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The “Best” Vanilla Frosting

The “Best” Vanilla Frosting

If you’re looking for a vanilla frosting that’s less sweet than a traditional buttercream, but still velvety smooth, this light, and fluffy cooked flour frosting is just the thing. It really is the best frosting!

If you're looking for a vanilla frosting that's less sweet than a traditional buttercream, but still velvety smooth, this light, and fluffy cooked flour frosting is just the thing. It really is the best frosting!

This cooked flour vanilla frosting is the best frosting, so it deserves the very best gluten free vanilla cake. And that’s what you see here. This cake-and-frosting duo is my default combination for quite literally any occasion.

I don’t usually make much of a fuss about recipes for frosting and other naturally gluten free recipes of that sort. But this isn’t just any frosting. It’s a cooked flour and sugar frosting, and it’s traditionally made with a conventional all purpose flour.

I first heard of it way back in 2013 when a super sweet reader named Karlie (hi Karlie!) emailed me, like, every couple months and very respectfully asked would I please give her back this frosting. She explained that it was the lightly sweet, fluffy vanilla frosting of her dreams, and she was missing it since she went gluten free.

This frosting, like my favorite chocolate whipped ganache frosting, isn’t nearly as sweet as a traditional buttercream frosting. Buttercream relies upon confectioners’ sugar for sweetness and more importantly for structure. Without plenty of sugar, buttercream won’t hold its shape. Here, cooked sugar does a lot more heavy-lifting.

If you're looking for a vanilla frosting that's less sweet than a traditional buttercream, but still velvety smooth, this light, and fluffy cooked flour frosting is just the thing. It really is the best frosting!

A note about the flour blend

I had originally made this frosting with a combination of cornstarch and my basic gum free gluten free flour blend. Since I always keep a container of that flour blend handy in my kitchen, and I always have cornstarch, it was easy enough to use both and the results were always spectacular.

Recently, though, I realized that most likely I could simply use tapioca starch/flour alone, and wouldn’t that be simpler. I tried, and it worked just as well. I then started using different combinations, even using all arrowroot, and the recipe still worked.

There are quite a number of recipes on the web for cooked flour frosting (also called ermine or boiled milk frosting), and many of them don’t seem to work very well. I believe that the secret to success in this recipe, other than the right balance of ingredients like any recipe, is cooking not just the milk and flour but also the sugar. Cooking the sugar along with the milk and flour means that the sugar changes form as well, which adds a lot of stability to the frosting.

If you're looking for a vanilla frosting that's less sweet than a traditional buttercream, but still velvety smooth, this light, and fluffy cooked flour frosting is just the thing. It really is the best frosting!

As Karlie pointed out, this recipe makes a super velvet-smooth, fluffy-light frosting. It’s almost like whipped cream frosting, but it’s naturally very stable at room temperature which is a really nice thing in a frosting.

Go ahead and make it ahead of time. Then, either pipe it or spread it on your cake or cupcakes right away, or store it in an airtight container on the counter for a couple days before you’re ready to use it. It doesn’t separate. Plus, the recipe can be doubled easily. As written, it works for 1 dozen cupcakes or a single layer cake.

If you're looking for a vanilla frosting that's less sweet than a traditional buttercream, but still velvety smooth, this light, and fluffy cooked flour frosting is just the thing. It really is the best frosting!

One more secret to success in this recipe. Temperature is everything.

The temperature of the flour, milk and sugar is irrelevant, but the cooked mixture must be cooled to room temperature before adding the butter. Otherwise, the butter will melt into the sugar mixture and the frosting will never whip.

Likewise, the butter (or shortening—see substitution information below) must be at room temperature before it’s added to the sugar mixture. If the butter is cold and the sugar mixture is at room temperature, everything will clump and resist combining into the beautiful whipped frosting you see.

Once the frosting is made, if it seems a bit soft, cover it in a bowl and refrigerate it for a few minutes. As written, this recipe creates a scoopable frosting. For a consistency that you can pipe easily and beautifully, place the frosting in a piping bag fitted with your favorite tip and place it in the refrigerator until it is chilled to the touch (about an hour). It will hold any shape you like.

If you're looking for a vanilla frosting that's less sweet than a traditional buttercream, but still velvety smooth, this light, and fluffy cooked flour frosting is just the thing. It really is the best frosting!

Ingredients and Substitutions

Dairy-Free: I’ve successfully made this recipe dairy free using 14 tablespoons (168 g) butter-flavored Spectrum nonhydrogenated vegetable shortening in place of 12 tablespoons (168 g) unsalted butter. Just be sure to use your favorite unsweetened nondairy milk. My favorite is almond milk.

Sugar-Free: I haven’t tried making this recipe sugar-free, but I think it would work beautifully with Swerve brand granulated sugar substitute. If you’re considering reducing the amount of granulated sugar, I don’t recommend that as the recipe is already much less sweet than traditional buttercream frosting.

For a refined sugar-free version, granulated coconut palm sugar might work in place of refined granulated sugar. But I’d recommend grinding the palm sugar in a food processor first, since it has a large grain otherwise and may not melt fully otherwise. The resulting frosting will be darker in color, though.

Click play ▶️ and watch me make this vanilla frosting

For the visual learners among us, I’ve created a short video of myself making this easy frosting. Watch it, then it’s your turn!

If you're looking for a vanilla frosting that's less sweet than a traditional buttercream, but still velvety smooth, this light, and fluffy cooked flour frosting is just the thing. It really is the best frosting!
Prep time: Cook time: Yield: About 2 cups (enough for 12 cupcakes)

Ingredients

3 1/2 tablespoons (32 g) tapioca starch/flour (or a combination of half tapioca starch, half cornstarch)

3/4 cup (150 g) granulated sugar

Dash (1/8 teaspoon) kosher salt

3/4 cup (6 fluid ounces) milk (any kind – just not nonfat)

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract or seeds from 1 vanilla bean

12 tablespoons (168 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature (it must be at room temperature)

Directions

  • Fill a large bowl about halfway with ice and set it aside. In a small, heavy-bottom saucepan, place the tapioca starch, sugar and salt, and whisk to combine well. Add the milk, and whisk until smooth. Place over medium-low heat and cook, whisking constantly, until the mixture thickens and the whisk leaves behind a visible trail, about 3 minutes. Remove the saucepan from the heat, and scrape the mixture into a separate medium-size heat safe bowl.

  • Place the medium-sized bowl on top of the bowl of ice to stop the cooking of the flour and sugar mixture. Allow the mixture to cool until it reaches room temperature (temperature matters tremendously here).

  • Place the cooled flour and sugar mixture in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (a handheld mixer will work just fine here), add about 1/3 of the butter and the vanilla (extract or seeds), and mix on medium speed until smooth. Add the remaining butter in two parts, mixing in between until smooth. The mixture will seem almost curdled at first. Turn the mixer to high speed and mix for about 3 minutes or until the frosting turns white and becomes light and fluffy. The frosting can be used immediately or can be stored in a sealed container in the refrigerator for a few days. Allow to come mostly to room temperature before using.

  • Adapted from Mel’s Kitchen Cafe. Originally posted on the blog in 2013. Video and most photos new, text edited, recipe tweaked.

Love,
Nicole

Comments are closed.

  • jillji
    October 1, 2017 at 12:01 PM

    There is always at least one of us here…Do you think this would work with coconut sugar or honey? I would use the sugar very seldom, maybe a birthday, but would love a nice recipe like this without the white sugar…thanks, I will might experiment.

    • Nicole Hunn
      October 2, 2017 at 8:53 AM

      I’m afraid I’ve already provided all the substitution information I can muster, Jill! Feel free to experiment and let us know how it goes!

  • Beth
    September 28, 2017 at 9:15 AM

    I love, love, love this frosting! I saw it first on Mel’s site and then wondered if you had done it gluten free, Nicole – and, of course, you had! It is now my go to frosting recipe and the one my husband can’t eat enough. Thank you so much for all you do – having Celiac disease would be so much harder without you. Thank you!

    • Nicole Hunn
      September 28, 2017 at 9:28 AM

      Beth, that’s so kind of you to say. And I’m so grateful that I’ve been able to help. Mel is the best!!

  • January 7, 2013 at 11:34 AM

    What makes this better than a regular buttercream? Is it just because its light and fluffy instead of dense?

  • Lorraine
    January 7, 2013 at 9:26 AM

    Nicole, if I weren’t clogged up with a brand-new-for-the-New-Year cold, I would sing the praises of you and your cookbooks! I have both and I cannot praise them enough! I’m going to make this delicious frosting for this weekend’s Birthday Party for two old codgers …. a.k.a. dear old friends. One of them is gluten-free so he is gonna flip! I’m planning on making your Twinkie cupcakes as well.. YUM-O!

  • Socalmama3
    January 5, 2013 at 4:19 PM

    Thank you for this recipe!  Looks amazing and my daughter can have all the ingredients! Yay!
    I have a question I’ve not been able to find the answer to in your blog or your book (which I got as a Christmas present from my son).  In your DIY Better Batter flour recipe, the link for the pectin is not working.  What brand of pectin do you use?  I bought Solgar apple pectin at the health food store.  Can I use that?  It’s less expensive than the pectin in the packets for jellies (I think the brand is Pomona).   Anxious to start baking your recipes.  Thanks in advance!

  • Sarawerner54
    January 5, 2013 at 10:52 AM

    Would this recipe work dairy free with dairy free butter and rice or almond or coconut milk?

    • gfshoestring
      January 5, 2013 at 11:34 AM

      I honestly don’t know, Sarawerner, since I haven’t tried the recipe with any substitutions, but I always prefer shortening to nondairy butter, so I’d start with that. The milk shouldn’t be a problem. Just steer away from nonfat dairy free milk.
      Nicole

  • Chris
    January 4, 2013 at 10:36 AM

    When the kids were small and decided to forgo the usual birthday pie request in lieu of cupcakes, the cooked frosting was the one I always made.  Haven’t thought about it in YEARS!  With a few birthdays coming up, I might just revisit this idea!  Thanks for the reminder!  I needed that little kick in the pants!!!

  • Jennifer S.
    January 4, 2013 at 9:59 AM

    Can you tell me what your preferred brand of piping bags/tips are?  Thanks sista’!

    • gfshoestring
      January 5, 2013 at 11:33 AM

      Hi, Jennifer!
      Sure can. I have a true preference for Ateco brand piping bags and tips. Really good quality stuff, and pretty readily available. 
      xoxo Nicole

  • Sallie
    January 4, 2013 at 8:57 AM

    I have been trying FOREVER to make this frosting Gluten Free and now you HAVE done it!!!! Many, many thanks.  I can always count on you!!! Happy New Year!

    • gfshoestring
      January 5, 2013 at 11:31 AM

      Oh, I failed before I succeeded a few times, for sure, Sallie. But that’s what I’m here for. :)
      xoxo Nicole

  • Threadlady
    January 4, 2013 at 5:47 AM

    This sounds likw the frosting I usually make for DH’s birthday cake, EXCEPT the frosting was a larger batch and was divided into four separate bowls *before* the flavorings were added. Each bowl was a different flavor, lemon, chocolate, mint and almond and each was colored differently. The were used on a milk chocolate layer cake where each baked layer was split. There was not enough frosting to decorate the sides, so it was a lovely effect and the frosting was light and not TOO sweet. May have to try it before his birthday comes around again (Nov.).

    BTW I love your blog, have both of your books and am really looking forward to the Bread book. I used to bake all our breads and was trying Artisanal breads before we decided to go G-F (not a medical necessity, just a lifestyle choice).

    • gfshoestring
      January 5, 2013 at 11:32 AM

      Light and not too sweet is definitely how I would describe this frosting. That must be why it’s universally beloved. :)
      Thanks so much for your support of the cookbooks, and I really can’t wait to share these bread recipes with you. I promise not to disappoint!
      xoxo Nicole

  • Carole
    January 3, 2013 at 5:21 PM

    Recipe seems like the one I used to use for lady locks back in the old days.

  • Shawn
    January 3, 2013 at 5:04 PM

    I’ve never heard of anything like this.  But the title has been sold.  I’m going to try it this week. 

    • gfshoestring
      January 5, 2013 at 11:34 AM

      Let me know how it goes, Shawn!
      xoxo Nicole

  • Charlottewmoore
    January 3, 2013 at 2:47 PM

    I have a recipe for a red velvet cake that the frosting is almost like this.  You cream the shortening and sugar until fluffy. You cook the milk and flour until thick. Let it cool add to the creamed mixture and beat well. Then add coconut and pecans. My oh my it is good. I don’t see why you  could not just switch the flour to GF and do all the steps the same. Curious!!!

  • January 3, 2013 at 2:44 PM

    Wow, doesn’t separate, that’s awesome! I’ve never heard
    of this frosting either, but I think you’ve made me a believer! I’m the exact
    opposite, no thisaway or thataway, I’m sewn up tight as a button which can
    sometimes lead to missing out on loads of things because I’m so focused on the
    task at hand. I’ll trade you a bit of mine for a bit of yours?

    • gfshoestring
      January 5, 2013 at 11:35 AM

      I think we could do each other a bit of good, Leanne! Like the yin & the yang. I get stuff done, and rarely do I lose a thread of what I’m meant to do, but since it’s not my nature to be buttoned up, I’m always afraid of forgetting so I make lots of lists!
      xoxo Nicole

  • Mande
    January 3, 2013 at 12:54 PM

    why does it have to be a xantham gum free flour mix?  Any particular reason?

    • Jennifer S.
      January 4, 2013 at 10:00 AM

      Yea – what if I used some better batter here?  would it be a problem?

    • gfshoestring
      January 5, 2013 at 11:36 AM

      It most likely would come out gummy. Better Batter has quite a bit of xanthan gum. 
      Nicole

  • Karlie
    January 3, 2013 at 12:39 PM

    YAY!!!  Thank you SO MUCH@9cc196bea2478c7ebc2ac74b47d32f71:disqus   I’d already tried myself several times and had no success at all – it got all gummy and weird.  I’m excited that you like it too!  :D  I’m so going to go frost the doughnuts I just made (from your recipe, and a babycakes maker) with it!
    .

    • gfshoestring
      January 5, 2013 at 11:37 AM

      It took me quite a while, but I finally focused on it, Karlie! Happy to help. Let me know how it turns out for you!
      xoxo Nicole

  • Beth
    January 3, 2013 at 12:34 PM

    Thanks for this! Btw, I got your 2nd cookbook over the holidays and it’s wonderful!! :)

    • gfshoestring
      January 5, 2013 at 11:37 AM

      Thanks, Beth!!
      xoxo Nicole

  • Candaceiw
    January 3, 2013 at 12:13 PM

    As I just made three batches of cupcakes for a work function, here you are with a new frosting recipe…will have to try this with my daughter’s birthday cupcakes this weekend….Thanks Nicole!

    • gfshoestring
      January 5, 2013 at 11:37 AM

      Happy birthday to your daughter, Candace!
      xoxo Nicole

  • Melissa
    January 3, 2013 at 12:11 PM

    Is there anyway to do this diary free? I am gluten and diary free :(. Thanks, Melissa 

    • Candaceiw
      January 3, 2013 at 12:14 PM

      what about Spectrum palm oil shortening. I love butter, but made some cupcakes for the dairy-free group here at work, using my regular buttercream recipe, but sub’d the spectrum shortening…not my favorite, but it was a hit with everyone else!

  • Moe Moe
    January 3, 2013 at 4:46 PM

    Any chance for a sub for the cornstarch? I’m allergic to corn.
    Thanks,Moe

    • January 5, 2013 at 4:39 PM

      I haven’t tried this recipe with any substitutions, Moe Moe, but feel free to experiment! I’d try substituting tapioca starch gram for gram for the cornstarch – although that much tapioca starch can lend a metallic taste. But it should work chemistry-wise.
      Nicole

  • guest
    January 3, 2013 at 10:50 AM

    Hi, Thanks for converting this frosting recipe! My grandchildren are now gf/cf and this is very helpful. My mother was a professional cake baker and decorator and this is almost the same type of frosting they always used, minus the gf. This type of frosting is a WONDERFUL frosting, works great for piping, decorating, keeps well in the fridge and at room temp when frosted. This is what she used to hand form her flowers, borders, any decorating before the days of gum paste and fondant for decorating cakes. Because she worked at a custom bakery there is a couple secret ingredients but this is pretty close and can’t wait to try this for my grand kids. 

  • Bren
    January 3, 2013 at 3:12 PM

    OMG – I am SO excited that you developed and posted this!  My favorite frosting of all time was a cooked frosting like this one but because it contained flour I was always afraid to try to sub things out.  Now I can recreate it!  You’ve done it again, friend!

  • Jené Jackson
    January 3, 2013 at 10:00 AM

    I was JUST lamenting how I missed this frosting, the proper one, for red velvet cake! Thank you so much!

    • gfshoestring
      January 5, 2013 at 11:40 AM

      Is this the proper frosting for red velvet, Jene? I always made red velvet with a cream cheese buttercream. Live & learn!
      xoxo Nicole

  • Donavan Kim
    January 3, 2013 at 9:40 AM

    OMG…I may have to kiss you.  A hug at the very least…thankyouthankyouthankyou!  You are…my hero.

    • gfshoestring
      January 3, 2013 at 9:42 AM

      Kiss me! I thought you’d never go for it, you fool. ;) I’d like both a kiss and a hug, please. 
      xoxo Nicole

    • January 3, 2013 at 2:42 PM

      Kiss me! I thought you’d never go for it, you fool. ;) I’d like both a kiss and a hug, please. 
      xoxo Nicole

  • Linda Stoddard
    January 3, 2013 at 2:21 PM

    Yum! My favorite kind of vanilla frosting–I first saw a version of this on Pioneer Woman that she’d gotten years ago from a friend and was using it to frost a red velvet sheetcake for a church dish to pass thing–at first I thought–‘flour in frosting? Huh?’ But when I tried it I was sold—can’t wait to try your recipe here. Valentine’s Day is fast approaching and it’s a good excuse to make cupcakes to nestle your frosting on. Again…yum! Hope you have a great New Year! xoLinda

  • Linda Stoddard
    January 3, 2013 at 9:21 AM

    Yum! My favorite kind of vanilla frosting–I first saw a version of this on Pioneer Woman that she’d gotten years ago from a friend and was using it to frost a red velvet sheetcake for a church dish to pass thing–at first I thought–‘flour in frosting? Huh?’ But when I tried it I was sold—can’t wait to try your recipe here. Valentine’s Day is fast approaching and it’s a good excuse to make cupcakes to nestle your frosting on. Again…yum! Hope you have a great New Year! xoLinda

    • Bren
      January 3, 2013 at 10:12 AM

      OMG – I am SO excited that you developed and posted this!  My favorite frosting of all time was a cooked frosting like this one but because it contained flour I was always afraid to try to sub things out.  Now I can recreate it!  You’ve done it again, friend!

    • Moe Moe
      January 3, 2013 at 11:46 AM

      Any chance for a sub for the cornstarch? I’m allergic to corn.
      Thanks,Moe

    • gfshoestring
      January 5, 2013 at 11:39 AM

      I haven’t tried this recipe with any substitutions, Moe Moe, but feel free to experiment! I’d try substituting tapioca starch gram for gram for the cornstarch – although that much tapioca starch can lend a metallic taste. But it should work chemistry-wise.
      Nicole

    • gfshoestring
      January 5, 2013 at 11:39 AM

      Happy to help, Bren!
      xoxo Nicole

    • gfshoestring
      January 5, 2013 at 11:41 AM

      Hi, Linda!! The reader who asked me to fiddle around to come up with a GF version of this recipe had mentioned a Pioneer Woman recipe, but it didn’t work for me very well. I adapted a different recipe – hope you like the results!
      xoxo Nicole

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