I thought it would be harder. But making frosting without white sugar or confectioner’s sugar (and therefore cornstarch which has been genetically modified) proved to be so easy that I’m ashamed I hadn’t tried it until now.
I played with two variations, both of which turned out well, and I have big plans for a thick frosting for my gingerbread men later this week (which, of course, I will post).
The first one I tried was a cream cheese frosting on an apple cake (this cake was a combination of Smitten Kitchen’s recent roasted apple sheet cake and a previous post of hers from 2010, her spiced applesauce cake – my variation can be found at the bottom of this post). I let 6oz of cream cheese and 2oz of butter come to room temperature and soften and then creamed them together. I stirred 2 tsp of arrowroot powder into 1/4c of maple syrup until the arrowroot powder was well mixed in, and then added that to the cream cheese and butter. After tasting it I added another 1/8c of maple syrup but if the cake you are frosting is super sweet, I think the 1/4c cup of syrup would make a nice not-too-sweet frosting as a complement. This made enough frosting for a decent layer on one 9″ * 13″ cake. If you like a generous amount of frosting (you know, you like cake with your frosting rather than the other way around) then I would scale up the recipe.
This was a huge crowd pleaser, and it was so simple! The brilliant thing about using arrowroot powder is that it is tasteless and odorless and not combined with sugar, the way cornstarch is in confectioner’s sugar. I have been the victim of a too-sweet frosting many many times when I’ve added more and more sugar in order to thicken the frosting and reach the texture I wanted.
On to the second one! I made this frosting for chocolate-banana cupcakes (which, sadly, did not turn out as well as the frosting so I am not including the recipe here). I stuck with butter and decided to add cocoa. Since I was making a much smaller batch of frosting I had assumed that I would be using less arrowroot powder. Much to my surprise I added teaspoon after teaspoon to the frosting until there was four times as much powder in this small batch as there had been in the previous large batch. This one ended up being 2oz of softened and creamed butter with 1/8c of maple syrup, 1.5 tsp of cocoa powder, and 8 tsp of arrowroot powder. On the plus side, I did learn that it is not necessary to mix the powder into a liquid in order to mix it in thoroughly and evenly. So we can skip that step in the future!
Why the difference in the amount of arrowroot powder? I figured the small amount of cocoa powder I had added to the cupcake batch had little to do with the outcome. The only other difference in ingredients was the cream cheese. I looked at the ingredients on the cream cheese package and yes, there it was…locust bean gum. A thickener! Derived from the carob tree, Wikipedia describes it in all kinds of science-y ways that I don’t understand and then concludes with this:
The bean, when made into powder, is sweet—with a flavor similar to chocolate—and is used to sweeten foods and as a chocolate substitute. It is also used in pet foods and inedible products such as mining products, paper making, and to thicken textiles. It is used in cosmetics and to enhance the flavor of cigarettes. Shoe polish and insecticides also have locust bean gum powder as an additive.
Well, I do love me some cigarettes and shoe polish, but in the interests of getting down to the heart of food and cooking, and consuming as low down the processed food chain as possible, I think I’ll have to forgo cream cheese in the future. Much like sour cream (thickened with, yup, you guessed it, cornstarch), cream cheese does have some culturing for flavor but relies much more heavily on a chemical thickening process rather than a culturing thickening process. I’ve been using creme fraiche, and occasionally yogurt, as a substitute for sour cream so I will try out creme fraiche and yogurt in frosting sometime.
One way or another, it is surprisingly easy to avoid GMOs and white sugar in the world of frosting. Next adventures in frosting include: thick icing for gingerbread men; a maple glaze for a gingerbread bundt cake; variations on boiled frosting for sheet cakes; and creme fraiche or yogurt frosting to substitute for cream cheese frosting on James’ birthday apple cake!
3 c flour
1 T baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1.5 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp cloves
3/4 c butter (1.5 sticks, softened)
3/4 c maple syrup
1/2 c melted coconut oil
2 tsp vanilla
2 c applesauce
Mix together, then spread a layer in a buttered/floured 9″ * 13″ cake pan, lay 4 c of roasted apple chunks over the layer, then finish with a last layer of cake batter. Bake at 350 degrees until a knife or toothpick comes out clean.