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Oct 22, 2007 02:28 PM

Heirloom Frosting Recipe Question - help!

So I have just discovered my grandmother's famous frosting recipe, which is essentially the following:

cook flour and milk together
let cool completely
beat with crisco, butter and sugar

Here's my question - what KIND of sugar are we talking about here? The lack of descriptor makes me assume granulated, but wouldn't confectioner's sugar go into solution better?

Help from bakers greatly appreciated!

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    1. re: jsaimd

      Similar, but the sugar and fats are beaten in later, not cooked with the flour and milk.

    2. My grandmother made a similar frosting and we loved it so I dug out our old family cookbook to see how she did it. According to my mom's notes, the recipe is as follows:

      1 cup milk + 4 Tablespoons flour. Cook until thick, stirring constantly. Let cool.
      Beat together 1/2 cup butter, 1/2 shortening and 1 cup granulated sugar. Beat for 4 minutes. Add cooked flour mixture and beat another 4 minutes. Add 2 tsp vanilla and 1 cup icing sugar and blend.
      I hope that helps!

      1 Reply
      1. re: ms. clicquot

        Thank you for this recipe. I was making cupcakes for a family reunion, and anticipating the hot summer weather, used your recipe without any changes. It was the perfect compliment fo rthe dense red velvet cupcakes I made (box mix plus pudding). This reminds me of the filling my mum made for whoopee pies when I was a child. Delicious! This is getting recorded in MY FAVORITES recipe book.

      2. Looks like it's what I've heard called gravy frosting. I know, gross name, but it's a great recipe. I've always seen it made with granulated sugar. You can also substitute cream cheese for some of the butter and crisco, if you like cream cheese frostings. It's good for certain cakes because it's tangy and not very sweet.

        1. Granulated sugar.
          That's an old recipe, probably dating back at least to the Depression. How inexpensive can you get, huh? You can actually make it with all Crisco and it still comes out pretty good.
          Mama's recipe for this uses margarine and it's the one that goes on the traditional Red Velvet Cake recipe from the South. No cream cheese frosting - ever!!!!
          One of the advantages that this recipe has over classic buttercreams is that it hold up well in hot weather so it was a big favorite in the South in the days before air conditioning. People also didn't have much butter in the rural South and what they had would have been used as a table spread so this was a great frosting recipe.

          Mama's recipe calls for creaming the sugar and margarine (I usually use butter) until very fluffy before adding the cooked white sauce. Then beating the mixture for 10 minutes until it's very light and fluffy. The granulated sugar does dissolve. Thank God for the KitchenAid mixer. I remember making this with Mama's old hand mixer when I was a child. Very tired little hands.

          5 Replies
          1. re: MakingSense

            I am so glad I read your reply to this post. I am currently preparing a report about frosting and I am trying to find information on the creation of frosting. Your post leads me to believe you are somewhat familiar with old frosting information and I would appreciate if you would share any information you may have to offer with regards to frosting. I am mostly interested in the creation of the first recipes of frosting. However, if you have any unusual or interesting facts these would be more than welcome. Please reply soon. My report is due Wed., Jan. 7, 2008. Thank you inadvance. It is very much appreciated.

            1. re: patter_lake

              American cakes seem to have been very simple for most of our history. Not frosted at all.
              Also, no chocolate. It was an expensive import and not available in any form to most cooks until Hersey's made cocoa powder common starting about 1894. Without refrigeration, regular chocolate would have melted in most of the US during summer months on store and pantry shelves.
              It is easy to forget that homes didn't have electricity or refrigeration and many didn't have it until well into the 20th century, particularly in rural areas or in poor areas.
              That meant that milk and other dairy products were limited and often people lived far from stores.
              You will often see recipes using evaporated milk, such as the classic caramel frosting recipe. Evaporated milk was shelf stable and had been a pantry staple since the late 1800s.
              Butter was a luxury. If cooks had it, they saved it for table spreads, rarely using it for baking. This was particularly true during the Depression and with the rationing of WWII.
              Many frosting recipes will use margarine and in some cases Crisco, such as the one for Red Velvet Cake.
              Many of the earlier frosting recipes that I found were boiled (also called 7-minute) frostings which are similar to Italian or Swiss meringues, using sugar syrups and egg whites, both staples that could be kept without refrigeration and would be available on the average farm.
              These frostings were made with simple ingredients but required time and skill. They were marks of a good cook and a woman would take a beautiful cake to a church social with enormous pride.
              Frosted cakes seem to have been "celebration" cakes, used for weddings, church events, etc. not for everyday.
              Look up Lane Cake, Lady Baltimore Cake. Both date to the late 1800s.
              The 1946 edition of Joy of Cooking lists only one recipe for a cream cheese icing - to be used for a date nut cake - that uses a 3-oz block of Philly.
              Cream cheese frosting became popular after it was promoted by Kraft Foods in TV commercials during a popular series called Kraft Television Theater. It really took off when it was used on Carrot Cake in hippie "health food" restaurants in the 1960s.
              From those beginnings, it seems to have become the most popular frosting in the country, probably because it's impossible to screw up - just as Kraft promised. it requires no skill at all, a far cry from a good boiled frosting.

              My memories of growing up in the 50s and 60s in New Orleans don't include frosted cakes at home. We had simple cakes with a drizzled glaze or powdered sugar.
              There might be a simple frosting on a birthday cake, but only for your birthday or a christening.
              My great aunt made elaborate fondant covered, tiered wedding cakes in the old French tradition with spun sugar flowers and birds. She made mine, almond-scented and dense. A beautiful towering thing, but once in a lifetime.

              Now we can break out the fool-proof cream cheese or pop open a plastic tub of Duncan Hines ready-made.
              Does the "frosting on the cake" still mean what it once did?

              There is of course an alternate branch for "frosting in America" that comes from immigrant traditions. We've been fortunate to have so many fine French, German, Eastern European, and others come to our shores, bringing with them their own skills.
              I hope others will add what they know to help you along on your report.

            2. re: MakingSense

              I'm so glad you said no cream cheese frosting on red velvet cakes - I can't stand cream cheese frosting on those and much prefer the lighter frostings.....

              1. re: jazzy77

                The traditional frosting on Red Velvet Cake was a butter roux frosting - sometimes called gravy icing because it was made with a cooked mixture of flour and milk, like a white sauce.
                The cream cheese frosting started to become popular when the cake became well-known throughout the US after the 1989 movie Steel Magnolias featured it. Before that it was mostly a Southern specialty, although it was served in New York, both at the Waldorf-Astoria and in Harlem, likely from transplanted Southerners.
                Even Paula Dean has now switched to the cream cheese version. Tsk, tsk.
                The Gravy Icing was terrific in the hot, humid South. In addition to being economical, especially in the lean Depression and War years, it stood up to the heat and humidity in the days before air-conditioning. Buttercreams slid right off a cake and down onto the tables.

                1. re: MakingSense

                  I hate to say it, but I am from the south and my Kentucky born grandmother used cream cheese frosting on red velvet cakes long before Steel Magnolias. After all, there are always family/local variations on every recipe. Not any one is superior to the other. Most people just tend to prefer what they they grew up with and are used to. That doesn't mean other people are "doing it wrong." Viva la difference!

            3. OK so this weekend I made this recipe.I am so hooked I don't think I could ever go back to powder sugar, shorting,etc. I made my daughters birthday cake with it and Gorgeous! And we are addicted to the taste!


              She said it would work. At first it didn't look right. But the end result. OMG . The hard part (not really but challenging ) That recipe called for corn starch and she said you could use flour in a pinch. but I used corn starch.I doubled this for extra . I used a 3 quart HEAVY saucepan. I used Caphalon. I mixed mixed my corn starch and milk in the pan. Made sure it was really dissolved. Placed it on med heat and started stirring. You will see as it starts to thicken up you have to really step up your stirring. When it gets that thick. They said about 3 minutes? You have to judge. pull it off the heat and keep beating it. It will become VERY thick almost too hard to stir. That is why you remove it off the heat once it's thickened. but keep stirring even off the heat. This stuff is so thick it looks like you could make a bouncy ball with it. I kid you not! But as she states as long as it is warm keep stirring to cool down. Eventually it will but keep after it. Come back to it every few minutes. I used a large metal spoon. You could use a wood spoon. Just keep after this mixture and attack those little globs trying lump up on on. Keep it smooth as possible. In the meantime you have your room temperate butter and and regular sugar and vanilla that you have beaten. A word about the sugar and butter. This is regular sugar that I am breaking down with real unsalted butter. My mixer is not that big so I used stops and starts till I got my sugar and butter mixed.Please don't use melted butter. Start with butter that is only out of the fridge an hour (about) I sliced and cubed the butter that I mixed in with the sugar. You want the butter and sugar to be kind of thick but mixed well. Once you have the butter and sugar and flavor. (I used clear almond) Love it. You add the thick milk/corn starch mixture to the butter mixture and beat for about 8 minutes. You will not believe how good this frosting is.