two cookies he developed for the holidays featuring these dyes—the Tie-Dye Butter Cookies and the Alfajores with Coconut Dulce de Leche—use them in raw applications, he has tested them in batters and doughs with equally successful results. While the outside of the cake or cookie will brown as normal, inside you’ll find the same bold color—no 2-formylbenzenesulfonic acid required.
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Originally Appeared on Bon Appétit