Best Part of a Cake – the top!

By Jean Redstone

Ask any professional baker and they’ll tell you the biggest selling point to a batch of cupcakes or a sheet or layer cake is the topping. It isn’t a cupcake without the icing and a layer cake is flat without the frosting. Even hot cross buns or sticky buns don’t make sense without the sugary top.

Frosting, or icing, can be as simple as dusting a hot-from-the-oven baked good with powdered (confectioner’s) sugar, or as complex as layering a wedding cake with intricate piping and frosted flowers.

Of course, the home baker has a ready-made solution at the grocery store. All sorts and flavors of frosting reside there. But it is almost just as easy to concoct your own, rich, versatile, yummy frosting and wow your family and friends.  All you need, besides ingredients, is a hand-held or stand mixer.

So, OK. I grant you the cleanup is way easier with canned frosting, but the taste (and lack of additives) is the trade-off pay-off.

Here are three basic creamy, buttery, praise-worthy frosting recipes every baker should be familiar with. Butter cream – who doesn’t like that – and its chocolate twin, and the indulgent butter cream cheese icing are all you’ll need for at-home or party baking. Think about it, who would eat carrot cake if it didn’t come with cream cheese frosting?

In each of these recipes you can experiment with different flavorings in place of the vanilla extract. Try mint or fruit extracts with the chocolate frosting; lemon or orange with the butter and cream cheese frostings; cherry or raspberry or maple syrup; even a tablespoon or two of rum or brandy or whiskey, with any of the recipes. Because these are basic recipes, they are great for stretching the usual into something customized for your family and the occasion.

BETTER CREAM FROSTING
BETTER CREAM FROSTING

BUTTER CREAM FROSTING
This basic is everybody’s favorite.

3 C confectioners’ sugar, sifted
2 sticks (1 C) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 Tbls heavy cream (whipping cream)
1 tsp. vanilla extract
Beat the confectioners’ sugar together with the butter using a hand or a counter mixer (fitted with a paddle attachment) until well mixed. Add the heavy cream and beat until extremely light and fluffy. Then beat in the vanilla until combined. Frosts one layer cake or about a dozen and a half cupcakes.

CHOCOLATE BUTTER CREAM FROSTING
CHOCOLATE BUTTER CREAM FROSTING

BUTTER CREAM CHOCOLATE FROSTING

This is how to make butter cream frosting even better

1 C unsalted butter at room temperature
3-4 C confectioners sugar
1/2 C cocoa powder (unsweetened)
1-2 Tbls half and half
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Beat butter until fluffy in a large mixing bowl. Add three cups of sugar and the cocoa powder, one tablespoon half and half, and the vanilla extract. Beat until combined and fluffy. Adjust, adding more sugar or milk, depending on the consistency you want. Good on cakes, cupcakes and cookies.

TIP: Adding about a tablespoon (more to taste) of ground coffee makes this a chocolate mocha frosting.

CREAM CHEESE FROSTING
Cream cheese and butter – irresistible together.

18-oz pkg of cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 C (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
3 1/2 C confectioners’ sugar
With an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese, butter, and vanilla together until well-mixed and smooth. Add the sugar and beat until fluffy. Should it be too soft, slightly chill the frosting to stiffen it before using. Makes enough for one cake or about 18 cupcakes.

TIP: Just add ½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder to make chocolate cream cheese frosting.

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