Update: Even though Angel Tears Frosting is a great name, I have since found out that this frosting is actually called ermine frosting. Eureka!
As I was lounging on the divan and eating bon bons the other day, Beekeeper Thomas called me up and asked if I could make a cake for him. Talking with Thomas is a singular experience. Experience it for yourself:
Beekeeper Thomas: Um, yeah. It’s me. I wondered if you could make a cake for me for Monday for a work thing.
Me: Oh, hey! Sure–what kind of cake?
BT: Oh, you know, just whatever.
Me: Well, what’s it for?
BT: A guy’s birthday. I was just gonna buy one at the store, but then I thought, “Hell; why not have a professional do it?”
Me: Thanks. So, what do you envision? (I actually said “envision,” too). I mean, like a Bundt cake or sheet cake? A layer cake?
BT: Whatever. You’re the professional. Make what you want. We’re just a bunch of rednecks. Whatever you make will be fine.
Now, give me a Specific Task, and I’m all over it. But, give me too much Leeway, and I end up lost in Flights of Fancy. So, I considered a pineapple upside down cake, and then I envisioned (see–there’s that word again) a peanut butter and jelly cake: a yellow cake with raspberry filling and peanut butter frosting. I even thought about a Van Halen pound cake. But then, I remembered that the folks at Thomas’s work are the same folks who thought it would be a good idea to serve beaver and nutria for a pot luck meal.
Obviously, something Special was required. Special-yet-old-fashioned. Like nutria. So, I made my regular chocolate cake (thank you, RLB) and made some of that flour-based frosting that has been making the rounds on the Hinternet for the past couple of years. I have tried In Vain to discern the origins of said frosting. Alas, it seems to be lost in the sands of time, although I do know that it is considered the traditional frosting for red velvet cake. What follows is a Made Up Tale about the origins of this frosting:
One day, an antebellum-mansioned Southern Lady reminisced about an ethereal frosting that she had once had in France on her promenade with her mama and papa for her fifteenth year. It was…smooth. And incredibly light, and oh, so rich! Why, it tasted like sweet butter from heaven! (What do they make butter out of in heaven? Angel tears? Never mind). Oh, dearest cook, you must recreate this wonder for me. And the cook, who most assuredly had much better things to do than try to figure out how to make angel tears into frosting, whipped up a good white sauce as the base. –The End
Whatever the Provenance, I found a bunch of recipes for the this mysterious stuff, and they were all quite similar. Basically, equal measures (by volume) of milk, butter and granulated sugar with varying amounts of flour and vanilla. Few called for salt. Hmph.
Here’s the formula Upon Which I Settled:
- 1 1/2 cups whole milk
- 7.5 Tablespoons flour
- 3 sticks unsalted butter, (1 1/2 cups), cool but not too soft
- 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
- between 1/4-1/3 teaspoon salt, , to taste
- about 2 teaspoons vanilla
- Whisk flour into cold milk until thoroughly combined and Lumpless.
- Add the salt and bring everything up to a boil, whisking constantly. The mixture will end up Quite Thick–like a just-barely-too-thin pate a choux. Cool this mixture until it’s room temperature–or chill it in the fridge. Once cool, it will be the consistency of mashed potatoes.
- Cream the cool butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. I used the whisk attachment since I wanted a fluffy frosting. Add the vanilla.
- Whip in the cooled flour mixture, scraping bowl as necessary. If the mixture is a little soft, refrigerate for a few minutes and then whip again. Or, you can just hold a bag of frozen peppers-n-onions against the bowl while whipping. (Guess which route I took). I probably let mine go for about five minutes or so. Taste, and add more salt or vanilla if necessary.
Stream of Consciousness Impressions/Thoughts about this Particular Frosting Even made with granulated sugar, this frosting is incredibly smooth. It has none of the chalkiness or grittiness that confectioner’s sugar icing (standard American buttercream) can have. It is also not as mind-numbingly sweet. This is not so great on a finger, but it married beautifully with the chocolate cake. The texture is incredibly smooth (I said it twice. It is that smooth), dense yet fluffy. It’s a paradoxical frosting. My base recipe was 5 T flour per cup of milk. I think I’d have preferred it with less flour, although it was still tasty. Just a titch on the heavy side. I read someone’s procedure (after the fact) that called for cooking the sugar in with the flour. As far as I’m concerned, that sounds like pudding to me. I’m seriously considering making a flour-heavy vanilla pudding and using that as the base for a French Vanilla buttercream. I can’t imagine that adding an egg yolk or two would be a bad thing. I also think you could adapt this with a flour-thickened fruit curd as the base. In other words, sub out the milk with citrus juice. I think it would make an excellent key lime or lemon frosting. Or passionfruit. Some versions of this frosting call for shortening rather than butter. I ignore their existence. I think it’d be pretty easy to turn this into a chocolate frosting by whisking in some cocoa powder with the flour. Maybe lay off the milk and use water so as not to dull the chocolate flavor. Maybe you could use coffee instead. Or just add some espresso powder. I now dub this frosting Angel Tears frosting. Flour frosting sound gross, like bug candy. Or nicotine gum. Bottom line: I think Angel Tears Frosting has Potential for Greatness. The base is neutral enough to be able to support many different flavorings.
UPDATE: This frosting is actually called Ermine Frosting. I just learned that it has a Real Name. Good stuff. Plus, here’s another post I wrote using a chocolate ermine frosting.
Back to the Story
My cake recipe makes enough for 2 6″ and 2 9″ cakes, because you can never have too much chocolate cake. I made 2 oval layers (6″x8″)for the birthday cake and baked the rest in a 9″x13″ sheet pan for us to Enjoy. The frosting recipe, with the 1 1/2 cups of milk, made plenty of frosting to reasonably fill, frost and run some Decorative Shell Border Action around the base and top edge of the oval cake. I still had enough to frost the 9″x13″ without its looking too skimpy.
This is not Webby’s cake. This is the sheet cake. I had some leftover cornflower blue, so I just sort of swirled it on top of the white icing, and then I drew squiggly blue lines all over it. It is Evocative of the Ocean, thankyouverymuch.
Since it was a birthday cake for the Nutria Crew, I wanted to give it a kind of grocery-bakery vibe. And what says grocery-bakery more loudly than blue icing? Not much, friends. Not too much. At any rate, I went with Ye Olde Cornflower Blue for the borders and left the rest of cake white. I called up Thomas to find out what our Birthday Boy’s name was: Webby. Of course it was.
I was feeling all nostalgic for my days as a Wilton Instructor, so I decided to go the Full Monte and actually write on the cake. So, centered in the blue-shell-border-defined oval top, in a very Un-CakeWreck-like Manner, inscribed in cornflower blue, in cursive, I wrote this heartfelt message: “Happy Birthday, Webby!” Happy Birthday, indeed.
The Angel Tears Frosting is the perfect complement to the rich chocolate cake. I ended up having to stop eating it because, as you can see, I misjudged my cake-to-milk ratio.