Icing on the Cake

Vanilla Buttercream

CREAM THE BUTTER Put 8 tablespoons (1 stick) softened butter in a large bowl. (It’s got to be soft enough to spread.) Beat with an electric mixer until the butter becomes light colored and, well, creamy.

ADD SOME SUGAR Measure out 4 cups powdered sugar and ½ cup cream or milk. Start by beating in 2 cups of the sugar.
Adding ingredients gradually helps keep the butter fluffy.

ALTERNATE SUGAR WITH CREAM After beating the sugar, add 2 tablespoons of the cream and another ½ cup of sugar. Repeat until all the sugar and cream are gone. After the last addition, beat in 2 teaspoons vanilla extract and a pinch salt.

ADJUST THE CONSISTENCY If the icing is too thick to spread, add a little more cream, 1 teaspoon at a time. If it’s too thin (unlikely but possible), refrigerate; it will thicken as the butter hardens.
For Chocolate Buttercream, reduce the vanilla to 1 teaspoon. Before adjusting the consistency, add 2 ounces melted (and cooled) unsweetened chocolate.

Vanilla Glaze

ASSEMBLE AND MEASURE This recipe makes about 3 cups—enough for any cake or batch of cookies. Put 3 cups powdered sugar in a large bowl with ¾ cup cream (or milk), ½ teaspoon vanilla extract, and a pinch salt. Whisk or beat with an electric mixer.

KEEP MIXING The glaze should be smooth and barely pourable, about the consistency of thick maple syrup. If it’s not quite there, add more liquid to thin it (or sugar to thicken it) 1 teaspoon at a time.

Whipped Cream

BEAT BY HAND OR MACHINE Put 1 cup cream in a clean metal or glass bowl and use a whisk or an electric mixer to beat the cream until it reaches the consistency you like. Here it’s almost like a sauce.
Overbeaten cream looks lumpy and separates.

ADD SUGAR (OR NOT) After the cream begins to take shape, you can add up to ¼ cup sugar—slowly, as you continue to beat. Here the cream is whipped to soft peaks (which fall over when the beaters are raised). Don’t go any further than stiff peaks.

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