Fluffy white icing: a 7-minute solution in less than 5 minutes

How long since you’ve baked cupcakes? THAT long, eh? Isn’t it time to get back into the cupcake habit?

If you’ve ever had kids in the house, you’ve no doubt made cupcakes. Before school systems reacted to allergy issues by becoming super-strict about food brought in from outside, cupcakes were a must-have for class parties. Birthdays, Halloween, whatever the festive occasion, a couple of dozen decorated cupcakes were sure to appear.

And when you were really lucky, the Room Mother (yes, that’s what the mom officially in charge of classroom celebrations was called) would make cupcakes mounded with marshmallow-y 7-minute icing.

To this day, nothing approaches the throwback bliss of 7-minute icing. Soft, gooey (and almost utterly tasteless, beyond its huge hit of sugar), it’s the perfect kids’ icing.

What’s more, it’s yin to chocolate’s yang, the literal “icing on the cake” for fudge cupcakes. A veritable frosting nonpareil. Sometimes with nonpareils, because there’s nothing that calls for a scattering of colorful decorations like a mounded swirl of stark-white 7-minute icing.

Maybe it’s been years since you’ve made cupcakes. And even longer since you topped them with 7-minute icing. Well, times have changed, at least in the icing department. It’s no longer necessary to labor over a simmering double boiler with an electric beater for 7 minutes. Now, you simply have to boil sugar and water, and beat the syrup into a bowl of egg whites; the whole thing whips up in a couple of minutes, max.

So, next time you need dessert for a crowd, bake up a batch of fudge cupcakes. And instead of the usual chocolate ganache or vanilla buttercream, top ’em with this tasty salute to the past: 7-minute icing—without the wait.


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Let’s start with this incredibly easy fudge cake recipe. No creaming. Just combine the dry ingredients…

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…like this.

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Add whole eggs, yolks, vegetable oil, and vanilla. (Eagle-eyed readers may notice I’m using the metal beater here rather than silicone. I’d neglected to take a photo of this step when originally making the cupcake batter, so made it again and randomly chose the metal beater.)

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The batter will be fairly thick, and look a bit grainy.

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Add water with the mixer going. Take it slow; you want to minimize the splashing here.

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And here’s your thin cake batter.

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Why bother to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl once the batter seems smooth? Because this is what you’ll dredge up: a pasty flour/liquid sludge, which needs to be re-deposited into the bowl and mixed into the batter.

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It’s easiest to fill your cupcake cups if you transfer the batter to something with a spout. Like my favorite 8-cup measure.

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Put colorful cupcake papers into two 12-cup muffin or cupcake pans. This recipe makes 2 dozen cupcakes. If you have two muffin pans you can bake the whole lot at once. Otherwise, simply set the cake batter aside as you bake the first dozen, then re-line with papers and bake the second dozen.

To preserve the most vibrant colors in the cupcake papers, I like to line the outer colored papers with plain white papers. But this is admittedly a fussy step; skip it if you like.

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Spray cups with EverBake or your favorite non-stick vegetable oil spray. Again, you don’t need to do this if you don’t want to; I just like to make every effort to preserve the structural integrity of my cakes!

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Pour batter into the prepared cups.

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Use a scant 1/4 cup batter in each muffin cup, which should fill it about 3/4 full.

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Here are the first dozen, ready to go into the oven.

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The cupcakes will dome nicely…

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…then settle back a bit as they cool. Bake the second dozen cupcakes, if you didn’t bake them all at once.

While cupcakes cool, make the icing.

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Although this tastes just like a classic 7-minute icing, it’s a lot simpler to make. Icing made using this method is often known as Italian meringue. We’ll start with sugar, water, salt, and cream of tartar in a saucepan.

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Bring to a boil; boil, stirring, until the sugar dissolves. the boil, undisturbed, for 2 minutes, or until the syrup registers 240°F on a candy thermometer or instant-read thermometer.

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While the water/sugar mixture is coming to a boil, place the egg whites (the ones you saved from the eggs used in the cake) into a mixing bowl.

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Whisk till they’re white and foamy, but not stiff.

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This is about right.

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With the mixer on high speed, pour the boiling sugar syrup into the bowl in a thin stream. Be careful; don’t do this with kids or dogs underfoot. The icing will gradually thicken, and increase in volume.

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Look how thick and voluptuous it is! Stir in the vanilla extract.

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Spread the icing atop the cupcakes.

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Immediately add decorations, if you’re so inclined; they’ll stick better while the icing is still warm.

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Go wild!

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Next, color some of the icing, if you like.

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It’s handy and easy to use a tablespoon cookie scoop to dollop the icing atop the cupcakes.

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Plop…

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Done. No sticky fingers.

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Use a spreader or spatula to smooth it out.

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Lift the spreader gently, to leave a peak.

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Like this. Deluxe, huh?

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How about these for a baby shower, sports fans?

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No doubt about it, cupcakes are cute. But if you’re more into birthday cake…

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…go for it, using this same recipe.

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Line your 8” x 2”-deep pan with parchment. Make sure your pans are a full 2” deep; any less, the cake will overflow as it bakes. If you don’t have a pair of 8” x 2” pans, use two 9” round pans. Or a 9” x 13” sheet cake pan.

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To make two layers of the exact same size, weigh the batter

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Then pour half into each pan.

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Like this. A scale certainly makes it easier, and it’s a lot more accurate than simply eyeballing the batter.

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Put the cake pans on a half-sheet pan lined with parchment. If there’s any overflow, it’ll be contained on the parchment. Certainly easier than cleaning the bottom of your oven. Plus, setting the pans on another pan makes them easier to handle; no danger of sticking your oven-mitted thumb into the batter.

Bake the cakes for about 35 minutes, till they test done.

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Once the cakes are baked, let them cool for 15 minutes in the pan. Run a table knife or spreader around the edge, to loosen the sides.

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Turn out onto a rack, and peel off the parchment. It’s wonderful to be assured that the cake won’t stick to the bottom of the pan, isn’t it?

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I decided to cut the two layers in half around the circumference, to make four layers. Then I placed one layer on a serving plate, tore strips of parchment, and set them under the edge of the cake, to protect the plate as I applied frosting.

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So, frost, frost, frost…

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Do the “peak” trick again, to decorate the top and sides.

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Grab the parchment and slide it out…

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…revealing a perfectly clean serving plate.

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Oh, yes… The Web team gave this cake an enthusiastic thumbs-up!

Read, rate, and review (please!) our recipe for Favorite Fudge Birthday Cupcakes with 7-Minute Icing.

Note: The USFDA advises against consumption of raw eggs in any form. If you’re worried about possible egg contamination and health issues, please be sure to use pasteurized egg whites in the frosting for these cupcakes or cake.

Buy vs. Bake

Buy: Three Little Birds Bakery, Lebanon, NH: Chocolate Cupcakes with Confectioners’ Sugar Icing, package of 4 cupcakes, 43¢/ounce

Bake at home: Favorite Fudge Birthday Cupcakes with 7-Minute Icing, 11¢/ounce.

PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel grew up in New England, graduated from Brown University, and was a Maine journalist before joining King Arthur Flour in 1990. PJ bakes and writes from her home on Cape Cod, where she enjoys beach-walking, her husband, two dogs, and really good food!

comments

    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Aliyah, you won’t know for sure if the syrup is ready without using a thermometer; but make sure that, once it comes to a full, rolling boil, it boils for 2 minutes before you take it off the heat. Hopefully that’ll work, though without knowing the size of your saucepan, it’s uncertain. Candy thermometers are fairly inexpensive; the one we use in the test kitchen retails for $9.95, so you might want to invest in one someday. Good luck – PJH

  1. J

    Hello KAF! I’m planning to make cupcakes for a kiddie birthday party on Saturday. My plan is to make the cupcakes first on Friday, then add the frosting once they’re all done (probably Friday night). My question is, come Saturday, will the meringue frosting still stay soft? I am not really a fan of buttery-tasting frosting so I chose this as one of my options, and also I like the marshmallow texture/flavor of it. Do you have other frosting recommendations? Thank you very much! 🙂

    Reply
    1. Susan Reid

      You might want to try the fudge frosting on this cake. It’s easy, it sets up hard, keeping the cake underneath it fresh, and it’s very, very tasty.

  2. Michele

    Would this work for an ice cream cake? I made a version of 7-minute frosting with Marshmallow Fluff in it and that worked really well but I thought I might try something different this time. Also, I need to color half of it. Should I make 2 separate batches or can I split it at some point and add powdered food coloring?

    Reply
    1. MaryJane Robbins

      HI Michele,

      Yes, it can work for an ice cream cake, but it will have a bit of a coating mouthfeel if the icing is served cold. I like your marshmallow option, it would not feel as “greasy” when served cold. For the coloring, you can split it once you make it, then color each bowl. ~ MJ

  3. Lynne Sahlgren

    I made this frosting the other night and frosted a single layer of round cake for my grandson who is allergic to dairy. I put peaks on it, sprinkled it with colored sugar and topped it with candy bug decorations that come in a set at the grocery store. It was lovely. I covered it with a bowl to protect it and left it on the counter overnight. By morning it was a disaster. Most of the frosting had softened and slumped down the sides. The top and sides still had a thin layer but most of it had pooled around the base of the cake. I thought maybe I should have refrigerated it. So I scooped the frosting back on top, swirled it around, and put it in the fridge for about four hours. Alas, the same thing happened. I took it to the party anyway, and it still tasted great. My daughter joked that it looked like it was from a Disney movie about climate change. Anyone have any suggestions about what I did wrong?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      The big issue is that this frosting is functionally an Italian meringue. This means that it really needs to be refrigerated as both heat and humidity can cause it to melt. When refrigerated, it should last for 1-2 days. Jon@KAF

    1. MaryJane Robbins

      Hi Karen,
      If you are using liquid food coloring, it can water down your icing. You may want to look into getting gel or powdered coloring to avoid runny icing. ~ MJ

  4. Kate Lowe

    Could you please advise the quantities of ingredients for the frosting icing please, I am going to attemp to use it for ‘water’ for a swimming pool birthday cake for myGranddaughter who will be 9 this month, no hurry then…………
    Thank you in advance
    Kate

    Reply
  5. Isobel Conradie

    Wonderful – I have filed this recipe on my computer, but when I wanted to make the cake as well as the frosting this morning, I noticed that there are no quantities of ingredients given – can you please supply me with the quantities per my e-mail address, as I am a bit confused about same?

    Reply
    1. MaryJane Robbins

      Hi Isobel,

      To be sure we get you the right recipes and information with the least amount of back and forth questions, we would say give our bakers hotline a call and they can locate the recipes you are seeking and email them right to you.
      ~ MJ

  6. Rosemary

    I love the traditional 7 minute icing. However..sometimes it never gets hard or thick enough to ice a cake. Could it be the size of the egg whites? Or should I cook it longer than 7 minutes? Should I use less water? Should I beat it continuously after I remove it from heat? Is the quality of the double boiler a factor? What is the important variable?
    Also…when I try doubling the recipe it does not thicken enough.
    Please help. Thanks.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      I would suggest to give our Baker’s Hotline a call, we should be able to answer all of your questions over the phone. Jon@KAF 855 371 2253

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