There are a few things that give me a fair amount of anxiety in life. One is air travel. And not just the flying in the airplane part of it. It’s the whole thing–the lines, the crowds, the sweating while trying to beat the clock and lugging bags and tripping over myself. Ugh. Another personal stressor–wholly embarrassing to admit since I keep a baking blog–is Seven-Minute Frosting.
Seven minutes?! Schaa! Try seven years. Until very recently, I’ve had nothing but tragic, inexplicable failures with this frosting that is supposedly the simplest of them all. Regardless of the recipes I would try or how carefully I would follow them, no amount of whip-whip-whipping would ever make that frothy syrup spin into the billowy, glossy frosting that was promised to me. Cut to me in tears, chucking the offending liquid into the disposal and settling for a much more reliable American buttercream. Until now. I have emerged victorious over Seven-Minute Frosting, people. Boo ya!
I don’t know what happened–I didn’t do anything differently than I had in the past. But for some reason the planets recently aligned in such a way that a batch of Seven-Minute Frosting finally came together in the quick and easy way everyone always says it should. It started with an awesome cake recipe on America’s Test Kitchen (Christopher Kimball–Be Mine?) that featured my icing nemesis perched on a lovely, lemony layer cake. I scoffed. But still, I was inspired. And so into the kitchen I went, whisk attachment held high, ready to take on the flippin’ frosting that had always flippin’ alluded me. And you know what? The first batch flippin’ failed. AS PER USUAL! Gah!
BUT! The second try was a blazing success, and I stared in amazement as I watched the sugary syrup magically billow up the whisk before my very eyes. Eureka!
All of this dramatic prose to say this: it really shouldn’t be this hard for you, dear readers. Millions of bakers swear by this frosting. And unlike me, I’m sureyou won’t be ridden with a freakish inability to make this frosting happen from the get-go. I believe in you. Just bang all the ingredients into the bowl of your standing mixer (or another aluminum bowl) and set it over a saucepan of simmering water, stirring until the temperature hits 160 degrees.
Then simply put the bowl onto your mixer (or get your electric hand mixer set up), and let ‘er rip. And watch the magic happen. When it starts to look gorgeous and thick and glossy, almost like shaving cream, stop the mixer and give it a check–it should be room temperature and have a nice firm peak.
Now the world of Seven-Minute Frosting has been opened to you. If you can keep yourself and your family from eating the whole lot of it straight from the bowl with a soup spoon, the possibilities are endless. I like the modern twist of adding a bit of lemon juice when putting it on white cakes to cut the sweetness just a touch and keep the cake from being a flat, endless sea of sugar, but I’d stick to the traditional addition of vanilla extract for a nice balance with dark chocolate cakes. And glory of glories, you can torch (yessss!) the finished frosting for a genius toasted marshmallow effect on cakes of all kinds and on pies in lieu of traditional meringue.
And since I’ve put one of my (now former…for the moment, anyway) kitchen failures out there, let’s all clear the air: with what culinary demons do you wrestle? You know, those sticky wicket recipes that you can never seem to get just right. Be honest, and then we’ll do a big group hug.
Fluffy White Icing (Seven-Minute Frosting)
Adapted from America’s Test Kitchen
Makes enough to frost a 9-inch layer cake
I love including lemon juice to add a bit of dimension to this very sweet frosting–the flavor works fabulously on white or yellow cakes, especially those layered with fruit fillings. If you’re making a cake where the extra tang won’t work as well–a deep chocolate cake, for instance–simply swap out the lemon juice for an extra tablespoon of water and add a teaspoon of pure vanilla extract. In either case, use and serve this frosting as soon as possible–it does not hold well.
2 large egg whites
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup water
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
Pinch of salt
In the bowl of a standing mixer or another aluminum bowl, whisk together all of the ingredients. Place the bowl over a medium saucepan with about an inch of gently simmering water, making sure the water level doesn’t touch the bottom of the bowl. Stir the mixture constantly and check the temperature often with an instant-read thermometer until it reaches 160 degrees.
Dry off the bottom of the bowl and place it on the mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (or set up an electric hand mixer). Whip the frosting on medium speed until it becomes opaque and soft peaks form, about five minutes. Turn the mixer up to medium-high and whip until the frosting is glossy, billowy and reaches a stiff peak and cools down to room temperature, about five minutes more. Use immediately and serve as soon as possible.
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