When I was making the birthday cakes, I was also experimenting with various recipes for icings and frosting. So I thought I should bring all that experimentation together into a single article.
I honestly don’t know how to differentiate the three coatings. The definitions and uses seem to not do that job, so I will try to explain the differences somewhat with examples.
One definition of icings is “a mixture made from very fine light sugar and liquid, used to cover cakes”. But that could also be a frosting, and indeed, many articles use the term “icing frosting”. I have played with only one icing recipe- I was told it was Royal Icing. I used it to put design on cutout cookies. This is the version I learned from Marlys and Penny DeLancey one evening when we were decorating cutout cookies.
• 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
• 1 Tablespoon water
Play with the ratio a little to keep the consistency correct for spreading, but not too wet. If it is too stiff, add more water but not more than a teaspoon at a time. If it is too wet, add more sugar a spoonful at a time. Remember that adding food coloring also adds some moisture so be ready to add more sugar as you are tinting the icing.
I have seen recipes that use milk, orange juice and even rum as the moisture, but remember that the moisture might add color to the resulting icing. Milk and water are best for getting a nice white icing.
I found that the colors of this icing seem to fade and bleed after a couple weeks, so it is not a long term solution.
Since initially publishing this set of recipes, I attended the Decorette Shop’s Cookie Decorating class and learned to use their Royal Icing. I mention the class in a separate article and discuss the use of both the meringue powder and cream of tartar there.
- 1/4 cup meringue powder
- 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
- 5 1/2 Tablespoons water
- 1 lb. powdered sugar
Place in grease-free bowl and beat until stiff peaks form.
A glaze in cooking is a coating of a glossy, often sweet, sometimes savory, substance applied to food. It is a liquid which is put onto food to give it an attractive shiny surface. Glazes are created to make food items more aesthetically pleasing such as adding an egg wash to some baked goods to produce a shiny, golden brown glaze.
I have already published several glaze recipes as part of other recipes. There is a Chocolate Glaze recipe with the Kentucky Chocolate Cake recipe, and there is a Strawberry Glaze recipe with the Strawberry Devonshire Tart recipe.
Here is an Apricot Glaze and a Chocolate Glaze recipe that I use when I make Napoleans.
The straining of the jam takes some effort, so the glaze can be made ahead of time, and then reheated for use.
• 1 bottle Smucker’s Apricot Jam/Preserves (~15 oz.)
• 2 Tablespoons sugar
Force the Jam through a sieve into a sauce pan. Bring the strained jam and the sugar to the boil, for several minutes until last drops of jam to fall from spoon are sticky. Reheat to liquefy again before using.
The amounts in this recipe are just about right for a small cake – 6.5 x 9 inches or about 60 square inches. It can easily be doubled for a 9 x 13 cake. I have also substituted heavy cream for the ½ & ½ at times when I have used this glaze.
Below, the directions say to microwave until the mixture just begins to steam; this is very important. Otherwise the mixture will burn; 20 seconds can make the difference. So keep checking the plastic wrap; as soon as it shows any moisture and isn’t perfectly clear- stop! You have heated it enough.
• 3 Tablespoons 1/2 & 1/2
• 2 oz. semi-sweet chocolate (this can be chocolate chips)
• 1 cup sifted confectioners’ sugar
To make the glaze, place the 1/2 & 1/2 and semi-sweet chocolate in a medium, microwave-safe bowl, cover with plastic wrap and microwave for 20 seconds at a time, until the mixture just begins to steam. Whisk together thoroughly and add the sugar and whisk until completely smooth.
Generally, frosting is a sweet substance put on cakes and made from powdery sugar and butter. I was going to challenge the idea that it had to have powdered sugar and butter, but then I couldn’t find the exception I needed. So I will let the definition stand.
Marlys had three recipes that had the word “frosting” in their title, and that is what I am giving you here.
• 1 lb. powdered sugar
• ¼ teaspoon salt
• ½ cup butter, very soft
• 2 teaspoons vanilla
Combine all ingredients and beat 1 minute with electric mixer. Makes enough for an 8 inch layer cake.
This is the recipe I first used; it would be classified as a butter cream frosting. It was so stiff I immediately added 1 Tablespoon milk to get it to come together. It was still very stiff at that point; so stiff I could mold it, and roll it out and die-cut it into shapes. And that is too stiff to pipe. So I added more milk until I got a consistency that I could pipe. Again, there is a balance between the liquid and the powder sugar that you can play with by adding milk or more sugar.
Butter Cream Frosting
• 6 Tablespoons butter, softened
• 2 2/3 cup sifted confectioners’ sugar
• 1/3 cup milk
• 1 teaspoon vanilla
Cream butter in small mixer bowl. Add sugar alternately with milk. Beat to spreading consistency – adding additional milk if needed. Blend in vanilla. Makes about 2 cups frosting.
As it says, this is another Butter Cream frosting recipe, and probably is a better starting point than the Basic Frosting recipe if you need a spreadable frosting. It won’t be as stiff as the first recipe, and so you will not be able to mold or roll it out.
Basic Cream Cheese Frosting
• 8 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
• 8 oz. butter, room temperature
• 1 lb. powdered sugar
• 1 tsp vanilla
• Milk as needed
I went to this frosting for the turtle cake I made for the birthday. I thought the cream cheese would give the frosting more body that a butter cream frosting, and would help bridge the spaces between cupcakes. It worked as I needed it to work, but I do not think it was stiffer than a butter cream frosting. In fact, I was delighted at how nicely it spread and could be smoothed.
I used Hershey’s cocoa to get the brown color. I used about half the recipe colored brown, and that was about ½ cup of the cocoa powder. Adding the cocoa powder, because it is dry, stiffened the frosting and I had to add milk in order to pipe it. Likewise the half of the recipe I colored green with food coloring got too soft from the moisture in the food coloring by the time I got the deep green I wanted, and I had to add more powder sugar for consistency.
If you need a perfect white frosting, then you might want to buy some “clear vanilla extract”; it is made specifically for the purpose of getting the slight brown of regular vanilla out of the frosting. To eliminate the yellow of the butter, you can use white shortening with two Tablespoons of water.
More recently, I wanted a frosting that would crust, had chocolate in it, and was basically light in color, like white. I found this recipe:
Crusting White Chocolate Buttercream
- 1 1/4 cup Hi Ratio Shortening
- 4 oz. cream cheese
- 1/4 cup unsalted butter
- 8 oz. white baking chocolate (not chips)
- 3 1/2 cups (1 lb.) powder sugar
- 2 Tbsp. meringue powder
- 2 tsp. vanilla extract
- Cream the shortening, cream cheese and butter in the mixer
- In a double boiler, melt the white chocolate and set aside to cool
- With the mixer on low, slowly pour the white chocolate into the creamed mixture
- add the vanilla
- Incorporate the powdered sugar and meringue powder to form a smooth buttercream
When I started working on the birthday cakes, I knew fondant as something that would fall into one of the above categories – either an icing or a glaze. I used it as an icing on napoleons when I make them. But what I make is Sugar Fondant. It is fun to make, and easy to use. It does not do a good job in decorations as I learned. For that, there is something called Rolled Fondant; I bought it at the Decorette Shop in a 2 pound container. I do not know how to make it from scratch.
The fondant requires kneading and can be made ahead of time and refrigerated or even frozen. I put mine in 3 separate containers of about 1 cup each and then freeze it; when I need some, I can defrost in the refrigerator for a day a single cup at a time.
• A marble surface, jellyroll pan or cookie sheet
• A heavy bottomed 2 quart sauce pan
• A cover for the pan
• 3 Tablespoons white corn syrup
• 1 cup water
• 3 cups pure cane sugar
• A candy thermometer (238 degrees) or quart of cold water and metal spoon
• Painter’s spatula, pastry scraper, or stout, short metal pancake turner
The syrup is to be poured onto the marble/pan/cookie sheet which should be ready before you begin. Dissolve the corn syrup in a small amount of water in the sauce pan; pour in the rest of the water and the sugar. Set over moderately high heat. Swirl the pan slowly by its handle, but DO NOT stir sugar with a spoon while liquid is coming to the boil. Continue swirling for a moment when liquid boils and changes from cloudy to perfectly clear. Cover pan, raise heat to high, and boil for several minutes until bubbles have thickened slightly. Uncover, insert candy thermometer if you have one, and continue boiling for a few minutes to the soft-ball stage, 238 degrees: drops of syrup hold their shape softly when formed into a ball in cold water. (Note: if you do not boil to the soft-ball stage, the fondant will be too soft; if you boil to the hard-ball stage, it will be hard to knead and difficult to melt when you want to use it).
Immediately pour the syrup onto the marble or pan or sheet. Let cool about 10 minutes, until barely tepid but not quite cold to the touch; when you press it lightly, you can see the surface wrinkle.
As soon as fondant is ready, start kneading it vigorously with the scraper, spatula, or turner: push it up into a mass, spread it out again, and repeat the movement for 5 minutes or more. After several minutes of kneading, the syrup will begin to whiten; as you continue to knead, it will gradually turn into a crumbly snow-white mass, and finally stiffen so that you can no longer knead it. It is now officially and actually, fondant. Do not be discouraged, however, it it takes longer than 5 to 8 minutes or even 10 minutes to turn to fondant; go off and leave it for 5 minutes; come back and knead it again- eventually it will turn. (you might have started to knead it before it was quite ready for you).
Although you can use the fondant immediately, it will have a better texture and sheen if you let it rest at least 12 hours. Pack it into an air-tight container, topped with a dampened cheesecloth, cover, and refrigerate. As long as the top is damp, fondant will keep for months and months.
When you are ready to use your fondant, you will want to combine it with a flavoring. Flavoring may be 1 or 2 Tablespoons of kirsch, rum, orange liqueur or strong coffee, or just a teaspoon of vanilla with a tablespoon of water. There is enough liquid in the liqueurs and coffee that more water isn’t needed; only with the lesser amount of vanilla is extra water needed.
Combine the fondant with your flavoring in a bowl that is in a pan of simmering water. Stir thoroughly, reaching all over the bowl as the fondant slowly softens and turns into a perfectly smooth, glossy cream that coats the spoon fairly heavily. Use immediately.
Because the sugar fondant keeps so well in the freezer, it really is a good icing for use on harder surfaced items like the napoleons (pate a choux) and cookies. For softer items like cakes, and you need a fondant, you should probably learn to use a Rolled Fondant.
As I mentioned, I bought some rolled fondant at the Decorette shop and used it to form some decorations. I did not try to roll it out and cover a cake. They did tell me, though, that when you use it to cover a cake, you first frost the cake with a butter cream frosting under the fondant. I also know that the fondant dries very hard; Jenn and James said that their wedding cake had a smooth fondant covering and after the first day, the covering was so hard they could barely get through it.
The final category I want to mention is Gum Paste. This is a product that is used to make decorations; the very realistic flowers that you find on cakes are probably gum paste. It is very moldable, and dries very hard; it will keep for years. So I find it non-eatable, and would not use it for decorations on a cake that will be shared with young children. They like to eat the decorations. But if you find the need for extremely realistic decorations, you might want to consider gum paste. You can buy many decorations already made at places like the Decorette Shop; because they do not go bad, the shop can afford to have them available for purchase.
Most ganaches are a combination of chocolate and heavy cream in equal parts. Sometimes you need to change the ratio, or add additional fat in order to get the ganache to set- be less liquidy. If you run into trouble because the ganache won’t set up, you can always reheat it and then add more chocolate pieces.
White Chocolate Ganache
1/2 cup heavy cream
16 oz. white chocolate
4 Tbsp butter
1/2 tsp chocolate extract.