My sweet little Miss Three’s birthday was coming up and I was determined to present her with a tier of pretty pink cupcakes to make her huge blue eyes sparkle. I’m a confident baker so making large amounts of cupcakes doesn’t daunt me in the least but my Achilles’ Heel in this department is the icing or frosting. Actually it’s not so much poor technique or lack of skill that stumps me but not having the perfect recipe for miracle icing that pipes perfectly, or doesn’t turn into rancid sludge as soon as you take the cupcakes outdoors.
So, who ya gonna call (or Google…)? Wilton of course! Cake decorators and bakers would be familiar with Wilton and their amazing range of products for cake making and decorating. You name it. Wilton has it. Their website is also a veritable wealth of baking knowledge and features oodles of wonderful recipes. The one I chose to use is a simple buttercream icing but Wilton has many other types to try.
I was a little hesitant about trying this recipe at first as it contains vegetable shortening. Isn’t the darn icing going to be fat laden enough with all that butter it in? What does it even do? Vegetable shortening isn’t something you use that often in Australia whereas Crisco seems to be a common pantry item in the US. The closest thing we’ve got at the supermarket is Copha and I’m happy to say that this block of white fat *can* be used for something other than chocolate crackles!
As I read up on the subject, I found that the two big reasons why you use vegetable shortening in icing are because:
1. Vegetable shortening has a higher melting point which means that your icing will hold its shape for longer and has a better shelf life, and
2. Being white in colour, it helps maintain a white appearance in the overall icing and assists in accurate colouring.
Both very good reasons to try this recipe. I wasn’t going to argue.
I had a go at making a batch up with the Thermomix and I’m sure glad that I had my trusty wonder machine because Copha is rock hard. You can leave it out of the fridge and it is still pretty hard to cut up, let alone whip. The resulting icing was easy to feed into bags and beautiful to control while piping. Even on the hot, sticky day on which I was icing the cupcakes, the icing maintained its form well. A pure butter icing is usually a nightmare at this point :| Once I iced the cupcakes, I noted that the icing held its shape beautifully and was very receptive to sprinkles, glitter powder and everything else I threw at it. I didn’t need to refrigerate my cakes either; I simply put my tier in an air-conditioned room until I was ready to make Miss Three’s day :)
Hopefully this doesn’t come off as a plug for Wilton but the tier I used at the party is also from Wilton. Fancy!
Wilton’s Buttercream Icing Recipe (original here) – Makes about 3 cups of icing which covered 30 cupcakes
250g solid vegetable shortening such as Copha (Aussies can source Crisco from USA Foods but Copha worked a treat)
250g butter or margarine softened
1 teaspoon clear vanilla extract (I don’t mind little eeny weeny dots so used real vanilla)
4 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar (aka powdered or icing sugar – no need to worry about sifting if using Thermomix)
2 tablespoons milk
To make: In large bowl, cream shortening and butter with electric mixer. Add vanilla. Gradually add sugar, one cup at a time, beating well on medium speed. Scrape sides and bottom of bowl often. When all sugar has been mixed in, icing will appear dry. Add milk and beat at medium speed until light and fluffy. Keep bowl covered with a damp cloth until ready to use.
If using the Thermomix, chop the Copha up into cubes and chop on Speed 5/6 for 10 seconds or so. Add butter also cut up into cubes and combine together on Speed 5/6 for a few seconds. Add vanilla and the sugar a cup at a time, and use Speed 2/3/4 depending on how well the sugar gets integrated. The Thermomix works best when there is some liquid to assist with the movement of the ingredients so add a tablespoon of milk now. Keep combining sugar at various speeds until fully combined and smooth. Add remaining milk and colouring if using.
For best results, keep icing bowl in refrigerator when not in use. Refrigerated in an airtight container, this icing can be stored 2 weeks. Rewhip before using.