Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > Home Cooking >
May 18, 2008 06:13 PM

Southern Custard/Cooked Custard/Gravy Icing Separation

I finally got my cooked custard frosting right, but instead of turning off the mixer and acknowledging my success, I continued to beat the icing, which in turn caused the butterfat to separate slightly from the rest of the icing (resulting in a not totally smooth icing with pockets of melted butter). Does anyone have any suggestions for whether I could add an ingredient or do something to make this frosting come back together and not appear greasy? It's not so bad that I couldn't use it as is, but it also isn't perfect. Thanks!

p.s. For anyone who isn't clear, this is the icing that involves heating milk and flour, allowing that mixture to cool, and then adding it to a beaten butter/sugar combination.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Okay, so it's now 24 hours later, and the frosting has been chilling this whole time. The consistency now resembles over-whipped cream...not necessarily chunky but there is clearly too much "texture" and there are definitely small chunks of butter now intermingled in the frosting (though you really can't taste them), presumably where the melted butter re-solidified. Should I just throw this out and start again? Can I bring the frosting up to room temperature and add something to it (milk, sugar, etc) to get it to come back together? I'm not going to be frosting the cake until Wednesday night, so I clearly have time to re-do the icing if I need to, though obviously this is not my preference. The mixture will need to be brought to room temperature in order to re-whip and frost the cupcakes, but then the cupcakes will be refrigerated until they are loaded into a car for a 6-hour car trip, so there is a lot of potential for the separation/solidification/separation cycle to continue. Help!

    15 Replies
    1. re: Laura D.

      I make gravy icing often. Sorry to hear of your problem. I don't know if this would work, but what if you re-heated it slowly in a double- boiler? Seems to me you have to melt the butter chunks back into the icing. You could gently stir it and see if you could bring it back together. I'd be interested to know what you decide to do and how it works. Good luck!

      1. re: Axalady

        Thanks for the suggestion...I might try that, though I worry that remelting the butter might leave me back at square one, with an icing that has separated. It's definitely worth trying before throwing it out, though, so I'll keep you posted if I try this. Otherwise, I might just remake the icing, as at least this time I think I'll finally get right. Thanks!

        1. re: Laura D.

          Just wanted to give you an update Axalady...I didn't try your method (due to the fact that I didn't think I had enough time to try that, have it potentially not work, and make another icing). I wound up making a fresh batch of this icing and had a similar separation problem. I was so disgusted that I threw both batches out and wound up icing the cupcakes with the oreo whipped cream mixture that I using to fill them. And, I made the official decision to never make a custard buttercream/gravy icing again. For the few times I've gotten it to work there have been too many times that it has failed and it just isn't worth it. Plus, I don't think I even like the taste that much I have to do two cakes this weekend and am thinking of using the Silk Meringue Buttercream from The Cake Bible. Please feel free to let me know if you have any thoughts/suggestions! Thanks!

          1. re: Laura D.


            Sorry to hear your problems with gravy icing. I don't know what recipe you use. Here is a link to a recipe I posted for buttercream icing that has never failed me: I wish you luck with the Silk Meringue. You may want to visit Beranbaum's site for some helpful hints.

            1. re: Axalady

              Thanks for the well-wishes. Yesterday at the last minute I actually decided to make a buttercream whose recipe I found online. I'll post the recipe later in the weekend as I can't do it right now, but, basically, it has everything I've been looking for in my buttercreams for years, and was ridiculously easy. So, despite the incident last week with the custard icing I am feeling good, overall, about baking and buttercreams, (since this recipe worked I decided not to try the Silk just didn't seem "worth it" right now, though I do hope to make it at some point when I'm not under such a time crunch, and when it is for my own personal use and not being made for someone else). Thanks again for your advice!

              1. re: Laura D.

                hi laura,i'm dying to know what buttercream recipe you ended up using?i'm trying to find one that is light like whipping cream and not too sweet but holds up well for far i'm leaning towards the gravy type but i need it to hold up. thanks :)

                1. re: mamachichi

                  Here's the link for the recipe I mentioned. Scroll down to the "marshmallow frosting" recipe at the bottom of the page.


                  Unfortunately I've made this buttercream a few more times since posting, and found that while it is good, it's not the "perfect" buttercream that I had hoped for as it is too buttery and not as fluffy as I'd like. The gravy type will give you the lightness of whipped cream with less sweetness and stability IF it works, but I've had it fail too many times to really count on it. I tried it recently with half butter and half shortening and while it came out perfect from a texture perspective, it didn't taste that great thanks to the shortening. I'm trying another new buttercream this weekend and I'll post about it if if seems worthwhile. Good luck with finding one you love...I've been trying to do that for years now!

                  1. re: Laura D.

                    Try this one krissywats (where did she go?) posted: it is light, fluffy, tastey in a not-too-sweet way. I think it is exactly what you are looking for.

                    1. re: mirage

                      Hi Mirage,

                      Thanks for referencing Krissywats' recipe. I've actually tried it before, along with several other versions of that "gravy" recipe. While I have fond memories of loving this recipe when my mom made it when I was little, every time I've made it I've been disappointed even when, texture-wise, it does come out correct. And, the failure rate for it is high enough that I'd like to try other options before coming back to this one (though I always do). The guys at Baked have a recipe in their cookbook that is similar to the gravy icing/southern custard recipe, but the order in which they combine ingredients is different. I have that one marked as one I should try and will report back if it turns out well. For my next cake, though, I'm trying a swiss meringue buttercream and hoping to add slightly less butter than the recipe calls for.

                      1. re: Laura D.

                        Laura, if you don't mind, I'm curious about the order of ingredients in the Baked recipe. I don't need the actual recipe, I'm just curious about how their technique differs from the standard custard buttercream.

                        1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                          Here's a link to a recipe for their cinnamon buttercream. I see no reason why one couldn't just omit the cinnamon and make a vanilla buttercream:


                          As you'll likely notice, they cook the flour, sugar, and milk together along with a little bit of cream, whereas every other recipe I've seen doesn't add the sugar to the flour/milk custard that is cooked and also doesn't use cream in addition to milk. They then beat the custard cool, rather than cooking is separately and adding it to a butter/sugar mixture that one has already been beating. So basically, the timing of the addition of the sugar, and method of cooling the custard, and the use of heavy cream are all different than techniques used in other recipes. I do want to try this recipe and I'm sure I will, but I'd love to know if anyone else has already tried it. Oh, and one more thing...I'd have to compare this with my other recipes but it appears that in general there is more liquid here than in other recipes I've used. I could be wrong on this one, though.

                          1. re: Laura D.

                            I just tried this recipe. Instead of the milk/cream mixture i used 2% evaporated milk b/c that is what I had on hand besides skim milk. i used cornstarch (1/2 as much as the flour called for) because i am allergic to flour. I used a vanilla bean in the first step and omitted the extracts. added a dash of salt b/c i always have to do that. It came together in a really lovely frosting. Very nice and smooth and not too sweet. it may be my favorite i have made and super easy to throw together. It looks like it will separate for a bit, but keep beating and it comes right together (just like a lot of European buttercreams)

                            1. re: jsaimd

                              I wast just thinking about this recipe this morning...thanks for posting your results. As soon as I get to it I'll post mine too!

                              1. re: Laura D.

                                Finally tried the cinnamon buttercream recipe, though I didn't add any cinnamon and instead just stuck with a plain vanilla buttercream. Texture and success-wise this has so far been the best of the bunch in terms of the cooked/gravy icing recipes I've tried. Because of the order of things I didn't have to worry about either not cooling enough or cooling too much the milk/flour mixture, which has troubled me in the past. However, I did find that the cream made for an icing that was simply too rich/greasy for me (meaning it left a bit of a greasy mouthfeel rather than that it was greasy and thus falling off of the cake). I would substitute all milk in place of the milk/cream mixture, possibly even using some 1% or 2% in addition to whole milk. I would also see if I could get away with using just a tad less butter as I personally would prefer something a little bit more sweet and a little bit less buttery. Overall, if I decide to use this style of buttercream again this is the technique/recipe I'd use, as I've had the more traditional technique fail enough times to never want to try it again. It is a good though not great recipe, but I've yet to find a recipe I think is "great" so perhaps I'm a bit biased.

                                1. re: Laura D.

                                  this is a veryyyyy old post but i just tried this frosting and had the same trouble! so did you find out what really is the problem here? 'cause id love to know, nobody here would eat buttercream, its too tooooo sweet and this is the only thing thats pipeable. its a nightmare, this thing seperates in the piping bag!!