I've never been a big fan of frosting; to me, it detracts from the main attraction: the cake. But when boiled icing (also known as 7-minute icing or Italian meringue) finally entered my life (in the form of the Old-fashioned cupcake by local bakery Miette), I started to change my tune, at least where boiled icing is concerned. It has a slick sheen, which makes is elegantly beautiful. It's billowy and light but has a gratifying stickiness that makes it almost impossible to eat without getting it stuck on your lips.
When I looked up a recipe to make boiled icing on my own, I was bummed to find out that I needed a candy thermometer (my relationship with candy thermometers can be somewhat strained, but that's another story). Eventually, I stumbled upon a recipe for an uncooked boiled icing, which I was totally skeptical of at first, but when I saw it come together, I'm sure I jumped for joy.
This icing is a bit lighter and airier than the cooked kind, but it's still smooth and satisfying. I add cacao nibs for an even more adult flavor and a little fun with texture. It works well lightly torched or not, but who doesn't look for an excuse to break out the propane kitchen torch? Make the frosting as close as possible to serving time because like any boiled icing, it will weep and fall after a while; keeping it from getting too warm will help make it last. —vvvanessa
Test Kitchen Notes
This recipe is great. The texture was light, flavorful, and silky, and the bitterness of the cocoa nibs played really well against the sweetness of the frosting. There was something sophisticated about the outcome of this frosting -- plus, it was very simple to make. The only caveat is that you must use it right away or it may separate, but this could be a temperature issue. —Audrey
enough to frost one 8- or 9-inch layer cake or 24 (at least) cupcakes generously
large egg white at room temperature
(7 ounces) granulated sugar, preferably superfine
Place the egg white, sugar, cream of tartar, and vanilla in the clean, dry, oil-free bowl of a stand mixer. Fit the mixer with the whisk attachment.
Bring the water to a full boil. Pour it immediately onto the other ingredients and start the mixer on low. Mix for a few seconds to minimize splashing, then turn the mixer up to medium-high until the icing turns thick, glossy, and billowy, about 7-8 minutes.
While the icing is mixing, using a mortar and pestle, gently crush the nibs (you can also use a plastic bag and a rolling pin). The nibs shouldn't be pulverized; just break up some of the larger pieces. Some residual powder is fine.
Fold the nibs into the icing and use immediately.
Consume the icing the same day and keep at room temperature or cooler. It does not store or freeze well.