Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Making Granda's Cake Even Better:Buttercream Icings

Today is the 114th anniversary of the birth of my Grandma Eda. 
Here she is with my mother and me back in 1964.

And here's the next generation.SC,her oldest great-granddaughter with her 17th birthday cake.

Grandma Eda's cocoa cake recipe is a simple "dump" cake(no stirring until everything is in the bowl). It's the traditional birthday cake in our family. My mom always makes it and I've made it a lot for the girls. JR decided she wanted to be the one to bake it for her big sister's birthday.

This is a low cake, but JR's layers seemed too low and I was worried that they were TOO low! So I baked 2 extra layers and realized that all 4 were fine.

So I decided to combine all 4 into one special 17th birthday cake. And inspired by a lovely chocolate cake I had recently at a favorite Lancaster, PA restaurant, I decided to make a peppermint frosting.

I hadn't made my own frosting in years, but quickly found  a basic version in my late great mother-in-law Nanay's battered copy of that old faithful The Joy of Cooking. I had peppermint extract and I was all set to get the whole thing done before going to work when I discovered that I was low on confectioners sugar AND the peppermint extract, not having been used in years, had managed to evaporate!

No worry. A bag of leftover candy canes from my holiday program supplied the peppermint--I simple whacked them with a small can to crush them up. And I realized that the proportion of butter to sugar in the frosting recipe was a simple 2 tablespoons of butter to 1 cup of sugar. I had 3 cups of sugar, and was able to make enough frosting to ice the top of each of the inner 3 layers.

A lunchtime run to the store and I had plenty more confectioners sugar. And when I got home, I decided to make chocolate frosting for the outside of the cake---the peppermint inside was enough sweet against the deep cocoa flavor of this cake.  And all I had to do was add cocoa to the basic recipe.

This is called a buttercream frosting, and cream is often used in it, but no need if you're using all that butter! I just added skim milk and it worked beautifully. The milk thinned the frosting enough to make it easy to spread without being drippy.

It frosted like a dream and was probably the nicest looking cake I have ever made. The only problem was storing it--we ended up cutting it into several pieces so we could put it into containers in the fridge.

But SC loved it. And I think Grandma Eda would be proud of what I've done with her recipe!

Basic Buttercream Frosting
(this makes 4 cups, but can easily be adjusted as needed)

1 stick unsalted butter, softened
4 cups confectioners sugar
skim milk (approximately 1/4 cup)
Beat the butter and sugar together with a hand or stand mixer until fluffy.
Add flavorings as desired.
Add milk, a little at a time, beating well until the frosting is at the right consistency to spread

Peppermint Frosting: Add crushed candy canes or 1/4- 1/2 teaspoon Peppermint Extract
Chocolate Frosting:  Add 1/4 - 1/2 cup cocoa powder and  1/2 tsp Vanilla Extract


  1. Sounds so yummy!!!! I want to try this!

  2. It was so fast and easy to make, I don't think I'll buy frosting in a can again. All those chemicals!



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