Maple Buttercream Frosting
There’s a reason we say “icing on the cake” in this country. For one, it was icing that revived the crumbling cake mix industry in the 1950s . But we also say it because fluffy, intensely sweet buttercream frosting seems to make everything better. And in America, we put icing on everything from cupcakes to pork belly . Sometimes, if we’re feeling especially epicurean, we’ll shamefully scoop it right out of the tub with a spoon – or just our finger.
Rich buttercream frosting takes me back to my adolescent years when my mom would often pack my school lunch for me. As I recall, the “star” was usually tuna or egg salad – both equally smelly – sandwiched between two soggy slices of “whole grain” white bread. The best part about that was by the time I was finished, I was ready for something seriously sweet, something that would have me dozing off by the middle of 5th period. I’m talking about Betty Crocker® Dunkaroos®. A combination of overly-processed, cinnamon graham cracker cookies on one side, and thick, artificially flavored, vanilla frosting on the other side with rainbow sprinkles that tasted like sugary chalk. You dunk the cookies into the frosting. It is glorious.
My love story with buttercream frosting doesn’t end in grade school. While studying Computer Information Systems at Carson-Newman College, I once made a midnight sugar run to Walmart and bought a whole 13×9-inch cake decorated with thick, vanilla buttercream frosting, decked to the nines with colorful, luscious buttercream flowers. I even had one of the bakers write a congratulatory message on it for me in black decorating icing. Just because.
Then there was our wedding day. When it was time to cut into the cake, which was beautifully decorated in an Italian vanilla buttercream frosting, we were left to our own devices. There wasn’t even a knife nearby until someone finally brought us one. Even then it was kind of tricky. Once we cut out something that vaguely resembled a piece of cake, we did what all newlyweds do on their wedding day. We fed each other a sweet, romantic bite. And then I smeared it all over her face. And like all loving grooms do, I licked it all off. Aside from that little bit of buttercream on Mary’s nose, that was all I had the pleasure of tasting before we were whisked away for something else.
I remember my first experience with homemade buttercream frosting. The thing I remember most vividly was how simple it was to make. Butter and powdered sugar. Mix ’em together. That’s basically it. There’s no real secret or golden ratio for making buttercream frosting. Start with some high-quality unsalted butter at room temperature; it absolutely must be at room temperature . Why? Science, my friend. Whip it until it’s light and creamy. Slowly beat in the sugar. If it gets too dry, add some milk, a little bit at a time, until it becomes thick and smooth, but still spreadable. Of course, if you don’t want to use refined, white confectioner’s sugar, then it takes a little bit more effort, but not much, and I’ve got the perfect substitute for you.
Note: Don’t attempt to soften your butter in the microwave in order to bring it to room temperature. If the butter melts at all, you will have to chill it again. Instead, cut the butter into thin slices or shred sticks of butter with a box grater and then leave at room temperature; the butter will warm up faster this way.
Maple Buttercream Frosting Recipe, makes 2 cups
- 5 1/2 cups maple sugar
- 8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, preferably grass-fed
- 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
- 1/4 cup full-fat, unsweetened coconut milk
Powder the sugar
1. Add 1 – 1.5 cups of maple sugar at a time to a high-speed blender. Turn the blender on low and then immediately up to its highest setting. Blend for about 30 seconds. Let the dust settle and then sift into a large mixing bowl. Don’t sift the sugar completely: reserve any larger, un-powdered bits of sugar for another recipe, such as a sauce or dry rub. Repeat with remaining sugar.
2. When all the sugar has had a turn in the blender and has been sifted, sift all the sugar again and then repeat Step 1, remembering to work in batches. This will result in the smoothest texture for the buttercream frosting.
3. When all the sugar has had a second turn in the blender, sift it once more, reserving any larger bits for another purpose. The powdered sugar can be made well in advance and stored at room temperature in an air-tight container, such as a plastic storage bag.
Note: If some sugar is getting stuck around the sides and corners of your blender, let the dust from the sugar settle after the first 30 seconds. Then scrape the sugar off from around the sides and blend again for another 15-20 seconds.
Make the buttercream
1. Cream the butter by whipping it with an electric mixer fitted with metal beaters on medium-high speed until the butter lightens to a pale yellow, about 2 minutes.
2. Add the vanilla and mix until just incorporated.
3. Reduce mixer to medium speed, and carefully beat in the powdered maple sugar 1 cup at a time until incorporated.
4. If the frosting is too dry and thick, mix in the coconut milk, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the buttercream is a smooth, spreadable consistency. Use immediately, or refrigerate until ready to use. Let the buttercream come to room temperature before spreading or piping.
-  A History of the Cake Mix, the Invention That Redefined 'Baking'. Bon Appetit. Park, Michael Y. 26 Sept 2013. Web. 14 Jul 2014.
-  14 Unexpected Things You Can Do With A Can Of Frosting. Buzz Feed. Fleischaker, Emily. 14 Feb 2013. Web. 14 July 2014.
-  Stewart, Martha, and Sarah Carey. Martha Stewart's Cooking School: Lessons and Recipes for the Home Cook. 1st ed. New York: Clarkson Potter, 2008: 425 Print.