My Very Favorite Vanilla Frosting + A Teddy Bear Picnic

The sweetest girl in the whole world just had her first birthday.

I am honestly still a bit stunned that she is a year old. That whole third-child thing? It’s real. Time is legit zooming by way faster than it did with Jake or Caitlin.

Back when I was 42 weeks pregnant with a baby that refused to leave my body I never thought I would say this, but every single phase of Violet’s life so far has been the perfect phase. If I could have frozen time and kept her 2 months, 3 months, 8 months old forever, I would have done so. Every month for the whole year. She has a sunny, winning smile, and she loves to throw her head back in glee while she shines. She giggles and claps and says, “Uh-oh.” She throws books off shelves (okay, I wouldn’t freeze that) and dances in her crib and crawls at top speed when she thinks she’s being chased.

And she went to TOWN on some cake.

The month before her birthday was extremely busy with homeschool starting and a family illness, so I kept her party low-key. We did a teddy bear picnic with family, which basically amounted to me throwing camp chairs and picnic blankets in the backyard with a bocce set and hauling out every single teddy bear and teddy bear-related book we own.

I did a very small snack spread with cheese and fruit and a giant container of “party mix” (teddy grahams, animal crackers, Chex, and pumpkin spice Cheerios).

The big kids read stories and attempted to play cornhole while Violet trotted around the yard and tried to eat moss from between our patio bricks. The adults sat around and fanned themselves because mid-September is still very muggy.

But by far, the highlight of the party was the cake.

I am a big, big fan of smash cakes. Watching how a kid interacts with a giant cake that no one is taking away from them is hilarious! It’s such a glimpse into their personality.

Violet did not wait to find out whether we had left that cake there by mistake. She was all in. She hugged it. She smacked it and grabbed handfuls of frosting and ran them through her hair.

When she was done painting with the frosting, she just buried her face in the cake and munched.

I think she was the happiest I’ve ever seen her, and so were all the adults! Everyone was taking photos and videos and laughing uproariously as she squished and licked frosting from her fingers. That kid loves a thrill, and boy do I love that kid.

So. I figure the time has finally come to share this frosting recipe with you. I mentioned it back when I made Jake’s smash cake (what!? SEVEN years ago??), but I’ve never actually posted the recipe. It is the only vanilla frosting recipe I make anymore, and I get so many requests for this recipe that I knew I should write it up here!

The reason I love this frosting is that it is much less sweet than a traditional American buttercream, but it is much simpler than a meringue (Swiss, Italian) buttercream because it requires no eggs. This recipe uses about half (by weight) the amount of sugar you would need if you made a buttercream with confectioner’s sugar.

It’s so light! It’s SO creamy! And it has the perfect sweet, vanilla flavor. It is a very soft frosting, but it still pipes well. I do recommend you chill the cakes you make with this frosting, as it can break if you leave it in a warm spot for a long time, but 24 hours on the counter won’t hurt it as long as the room is not warm!

Don’t be put off by the name. It’s called “Boiled Milk Frosting.” Which sounds terrible. I have heard it go by some other names, like “Ermine Frosting” (which is apparently what they called it back when it went on red velvet cake, before the world discovered cream cheese) and “Butter Roux Frosting.”

I just like to call it “Favorite Frosting.”

I bet you would, too.

Start by whipping room temperature butter with granulated sugar. Yes, granulated. Get it niiice and fluffy.

Next, in a saucepan over medium heat, combine milk with a few tablespoons of flour. No need to worry about whisking it in slowly or anything like that, just throw them together and whisk. If you whisk continuously (not frantically, just keep everything moving), the mixture will thicken in about 5 minutes with no lumps.

Remove it from the heat and let it cool. A great way to do this is to transfer it to a separate bowl and lay a sheet of plastic wrap against the surface of the thickened milk, to prevent it from growing a skin. But this isn’t absolutely necessary, and I didn’t do it when I made this batch!

Let the milk mixture cool about 15 minutes. It should not be hotter than lukewarm, or else it will melt the butter and you will have to spend extra time whipping.

When the milk is lukewarm, it’s time to add it to the butter mixture! I always pour my cooled milk through a fine-mesh sieve, just in case there is any lumpiness to catch.

Now whip, whip, whip that frosting. At first it will be soupy. Don’t fret! Just keep whipping. It will always be a bit soft, but when you look into the bowl and you can see beater marks, it is done.

Stir in vanilla and salt. Add food coloring if you like!

Spread or pipe onto your cake, and then chill the cake to help the frosting set and keep it fresh. This frosting will not form a sugary crust on the outside (because there is not a ton of sugar in it), but it will hold onto its shape very persistently if you chill it for an hour or two. Chilling isn’t absolutely necessary if you plan to eat the cake within a few hours—my cupcakes never made it into the fridge, and the frosting didn’t droop or separate at all—but I wouldn’t recommend letting the cake sit out on a hot day for very long, as it may melt (as would any frosting, though this one might get there faster).

This frosting is to-die-for. It goes well with every single flavor of cake, and I swear I get comments and compliments every time I make it. I really hope you give it a try!

My Favorite Vanilla Frosting

also called Boiled Milk Frosting, Ermine Frosting, and Roux Frosting. Lightly adapted from BakeSpace
Course Dessert
Keyword creamy, vanilla
Cook Time 15 minutes
Resting Time 15 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes
Makes 2 cups

Ingredients

  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 3 tbsp. all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • pinch of salt

Instructions

  • Whisk flour into milk over medium heat in a small saucepan. Whisk constantly until the mixture thickens.
  • Remove from the heat and let cool 15 minutes (optional: transfer to a separate bowl and cover with plastic wrap while cooling), until lukewarm.
  • Meanwhile, cream butter and sugar until fluffy.
  • When the boiled milk is cool enough, pour it through a fine-mesh strainer into the bowl with the creamed butter. Add the vanilla and salt to the bowl.
  • Beat the milk and butter together until combined. The frosting should be smooth and silky, not at all soupy. This may take up to 10 minutes.
  • Spread or pipe immediately onto your cake.

Notes

This recipe makes enough to thinly frost an 8″ round layer cake, or to pipe frosting on 18 cupcakes.
You can easily double the recipe, but the beating time will increase. Should you attempt to triple the recipe, you will need to add the milk to the butter in two batches or else it will not emulsify.
*This frosting should be stored in the refrigerator, as it can separate in warm temperatures. (It is safe on the counter for a few hours, but it does contain a lot of milk, so don’t plan to sit it out long-term.)
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