In Search of Fluffy White

Frosting

I love frosting. Love frosting. Which—I know—in these days of cupcake mania, is pretty run of the mill. Every time I turn around there’s another new retro bakery peddling little cakes with a big dollop of pastel goo. But what I really love, specifically, is cheap frosting. I actually dislike real buttercream. I can’t stand the density of powdered sugar and butter icing (e.g. Magnolia Bakery’s), or the hardened-butter texture of a shiny—slimy! —buttercream frosting, the real kind made with sugar syrup and eggs (e.g. the Cupcake Café’s).

I admit it: I prefer fake frosting. Canned ready-to-spread frosting. And since I’m telling it all, what I especially enjoy is Betty Crocker’s Whipped Frosting in that brilliant artificial flavor General Mills has dubbed "Fluffy White." Who knew fluffy white had a taste? But it does, and it’s delicious.

But what I love above all is grocery-store frosting. Lowbrow sheet-cake frosting. Fluffy, weightless and glaring white. I once experienced the ne plus ultra of sheet-cake frosting. It was at a Safeway grocery store in Marin County, California, which sold huge pre-cut squares of spongy yellow cake with an inch-deep layer of fluffy white frosting. I would read the bottom of the sheet-cake box and marvel at the dozens of ingredients—artificial flavorings, chemical preservatives, weapons-grade uranium—and wonder which of them made this light, white marvel taste so good: all whipped airiness and sweetness, with not a hint of real butter taste.

I haven’t tasted that frosting in years, and for years I’ve wondered: What is the Safeway secret? Surely there must be some mix that grocery stores and bad bakeries use, some 20-pound bag of magic powder—processed sugar and powdered milk fat and MSG—that I could buy. One day, I Google “industrial frosting,” but all I find are glass companies selling frosted windows. I Google "frosting mix": here is a link to a whole category of "Icing, Filling & Topping mixes." I scroll down: vanilla fondant mix…cookie icing mix…raspberry mousse filling mix . . . snack cake filling mix. I stop. I picture the interior of a Hostess cupcake—artificial, fluffy, cloying. I buy it.

What arrives in the mail is a small packet of powder from the King Arthur Flour company. Its package logo includes the slogan "Naturally Pure and Wholesome." This makes me apprehensive. The instructions call for the addition of vegetable shortening and water, and then beating until the filling is light and fluffy. After all these years since the Safeway conversion, I feel fluttery inside as I gradually add the water, and watch the shortening-and-powder crumbs morph into frosting. I won’t let myself taste it until I finish beating it into a paragon of fluffy.

Finally I stop. I sniff. I stick in my finger and taste. It tastes overwhelmingly of vanilla. A strong margarine flavor follows rapidly. I plunge the spatula into the filling and it spreads like a dream on my sheet of cake, but it’s creamy like a dense glaze. Not airy. It lacks that that beautiful insubstantiality that I’m starting to believe happens only when the stuff is made in enormous industrial vats with magic chemicals that somehow lock in the fluffiness and the artificial goodness. I look at the ingredients, and there are only six. There are no unnatural additives, no hyphenated or polysyllabic words, no…magic. It’s basically just the frosting recipe from the back of the powdered sugar box with some added “corn syrup solids” and "natural and artificial flavors" (evidently a ton of vanilla).

It doesn’t taste bad. It’s certainly not viscous or slimy. It’s actually quite smooth and creamy. And, I will admit, it is a pleasant complement to the cocoa cake I made to spread it on. But it doesn’t taste like fluffy white.

Photo: Johanna Goodyear


 





Comments

Josh and friends... tune into www.snippetradio.com and go to shows, see "In the mix with chef Gigi." I would love to have you on the show this summer. I will air today at 5 pm EST. Tell me what you think!
gg

 

What a delightful confession. When I was growing up in Minnesota one of the main reasons I would go to confirmations and graduations was for the sheet cake with the thick white frosting. Although I have in the meantime come to love other things as well, I still look forward to "fluffy white." :-)

 

What a delightful confession. When I was growing up in Minnesota one of the main reasons I would go to confirmations and graduations was for the sheet cake with the thick white frosting. Although I have in the meantime come to love other things as well, I still look forward to "fluffy white." :-)

 

Very funny. I really enjoy your writing style. Great job!

 

cheers to not liking magnolia's et al. buttercream! tastes like you're eating a stick o' butter, not frosting! :)

 

I agree totally, and loved your writing style.
Made some soft tea cakes once and used the canned whipped frosting, and a friend told me she really loved the frosting. I hated to admit it was canned, since the cookies were homemade.

 

yes, the canned whipped stuff tastes good but on a serious note - its full of trans fat. Sorry to be a downer but we need to cut the trans fat out! The article was a fun read!!

 

What I wouldn't give for just the frosting of a Magnolia bakery cupcake! You are so lucky that you prefer the in-the-can kind. I wish I could be satisfied by just peeling back the wrapper!

 

Hey!
Great Blog. I just thought I would leave you a note to check out a great website that I found. It is called Culture.ca

http://www.culture.ca/english.jsp

Culture.ca has great information on Canadian cuisine. In fact, right now they are featuring a showcase on Canadian Food and Wine. You can reach the showcase directly at:

http://www.culture.ca/topic-theme-e.jsp?data=200406/sfp1000000062004e.html

Check it out!

Cheers!

 

My parents were both European immigrants - growing up in an old mill town in MA in the 1960's- my family had a lot of old world habits - one was that all cakes were made from scratch- all frosting was made from whipped sweet butter. I will never forget my first "real frosting" cake! I loved that bakery store whipped white frosting with those huge frosting roses - no butter taste! It was so American! It was such a treat. And what do my husband and kids ask for on their bdays? Homemade: Buche de Noel and Guglehopf - the traditional egg & butter cakes of my family! Not for me, I still crave that real American, "real frosting" taste.

 

That's so great! One of my all time favorite guilty pleasures is nabisco honey graham crackers smeared with betty crocker fudge icing and marshmallow cream toasted with a brulee torch. (Trust me, if you try it, you won't be dissapointed! Also good with bananas!)

 

I'll be 47 today ... I want a cake with the frosting that left grease stains on the pink box from the bakery like when I was a kid, Sven's I think, wedding cakes were the same ... recipe please, don't mind making my own ... thanks

 

Any luck yet in finding a fluffy white frosting? Can't seem to make one from scratch and can't find on the internet, at all.
Thanks

 

My niece used to work in a grocery store bakery. It's the shortening that makes the frosting fluffy and thick. Here's the recipe; If you want it to taste like canned..add a little salt.

Thick Vanilla Frosting

1 cup shortening
2 teaspoons vanilla
4 cups powdered sugar (sifted)
4 tablespoons milk

Beat together shortening and vanilla for 30 seconds medium speed with an electric mixer. Add 2 cups of powdered sugar a bit at a time while beating. Then add 2 tablespoons milk. Slowly add in the rest of the powdered sugar and the rest of the milk until you get the right thickness for your frosting.

 

Fluffy Bakeshop Icing

1 1/2 cups milk
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
1/2 cup margarine (no butter)
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract

Mix milk with cornstarch. Cook until thick, stirring constantly. Set aside to cool.

Cream vegetable shortening, margarine and sugar. Beat with electric mixer for 10 full minutes.

Combine second mixture with the first. Add vanilla and almond extracts; beat both together until creamy. The mixture should look like whipped cream.

Put on cooled cake.

This makes enough frosting for a 13 x 9-inch cake.

 

late answer but i think i know the answer....

i found your post for the same reason. i was looking for that taste. Anyhow after much searching in baking i have discovered that cake makers use a special shortening called "high ratio shortening". This shortening is composed differently than your store bought one and leaves less of a greasy aftertaste. Its sold in specialty baking online stores.

 

We used to term wedding and grocery store bakery cakes as "tacky white cake". It is simply THE BEST. No one in the cake ingredients business (read: Pillsbury, Duncan Hines, Betty Crocker) can duplicate it. It's just so terribly wonderful and decadent. Mother's "fluffy white" boiled frosting was really good but still not this ersatz stuff of the "ordinary" bakeries (give me a graduation party or a such an event where people will buy the lowest of the low sheet cakes to serve many). mmmmmmm

 

Go buy you a can of Wilton Meringue Powder and follow the recipe for Fluffy Boiled Icing under the plastic lid on the top of the can. Only thing I added was a teaspoon of clear vanilla after the first step of beating was completed. Very easy recipe, and taste great.

 

I tried one of the recipes above:

"Sep 15, 2008 9:16:11 PM
Posted By: Uncle Hannah
Fluffy Bakeshop Icing
1 1/2 cups milk
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
1/2 cup margarine (no butter)
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
Mix milk with cornstarch. Cook until thick, stirring constantly. Set aside to cool.
Cream vegetable shortening, margarine and sugar. Beat with electric mixer for 10 full minutes.
Combine second mixture with the first. Add vanilla and almond extracts; beat both together until creamy. The mixture should look like whipped cream.
Put on cooled cake.
This makes enough frosting for a 13 x 9-inch cake."

OMG this was DISGUSTING!! There was NOTHING fluffy about this. It was a yellow, runny mess!!!

So I'm still on the search for the perfect fluffy white icing...

 

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