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Apr 4, 2010 09:03 PM

7 Minute Frosting - Starts out Wonderful, then turns grainy!

What am I doing wrong? I've made 7 minute frosting twice, and had the same problem each time. The frosting is lovely, soft and billowy when I make it and frost the cake. I put the frosted cake under a heavy glass cake dome -- thinking it would keep the frosting soft. But when I serve the cake the next day, the frosting is unpleasantly grainy. Any ideas?

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    1. 7 minute frosting can go grainy overnight if the sugar crystals are not completely dissolved when whisking over boiling water. They regroup. The same situation can occur when making caramel; if even one sugar crystal is left undissolved, it causes a chain reaction and crystal reformation, leading to graininess. Humidity can also greatly affect this style of meringue icing.

      A better icing to use, especially for serving the next day, is an Italian meringue. The sugar is brought to a boil with the water, cream of tartar and salt, just to disolve the sugar, the egg whites are whipped separately, then the sugar syrup is poured in very slowly while the mixer is running. The icing will thicken, keep beating until you're got your desired consistency. I find Italian meringue easier to make than 7 minute, and only takes 5 minutes!

      So the trick is to make sure the sugar is completely dissolved. If you temp the sugar/water/egg white/tartar mixture while simmering, it should come up to 160*, no lower, no higher (you don't want to cook the whites.) Also, I would seriously consider making and serving this icing the same day.

      10 Replies
      1. re: bushwickgirl

        Wow! Bushwickgirl, you gave me a TON of wonderful information and advice! Thank you SO much! I will definitely try the Italian meringue. Really appreciate your explanation of the whole sugar crystal business. Many thanks!

        1. re: CathyR

          You're welcome, good luck.
          Oh, I forgot to mention superfine (bar) sugar. Seems to work better with any meringue, rather than granulated. You can make superfine in a food processor if you can't find it in the supermarket.

        2. re: bushwickgirl

          Is 7 minute frosting another name for a swiss meringue?

            1. re: icecone

              An Italian meringue is sugar, water, egg whites, cream of tartar and flavoring, soft and flowing in texture and more stable than a 7-minute or boiled icing. Basically used as frosting.

              A Swiss meringue is sugar, egg whites, flavoring and possibly the addition of butter (then it becomes a Swiss meringue buttercream.) A hard meringue, without the butter, it's used for dessert bases, like a Pavlova.

              A French meringue is a hard meringue, similar to or the same as what we use in the US for meringue, as on a lemon meringue pie. Basically egg whites and sugar, it's not as firm as a Swiss meringue and can be used for piped decorations, like the classic mushrooms on the Buche de Noel, meringue shells or flavored and mixed with almond flour or ground almonds for meringues (cookies.) It can also be mixed with butter for a French meringue buttercream.

              For all meringue, the ingredients are basically the same, but in different proportions, and the cooking technique and applications differ.

              Here's a Smittenkitchen link for a very nice 7-minute frosting, adapted by her from Joy of Cooking, with bonus lemon 1-2-3-4 cake recipe, with the caveat "Use this frosting the day it is made."

              So there you have it.

              1. re: bushwickgirl

                bushwickgirl, a 7 minute frosting has the same ingredients as a swiss meringue. Are you saying that the proportions are different? They are both made over simmering water, right?

                1. re: icecone

                  Swiss meringue is egg white, sugar, cream of tartar and flavoring. 7-minute is sugar, water, egg whites, often corn syrup, cream of tartar, flavoring.

                  Yes, Swiss and 7-minute are made in the same manner, but with different ingredient proportions and with a different end result. The 7-minute or Italian type meringue (which are also made differently) has water in the formula, to create a sugar syrup, so it's texture will be softer and flowing, for a good icing consistency.

                  I see many recipes on the web for 7-minute icing which I consider to be more Italian meringue in technique, rather than a "real" 7-minute.

                  Italian meringue, sugar syrup boiled and poured into whipped egg whites.
                  7-minute, egg whites, sugar, water, corn syrup, cream of tartar and flavoring whipped in bain marie. There's the difference. The 7-minute is one step and the Italian, two, plus different proportions and ingredients. The end result of cake icing is similar for both, although I think the Italian version is more stable.

                  Now, a "boiled " icing is made in the manner of a Italian meringue, but it usually contains corn syrup, like a 7-minute.

                  Ok, that's enough for so early in the morning.

                  1. re: bushwickgirl

                    Thanks much for the explanation. It seems from your experience searching the web (and mine) that the distinctions between meringue types are being blurred.

                    1. re: icecone

                      Correcto, It wasn't like that when I was learning about this stuff in culinary school, but now I see technique and recipe names blurring, as you say.

                      But to me, an Italian meringue is the best for a soft flowing icing, the Swiss is best for buttercream and the French method is great for lemon meringue pie, end of story. I'm meringued out.

            2. re: bushwickgirl

              Edit: temp for 7-minute icing should read 140*, not 160* Sorry, bad typo.
              If you make the Italian meringue, the sugar syrup should come to 240*.

            3. I had the same problem. I was really disappointed the one time I made it.


              1. My mother made hundreds of cakes with 7 minute frosting. It would start to harden and turn into a crunchy meringue by the next day. I think you have to serve it the same day to have that wonderful light pillowy texture.

                1 Reply
                1. re: Rhee

                  You are so right. Some people like the crustiness, but if you don't try a Italian meringue.

                2. Another suggestion: Make sure you're using Cane Sugar- not "Sugar"....A couple of years ago i ran into some huge issues -and a lot of failures-with graininess when making a swiss meringue. I was buying store brand "sugar" (aka beet sugar) and never thought there'd be any difference...I did a little research and found that beet sugar on the molecular level is different and functions differently from cane...I switched up sugars and the problem was solved. Since then, I will never buy store brand "sugar" again unless it's labeled 100% cane.

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: sixelagogo

                    I respectfully disagree about beet sugar....I've never, ever had a problem with it - it works fine and I make swiss meringue all the time. Beet sugar and cane sugar are chemically the same. A long time ago, it used to be said that beet sugar had more impurities, but according to Harold McGee, that's not the case anymore.

                    1. re: momskitchen

                      I didn't think so- until my multiple fails using different bags of the same sugar...could be the store brand i was using- America's Choice- was impure, but who's the article i linked below that led me to thinking it was a sugar thing


                      1. re: sixelagogo

                        I saw that one, too. All I can tell you is that I buy beet sugar all the time - it's local here in Michigan, and it works great for everything. In McGee's book, he said that beet sugar got a bad rap decades ago, but no longer. I can't speak for America's Choice brand, because it's A&P and we don't have that in Michigan. But if you get Pioneed Sugar, that's a Michigan brand and it's beet and it's good, so if you want to give it a shot again, give that a try. Good luck!

                    2. re: sixelagogo

                      Good advice, beet sugar can be an issue.