Boiled icing, also known as seven-minute frosting and white mountain icing, is a vintage “housewife’s” recipe from the early 1900s. The suspected reason for its popularity is that it was a way to make a beautiful frosting without breaking the bank on butter, which increased from 26 cents per pound in 1900 to 74 cents per pound by 1950. Boiled icing, however, is simply an Italian meringue, which is thought to date back to the 18th century. This “vintage” icing is getting a new life across the country as chefs are exploring classic foods.
At its most basic elements, meringue is a mix of egg whites and sugar. When egg whites are whipped, air is incorporated, and the more the whites are whipped, the smaller and smaller the pockets of air that are created. The smaller the bubbles, the stiffer the peaks of the egg whites. The addition of sugar isn’t just for flavor. The sugar acts as a stabilizer for those air bubbles. Acid, such as cream of tartar, vinegar or salt, can also be added to further stabilize the peaks.
Italian meringue incorporates cooked sugar. This hot sugar creates a very firm, stable meringue ideal for icing cakes. It also brings the temperature of the egg whites high enough to eliminate the risk of salmonella. While it’s the most stable meringue, it is also the most difficult to make. Cooking sugar is an art and a science. A candy thermometer must be used to ensure the sugar reaches but does not surpass the soft-ball stage of 234°F to 240°F. Also, sugar at this temperature can be very dangerous and should be handled with extreme care. If it comes into contact with the skin, it can cause very severe burns.
There a few guidelines to making boiled icing or any other meringue. Equipment should be clean and dry. Any liquid, especially a fat such as oil, butter or even lotion, could prevent the chemical reaction from occurring. Also, ingredients should be pure and untainted – no yellows in the whites and no flour in the sugar. Finally, start with egg whites at room temperature. This will yield more volume.
A sturdy countertop mixer is essential. Once the egg whites are whipped to stiff peaks, the hot sugar should be added with the motor on low, allowing the two mixtures to slowly combine. The finished product is sweet and glossy and creates beautiful peaks and swirls on cakes or cupcakes. But work quickly, because once the frosting sets, it becomes impossible to spread evenly.
Cassy Vires is the owner and chef of Home Wine Kitchen. She received her culinary training in Houston and has a knack for reimagining classic dishes.
Red Velvet Cake with Boiled Icing
A vintage icing calls for a vintage cake. This red velvet cake uses the traditional red coloring provided by beet juice.
Serves | 8 to 10 |
Red Velvet Cake
Adapted from The Waldorf-Astoria Cookbook
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- 4 eggs
- 1 cup vegetable oil
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 tsp baking soda
- 1 pinch kosher salt
- 3 oz bittersweet chocolate, melted
- 12 oz roasted beets, peeled and puréed
- 1 tsp red food coloring
- 1½ cups sugar
- ¼ tsp cream of tartar
- ¼ cup water
- 3 egg whites at room temperature
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
| Preparation − Red Velvet Cake | Preheat oven to 350°F. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine sugar, eggs, oil and vanilla and mix until creamy and well-combined. Sift together flour, baking soda and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the egg mixture and continue to mix on low speed until well-incorporated. With the motor running, add the melted chocolate, beets and food coloring. Continue to mix on low speed until all ingredients are thoroughly combined.
Divide batter evenly between 2 buttered and floured 8-inch round cake pans and bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until cake springs back when touched and a toothpick inserted into the center comes up clean. Cool for 10 minutes in the pans and turn layers out onto a rack to cool completely.
| Preparation − Boiled Icing | Place the sugar and cream of tartar in a small, heavy-bottomed saucepot. Add the water carefully, pouring it around the edges of the pot. This will help keep crystals from forming on the sides of the pot. Place a candy thermometer in the pot and place the pot over medium-low heat. Do not stir the mixture, but rather gently swirl the pan occasionally.
Meanwhile, combine the egg whites and vanilla in the bowl of an electric mixer. Beat on high until stiff peaks begin to form. Once the sugar mixture has reached 240°F, turn the mixer on low and very carefully pour the sugar in a slow, steady steam into the whipped egg whites. When half of the sugar mixture has been incorporated, return the rest of it to the stove and increase the mixer speed to high. When the remaining sugar mixture reaches 240°F, reduce the mixer speed to low and add the mixture in a slow, steady stream. Return the mixer speed to high until the peaks are firm and glossy.
Remove the bowl from the mixer, taking care, as the bowl is now hot. Working quickly, spoon a large amount of icing on one of the layers and spread evenly. Place the other layer on top, put another large spoonful of icing in its center and carefully start spreading from the center out until the top and sides are completely covered. Gently place the back of a spoon on the icing and quickly pull up to create decorative peaks.