Perfect for making pretty whirls and decorative swirls on your dessert.

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In the days before cream cheese frosting thickened with boxes of powdered sugar, home bakers relied on Ermine Frosting, so named for its gorgeous white color and luxurious taste. This light, airy frosting spreads as easily as whipped topping, yet covers well and stays put like thick buttercream, so it’s perfect for making pretty whirls and decorative swirls on your cake. Ermine Frosting tastes creamy and buttery with a whisper of salt for balance, with no risk of it turning out too sweet or heavy. It might remind you of the best whipped cream in the world (times ten) and it’s quite tempting to lick the beaters and bowl after the cake is complete.

Ermine frosting is an unusual concoction that begins with a cooked flour mixture that resembles vanilla pudding. Some handwritten, hand-me-down recipe cards call this frosting Gravy Icing because the cooks stirred it up in their trusty cast-iron skillets. The term “gravy” once referred to all sorts of recipes, both sweet and savory, that started with a roux of flour and flavorful fat—butter in this case. Other names for this type of frosting hat you might see in old cookbooks include Boiled Milk Icing, Butter Roux Icing, or Flour Frosting.

This was the original icing for a Red Velvet Cake, a popular Christmas classic in its own right. A brilliant red layer cake (or any richly flavored cake) covered in this fluffy white icing can serve as an edible centerpiece on a holiday table, especially when perched on an heirloom cake stand or plate.

If you’ve not tasted Ermine Frosting in ages, one bite will remind you how quick, easy, and incredible it is. If you’re new to Ermine Frosting, you’ll be equally happy to have it in your holiday baking repertoire, where it might become your new tradition.