Monday, January 12, 2009

Ermine Wrapped Velvet

I love frosting…
I am thoroughly convinced that the only reason cake was invented, is as a vehicle to get the frosting into your mouth when a spoon is not readily available. Most people are familiar with ButterCreme – (just say no to margarine) be it American, French, Italian or Swiss. Then there is Pseudo-ButterCream, Confectioners sugar, milk and a lot of butter. There is 7-Minute frosting, Sea foam Frosting, Burnt Sugar Frosting; Browned Butter Frosting…. I could go on, but these are the classics through the ages. Then suddenly, Carrot Cake hit Studio 54 and Cream Cheese Frosting and Leisure Suits were all the rage. I count this a good thing, for I adore Cream Cheese; not so much the Leisure Suits….

Then, the Yuppies came……
And as time in the kitchen decreased during the "dot com" boom, more and more pre-packaged “Tub” frostings adorned the cakes being haphazardly tossed together during cell phone conversations. A glimmer of hope remained though, for a few real frostings, blessedly bereft of hydrogenated oils and high fructose corn syrup, survived in little pockets across America…

But one, in particular seems to have been dethroned from its rightful place; ruthlessly supplanted by a stronger contender.

Cream Cheese Frosting, for it was young, spry, quick, and nimble and only required 3 ingredients.
So what frosting is this that I speak of…? The humble yet deliciously unparalleled Ermine Frosting... whose rightful place is draped across an expanse of Red Velvet Cake. Yes, that is right, and thanks be to my Grandmother, for she kept this frosting alive in our family, never succumbing to the simple allure of the Cream Cheese.

OK, now that this is starting to sound like a prologue to a B movie.…

What the heck is Ermine Frosting, you ask?

Ermine frosting is a “Boiled milk” frosting, sometimes referred to as “Butter Roux”, although that is not technically correct, since it is not based on a roux. Ermine frosting is simply a different method of making a ButterCreme using the gluten in flour and casein in milk to create a suspension, instead of the albumen in egg whites like Swiss and Italian ButterCreme or an emulsion with egg yolks like French ButterCreme…

So what makes Ermine so special?

Well, it has to do with the mouth feel of the gluten vs. albumen. While ButterCreme is the "ultimate" when it comes to silky smooth and creamy, Ermine is a little more dense, but at the same time, just as light, creating a paradox. If ButterCreme is silk, Ermine is, as it’s name implies, Mink/Ermine. Light, smooth, soft and creamy, but firm with slightly more body.

I urge you to try this frosting the next time you indulge in a Red Velvet Cake… Restore this neglected frosting to it’s rightful place, you will NOT be disappointed.

Ermine Frosting
It does need to be refrigerated though, just like French and American ButterCreme, as it does not stand up well to temps above 70 degrees.

1 cup Whole Milk
3 TB AP (All-Purpose) Flour
Pinch of Kosher Salt
1 cup unsalted Butter
1 cup Granulated Sugar
1 tsp Vanilla

Whisk flour into milk and place over medium heat in a small sauce pan.

Cook mixture, whisking frequently, until thickened; (when a drizzle of the mixture leaves lines in the top for just a couple of seconds before “melting” back into the mass)

Remove mixture from heat and whisk in salt;
Pour into a bowl to stop cooking, covering with plastic wrap on the surface to prevent crusting.
In a stand mixer, begin creaming the butter and sugar until fluffy.

Add vanilla and mix to combine.

When milk mixture is slightly cooled; add 1 TB at a time to the creamed butter mixture while the mixer is running on medium speed.
Slowly but surely the gluten will pull in the butter into a pseudo emulsion (I think it's actually a suspension).
You should have an extremely fluffy, light and buttery frosting when completed.

And what vehicle should you use to eat this divine frosting????

Why, Red Velvet Cake, or course....

Red Velvet Cake

2 1/4 cups Cake Flour 
1 1/2 cups Granulated Sugar
1 cup Buttermilk
1/2 cup Unsalted Butter
1 TB Natural Cocoa Powder (Not Dutch)
1 tsp Vanilla (Bourbon)
1 tsp Baking Soda
1 tsp Apple Cider Vinegar
2 Eggs
1 tsp Kosher Sal
optional – 1/2 oz red food coloring (try to find one made with red #40 allura ONLY, as red #3 has been shown to cause Thyroid cancer)
optional - About 1 pint of raspberries to "smush" between the layers

Preheat oven to 350 F.
Grease and flour the bottom only of 2 9-inch cake pans, or grease and line with parchment rounds.
Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
Whisk together the Flour and Salt.
Combine the Cocoa, Vanilla and Red food color (If you are foregoing the food color, whisk the cocoa into the flour and salt mixture and add the vanilla to the buttermilk).
Add eggs to the creamed butter mixture and beat a little longer, until well combined.
Add the cocoa mixture and mix 30 seconds. just until color becomes uniform
Add Buttermilk and flour mixture, alternating, beginning and ending with the buttermilk.
Measure 1 tsp Baking Soda into a small dish, add the Cider Vinegar and let it foam a little.
Add to the cake batter and incorporate with a few quick strokes.
Working quickly, so you don’t loose the leavening power of the soda, divide the batter between 2 cake pans.
Bake cake for 35–40 minutes or until it begins to pull away from the sides of the pan.
Remove from oven and cool for 15 minutes, turn cakes out onto a cooling rack.
Chill, covered in the refrigerator at least 30 minutes before frosting.



Anonymous said...

I have a recipe for this, but I found it and used it as a "cream filling". Had no idea it was called "Ermine". Beautiful cake btw (and I just happen to have some bourbon vanilla on hand wink wink)

Mo Diva said...

I absolutely love your lesson in frosting. Clearly, I have been missing out on the glory that is Ermine. thank you for all the yummy food porn!

Donna-FFW said...

This cake looks beautiful. Thanks for all the frosting tips. Your blog has lots of good stuff .

Anonymous said...

This is totally what my family uses for Red Velvet cake too...I just never knew what it was called! I just always referred to it as the "Red Velvet Cake Frosting." Love you blog :)

Shane T. Wingerd said...

Yay!!! It's good to know that this frosting is still being used out there and has not completely lost out to Cream Cheese frosting.. LOL

pajarita said...

I just loove the way you write! :-)
I'm looking foward to try both recipes. But I have 2 questions:
Can you tell me if the sugar on the Ermine Frosting recipe is granulated? And when you mention 3 TB AP, what does AP means?

Shane T. Wingerd said...

Thank you. :)

Yes, The Sugar is granulated and the AP is AP Flour or All-Purpose Flour.

pajarita said...


C.A. Scott said...

Finally, a recipe I can READ for the fantastic frosting my grandmother used to put on my birthday cake every year! I have a completely unintelligible 3x5 card she gave me for it years ago, but never could make out much beyond "cook," which never made much sense till I found this... Sooooo grateful. Now I can make my own favorite birthday cake in her honor!

Texas in the Hudson Valley said...

at last, the frosting I remember from Red Velvet Cake. My junior high school geometry teacher in Dallas, Texas gave the recipe to some of the mothers in my class and that must have been around 1960. This frosting was what made the cake!

Anonymous said...

I attempted to make this frosting, and it was fine immediately after mixing. Upon refrigeration, however, the mixture separated into a greasy mess. Do you have any insight into why this happened or how to prevent it? Thanks.

Shane T. Wingerd said...

That is interesting, I have never had that happen before. The only thing that I can think of is that maybe the butter was a little too warm before the milk mixture was added, or the finished frosting was still too warm when it was placed in the refrigerator.

I would continue to beat it for an additional 5 minutes on medium-low speed after you add the last of the milk/flour mixture. This will also allow for more air to be worked in and make the frosting lighter and fluffier as well as assuring that the frosting has cooled to room temperature.

I usually spread it on my cakes immediately after making it, then refrigerate the entire cake. I don't think I have ever refrigerated it sans cake.

I hope that helps.

Anonymous said...

Amen my brother! Cream cheese "frosting" has no place other than on cakes made from things grown in the ground.

fickle frannie said...

I adore this frosting, although I've always called it "cooked flour frosting" since a few Red Velvet recipes listed as such. But Ermine is more fitting. I use it on a good number of my cakes now, including a white chocolate version for a lemon filled white cake that was amazing. Nevertheless, love the article.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the advice, Shane. This time around I beat the frosting for an additional five minutes, spread it on the cake, then refrigerated the whole cake. It turned out perfectly with no separation.

Anonymous said...

Can this frosting be piped?

Shane T. Wingerd said...

It can be piped, but it's fairly sensitive to warm temperatures. The frosting in the end of the piping bag may start to get to soft to hold. It most definitely requires refrigeration though.

Anonymous said...

This frosting has been passed down to me from my mother. I use this on all of my cakes. It is my signiture frosting and the main reason people buy my cakes! I have been decorating cakes for 16 years. It is tricky to use on wedding cakes given the fact that it does break down in the heat but i find it's worth the risk. My dilema is that on occasion, my frosting devolpes "skin". There are chunks somehow forming from the milk/flour mixture. I was wondering if this happens to others, and if so, why and how can I fix it? Thanks!

Monk said...

Perhaps a little late but my guess would be to try a higher protein flour rather than the AP flour for the frosting. More protein may help to bind with the milk??? AP may be close enough most of the time but depending on the milk fat content it may not be enough.

ziggy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
DianeM said...

I have used that frosting recipe on what was told was Waldorf Astoria cake. Starting in late 50's early 60's my brother and I made it for each others birthday! My recipe may have been from the 40's since it called for shortening instead of butter. I have made it both ways. Also we put coconut on top of the frosting for the filling and the cake. Thanks for the lovely name for such a special frosting.

r said...

Thank you, thank you for taking a stand against cream cheese frosting on red velvet cake. My grandmother always made her red velvet with this frosting, which she called "roux" frosting. When I mentioned this frosting to the hipster salesgirl at Magnolia Bakery in NYC, she looked at me like I was insane.

Shane T. Wingerd said...

It is my pleasure. In all honesty, I am surprised that the Hipsters aren't embracing this frosting instead of continuing to consume Carrot Cake frosting (Cream Cheese frosting). Maybe it's just not be "ironic" enough for them. ;)

Noah said...

This frosting sounds pretty similar to the traditional German buttercream (1 part vanilla pudding mixed into 1 part butter). Of course pudding is usually made with starch and not with flour. This sounds interesting, and I wonder what sort of difference it would make.

If (when) I try this recipe, I'll cook the milk ahead of time and let it cool, either by stirring it constantly until it's down to room temperature or just covering it so it doesn't have a chance to develop a skin on top.

I'm curious: four varieties of buttercream are listed at the top of this post. What's the difference between them? Is one of them the German buttercream that I described?

Anonymous said...

Glad to see this traditional icing recipe for red velvet cake is still circulating. A red velvet cake with cream cheese icing has just never tasted right to me. About 60 years ago the nuns in Mobile wrote this recipe on the blackboard for everyone to copy down and take home to their mothers. The story (urban legend?) told was that a nun having lunch at the Waldorf Astoria had the cake and asked for the recipe. The chef gave it to her, but she was shocked when weeks later she was sent a bill for $500.00 for the recipe. So the nuns circulated it to every convent in the order. My mother made it every Christmas and I carried on the tradition for many years in my own family. It was also my daughter's favorite cake for me to make for her birthday (she was a redhead).

hanini#7 said...

I'd like to make this cake but eggs are not my friends. What can I do?

Shane T. Wingerd said...

Hanini#7... Your best bet, in this case, is probably "Ener-G" egg replacer. (available in most grocery stores) You can use Bananas or applesauce in place of eggs, but they tend to work better in muffins and brownies, as they make for denser baked goods... This is also true of silken Tofu.

Baking Soda and Vinegar can often be used as a replacement for eggs, but this recipe already relies on those for leavening, so it would not work in this particular case.

Pea Villager said...

Can almond milk be used instead?

Shane T. Wingerd said...

Pea Villager - I am really not sure. Usually Almond, Soy, Hemp and Oat milks contain extra ingredients like Guar Gum, Locust Bean Gum, and/or Carrageenan. I am unfamiliar with the effects these additives will have on the final frosting. But it is always worth a shot. If you give it a whirl, I would love to know how it turns out.

Unknown said...

Would this frosting freeze and defrost well? How well would it stand on a hot day outside of the fridge...I am wanting to make a red velvet for a party and want to make ingredients ahead of time and have it outside...

Shane T. Wingerd said...


Sadly, no. It does not freeze and thaw well. The flour makes it a little weird when trying to re-whip it after freezing. Kind of like warming up Cornstarch Gravy after chilling it. It ends up sort of lumpy and never really smooths out again. Also, this frosting is similar to French & American Butter Creme, in that it doesn't hold up well in temperatures above 70 degrees.

Rania said...

Great recipe! only problem was that I can feel the sugar granules when I eat it,so it was fluffy but not smooth...should it be like that or I did something wrong? ...should I use powdered sugar next time?.Thank you!

Shane T. Wingerd said...

There should not be any sugar granules in the finished frosting. I have had this happen to me a couple of times, though. (in fact, it just happened a month ago) Usually it's because I let the milk/flour mixture get a little too cold before i begin adding it to the sugar/butter mixture. When this happens, the sugar does not melt properly.

Rania said...

Thank you so much!

Unknown said...

I found a dairy free gluten free recipe. haven't tried it yet! it's my plan today for my grandson who is df and me since I am gf.

Newera18 said...

Thanks for asking that pajarita!!! I’m not going to say what I thought it stood for, LOL, after the food porn comment!! Just kiddin but thanks!!

Newera18 said...

Thank you and everyone is right about how beautiful this cake is. I’m not big into baking until the past year. I’m a grandma now so this is what we do. Lol
I appreciate you site, I haven’t tried making the RVC yet because I had real RVC and I knew it has its own distinct taste that is more than red food coloring. I have found several variations but I’m def baking this!!!

Anonymous said...

I can attest to the fact that this icing DOES NOT refrigerate well if you intend on piping cupcakes or frosting a cake afterwards.
However, I have frosted cupcakes before and then refrigerated the finished product with great success.
20 minutes out of the refrigerator and the icing is perfect once gain.

Unknown said...

This recipe has been used in my family for four generations. Glade to see good food traditions being revived.

Unknown said...

My wonderful aunt introduced me to red velvet cake in the 70's and I've never had one as good since.. because she made Ermine icing! I've never heard the term since until now. She wrote her recipe down for me and I tried to make it but kept making mistakes. Your instructions are wonderful and I can't wait to make it today for Christmas. I'm so excited!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing this recipe. When I was first dating my husband, nearly 30 years ago, I learned that his favorite cake was red velvet. And ready made cake mixes for red velvet didn't exist back then. My mother knew an older woman who was known for winning the county fair with her red velvet cake and got her recipe for me. Her frosting recipe was similar to yours but used shortening. My husband then admitted that what he truly loves about red velvet is the frosting (the cake is just the vehicle) and felt that my first attempt was close but not quite right. I tried other recipes over the years but yours is the first one he declared "perfect." I never heard it called Ermine before but it totally fits. For the record, he hates cream cheese and thinks that cream cheese frosting on red velvet cake is akin to sacrilege. Thanks again!