I am really pleased to bring you this recipe for ermine frosting, friends. This has long been one of my favorite frosting recipes, and it’s probably my favorite for chocolate cake.
Ermine icing is also arguably the original frosting for red velvet cake, and I urge you to try it over the more commonly made cream cheese frosting.
Another favorite is lemon ermine frosting.
For ease of browsing, you can find all my icing and frosting recipes in one place. Thanks for visiting!
What is Ermine Buttercream, Anyway?
As far as I can tell, the origins of ermine frosting, or boiled milk frosting, are lost in the murky recesses of time. But it is made in the same manner that European buttercream is made in the sense that you
- make a base
- beat butter into that base until the whole is light and fluffy, impossibly smooth and perfectly spreadable.
In European buttercream, the base is generally either an egg/sugar syrup base as in French buttercream or an egg white/sugar syrup base as in Swiss buttercream and Italian buttercream.
Ermine’s closest buttercream relative seems to be German buttercream, which is based on an egg-and-starch thickened custard base. Lose the eggs, and you end up with ermine!
My moderately educated guess is that someone or someones of German heritage moved over to the United States years and years ago, found themselves both in need of cake and with a shortage of eggs, so left the eggs out of their German Buttercream.
And Ermine Buttercream was born.
What Does It Taste Like?
Ermine frosting is buttery and smooth.
Just because there was a shortage of eggs doesn’t mean there was also a shortage of butter.
This frosting, while containing less sugar than standard American powdered sugar buttercream (7 oz as compared to 10.67 oz), also happens to contain a lot more butter (8 oz in this recipe as opposed to 3 oz or 4 oz of butter for the same size batch of American buttercream).
- Ermine frosting has a clean, neutral vanilla flavor that is just sweet enough.
- It doesn’t fight with the mild, slightly tangy flavor of red velvet, making it the perfect accompaniment.
- It doesn’t hurt that the white color also looks dramatic against dark-colored cakes, making it a natural for both chocolate cake and red velvet.
If you are used to pairing more assertive, tangy-in-its-own-right cream cheese frosting with your red velvet, give ermine a try. I think you will love the completely smooth texture and lovely mild vanilla flavor.
If you’re interested in a chocolate version of ermine frosting, you can read about that in my recipe for 1234 Cake.
What’s So Great About This Recipe
With a limited ingredient list, there are only so many ways to switch up this base recipe:
- using more or less flour, sugar, or milk
- varying the amount of butter
- leaving the salt out
- using more or less vanilla extract
In my version, I keep the frosting a touch less sweet and with enough butter so it whips up nice and thick in case you want to pipe it.
There is also enough salt in it to bring out the vanilla and butter flavor.
Technique-wise, there are a few ways to switch things up:
- You can add the sugar after cooking the flour and milk or cook all three together.
- You can whip the cooked base, a bit at a time, into butter.
- You can add the butter, a bit at a time, into the base.
I have tried all the ways of making ermine, and since there is no difference in flavor or texture whether you cook the sugar in with the flour and butter or not, I choose to cook them all together.
That way, you don’t have any risk of any little sugar crystals potentially making your frosting a little crunchy.
The mixture tends to come together better when whipping the butter into the base rather than the base into the butter, so that’s what I stick with.
Follow the intructions, and this frosting is pretty foolproof.
How to Make
- milk: I like whole milk for this. You can use 2% if you like or a plant-based milk
- sugar: straight up granulated sugar for sweetness. You can add a touch more or less sugar than called for depending on how sweet you like things
- flour: this is what brings body to the base. You can use cornstarch if you need your frosting to be gluten-free. If you do use cornstarch, boil the mixture for a full 2 minutes.
- salt: brings out the flavor in the butter and the vanilla
- vanilla: You could experiment with other extracts, but for red velvet, vanilla is the way to go.
- chocolate bitters (optional): for frosting red velvet or chocolate cakes, I find that adding just a few shakes of chocolate bitters helps marry the frosting and the cake together. It is completely optional, so don’t feel like you need to rush out to the store.
- butter: provides fat to carry flavor, bulk, and texture, allowing the icing to whip up nice and light. You can also experiment with using a combination of shortening and butter for a more purely white frosting
If you’ve made a European-style buttercream before, you’ll find the technique pretty familiar:
- Cook the base (flour, milk, sugar, and salt) until thickened
- Cool and chill until about 60-65F
- Cut the butter into pieces and allow to soften
- Add vanilla and optional bitters to the base and whip in your
- Add butter, a piece at a time, until the frosting is smooth, fluffy and holds its shape
Look how fluffy and light the finished frosting is:
Tips and Tricks for Success
- Make sure to take the time to allow the base to chill down to between 60-65F. If it’s too warm, it will melt your butter and yield a thin frosting. If it’s too cold, it won’t allow the butter to whip in.
- By the same token, allow your butter to sit out until it gets to about the same temperature–60-65F. Too warm, and your frosting will be too soft. Too cold, it won’t combine well with the base.
- If you’ve let your base get too warm and your frosting isn’t whipping up well, refrigerate it for 20 minutes before continuing.
If you have any questions about this or any other recipe or post on the site, there are a few ways to get in touch.
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A Note About Measurements
This is the kitchen scale that I recommend for home cooks and bakers. Using a scale will help you be more accurate and consistent in your measurements.
It is lightweight, easy to store, accurate, and very easy to use.
Don't let its small price and small size fool you. The Escali Primo is an accurate and easy-to-use food scale that I have used for years. It's easy to store, easy to use, has a tare function, and easily switches between grams and ounces/pounds for accurate measurements.
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Ermine frosting is smooth, silky, and pipeable. It's basically a cooked pudding without eggs that you cool and then beat softened butter into.
It's my hypothesis that this is a morphing of German buttercream, because one of the only differences between the two is that there is no egg in ermine icing.
It's also most likely the original frosting for red velvet cake, and I urge you to make it, because it really complements the delicate flavor of red velvet rather than masking it like cream cheese frosting does.
This recipe makes enough to generously frost and fill 3 6" layers or 2 8-9" layers.
- 8 oz (1 cup) whole milk
- 7 oz (1 cup) granulated sugar
- 4 Tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons all purpose flour
- 1/4-1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, to taste
- 2 teaspoons vanilla
- 4-5 shakes of chocolate bitters (optional)
- 2 1/2 sticks butter at cool room temperature, cut into 1 Tablespoon pieces
- In a medium saucepan, whisk together the milk, sugar, flour, and salt.
- Bring to a boil over medium to medium-high heat, whisking constantly.
- Whisk and boil for 20 seconds, then strain the thickened mixture through a fine mesh strainer and into a bowl (preferably metal. It will cool more quickly in a metal bowl.)
- Chill the base until cool, about 68-70F.
- Scrape all of the base into the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the whip attachment.
- Add the vanilla and the optional bitters.
- Whip until creamy, and then add the cool-yet-soft butter a piece at a time, letting the whip incorporate one addition before adding more.
- The buttercream might look sloppy until your last couple of additions. If you like the texture of your frosting, you can leave out the last addition or two.
- Whip until smooth, light, and fluffy.
- If you refrigerate it, allow it to come back up to around 65F and rewhip until it's again light and fluffy.
Be careful when cooking the base that you don't scorch it. It can burn pretty easily and you'll end up with little browned bits in your frosting. Which is great for making gravy, but not so much when making icing. So moderate your heat and keep it moving, especially as it begins to boil.
To be honest, I have not tried a lot of variations of this frosting. Yet. As I experiment, I will add variations, so watch this space.
Since it is milk based, keep ermine frosting refrigerated (and the cake you frost it with). Allow slices of cake to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes or so before serving so the frosting has a chance to soften.
You can successfully freeze this frosting in a freezer-safe container. Press plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the icing and then seal the container. It will be fine for up to 1 month.
To thaw it, place the entire container in the fridge for at least 24 hours and then allow it to sit, still out, covered, until it reaches 60-65F. Then rewhip to restore its texture.
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Nutrition InformationYield 12 Serving Size 1
Amount Per Serving Calories 259Total Fat 20gSaturated Fat 12gTrans Fat 1gUnsaturated Fat 6gCholesterol 53mgSodium 204mgCarbohydrates 20gFiber 0gSugar 18gProtein 1g
The stated nutritional information is provided as a courtesy. It is calculated through third party software and is intended as a guideline only.
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And there you have it, friends. I know you’ll enjoy this ermine buttercream frosting.
Thanks for spending some time with me today. Take care, and have a lovely day.
What Others Are Saying...
[email protected] says
I found this by a search on genoise cake. So glad I did, because I’ve never heard of this frosting, but I’m very intrigued.
I was just gonna buy one at the store, but then I thought, “Hell; why not have a professional do it?”
Ba ha ha ha ha! Because the people at the store aren’t professionals? 😉
Wont it give the frosting that “raw” flour flavor that they say flour has? I’m intrigued! I will try this! And see how I can stretch this frosting too! 🙂 Thank you!
Nope! Because you cook the flour to boiling. It allows the starch granules to fully hydrate and gelatinize. So, no raw flavor! It is magical. I promise:)
Aunt Tilly says
We have more in common than I thought! I too am a WMI, although a current one. I’m so intrigued by a frosting with ‘flour’ ~ is that the substitution for a meringue powder to stablize it? I’m also curious about the comment about it being the traditional icing for Red Velvet cake ~ I always thought it used a cream cheese flavor icing……..I learn something new every day from you! Being you’re IN the South, I can’t doubt your word at all. How well does this flour icing hold up for decorations? I wish I had time right NOW to go whip up a batch……..dang.
Hi there, Aunt Tilly! This is completely different than using meringue powder to stablilize “regular” decorator’s buttercream. This is more akin to making a European-style buttercream but instead of starting w/a pate a bombe (hot sugar syrup whipped with whipped yolks), you start with kind of a sweet cream sauce–or what is really an egg-less pudding: flour, milk, sugar, salt, vanilla. Then, you whip the butter into that. It whips up to be very smooth and light but not fluffy, if that makes sense. I did do some elementary piping with this frosting for the birthday cake, but I didn’t try anything that needs sturdier frosting (like roses). My borders held up just fine, though.
When I said that flour frosting was the original frosting for red velvet cake, I’m quoting something I remember hearing a long time ago. There are probably versions that used flour frosting and other versions that use cream cheese frosting. I adore cream cheese frosting–Adore It–so it’s saying something when I tell you that this frosting is Totally the Best on chocolate cake, and I can imagine that it would be perfect on red velvet!
Thank you for stopping in, and thanks for commenting. Go make some of this when you get a chance:)
Aunt Tilly says
I’ve made a very similar recipe of BC using a flour base and it’s really good!!! Far less sugar and nicely smooth. My fiance likes it better since it’s less sweet ~ I’m fine with either American BC or this depending on who is the lucky cake recipient. Glad to be back on your web site after such a long absence! I actually talk about you and your web site in my classes when students are looking for recipes ~ different ways of handling things that we don’t address in class.
Jennifer Field says
It’s so nice to see you again! I’m glad you gave this a whirl–really good stuff, huh? Especially on chocolate cake–yum! Thanks so much for recommending my site to your students; I really appreciate it! Hope all is well!
what would happen if I DID throw in a tablespoon or so of meringue powder (it’s called actiwhite or something here) so that I could still cover entire cake with a ganache shell? Thank you so much
Jennifer Field says
I don’t know *for sure,* but my bet is that it would work just fine. The meringue powder/actiwhite would allow the frosting to crust enough to pour ganache over. I’m sure you know, but just in case, make sure your ganache is cool when you pour and then refrigerate right after to allow it to set as quickly as possible. Let me know what happens–you could always try a test by making a half batch of frosting with the meringue powder and just using it to ice a cake pan so you’re not wasting cake ingredients should it not work.
Lisa Morgan says
I made this tonight and im so suprised how it tastes I expected it to tase awful but its really pleasant! I have a couple of questions.. when I creamed my sugar and butter it sort of ‘split’ did I mix it too long? And I found it was still a little ‘grainy’ from the sugar granules. Mix longer at the end maybe? Any help would be appreciated thanks
Hi Lisa! I’m so glad you enjoyed it! I have heard of folks having “breaking” issues w/this frosting on occasion. I think it probably has to do with your butter being too cold (or the flour/milk mixture) being to warm. The flour stuff and the butter should both be cool, not cold. The butter needs to hold its shape well but still be pliable when pressed with a finger. As to graininess, whipping longer would help. I also don’t see any reason not to add the sugar into the saucepan with the flour and milk. Either way should work. Hope that helps:)
Lisa Morgan says
Thanks! also can i leave it at room temperature or does it need to go in the fridge?
Once you’ve made and frosted your cake, it will be fine at room temp. If you make the frosting ahead and want to refrigerate it, make sure it comes to room temp before re-whipping it to get it nice and spreadable. If you do want to store your cake in the fridge, make sure it comes to room temp. The butter in the cake and frosting gets quite firm at refrigerator temps, and it throws off the texture of the frosting and makes the cake seem dry. Allow time for it to warm up so this doesn’t happen to you:)
I have never heard of this. Reading thru the recipie, it sounds perfect for my filled cupcake
Jennifer Field says
It is especially wonderful with chocolate cake–I think it will make a perfect filling, Amanda! Hope your boys enjoy it!
I tried the ermine frosting for a three tiered chocolate cake for my daughter’s 1st birthday. It was really really tasty and people who don’t have a sweet tooth like me can bear it’s sweetness too. I made the cake lil less sweet so that the frosting can be balanced. The final results came out to be awesome. But I had one problem which I am sure many of the ppl using this recipe may hv faced. I guess as a professional you can sort out. Kindly guide me why my frosting was a lil loose. I stay in India, a hot and humid tropical climate though. But can you suggest some tips so that my piping designs will hold it’s shape. I want atleast the swirl rosette on a princess cake to hold its shape. The frosting doesn’t become loose in texture so that the designs dont lean down.
Jennifer Field says
Hi, Sushree! So glad you and your family enjoyed the cake. The ermine is lovely because it is so smooth and much less sweet than a traditional American buttercream. I love knowing the American south’s red velvet cake is getting some play in India!
As to the frosting, it could indeed be the hot, humid Indian climate that is keeping the frosting from holding piped decorations. If you can refrigerate the cake right after frosting, that will help. You can also try subbing in maybe 1/4 the amount of butter for vegetable shortening. The melt point of vegetable shortening is higher than that of butter, and it might give you a bit more leeway during a hot Indian summer. The mouthfeel and flavor will be somewhat affected, of course, but your decorations should hold. What you could do is make a half-batch of the frosting with 1/2 shortening and 1/2 butter and use that just for the decoration. That way, you’ll have the nice, buttery flavor for the frosted parts of the cake.
Hope this helps. Take care!
PS Happy Birthday to your daughter!
Hi Jenni do you have tips for making the Ermine frosting more stiff? Perhaps adding in meringue powder? I have tried adding powdered sugar in the final whipping stage, but that didn’t help. Do you also find the consistent to be off ( kind of like curdled looking but doesn’t taste so in the mouth) when the frosting has been refrigerated and then come to room temp? I feel like this frosting has to be used immediately. Thoughts?
Jennifer Field says
Hey, KC. I think adding more sugar can often make frosting soupier since sugar attracts moisture, and the more sugar, the more moisture. I would consider beating in an additional 1/2 stick of butter. The meringue powder is a good idea too. Maybe cook that together with the milk/flour so it doesn’t give a chalky taste to the finished frosting. I don’t know for sure–that’s just a guess. But it’s worth a try.
I do know what you mean about the mixture seeming curdled sometimes. Ermine needs to be beaten To Death to get it nice and fluffy. If you refrigerate it, make super SUPER sure it is completely at room temperature all the way through and then beat it with the whisk attachment until the texture is smooth and lovely.
I hope that helps!
How can i turn this into a peanutbutter frosting? Do you think if i whip peanutbutter into the recipe ot would work? Maybe at the satge im whipping the butter before i put the custard flour part in?
Jennifer Field says
Hey, Cindy! I think what I would do is mix butter and peanut butter together and then add in the cooked and cooled flour/sugar part to that base. I honestly don’t know how well it will work. I often have to whip plain vanilla for a Very Long Time to get it nice and smooth, but I think it’s probably worth the experiment. If you want me to give it a go, I can take one for the team before you waste your ingredients. Let me know. Stay safe. 🙂