How to Make Poor Man's Cooked Frosting


Whether you call it poor man's frosting, boiled milk frosting, butter roux frosting or ermine icing, one thing is for sure -- this old-fashioned technique is anything but outdated. With its fluffy texture and rich, buttery flavor, this tasty topping combines the lightness of whipped cream with the decadence of buttercream. Once you get the basic method down, try varying the flavor by using different extracts to create the flavors you like best.

Basic Ingredients

This simple, humble frosting requires no fancy ingredients. For every 1 cup of whole milk, you need approximately 5 tablespoons of all-purpose flour -- which is the magical ingredient that helps thicken things up. Other ingredients include vanilla extract, granulated sugar, unsalted butter and a pinch of salt. The frosting can be made with salted butter, just omit the extra pinch of salt. You can also vary the recipe by using vegetable shortening in place of the butter, or by using half shortening and half butter.


  • Try using a vanilla bean in place of the extract for richer, more intense flavor. The Chicago Tribune recommends using 1 vanilla bean in place of 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract.

Creating the Base

The initial stage of making poor man's frosting is similar to making a roux, although you don't use any butter. It's also where this concoction got one of its alternative names -- boiled milk frosting. Whisk the all-purpose flour and milk together in a pan, bring the mixture to a simmer and cook it until the liquid thickens to a consistency that's similar to pudding.

Building the Frosting

Remove the milk mixture from the heat, transfer it to a bowl and stir the vanilla and salt into the mixture. Allow it to cool completely before proceeding. In a separate bowl, cream equal parts of butter and sugar together using a stand mixer or a hand mixer set on medium speed for approximately five minutes. As you beat the two ingredients together, the sugar helps aerate the butter, leaving you with a fluffy mixture that works well for making a light frosting. Keep the mixer on medium speed and slowly add the cooled milk and flour mixture, beating the frosting until it looks similar to whipped cream.

Uses for Poor Man's Frosting

While this light yet rich frosting has traditionally been used to adorn old-fashioned red velvet cakes, its uses aren't limited to one type of cake -- or just to cakes. Although you can experiment with it to find many ways to vary the recipe or to find new uses for it, some ideas include the following:

  • Using the frosting instead of cream cheese frosting for a twist on traditional carrot cake.
  • Piping it between whoopie pies for a less sweet alternative to the traditional filling.
  • Adding the frosting to cupcakes as a filling and as a topping.
  • Stirring unsweetened baking chocolate or cocoa into the milk mixture to make a chocolate boiled icing.

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