I have tried many, many times to make a birthday-cake frosting that will hold up the way the ones do from supermarket bakeries. I can make beautiful cakes, but in summertime, the frosting just seems to droop and not hold its shape, especially while decorating. What do they put in frosting to make it stay so soft, yet hold its peaks and swirls and piped rosettes?
— Kit M., via email
Most grocery-store bakeries use a light, whipped frosting with vegetable shortening as its base, not butter or whipped cream or any of the perishable ingredients you no doubt have lovingly put into your frostings. People who grew up on supermarket cakes seem to prefer this frosting, though more recent trends have been toward frostings that taste better and don't have the greasy mouth feel of sugar combined with shortening.
Frosting — and decorating — fans should check out the new cookbook "Frostings," by Courtney Dial Whitmore. Along with traditional frosting favorites, such as American and French buttercreams, are new, popular flavor combinations such as salted caramel, chai-vanilla bean and Champagne buttercream.
The book also contains this recipe, which very nicely emulates that sweet, fluffy yet sturdy stuff of grocery stores — great for kids' birthday cakes or anyone with a major sweet tooth.
Whipped Grocery Frosting
In an electric mixer fitted with paddle attachment, combine 1 cup shortening and 1/2 cup butter. Once creamy, add 6 cups powdered sugar, 1 cup at a time, until well-incorporated. Mix in 11/2 tablespoons vanilla and 4 tablespoons water. Beat for 5 to 6 minutes, until light and fluffy. Makes 41/2 cups.
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