white icing

I always thought the only way to make real icing was with butter. Sure, I employed other methods—glazes with just milk or citrus juice for thinning and I knew all about the frosting made with egg whites—but the only honest method, the only method that had integrity, involved butter.

When I got to Guatemala and realized I’d have to make icing without butter, I had a suppressed panic attack. How do I make icing? No cake for nine months? I CAN’T DO THIS! Mommyyyyyyy!

And then I googled “how to make icing with shortening” and lo and behold, there were oodles upon oodles of recipes. Everyone, it turned out, knew how to make icing with shortening. Was this a sign that our culture was less evolved than I thought? Or that it was yours truly who hailed from the dark ages? I couldn’t figure it out.

No matter, with a shift in approach, icing would be mine. I would survive!

At first I found the new icing too sweet and hollow-tasting. It lacked the rich density of butter icings. But my discomfort with the icing disappeared almost immediately. I found I liked its fluffy texture, creamy sweetness, and pure white color. Thanks to white shortening, white sugar, and clear fake vanilla extract, the icing is stunningly white.

Who says you need electric beaters to make icing?

Actually, the icing reminds me of bakery cake icing (which I’m secretly fond of, shh, don’t tell), probably because they use shortening in their icings?

It’s easy to alter this icing to make a variety of flavors. I’ve made chocolate (though I forget how: cocoa powder? melted bar chocolate? oh well, either method would work) and another time I added a quarter cup of fresh blackberry jam that my daughter made with her foraged berries which resulted in a lovely pink, tart frosting.

White Icing

I use one tablespoon of fake vanilla extract per recipe. If using the real deal, one teaspoon should be enough.

½ cup shortening
1 pound confectioner’s sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract, or 1 tablespoon of the clear, fake stuff
milk for thinning

Cream together the shortening, sugar, and vanilla. Add the milk, a little at a time, until the frosting is a soft and creamy and perfect for spreading.


  • Rachelle

    I grew up with using shortening in my icing, and I grew up in good ol' Michigan. Maybe it's a regional thing? In fact, your recipe is almost exactly what I used, though these days I mostly just eyeball things.

    Actually, I'm not sure I ever had butter icing before. I should try it sometime.

  • blair

    I am from Arkansas and this is the way my great-grandmother, grandma and my own mother has always made icing for cakes and sugar cookies. I am reading this and thinking to myself…"You can make icing with butter???"

  • Kathy ~ Artful Accents

    This way of making icing is the official Wilton way that I learned in a cake decorating class at Michaels. It really tastes professional and is easy to work with when decorating. I'm curious now to make icing with butter!

  • the domestic fringe

    I never use shortening. Never. I don't really know why, except that when I was learning to cook (after I had my son,) I just never really had any recipes that needed it. So now, I use butter. Definitely in my icing.

    I would be interested to try this though and see how my family liked it. I bet my husband would love it. He loves sweet, fluffy icing.


  • Zoë

    I love the bakery icing, too. The only icing I don't like is the canned kind at the grocery store. Sick.

    I'm not grossed out by those hands but I'm wondering why the icing doesn't melt when met with warm hands. Does shortening stand up to heat a little better than butter?

    • Jennifer Jo

      I'm not sure! I suspect that the heat from the hands are what help the icing to get so creamy, especially in the absence of electric mixers.

  • jil

    When you come back to the United States, if you resume using butter in your icing but you still want the super-white color, Americolor has a food dye that's available in pure white.

    Warm regards, jill

  • Margo

    I'm truly not fond of icing – much rather have a drizzle or whipped cream or macerated fruit.

    I am strangely grossed out by those hands in the icing bowl. I remember how gobsmacked I was when I learned you can make meringue by hand with a whisk. Duh, Margo, people baked before there was electric. . .

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