This is a recipe with a thousand possibilities. It all depends on what you want to do. The basic ingredients are:
- 1 cup solid fat
- 1 teaspoon flavored extract
- 1 pound powdered sugar
- 2 tablespoons liquid
- 2-4 tablespoons viscous sweetener
You’ll want a stand mixer for this recipe. You might get away with using a hand mixer a few times, but this style of thick, beaten frosting will burn out the motor after only a few batches.
The basic assembly starts with beating the fat and extract together until they coat the bottom of the bowl. Add the sugar in 3-4 batches, mixing each addition in completely. By waiting to add more sugar until the bottom of the bowl is completely covered, you will minimize the amount of sugar that gets stuck to the bottom of the bowl and needs to be scraped in. Once all the sugar is incorporated, the frosting will be thick and chunky. Add the liquid first, then add the viscous sweetener, using less for stiff frosting and more for thinner frosting.
Those ingredients look vague, but this is where all the possibilities come into play.
First, the fat. Your main options are butter and shortening. Butter has more flavor, but shortening is more stable at room temperature. If you live in the South where butter can droop and melt at room temperature, you might want to use all or mostly shortening unless you plan to refrigerate your cake until just before serving. Farther North and in the winter, you can get away with butter at room temperature. Any combination of butter and shortening is fine. For ease of measurement, 1 cup equals 2 sticks of butter or 1 stick of Crisco.
Your flavored extract is usually going to provide most of the scent and flavor for the icing. Anything goes here: vanilla, almond, butter (for if you’re using all shortening), or go wild and try mint, strawberry, or other liquid flavorings. If your extract is not clear, remember that it will affect the final color of the icing. Stick with clear if you want pure white icing.
The powdered sugar can be added as-is if you’re only going to be spreading the frosting over the cake or cookies, but if you plan to use it to pipe decorations at all you will need to sift the sugar before using it. Otherwise, tiny lumps that refuse to be beaten out will clog up your decorating tips. If you want chocolate icing, you can substitute some cocoa powder for a portion of the powdered sugar; a little goes a long way. One caveat: I do not recommend trying to substitute home-powdered sugar. Since this frosting is not cooked at all, the powdery quality of store-bought powdered sugar is a must, especially for piping.
The liquid can be anything with roughly the consistency of water. Water works fine and is room-temperature stable for long periods. Milk will tend to sour at warmer temperatures. You could get creative here and try other liquids, like juice, coffee, or even wine. This thin liquid will magically transform the clumpy mess in your mixer into a smooth, velvety icing as you mix it in. Any choice besides milk and water will affect the final color of the icing, so plan accordingly.
Finally, we have the viscous sweetener. My standard here has always been corn syrup, but other syrups work just as well, including maple syrup, molasses, and honey. This final addition helps tweak the consistency of the icing from thin (for frosting and piping lettering) to thick (for roses and other stand-up decorations), as well as adding a certain amount of flavor, depending on the addition you choose. As with the extract and the liquid, colored selections here will affect the final color of the icing, so keep that in mind.
When it’s time to add the coloring, you will need to scrape the sides and beater frequently in order to fully incorporate the coloring. I prefer to color most of my icing by hand in separate bowls.
The possibilities really are endless. Experiment and enjoy!