The importance of icing…

In Desserts, Help, Ingredients, Sweet on July 9, 2011 at 3:29 am

I’m calling it. The 2000s are the millennium of the cupcake.

Why a rearranged and super-cute slice of cake is so popular, I don’t know, but what I do know, is that it’s RARE for someone to get the icing right. It’s almost always good, but good and right are two very different things.

The biggest mistake I’ve run across is forgetting who you want your cupcakes to appeal to…and when it comes to the taste of a cupcake, I say there are only two groups…adults, and children. Unfortunately, most that I’ve tried exercise that distinction in the appearance alone, choosing sprinkles and cartoons over gold flake and royal icing or vice versa. This leaves more mature appearing cupcakes giving a very inconsistent taste experience. I can’t count how many times I’ve seen cupcakes decorated with an obviously adult audience in mind, only to be met with a flavor profile that said little more than “Are you ready to play pin the tail on the donkey now?”

Since cake seems to get a decent amount of thought dedicated to it, I’m going to call out icing as the primary culprit. Not to be too harsh, I do understand the difficulty that icing presents. I’ve made a ton of the stuff in my time, mostly the butter cream that’s pretty much mandated for cupcakes, so I know the challenges.

The primary culprit, sugar, isn’t just in the icing to add flavor. It’s a key structural element to any butter cream, aiding in the ability to hold shape and preventing the icing from giving too fatty or greasy a mouth feel. So when I taste an icing that’s little more than Sweet, I have sympathy…but my adult palate is still bored. Why? Because sugar, especially refined sugars like confectioners and casters sugars, have very little aroma. That’s the part of the taste experience where the nose takes over and that gets you beyond sweet-salty-sour-bitter-umami…and that is what sets grownup icing apart from the stuff made for the kiddies. It’s the burnt richness of caramel and earthy ring of molasses. It comes from adding chocolate or lemon juice or the ever so beautiful vanilla bean. When paired properly with the cake base, it can make for a wonderful little treat.


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