Though nearly everyone loves a good cake, there's one part of these delicious desserts that seems to split sweet-toothed people into separate camps: Frosting. Go to any birthday party or wedding and you're sure to see plenty of people gently pushing their frosting off their slice, or else handing it over to some nearby frosting fiend. There is a secret to excellent frosting: making it yourself. The stuff in the can works well in a pinch, but there's something especially delectable about frosting you made. Here are a few tips that will help you win over everyone except the most die-hard frosting haters out there:
1) The Basics
The simplest frosting you can make is a basic buttercream. When it comes to cake toppings, consider this your foundation – it will work great with nearly any cake, it's utterly customizable, and it's the perfect frosting for decoration since it's safe to sit out at room temperature. All you need to make buttercream frosting is sugar, butter, milk, and flavoring. To keep things simple, we'll go over how to make a vanilla frosting. Here's a quick recipe that makes just about enough frosting to cover a two-layer, 9-inch round cake:
3 cups powdered sugar
⅓ cup butter, softened
2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Combine powdered sugar and butter in a bowl with your mixer set to low speed. Then, add in 1 tablespoon of the milk and the vanilla extract.
Gradually mix in the rest of the milk. If your frosting starts to hit the desired consistency before you've added all of the second tablespoon, it's OK to stop – humidity, air pressure, and other factors can affect how your frosting turns out, and you could end up needing slightly more or less milk.
The easiest way to flavor your frosting is with an extract. However, extracts are limited to what you can find in your supermarket. If you want raspberry buttercream frosting, for example, you're probably going to need to take another approach. You can get a fruity frosting a few different ways. For berry frostings, you can simply add washed and dried berries in when you would normally add the extract. Use as many cups of berries as you have cups of butter. If you want a citrusy buttercream, you can use 1-2 tablespoons of juice per batch, or use zest from the rind for a milder hint. Cocoa powder or finely-ground coffee (1/2 cup per batch, respectively) can give you perfectly indulgent frosting. For any of these flavorings, it's important to remember that as you add additional wet or dry ingredients, you'll have to compensate with the others to get the consistency just right.
Of course, you can also get different flavors by simply making a different kind of frosting. For example, check out our recipe for a perfectly rich cream cheese frosting. Other frostings, like marshmallow, meringue, or German chocolate frosting, are all great ways to mix things up. Though these frostings are more specialized than buttercream – and in some cases, a little trickier to work with – a little practice will have you frosting like a pro.
3) Texture Tweaking
Different tasks will require different frosting textures. For example, you might want a thin frosting that works more like a glaze, or you might want stiff, thick frosting that can hold up to plenty of decoration. Whichever the case, it's important to understand the proper way to modify a frosting's texture. If your frosting is too thick, don't add more butter – though this is many people's first guess, it can leave your frosting too oily and make it difficult to work with. Instead, increase your milk. This way it will blend in perfectly. If it's too thin, add in extra sugar. Whichever way you're trying to adjust the texture, do so gradually. It's easy to overdo it and end up needing to adjust back, but if you're slow and steady, you'll avoid needing to dial the texture in.
"Homemade icing lasts 3-5 days in the fridge."
Depending on how much frosting you make and what you're using it for, you may end up with some left over. How you should store it will depend on what you plan to do with it. If you expect to use frosting again in the next 3-5 days, keep it in a covered container in the fridge. However, if you don't have another baking project right on the horizon, you can stick it in the freezer instead. This way your frosting can last up to three months without going bad or losing its flavor. To thaw it, let it sit in the fridge for as long as a day. Stick it back in the mixer and beat it for a few minutes with the paddle attachment at medium-low speed. It will whip right back into its original glory!