Post # 333 A Frosting Conundrum

January 16, 2015 at 9:32 AM | Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Post # 333 A Frosting Conundrum

You know I like cake, right?   And my favorite cake is, let’s all say it together, Yellow Butter Cake with Chocolate Frosting!

butter cake 3

The cake part I’ve got down pat.  I can throw one of those together in no time flat.  It’s good; it’s reliable; it’s comforting.  I’ve had a frosting conundrum for decades.

For me, frosting has never really been about flavor.  It’s been about sweet.  When my brother and I were kids, we went to the store and found out that for 79 cents we could buy a whole can of frosting and eat it.  No cake necessary.  This was back in the days when 79 cents was tough to come by for two kids around ten years old.  We put together what money we had, managed to have enough, although it took searching through the couch cushions.  Then there was the epically long discussion about which flavor to buy.  He was adamant on chocolate, or maybe strawberry.  I was just as stubborn about vanilla.  We eventually settle on vanilla, although I don’t remember what argument I used to persuade him.  Probably the “big brother” card.  We got home, as excited as only two little kids can be with a can of frosting, two spoons, a driving hunger for what was in that can, and no adults nearby.

We made it through about three quarters of the can before I quit.  He didn’t last much longer.  That was a lot of sugar, and very little taste.

So, as I said, frosting has always been about sweet and not flavor.

Years later, and years ago, I brought a cake in to work for some party or other.  It was a sheet cake and piled high with frosting.  Everyone commented on how good the cake was, how moist the cake was, etc.

“Your frosting is too sweet,” one lady commented.

All conversation stopped and everyone looked at her like she was crazy.  Including me.

“What are you talking about?” I asked.  “Frosting is 98% sugar.  How can you make sugar less sweet?”

She tried to explain that when she made frosting, she used less sugar so it didn’t taste as sweet.  The whole office continued to stare at her but finally went back to the party talk.  But it set an idea in my mind that’s been sitting there ever since.

Can frosting be too sweet?

Well, the answer to that is YES!!  I’ve had professional cakes with frosting piled high that tasted like sugar had been melted down and whipped up.  I’ve made cooked frostings that tasted like pure marshmallow fluff and would rot your teeth at ten paces.

I’ve also had frosting, mostly from professionals, that had the right balance of sweet and flavor and richness like you wouldn’t believe.

My standard “go to” frosting has always been the basic butter cream.  It’s easy.  You cream some butter, add vanilla, had cocoa if it’s going to be chocolate, and then add powdered or icing sugar and milk or water in alternating steps until you have enough frosting at the right consistency for whatever you’re making.

When I was a kid, and I watched my mom or my sister making cakes, everything came out of a box.  The portions they gave you in the those boxes of frosting were miserly, as far as I was concerned.  My sister always wanted to be sure she had enough frosting for the whole cake, so we seldom got to lick the bowl cuz there was nothing left.  I used to complain loudly about that.  I decided then that if I ever made a cake, I would make certain there would be enough frosting.  I’ve always done that.

But in “making certain there was enough frosting”, I sometimes got the proportions of butter and sugar out of whack.  Sometimes, majorly out of whack.  Then, I discovered cream cheese frostings.  A stick of butter, a box of cream cheese, a teaspoon of vanilla, all creamed together until mixed thoroughly, then start added powdered sugar until you had the amount you needed.  Easy peasy, and the tang of the cream cheese shone through while being tempered by the sweetness of the sugar.  There are some things cream cheese frosting was meant for.  Spice cake, for instance.  But there are others it should never be mentioned in the same breath with.  Butter cake, for instance.

I’ve also made sour cream frosting for a sour cream cake.  Mostly chocolate.  And mostly cuz they’re made to go together.  Different story.

So recently, I made a devil’s food cake.  It looked okay, tasted okay.  I was using a different cocoa than I do normally, a dark cocoa.  When I made the standard frosting, it looked bluish gray.  Noticeably so.  People commented on the color.  It tasted okay, but it looked . . . . . odd.  After it was gone, I waited a week or so and made a yellow butter cake.  It’s my favorite and I wanted a good frosting for it.  Since I hadn’t been having luck with frosting recently, I went back to my research.  All my cook books are still boxed up, but they’re handy.  However, it’s winter and I didn’t want to spend a vast amount of time in the freezing garage looking for something that might not be there.

Internet, here I come.  I read about four dozen recipes for chocolate frosting, butter cream frosting, plain frosting, cooked frosting, and found that my proportions were all wrong.  I don’t know if it was the result of faulty memory, or what.  I kept reading and kept seeing the same thing.

I wanted a fluffy, good tasting frosting.  All the short cut recipes kept saying to add a tub of Cool Whip.  All the “real” recipes kept talking about whipping cream to a frenzy and folding it into the prepared frosting.  I didn’t want to do all that.  But I was prepared to take a risk.

I had a pint of heavy whipping cream in the fridge, so I took it out to reach room temp.  I also took out a stick of butter (a half cup) and put it in a bowl to reach room temp.  Trust me on this, if you’re going to add anything to creamed butter, make sure it’s room temp.  I’ve watched creamed butter instantly seize up into lumps when cold eggs, cold milk, cold anything are added to it.

I creamed the butter until it was as light and fluffy as an electric hand mixer could get it.  Then I added 1 1/2 tsp of vanilla.  That’s a lot, but for this recipe, it was necessary.  By being stingy with the butter and vanilla in previous frostings, I was leaving out flavor enhancers.  Then I added a full half-cup of cocoa.  This is a lot more than I’d been using, but all the recipes said the same thing.  Lots of cocoa means lots of chocolate flavor.  Cocoa, as you may or may not know, goes everywhere when it’s stirred up, so be very careful when mixing it.  Once the cocoa is incorporated, you can beat the hell out of it, and you should to make sure all the flavors are combined.  Then I added a cup of powdered sugar.  It too will go everywhere, so I added a quarter cup of cream at the same time.  Then I mixed it for several minutes.  Another cup of sugar and another 1/4 cup of cream, and this time the frosting started getting thicker, almost fudgy.  So more cream until it was more easily managed.  I tasted it, and holy cow!  It was good!  I added another cup of sugar and more cream, and then more cream, and then more cream to get it to spreading consistency.  I beat the hell out of it and watched it get fluffy and light but stay remarkably substantial.  And that fudgy flavor stayed.  It tasted more of chocolate than of sugar!  I considered adding another cup of sugar because most of the recipes I’d looked at required 4 cups of sugar to the 1/2 cup of cocoa, but I didn’t want to have too much frosting and since it tasted great to me, I left it as it was.

When I frosted the caked, I worried that inner filling would squish out but it never did.  The whole time we were eating this cake, the frosting stayed fluffy, but also stayed firm.

Success!!!  Not sure how this will hold up with other flavors, but I’m sure gonna try.  If you try anything different, please let me know how it goes!


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