Ask Peter: A light frost
Do you have some suggestions on how to make icing that is not sugar-based. We love a nice piece of cake and I have cut right back on the sugar content in them. We also love icing and I am wondering if there is something we can do to make a sugar-less version that the butter/icing sugar/hot water combo.
I think you’ll be quite hard pressed to create an icing that doesn’t contain sugar. I’ve asked around my mates and no-one has heard of such a thing. It’s the sugar in the icing that creates the lovely glossy shiny look of an icing. That may be icing sugar, or one of a variety of other sugars – unrefined caster, demerara, brown or muscovado.
However, and assuming it’s simply sugar, not sweetness you can’t tolerate, then you need to think of ingredients such as honey, maplesyrup, agave syrup, date syrup and the likes as a wet form of sugar. That doesn’t mean you could make an icing sugar and butter icing using honey and butter – but when it comes to making a frosting or a ganache to cover a cake, you could use one of the former.
One of my favourite ways to cover a cake it not to use a thin icing, but instead to whip up mascarpone with cream and a little sugar – or in your case you could use one of the other sweeteners. I bring mascarpone to room temperature then mix 1 part of it with 2 parts chilled cream and gently whip to soft peaks. Spread it really thickly on a cake and place in the fridge for an hour or so. The mascarpone has the effect of stabilising the cream so it doesn’t break down and by whipping it together the mascarpone adds a lovely firm lightness (if such a thing can exist) to the cream.
I also add berry puree (just enough to colour and lightly flavour the frosting) as well as vanilla or other flavourings. The more liquid you add (ie the berry puree) you simply add a little more mascarpone. This also makes a great filling for a cake and when used to sandwich sponge cakes together it makes for a lovely light but firm cake – especially if you tuck in fresh berries or stone fruit – as we move into summer.
You can also make a ganache to cover a cake by mixing chocolate and cream together. You can find sugar-less chocolate and so this may work for you as well. There are two ways to make ganache – and my preferred way is this.
Slowly melt (over a bain marie, or in the microwave) 1 cup chopped chocolate. Gently but firmly mix in ¾ cup cream that’s been sitting at room temperature for 10 minutes. As you add it, the cooler cream causes the chocolate to set – which is why you don’t want to add it too cold. Once it’s all mixed in then spread over your cake or biscuits and leave it to set.
Depending on the desired look of the finished cake, I sometimes use the back of a spoon which I press into the chocolate and lift up – causing it to have a nice spiky effect. You may prefer to keep it smooth– in which case spread it out with the back of a dessert spoon, or a flat bread knife, what you occasionally dip into a jug of warm (not hot water) and then wipe dry.
Another way to make ganache, and the more usual one, is to heat up the cream to almost boiling, then mix the chocolate into it. The reason some people prefer this is that by heating the cream you will kill any bacteria in it so it may be safer if the cake isn’t to be eaten in the following few days. And when making either the ganache or the mascarpone frosting, you can also add a strong espresso or two, vanilla extract, or ground spices like cinnamon or cloves.
Dark chocolate, coconut cream and vanilla essence combine to make a lower-sugar icing in Aaron Brunet’s lusciously layered pear and chia slice (pictured above)
In our Ask Peter series, executive chef Peter Gordon answers your curly culinary questions. If you're stumped over something food-related, send your question to firstname.lastname@example.org and keep checking in for answers. You can read more on Peter on his website, have a read of his Ask Peter articles or check out his recipes on our site.