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Icings and frostings

By Sam Q

Dearest Diary,
People say that the frosting is the best part of a cake. I could not agree more. You can choose your own frostings, you can enhance them in your favourite colour, you can even mould your frostings to your liking. Basically, you can have a lot of fun.

As I was thinking and writing down all these thoughts, they were sounding so similar to another aspect of my life. I was trying so hard to remember, but elusion decided to give me company then. Anyway, suddenly, after I stopped stressing, the penny dropped. I remembered that I, always in my mind, compared my friends as the frostings of my life.

I chose them, they are of different shapes and colours, they have moulded me in many a different way, and I do have a lot of fun with them.

I know people say, God made mums, because he could not be everywhere. But I think, God made mums and friends, because there are too many of us needy, emotionally crippled people in this world for only mums to handle, hence, friends were created.

Anyway, as I am rambling today, I am going to take this opportunity to glorify my frostings. I have these amazing, strong, generous, selfless, mature and beautiful frostings in my life that I am so proud of.

They have enriched my life in so many ways. I truly meant it, when I said, “When I grow up, I want to be like them.”

Okay, now that I am done talking about my frostings, I want to wrap up my maudlin monologues about the sprinklers on top of my frostings.

I did not get to choose them, but I would not change them for anything in the world. They are my family. My loving mum, my super supportive husband, my solid structural pillars of strength -- my sister and brother -- my ever dependable brother-in-law and my three babies.

Life would have been quite dull without you all. You are not the traditional relatives people sign up for but I guess that's what makes our relationship so unique.

So, to end it on a Karan Johar corny dialogue…if everything else fails... there is always frostings and sprinklers.

Cheers! Have a good day, the Sam Q. way!


Icings, frostings and fillings can transform a plain cake into a quick and simple teatime treat or a glamorous creation that keeps moist and delicious for long. If you are making an impressive gateau for a special occasion it can be prepared well in advance, as some of these mixtures will keep well for 3-4 days, or more.

Butter icing
This popular icing, sometimes called butter cream, gives a creamy rich finish. It can be flavoured and coloured in numerous ways. It is very easy to make and work with as its rich and creamy texture quickly covers any surface and fills any gap. Turn a simple sponge into an elegant gateau in minutes by swirling butter icing delicately around the sides and piping it stylishly over the top.

Place the butter in a mixing bowl and beat until pale and fluffy. Gradually beat in the icing sugar and lemon juice or vanilla. Beat in 1 tablespoon hot (boiled but not boiling) water, beating all the time to give a soft-peak consistency.

Add any chosen flavourings, with extra icing sugar as necessary to retain the right consistency. Use immediately or cover and chill until required. Bring the butter icing back to room temperature before use.

Simple finishes for butter icing
The butter icing should be firm enough to give a good shape but soft enough to spread easily. Simply swirling it over the top or around the sides of a cake always looks good. You can create many effects by using a fork, serrated comb, ruler or a palette knife.

Completely cover the cake with icing. Use a flat ruler to flatten and smooth the top, or use the serrated edge to give a neat lined effect before adding the final decorations.

If you are not decorating the top and need a more stylish finish, pull a wide fork through the icing in two different directions to make a pronounced square or angular pattern.

The side can be marked quickly with a small-to medium-sized palette knife. Place the clean and dry blade flat upright against the icing. Press gently to smooth the icing and create a luscious effect. Slide the knife upwards and remove gently. Do not pull it away too sharply.

Sufficient to fill and top two 20cm (8” inch) sponge cakes.
110g (4oz) unsalted butter
Softened 250g (9oz) icing sugar
Sifted 2 tsp lemon juice or a few drops of vanilla essence
Add 1tbsp cocoa powder blended with 1tbsp hot water.
Add 2tsp instant coffee blended with 1tsp boiling water.
Add 2tsp finely grated zest of lemon, orange or lime.

Meringue butter icing
Sufficient to coat two 20cm (8” inch) sponge cakes
(topping and coating)
75g (3oz) sugar
4½ tbsp water
3 egg whites
175g (6oz) unsalted butter, softened
Few drops of vanilla essence
For a rich chocolate butter icing, melt and slightly cool 3oz good dark chocolate. Work it into the meringue butter icing after the butter. This becomes quite stiff on cooling, so spread or pipe before it cools too much.

Flavourings for butter icing (previous page) can be used in meringue butter icing.

Icing small cakes
Place the fairy cakes on a wire rack. Place the rack on a board or over greaseproof paper to catch any drips. Using a teaspoon, spoon icing into the centre of each cake, leave it to settle for a few seconds, then tap the edge of the cake rack very gently to help the icing flow to its own smooth level.

This richer and glossier version of butter icing is perfect for special occasion cakes and gateau. It has a finer, lighter flavour than standard butter icing. It keeps really well in a container in the refrigerator and also on the cake.

Dissolve the sugar in the water in a small clean saucepan and then bring to the boil. Boil the sugar syrup to a temperature of 1150C/2390F.

Whisk the egg whites in a large heat-proof bowl until they stand in soft peaks. Place over a pan of gently simmering water and whisk in the syrup. Continue whisking until the mixture is thick and glossy.

Cream the butter until it is soft. Using an electric whisk, gradually incorporate the butter into the meringue until the icing is firm and glossy. Flavour with a little vanilla. Cover with cling film and leave to cool before spreading or piping.

Glace icing
There is nothing simpler and quicker to make and use than a glace icing. It can be coloured and flavoured, spread, drizzled and feathered, but not piped into sophisticated designs. Youngsters can make this icing easily by themselves. Getting the consistency right is important or the icing can run all over the place.

Sufficient to coat 12 small cakes
110g (4oz) icing sugar
1-2 tbsp water

Sift the sugar into a small bowl and add 1tbsp water. Mix until the water is worked in. Then add more water by ¼ teaspoon at a time. When blended but thick, beat hard to remove any lumps. Then work in drops of water for the consistency you need.

Add flavouring and colouring to taste and use immediately. If not using the icing immediately, cover closely with cling film as the surface will very quickly crust over and the icing with then go lumpy when stirred.

Feather icing
Make up a small quantity of a contrasting colour of icing. Alternatively, use melted chocolate or jam (sieved). Spoon a little into a small paper piping bag without a nozzle. Snip off the end to make a small hole and pipe lines or circles on the wet, white icing. Use a skewer or cocktail stick to pull lines through the two colours to give the feathered effect.

American frosting
Used for many traditional American cakes, such as carrot cake or angel cake, this frosting peaks wonderfully and has a mallowy texture with a slight crust when cold. It takes only 8-10 minutes to make but is best whisked until cool before using. On an uncut cake it keeps well for several days.

Sufficient to cover top and sides of a 23cm (9” inch) cake.
150g (5oz) caster sugar
1 tbsp water
1 tbsp golden syrup
1 large egg white

Mix all the ingredients together in a large, clean heat-proof bowl. Place over a saucepan of simmering water. Whisk lightly until the sugar has dissolved.

Whisk hard for several minutes, until the mixture forms stiff peaks. Remove from the heat and continue whisking until the frosting cools. Spread the frosting generously over the top and sides of the cake. Make peaks or attractive swirls, and leave until cold, by which time the frosting will have acquired a slightly crisp surface.

Italian meringue
Italian meringue is a very stable mixture and it is often used as a frosting. The egg whites are whisked with syrup instead of sugar. Like American Frosting, it also forms a slight crust when cold but it remains gooey underneath.

Sufficient to cover the top and sides of a 23cm (9” inch) cake.
175g (6oz) caster sugar
6tbsp water
2 egg whites

Dissolve the sugar in the water in a medium saucepan and bring to the boil. Boil until clear and syrupy. Whisk the egg whites in a large heat-proof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water until they are stiff.

Gradually pour in the hot syrup in a slow trickle, whisking hard all the time. Continue whisking until the meringue is very stiff and glossy. Remove from the heat and keep whisking until the mixture is cool.

Use immediately or cover with cling film and keep in a cool place (not the refrigerator) for 2-3 days.

Royal icing
Royal icing is nearly always the choice for very special formal cakes. It gives an elegant bright-white covering and it can be used in very simple or very complex ways. Antique Victorian and Edwardian designs show the ultimate use of piped decoration but even simple, minimal icing can give a very elegant modern result.

Make royal icing using raw ingredients or you can buy commercially prepared powder mixes. These mixes include precise proportions of albumen (egg white), glucose or glycerine necessary for making icing for different tasks. For example, glycerine is added to give a coating icing that stays soft for cutting, while run-out icing needs sufficient albumen for it to become dry and hard, but contains no glycerine.

Royal icing
Makes sufficient to coat top and sides of a 20cm (8”inch) round or 18cm (7”inch) square cake.
2 egg whites or 40g (1oz) albumen powder
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 tsp glycerine (use only for coating icing)
450g (1lb) icing sugar, sifted twice

Lightly whisk the egg whites, lemon juice and glycerine (if using) in a large bowl. If using albumen powder, make it up according to the packet instructions. Gradually work in the sifted icing sugar.

Continue beating until the icing is stiff, smooth and glossy. For flat coating, the icing should stand in soft peaks, so when you lift the spoon out of the bowl the icing stands in a peak with a gentle curve.

Cover the bowl of icing with a clean damp tea towel or cling film and leave for about 1 hour before using to allow any air bubbles to disperse.

Flat icing a round cake
When flat icing a cake, you will achieve the best results by giving the top and sides 2-3 coats, allowing each coat to dry well before adding the next. Coat the top and side in separate stages, allowing them to dry between coats. Speed things up by storing the cake in any airy, dry place under a lamp if possible. Before you move on to the next stage, gently scrape off any lumps or snags with a scalpel and fill any holes with soft icing.

To coat the top place 2-3 tablespoons of icing in the middle and gently spread it over with a palette knife. Do this using a flat paddling movement. The top of the cake should be even covered.

Draw a straight edge or clean icing ruler firmly and smoothly across the top of the cake. Hold the ruler at an angle of about 45 degrees. Do this in one movement -- if you stop you will have a ridge. If necessary, repeat the whole process, but remember that the next two layers will cover up any problems. Set aside until firm.

To coat the side, spread the icing roughly around the cake with a palette knife.

Use a plain-edge cake scraper and start at the opposite side of the cake, furthest away from you. Hold the turntable with the left hand and the scraper in the right hand. The scraper should be vertical and at an angle of about 45 degrees.

Turn the cake steadily in one continuous movement while scraping the icing firmly. When both hands meet, carefully slide the left hand out of the way and pull the scraper towards you. This can be repeated, but unless the coat is really uneven it will be improved when the next coating is applied. Set aside until firm.

When the icing has dried, smooth any rough edges carefully. Gently scrape off any rough ridges and then coat top and sides again.

Once you are happy with the flat icing, cover the board in a similar way to the sides. Spread a thin coat first with a palette knife, then gently drag the scraper over the board, pulling it towards you at the end to avoid creating a ridge.

Royal icing tips
Royal icing can be made in a food mixer but not a food processor. Royal icing benefits from being left to rest for at least 1 hour so any air bubbles can disperse. Keep the icing well covered with cling film or a damp cloth at all times to prevent it from drying out before you have finished using it.

Use a turntable to lift the cake to a comfortable working height and to turn it easily while you work. Always let one coating become totally dry before repairing it or applying another coat.

Flat icing a square cake
Coat the top in exactly the same way as for a round cake.

For the sides, coat lightly all over as for a round cake. Then smooth one side at a time with the same angled and firm action. Finish at the corner by bringing the scraper off the cake towards you. Start the next side by joining up with the previous edge and continue this way around all four sides. Set aside until firm. Apply second and third coats in similar stages.



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