I recently made coloured swirled bread, in which different colours of dough (in my case a coloured and an uncoloured piece) were rolled together and baked in the same loaf to give an interesting novelty appearance. When I put it into the oven the poke test on the uncoloured dough rose up slowly, but the uncoloured sprang back a bit more quickly. The finished bread rose acceptably, but not spectacularly, and the coloured dough was somewhat denser than the uncoloured. The whole thing was a sourdough loaf if that makes any difference.

When should the colouring for the coloured piece have been added?

  • after kneading? This is what I did. With liquid colouring, which seemed to colour individual strands of gluten, this required considerable kneading to distribute evenly. This amounted to nearly twice the amount of kneading as the uncoloured piece. Since the undivided full batch of dough had completed kneading (it was at windowpane) when I divided them, I might possibly have overkneaded the coloured piece. The uncoloured piece would also have undergone more fermentation than the coloured piece due to how long the extra kneading took (even in the fridge).
  • before kneading?* This would have allowed the colouring to be more easily mixed in, but would also have required each colour of dough to be separately kneaded to windowpane strength as well as separately proofed. Not only would I need to be sure each piece was equivalently kneaded but also equivalently proofed. As with the other option this would leave one piece fermenting longer than the other.

EDIT: *before kneading referring to the point when the flour and water and other ingredients have been barely incorporated together and the result is still just a "shaggy mess" as some describe it. I assume that "kneading" is a specific stage of breadmaking for the purpose of gluten development, not merely an act of kneading at any point in the process.

  • 4
    You may want to experiment with different types of food coloring. They might be toxic to yeast, for example I have propylene-glycol based food coloring and I don't know what it'd do to yeast, probably nothing good.
    – rumtscho
    Jan 14, 2014 at 11:26

3 Answers 3


I baked 3 or 4 loaves of challah last January over a month period to try and perfect a rainbow loaf of bread for a dinner party (Wizard of Oz and over the rainbow themed).

Loaf 1 I mixed ingrediants and worked the dough and then prior to kneading I used cake decorating gelled (Wilton brand) coloring. This required substantial kneading to fully integrate the coloring and probably caused the loaf to not rise properly from over work or inconsistent gluten formation.

Subsequent loaves required making the water and yeast mixture and dripping in 5-35 drops of liquid food coloring into measured amounts of liquid by weight. Each liquid amount depending on rainbow location varied and the apparent strength of the drops did too. The liquid mixture then had a consistent bright color and adding in the sugar, salt and flour proved to make for a consistent color shading throughout. The minimal quantity of the alcohol/glycol based coloring didn't appear to affect the texture and the need to over work the dough was lessened since the color was consistent from the beginning.

Using up to 7 different colors in 1 large loaf (both rainbow shaped in a large baked bowl and in a braided roll) did require a bit more effort than making 1 batch of dough and separating briefly after kneading to add color. However the effort was well worth it!

  • I would love to see pictures of this. It sounds very cool.
    – Preston
    Oct 15, 2014 at 5:23

If it requires kneading in the color to get it distributed, then whatever you end up doing, it's effectively 'before kneading' or at the very least 'in the middle of kneading'

So therefore, I'd add the color before or during the first kneading; if nothing else, it'd get better distribution. If you're making a double batch, I'd make the first one color-free, and the second colored (adding the dye to any liquid in the recipe).

You might also want to see the question on coloring fondant for suggestions on kneading in color faster.

  • I should probably have clarified that 'kneading' for me refers to a deliberate gluten development stage of breadmaking, not just the act of kneading. I ideally would not like to knead in colour, but that seemed to be the only option by the point the dough was developed to windowpane. "Before kneading" means when the dough is still a shaggy mess, with the ingredients barely incorporated together, a mix not a dough. Is this when you'd recommend splitting the parts and colouring them separately?
    – ccsdg
    Jan 14, 2014 at 20:55
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    @ccsdg, as Joe said, it's best to add the liquid color to whatever other liquid your recipe calls for. I.e. add it to the water, mix thoroughly, then add the water to the flour.
    – Marti
    Jan 14, 2014 at 22:14
  • @Marti, I managed to not understand that part of Joe's answer, thanks for pointing it out. So really I would have to make two completely separate batches of bread from scratch? Seeing as water is the first ingredient I add to the flour, and I don't want the entire loaf to be coloured. EDIT: I see that Joe mentioned a double batch. That is a solution, but it makes the overproofing issues even worse (now have to separately mix, knead AND proof the different parts of the bread).
    – ccsdg
    Jan 14, 2014 at 22:16
  • @ccsdg : you see what powdered colors will do ... they'd be much easier to mix in later as compared to a liquid or gel color.
    – Joe
    Jan 15, 2014 at 22:53

Go to youtube and check out the video on making rainbow bread here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z9XDwTRE1dE

If I were to do it, I think I would make separate batches of dough and add the coloring to the liquid. Color bread was all the rage in the late 50's 60's for bridal and baby showers and special party lunchs.

  • Hello and welcome! Please note: while links to the web may be nice, they have a tendency to disappear after a while, which would leave our site full of broken links :-(. We prefer information that lasts, so just write what you want to say. I left the link for now, but unless you think it's absolutely necessary for your answer, you might consider editing your post and removing it?
    – Stephie
    Jan 11, 2015 at 19:18

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