Unlike traditional buttercream, this Fluffy Vanilla Frosting is silky smooth, much fluffier and far less sweet. The texture is closer to whipped cream, but unlike cream, this Frosting is stable for days. It pipes like a dream, as featured in Vanilla Cupcakes, and is straightforward to make.
Made without icing sugar / powdered sugar, this is actually an old fashioned frosting called “Ermine Frosting”. If you’ve never heard of it before, the ingredients and method will intrigue you!
My secret Fluffy Vanilla Frosting
I call this my “secret” Vanilla Frosting because it’s not a widely known type of frosting and people are always flabbergasted when I tell them how it’s made using butter, milk, flour and sugar.
It’s my best all-rounder that’s a hit with everyone. Take a classic buttercream, in all its rich, sweet glory, and a lightly sweetened vanilla whipped cream, and this Vanilla Frosting sits squarely in the middle.
But unlike buttercream, it’s 100% silky smooth. And unlike whipped cream which deflates within hours, this Vanilla Frosting will hold a tall piped swirl for days and days.
This looks and pipes like buttercream, but it’s WAY less sweet and rich!
This frosting is actually an old fashioned frosting called Ermine Frosting. Also known as boiled-milk frosting, roux frosting and mock cream, none of these names sound particularly flash nor do they capture the magic of this frosting that has a cult following. Some declare it as the best frosting in the world!
About this Fluffy Vanilla Frosting
Though the proper name of this frosting is Ermine Frosting, I’m going to continue to call it Fluffy Vanilla Frosting because that’s exactly what it is – and it sounds a lot more flattering than the real name!😂
The method by which it is made will sound highly unusual: hot milk, flour and sugar is cooked on the stove until thickened into a thick custard texture, then once cool it becomes a thoroughly unappetising looking bowl of gluey-jelly which is then whipped into butter.
And this is when the ugly duckling transforms into a beautiful swan. Because suddenly, you’re staring into a bowl of what looks like whipped cream. Except….. you haven’t used cream at all. You touch it and know that it’s firm enough to pipe into sky-high swirls. You taste it, and it’s silky smooth. A cross between buttercream and whipped cream!
What you need for this Fluffy Vanilla Frosting
All you need is butter, flour, milk, sugar and vanilla. Flour?? I hear you query. YES. That is what thickens this into a frosting texture. I promise you will not detect even the faintest bit of flour once finished – not in texture and certainly not taste.
How to make my secret Less-Sweet Fluffy Vanilla Frosting
First, we make the roux. It’s just like how we start creamy-sauce savoury foods like Mac and Cheese – except it’s sweet, and we take it much further until it’s very thick.
Milk, sugar, flour – Stir the sugar and flour in a dry saucepan over medium heat – this just toasts the sugar lightly to bring out some flavour. Then slowly pour the warm milk in as you whisk (this avoids lumps)
Cook over medium heat until it thickens in a thick dolloping custard. The range of thickness possible is actually quite broad – I’ve made it way thicker and it still worked perfectly. In fact, the frosting holds its structure longer, and it pipes with sharper, more defined edges even though it is just as fluffy. Just don’t take it off when it’s still watery.
Scrape it into a bowl (“it” being a roux);
Cover roux with cling wrap, pressing onto the surface to prevent a skin from forming (or use paper if you’re plastic adverse) then very importantly, allow to fully cool otherwise it will melt the butter. It will become like a thick, pasty, thoroughly unappetising jelly and at this stage you will start doubting me. Have faith!
Cooling the roux / making ahead – I usually cool on counter for 20 minutes then refrigerate for 30 minutes or so to speed things up but don’t let it get fridge cold because otherwise it won’t mix together well with the room temp butter (because the temperatures are too different). You can also leave it overnight in the fridge but take it out about 1 hour prior to dechill it and bring to room temperature.
Now, we whip it up like any other frosting.
5. Beat butter until creamy – just for a couple of minutes. We don’t need it to become aerated because we will be whipping the combined mixture like you do whipped cream and at this stage it will fluff up more;
6. Add dollops of the roux, beating as you go. Take about 1 minute to add all the roux in, this will ensure your Frosting stays smooth;
7. Beat, beat, beat – Add vanilla and a pinch of salt for flavour, then beat for another 2 to 3 minutes, just like you’re whipping up a big bowl of cream; and
8. Voila! Your Fluffy Vanilla Frosting is done!
How to use this Fluffy Vanilla Frosting
Spreading and piping
Or transfer to a piping bag and pipe sky-high swirls, as pictured throughout this post (Wilton 2D tip).
In fact, this frosting was the traditional frosting used for Red Velvet Cake! It was only in modern times that cream cheese frosting became the frosting of choice for Red Velvet.
You can pipe sky-high mounds of this frosting onto cupcakes, and you won’t find it sickly sweet like with buttercream!
Flavours and colouring
Treat it like your everyday buttercream – this frosting can be tinted and flavoured with concentrated flavouring.
To make it Chocolate flavoured, just whip in 1/4 cup cocoa powder at end. Melted chocolate doesn’t work as well because it weighs it down.
Note: I haven’t tried using fresh citrus like lemon, lime and orange to ensure it doesn’t split.
The butter in this frosting will require refrigeration if the temperature is warm enough for the butter to start softening – this causes the frosting to droop. I find that up to about 23°/73°F, this frosting is fine out on the counter.
If you are forced to refrigerate, make sure you take cakes out 1 1/2 hours prior to serving and cupcakes out 1 hour prior so they come to room temperature. The frosting firms up in the fridge (because the butter goes hard) which is not very pleasant to eat! You need the frosting to come to room temperature so it’s creamy and soft again. It will soften faster than fridge-cold butter because the fridge-cold frosting is not as hard as butter.
So, now you know my secret frosting recipe. 🙂 I’ve been making it for years, relishing in how people who ordinarily shy-away from sky high mounds of frosting have dived into it after I assured them that it’s way less sweet and rich than typical frostings.
Tell me what you think if you try it! – Nagi x
Watch how to make it
My Secret Less-Sweet, Fluffy Vanilla Frosting
- 5 tbsp flour , plain/all purpose
- 1 cup white sugar , regular/granulated (can reduce to 1/2 cup, Note 1)
- 1 cup milk, warmed using any method , full fat best (but even 0% fat works)
- 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- Pinch of salt
- 225g / 1 cup unsalted butter , softened but not too soft! (Note 3)
Chocolate Frosting option:
- 1/4 cup cocoa powder, unsweetened (Dutch processed best, if you can)
- Place flour and sugar in a large saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring constantly, for 30 seconds.
- While whisking constantly, slowly pour the milk in (this ensure it's lump free).
- As the milk gets hotter, it will start to thicken - stir constantly so the base doesn't catch.
- Cook until the mixture thickens in a thick, dolloping custard - see video for texture. TIP: Thicker texture = thicker frosting texture but won't make the frosting dense, it's still fluffy and spreadable but it just makes it "sturdier" with sharper edges when piped.
- Remove from heat and scrape into a bowl. Cover with cling wrap, pressing down onto the surface to prevent a skin from forming.
- Cool completely (I leave on counter for 20 min or so then refrigerate 30 min to speed up but don't let it get chilled, best at room temp to beat into butter). You can leave in fridge overnight but take it out 1 hour prior to using (to dechill - otherwise it won't mix well with softened butter).
Making the Fluffy Frosting:
- Place butter in a bowl and use either a handheld beater or stand mixer (with whisk attachment) to beat for 3 minutes until it's smooth and changes from yellow to very pale yellow, almost white.
- Now start whipping in the Thickening Roux. On speed 5 (medium), start adding the thick roux one heaped tablespoon at a time. Take about 1 minute to add it all.
- Once all added, add vanilla and salt, then whip for 2 to 3 minutes until you can see that it is still enough to hold peaks. Then it's ready to use!
Chocolate flavoured option:
- Beat in the cocoa powder at the end, just until mixed through.
Frosting cakes and cupcakes:
- Use it like any other frosting on cakes and cupcakes - either spread it on with a knife or put in a piping bag. You can pipe sky-high mounds and it will hold its form, as pictured on Vanilla Cupcakes in this post.
- See notes for storage / make ahead.
- This frosting is best used straight after making.
- On cooler days (22C/71F or so), frosted cakes, cupcakes etc can stay out on the counter.
- On warmer days, it will need to be refrigerated - the butter is what will make the frosting droop. Take out of fridge 1 - 1.5 hrs before serving to bring so the frosting can soften (it firms up in the fridge due to the butter).
- The flour milk roux can be made the day before and refrigerated overnight, but then take it out of the fridge 1 hour prior to take the chill out of it, you want it at room temperature.
- Freezing - up to 3 months, thaw overnight in the fridge
Life of Dozer
When he literally DIVES in to inhale a cupcake and gets a big splodge of frosting on his nose that is JUST out of licking range….