Friday, May 18, 2018

My Mother's Frosting

This week I was in our local supermarket and happened to stop in the baking aisle and look at cake mixes. I usually prefer to make baked goods from scratch, so I’ve been out of touch with boxed mixes and most frozen desserts (except for puff pastry, which is beyond my skills). I recognized the brand names, but apart from that nothing was familiar. The products looked attractive, but I wouldn’t know where to start.

I was looking for something to put frosting on, in particular one recipe I remember my mother making. She didn’t particularly like desserts, but everyone else in the family did, so for holiday dinners and birthdays, she grudgingly went along with the program.

What I remember most often (after her chocolate sauce, which went on ice cream) was  “seven-minute frosting” on birthday cakes. This recipe came out of the battered, grease-stained copy of Fanny Farmer’s Cooking-School Cook Book (1947 edition—she and my father married in 1948). Reading it over, I realized that its appeal for my mother was that it was very simple and fast to make. And then I realized that I couldn’t remember ever making it myself.

So I bought a frozen pound cake and jumped into making the frosting. It requires a double boiler (do people still have those? I happen to have two—my mother’s and my grandmother’s) to make sure the pan doesn’t get too hot and scorch the frosting. And while the original recipe said that you should beat the mixture over hot water for some long period of time, using an electric mixer cuts the "seven minute" time about in half.

My Mother’s Seven-Minute Frosting


1 egg white, unbeaten
3/4 cup granulated (or superfine) sugar
2 Tblsp cold water
1/4 tsp cream of tartar OR 1 tsp light corn syrup
a few grains of salt

This is one of my antique egg beaters
(no, I did not use it for this recipe!)

Instructions: (with updates)

Combine all the ingredients in the top of a double boiler and stir until the sugar dissolves. Place the top pan over briskly boiling water. (Note: the water should already be boiling before you put the top part over it. And the bottom of the top should clear the water, not sit in it.)

Beat with an egg beater (ha!) or a hand mixer until the mixture is stiff enough to stand. (With the egg beater it will take 6-10 minutes; with the electric mixer, closer to 4 minutes.) [This instruction cracks me up: how many of you have stood over a hot pan and beaten anything by hand for ten minutes? Although I love the old egg beaters—I have a dozen of them, each different, bought at an auction.] Make sure to scrape down the sides of the pan as you mix so that all the sugar is well mixed in.

Starting to thicken

And done!

Add flavoring if you like (suggestions in the cookbook: use brown sugar instead of white; add caramel syrup; add shredded coconut; add various fruits and/or nuts. You can probably think of more! I might try coffee syrup—an old New England favorite—one of these days.).

Keep beating until the mixture is thick enough to spread. Now, here is the odd part: the original recipe does not tell you that you’d better spread it ASAP, while it’s still warm, because otherwise it gets too stiff as it cools and will tear up the cake when you try to spread it. So have your cake or cupcakes or whatever you’re planning to frost ready and waiting (and cooled) before you start making your frosting.

Frosted Pound Cake

The original recipe claims that this amount should cover a dozen cupcakes, or maybe half a layer cake. I think that assumes that you’re spreading it very thin or using a very small cake.

And I'm sure I don't have to tell you that the frosting will be very sweet, because the only real ingredient is sugar.

At last! Book news, breaking this week! Revealing the Dead is now available!

Revealing the Dead, from Beyond the Page, May 2018

Still undecided about a return to her teaching career, Abby Kimball has thrown herself into restoring the grand Victorian she shares with her boyfriend, Ned. She’s happy to put thoughts of her strange ability to see the dead on the back burner for a while, but she realizes that won’t be so easy when she’s faced with two new compelling encounters.

First, a plumber she’s hired has a shocking experience with an old tool they find buried in the house’s walls, and then the interior life of an autistic boy streams through her mind as if he were speaking. Intrigued by the possibility that those who share her ability are more numerous and considerably more varied than she ever imagined, Abby’s forced to reconsider everything she thought she knew about her extraordinary gift. 

But wait! There's more! In case you haven't had a chance to read the earlier books in this series, the first three are now available as a set, at a reduced price. (Funny inside story there. We were looking for an image that conveyed "Victorian" and were struggling to find one, so I sent pictures of my front door--and that's what ended up on the cover! The cat, however, is not mine, although he looks a lot like Henry who lives next door.)

For details, click here.


  1. I remember in my high school Foods class, we made angel food cake and frosted it with Seven Minute Frosting. Turned out really good. As for beating things (not with an eggbeater) I have a recipe for chocolate silk pie that requires you to beat the filling while cooking for 7 minutes and then after it is taken off the heat, you beat it for a further 8 minutes to thicken it. The pie is utterly smooth and rich. Mind you, I only make it on holidays - it is a labor of love, even with using an electric mixer!

    1. I hear you! My mother used to make angel food cake too, and top it with this frosting. (She also used to tell the tale of her father trying to use an electric stand mixer and getting his fingers caught in the beater--they've been around for a long time!)

  2. Congratulations on this latest release, Sheila. Hope to read soon!
    Cynthia B

  3. Great news on the new release. I look forward to it.
    I've never made this type of frosting, but it does sound like a classic.
    Raquel, I don't know about anyone else, but I'm wanting that silk pie recipe!

  4. Before she switched recipes Mom used to make some frosting that would harden once on the cake. It was a sugary cement, not creamy at all. Is this 7 minute frosting?

    1. Could be. I think (based on the leftovers I have) it's meant to be eaten the same day, before it turns to cement. Another thing Fanny Farmer didn't bother to mention. But cakes never lasted long around my house.

  5. In our home Orange cake was everyone favorite! Even the icing was made of orange juice! Yummy!