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Raw Egg Whites: The Frosting Secret

Holidays are coming, so let’s talk about cake—and the most important part—cake frosting. Having grown up in the Betty Crocker years, I learned to make buttercream frosting by blending soft butter with confectioners’ sugar, vanilla extract, and other ingredients. But the result was cloyingly sweet and never quite satisfying. As an adult, I went on a quest for vintage cake frosting recipes, and have discovered butter-plus-sugar was just a shortcut for a more elegant approach to cooking buttercream frosting.

Cake frosted with buttercream

Raw egg whites for traditional frosting

A peek into my favorite culinary time machine reveals raw egg whites were traditionally a standard ingredient for cake frostings. My time machine is a copy of The Boston Cooking School Cook Book, by Fannie Farmer, first published in 1896.

Endless pages of cake frosting recipes all call for raw egg whites. The basic method:

Beat the egg whites until stiff; then add confectioner’s sugar, a small amount of water and lemon juice and flavorings. For example: 2 egg whites + 1 ½ cups confectioners’ sugar + 4 teaspoons water +1 teaspoon vanilla + 1 tablespoon lemon juice.

Variations call for sugar boiled into a syrup first, and then gradually added to the stiff egg whites. For example, the Boston Cooking School recipe for traditional boiled maple frosting has you boil a pound of maple sugar with a half cup of water, then gradually add to two beaten egg whites. Just three ingredients!

Rose Levy Beranbaum, the author of The Cake Bible, shares a fool-proof technique to produce a sugar syrup of the proper temperature and consistency without needing a thermometer. Her Neoclassic Buttercream recipe is amazing and goes great on a simple yellow cake, a recipe she also shares on her blog.

Today, my favorite chocolate frosting variation puts the egg whites right into the double boiler with a small amount of granulated sugar. Heat to 150 degrees, remove from heat, and gradually whisk in soft butter. At the end, stir in melted chocolate. This is the Swiss meringue technique for buttercream frosting. To learn more about the Swiss method, see Jennifer Bratko‘s Swiss Meringue Buttercream tutorial.

Egg whites give frosting texture

What I like about all the egg white frosting recipes is the delectable, smooth texture that results. Another thing I like is you don’t have to over-sweeten a frosting to obtain spreadable consistency. When Fannie Farmer wrote her cookbook, the raw egg risk wasn’t pervasive. Today, it is. And so is the solution of pasteurized eggs so you can have your cake and eat it too—raw egg whites and safe cake frosting!

So, I vote for bringing back the raw egg whites in buttercream frosting. What’s your favorite cake frosting recipe? Share it with Safe Eggs community through the Safe Eggs Recipe Center.