Peony rants on cake icing recipes

After I posted my Seven Quick Takes at Jen’s, I followed one of the links back to this post at “So Much to Say, So Little Time”, in which the writer mentions that her Wilton instructor was recommending canned icing.
I personally think that the Wilton instructor deserves the stocks or the ducking stool for that idea, so in the comments section I did a little ranting and raving. (At this moment it’s still in the moderation queue.) Here’s what I posted:

Here via 7 quick takes, and your “Wilton instructor” is full of something inedible. And I say this as an alumnus of the course as taught at Michael’s! Canned icing is not only disgusting tasting, it’s not the right consistency for cake decorating! Ick!
There’s three kinds of cake icing used in the Wilton classes: buttercream (the “basic”), royal (dries hard, used for elaborate make-ahead flowers) and fondant (that dough-like stuff often purchased in packages). I don’t think they get to royal and fondant until Classes 2 and 3.
Buttercream: Sometimes in the class they recommend that you use buttercream icing made entirely from shortening because it’s cheap, stable, and reusable. I wouldn’t use an all-shortening icing on a real cake, though, unless you were planning to serve it in Iraq or someplace like that.
For an actual cake, here’s a good basic recipe:
Wilton Buttercream; I recommend the following adjustments:
– This recipe makes just enough to ice and lightly decorate a standard cake recipe. You won’t have much room for error (and won’t have enough to make roses or basketweave.) If you double it, you’ll have plenty and you can freeze the rest.
– Beat the butter and flavorings together first and just a dab of the milk. Don’t bother with the “colorless” vanilla unless you want a truer white icing.
Add the sugar. I have the best results with Domino’s. The longer you slowly beat your icing, the better it will taste. (Stand mixer helps.)
Slowly add your milk a tablespoon at a time, watching the consistency of the icing.
– I don’t like using the corn syrup unless I am making thin icing for writing.
– The higher the fat content of the milk, the better the recipe will turn out. Half and half (the real stuff, not soy) or even cream is great.
– Shortening makes the recipe stable, stiffer, and a purer white. Butter makes it tastier, a little softer, and a less pure white. You can adjust your ratio — so if you double, you could use 1/2 cup shortening and 1 1/2 cups butter. Keep the heat of the day in mind, and the fact that butter has more water in it than shortening. I wouldn’t use all butter until you’ve had more practice.
– Consistency is important! As you beat your icing, watch its consistency. Stiff icing is about the consistency of Spackle. If you’re making roses, this is what you want, so when you attain STIFF consistency, take some out of the bowl and set it aside. Add a bit of milk until you get to MEDIUM, which is what you want for your shells, stars, etc, and is the consistency of regular peanut butter (Jif, not the organic peanut butter )
THIN is what you want to ice the cake and to do outlining, writing, teeny dots of yellow in the middle of flowers, Corelli lace, etc. It is the consistency of pudding. I only use corn syrup when I’m doing writing and lace. I’ve been known to use butter-only for thin icing and butter-shortening for the medium and thick consistencies.
Your icing will never look as smooth and perfect as it does in the Wilton books, so don’t stress. To do the photo shoots, they use royal icing on Styrofoam cake dummies and then sand the icing to make it perfectly smooth.
Hope this helps! This is a great recipe to get you going with cake decorating, and I’ve had nothing but compliments making it. For flowers, I’ve used it for drop flowers, roses, and mums (and made them ahead of time and frozen them and then put them on the cake.)
For chocolate icing, add cocoa powder and adjust the consistency with cream.
To make black icing, start with chocolate and then add the black color.
For red, don’t bother with any color but No-Taste Red.
“Rose Petal Pink” is a lovely subtle pink color. The other pinks are Barbie bright. You can also tone down colors using Ivory — nice effects.
Oh, you can also add meringue powder to stablize your icing. Use 1 Tbsp/ recipe.
You can make and color your icing in advance; just store it in the fridge and then pull it out the morning you’re going to decorate. Keep in mind that your icing colors will get a big deeper over time.
Crisco will give you better results than generic shortening.
Experiment with extracts — I love, love, love 1/8 tsp almond extract in my icing! Coconut is delish as well. When I said “don’t bother with colorless vanilla” I meant to use regular vanilla if that’s what you prefer
Hope this helps,
Peony Moss
For advanced, Rose Levy Berenbaum is a pro baker who has a recipe for Italian Meringue Buttercream that is supposed to be good for piping. I’ve never tried it myself, but the one time I used a similar recipe just to frost a cake, the icing was so tasty I nearly put my head in the bowl to get every last molecule.


  1. Peony–
    I feel obligated to say here what I said over at my blog–aside from HOLY COW, THESE ARE GREAT TIPS!–that the instructor was talking about using the canned icing only for frosting, not for decorating. Still, I have to shake my head.
    I’m going to be looking up Rose Levy Berenbaum, too!

  2. Will you believe I have yet to decorate a cake? I will bake a yummy cake, make a tasty frosting but am scared to death to venture into the world of cake decorating! I want to so badly! We have 8 birthdays and baking the cake is always special (maybe more so for me than for the munchkins, but still) I don’t have time to take a class at Joann’s. Can you recommend a book?

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