Thursday, January 31, 2013

Frostings, Icing, and Fondant

First, big news for the Cake Flake! My mother bought me a Wilton class at Joann, and I'm starting Fondant and Gumpaste on February 4th. I've been spending a lot of time trying to get the equipment and ingredients together. The class is pretty inexpensive if you catch a special, but the supplies run about $100, which my mother include in her gift. Thank you, Mom!

I stated in my first post that, as I prioritize taste over appearance, I was not interested in fondant. My Wilton teacher told me that fondant tastes like you had put a piece of chewing gum on top of your cake. Well, a couple of months ago I taught a cake decorating class for the Young Women's group at church with Kelly Hall of Sweet Nectar Confections. I taught buttercream and she taught fondant, and she shared with me some Satin Ice Fondant, which tasted like plain sugar and wasn't too chewy. I now find the idea of fondant pretty interesting, and I LOVE some of the things you can do with it decoratively.

I've been thinking a lot about frostings since I started the blog. I even did a taste test a while ago. I like many bakers, like Italian or Swiss Meringue Buttercream, which has a ratio of 1 part sugar to 1 part butter (as I made it; recipes do vary). Everyone else at the tasting said that the meringue frostings were too rich or even greasy, and preferred the American Buttercream, made with 2 parts sugar to 1 part butter. I revived the 1:1 ratio in my new Fudge Frosting.

The "greasy" comment brings me to another thought. In buttercream, the dominant favors are sugar and butter. If the frosting does not have enough sugar for your taste, it will seem fatty or greasy because that's the only other dominant flavor. In meringue buttercreams, the meringue adds body but not flavor. A cream cheese or chocolate frosting adds complexity with either tangy or bitter flavors. But, absent a third player, a frosting is either too sweet, too rich, or, ideally, in balance.

Again I have mentioned taste. People have very different preferences for sweetness. Early in our relationship I made my now-husband a lemon meringue pie, his favorite dessert, from a Cooks Illustrated recipe. He hated it because it was way too sour for his preference. I loved it and, embarrassingly, ate the whole pie in the next couple of days. I learned two valuable lessons: one in my husband's blunt honesty, and another in the importance of cooking to your audience's taste.

So what I the correct sweetness for frosting? 2:1, 1:1, or as Rose Levy Berenbaum specifies, 1 part sugar to 2½ parts butter? The correct answer is, of course, any and all of these, depending on the occasion. Based on my taste test I default to the 2:1 American Buttercream. If I am baking for myself or another baker I would use a 1:1 frosting.

But fondant allows an interesting possibility. Perhaps I can frost a cake with a less sweet frosting, then top it with thinly rolled fondant? Then you could eat the fondant or not, and enjoy your individual sweetness preference. I can't wait to try it.

A final thought: frosting versus icing. My husband has been teasing me about this question since I started the blog. According to Serious Eats, frosting is thicker and richer, while icing tends to be thinner and sweeter, though these aren't absolute. That makes sense to me, and I've tried use the more specific (IMO) word frosting in my blog.

The endless varieties of frostings and icings fascinates me, and I will continue to read recipes and bug every baker I meet.



  1. Re buttercream being greasy... I think we forget that the climates where these frostings developed are cooler than ours, therefore they would set up more firmly and have a less greasy mouthfeel. Also, I suspect that less frosting was used than what we now consider normal. But yes, it is all in the tastebuds of the beholder, I mean taster!

    1. Even today, room temperature in Europe is cooler than in the US. I'll admit that I did not have a cake in France, and the British cakes I ate were covered with marzipan, then royal icing. Not great, IMO.

  2. Oh, and YAY for the class! Can't wait to see what you make.

  3. i'm so excited for your class! I have yet to decide which buttercream is my favorite, in general; but i'm not a big frosting person, so i'm a poor judge, it would seem. picking my "go-to" frosting is one of the things on my list this year, because i feel like i should know for myself which one i prefer and why. Right now, i live solidly in the "I like cream cheese frosting" but i'd like to venture out. :)

    1. I love cream cheese myself, but I have a hard time getting it smooth, and it's difficult to decorate with. I explain above why American is my default, but my favorites are my fudge frosting or cream cheese.