The history of frosting is a long and storied one. It was not cake or cupcake that was first slathered in icing but rather French marchpanes, an almond and sugar paste also known as marzipan that were iced for the first time in the 15th century. Frosted cake found its way to the dessert table in the 16th century and elaborately frosted wedding cakes were all the rage by the mid-19th century. The buttercream frosting that the sweet-tooths among us indulge in today first emerged in the 1950s.
Even though buttercream is known for its sweet flavor, it doesn’t mean it can’t be tempered and even made healthier with a dose of vegetables, which aren’t just for savory dishes. With a little creativity, they’re also an interesting dancing partner for buttercream. They can be used as a garnish or tucked into a batch for a nutritious secret addition for even the most vegetable-averse person at your dessert table. Here are six sneaky (and not so sneaky) ways to incorporate vegetables into your next batch of buttercream.
1. Candied: At Heston Blumenthal’s restaurant The Fat Duck, in Bray, England, vegetables find their way into several desserts. One of the most dramatic and fun are the candy cane beet lollipops. Candy cane beets are already whimsical with their pink and white spiraled interiors. To candy them, peel the beet then thinly slice it using a mandoline. Dip each slice in simple syrup and arrange on a lined dehydrator tray. Dehydrate until crisp and dry, about 12 hours. This step can also be done on a Silpat in a low oven for approximately the same amount of time. Use the candied beets as a garnish in your buttercream, which is the perfect base for holding the candied beet upright. This technique can be applied to other vegetables such as carrots, parsnips, and sweet potatoes.
2. Simple Syrup: Simple syrup is an easy way to slip a healthy amount of vegetables into a buttercream recipe. To prepare a vegetable simple syrup, add a half cup of your preferred vegetable puree to a saucepan along with one cup of sugar and one cup of water. Simmer over medium heat until the sugar is dissolved and the puree is incorporated. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve and cool to room temperature. Add a drizzle of syrup to buttercream for flavor, color, and a secret of dose of nutrition. Stir until incorporated. The syrup can also be drizzled over the top of a frosted cake or cupcake.
3. Powder: It was New Nordic Cuisine that put “vegetable ash” on restaurant menus throughout the world. Chefs sprinkle it on everything savory, but there’s no reason it can’t also be stirred into buttercream or sprinkled on top of a frosted cake or cupcake. Root vegetables work best for powder, such as parsnips, carrots, sweet potatoes, squash, and beets. They are also sweet enough to pair well with buttercream. To turn a vegetable into powder, first thinly slice it using a mandoline. Next, arrange the slices on a parchment-lined dehydrator tray and place the tray in a dehydrator until completely dry, about 12 hours. This step can also be done on a Silpat in a low oven for approximately the same amount of time. Cool to room temperature before blitzing to powder using a spice grinder or Vitamix.
4. Puree: This is a fairly straightforward way to incorporate vegetables into buttercream. Puree should be strained through a fine-mesh sieve before being stirred into the frosting. It adds flavor, a pop of color, and healthful virtues and because of the sweetness of the buttercream, finicky eaters won’t even know they’re enjoying vegetables in their dessert. A good ratio is one quart of buttercream to 1/3 cup puree.
5. Infused Milk: Infuse milk with vegetables before adding it to your buttercream recipe. Sweet vegetables such as beets, squash, sweet potatoes, parsnips, Jerusalem artichokes, celery root, and carrots are ideal for this technique. Coarsely chop about one cup of vegetables and add the pieces and two cups of milk to a saucepan. Bring to a gentle simmer, reduce the heat to low and continue to cook for 15 minutes, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon. Do not let the milk boil to prevent scorching. Refrigerate until chilled to allow for additional infusion. Strain and add to your buttercream recipe.
6. Seeds: Seeds add crunchy texture, a flash of flavor, and nutrients to buttercream. Before sprinkling seeds into your buttercream, sweeten them by drizzling them with simple syrup. Stir a small handful into your buttercream before frosting or sprinkle them on top for an unexpected garnish. Small, chewy seeds such as carrots, broccoli, and fennel work best.
This is a classic buttercream recipe to get you started on your buttercream and vegetable journey. Get the recipe.
What better way to tuck not one but two vegetable servings into a dessert recipe than to do it with chocolate? This scrumptious cake recipe includes beets that add both flavor and a hint of red color. The buttercream is a standard one but it could be gussied up with the incorporation of vegetables. Get the recipe.
This recipe also creates an opportunity for a double serving of vegetables with a carrot cake base and a brown butter cream cheese frosting. Swap out the cream cheese frosting for buttercream but don’t leave out the brown butter. It deepens the flavor and adds a soft caramel hue. It also pairs well with vegetables. In this recipe, carrots seem to be the natural choice. Get the recipe.
Chocolate pairs well with vegetables because its rich flavor is only enhanced when it meets the natural sweetness of certain vegetables such as carrots, beets, and sweet potatoes. This recipe includes a double dose of chocolate and the addition of vegetables in the buttercream is the ideal way to reduce the guilt you might feel for indulging in chocolate twice in one recipe! Get the recipe.
Vegetables are a natural partner for oatmeal and when they’re tucked into buttercream nestled between two chewy oatmeal cookies, they’re positively addicting. Parsnips, celery root, or Jerusalem artichokes would be ideal for this recipe. Get the recipe.
This whimsical cake is frosted in an ingenious way. The multiple colors are perfect for adding a trio of vegetables into your buttercream before frosting. Get the recipe.