Ermine Frosting

Chocolate Cake with Ermine Icing

I’ve been bombarded with requests – and rightly so! – for this ermine frosting since posting it in stories last night. Honestly, my world has forever changed. I’m what you might call a frosting fanatic – the one who seeks out the corner piece with the most flowers it can structurally tolerate – and yet it can be altogether too much sweet. Enter Ermine: an old-school frosting that was apparently the original frosting paired with red velvet cakes—the somewhat unorthodox method of boiling milk and flour into a thick, pasty pudding and then spooning congealed blobs into whipped butter and sugar miraculously produces an over-the-top smooth and fluffy, not-too sweet frosting that’s a dream to work with. I know, it doesn’t sound delicious. But it is.

I used a ratio I found in the New York Times as a starting point, and added cocoa from there to make it chocolate. As with other frostings, you could play around with flavoured extracts, instant coffee or citrus zest to create different flavours.

Honestly, look at this! It holds up well, and was just as soft this morning, without splitting or going greasy or weird in any way. Try not to think about it, because it doesn’t make sense that boiled flour + milk + butter + sugar should turn into this. It just does.

Ermine Frosting


Ermine frosting

Yields1 Serving

5 Tbsp all-purpose flour
1 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar (yes-regular granulated sugar)
1/4–1/3 cup cocoa (if you want chocolate frosting)


In a medium saucepan, whisk the flour and milk over medium-high heat until it bubbles and thickens—it will resemble thick, pasty pudding. Stir in the vanilla, scrape it into a bowl and set it aside to cool, with a piece of plastic wrap on the surface to prevent it from getting a skin.


In a large bowl (a stand mixer works well here), beat the butter and sugar for a few minutes, until pale and fluffy. Add the cooled milk mixture in spoonfuls, whipping for a good 5 minutes or so, until the mixture resembles whipped cream. (If the sugar is still a bit grainy, keep on whipping until it isn’t.) If you want chocolate frosting, add the cocoa and whip until it’s well-incorporated.



 5 Tbsp all-purpose flour
 1 cup milk
 1 tsp vanilla
 1 cup butter, at room temperature
 1 cup sugar (yes-regular granulated sugar)
 1/4–1/3 cup cocoa (if you want chocolate frosting)



In a medium saucepan, whisk the flour and milk over medium-high heat until it bubbles and thickens—it will resemble thick, pasty pudding. Stir in the vanilla, scrape it into a bowl and set it aside to cool, with a piece of plastic wrap on the surface to prevent it from getting a skin.


In a large bowl (a stand mixer works well here), beat the butter and sugar for a few minutes, until pale and fluffy. Add the cooled milk mixture in spoonfuls, whipping for a good 5 minutes or so, until the mixture resembles whipped cream. (If the sugar is still a bit grainy, keep on whipping until it isn’t.) If you want chocolate frosting, add the cocoa and whip until it’s well-incorporated.

Ermine Frosting

About Julie

84 comments on “Ermine Frosting

  1. Penny Wolf
    March 19, 2019 at 5:55 pm

    I have adored this frosting since the 70’s when I learned of it. Guess what? There are cream cheese versions that are to die for too.
    Everything old is new again LOL!

    • Julie
      March 22, 2019 at 10:41 am

      Oh yes, I’ve seen some cream cheese versions floating around!

    • Mary
      December 1, 2023 at 12:11 pm

      Thanks for publishing a chocolate version. This was my mom’s go to icing for all 7 of her girls birthday cakes (red velvet) since the 50s it’s my favorite as it as not so sweet like butter Cream and the texture is wonderful.
      Have always wanted to try a chocolate version! Had trouble finding it as my mom called it french icing and pudding icing brought up well instant pudding.

      This is perfect thanks!!!

  2. Carol S-B
    March 19, 2019 at 10:14 pm

    ZOMG, I remember using a similar recipe, published in The Calgary Herald as a frosting from Jeannie’s bakery in YWG. I am so glad you gave us this one, Julie! The one I lost used icing sugar instead of butter, and I like this so much better.
    This, THIS is what my kitchenaid was made for. Thank you! So many birthday cakes will be their best selves.

    • Julie
      March 22, 2019 at 10:41 am

      Icing sugar instead of butter! not with butter? how did it work?

      • Carol S-B
        March 27, 2019 at 4:47 pm

        Ahhh, that was a I.D. 10-T keyboard interface error… meant to say, “Icing sugar instead of granulated”.

      • Julie
        March 29, 2019 at 10:39 am

        Sorry I can’t see what comment you’re referring to? But to confirm, this is made with regular granulated sugar, not icing sugar!

  3. Debbie Mccarrick
    March 19, 2019 at 11:33 pm

    When do you add the vanilla?

    • Julie
      March 22, 2019 at 10:40 am

      Oh sorry! whenever! 🙂

  4. Mar
    March 20, 2019 at 4:51 am

    My mom has a carrot cake recipe with this frosting which she got in the early 60’s! I am now 60 and make that recipe often. Best frosting ever!

    • Julie
      March 22, 2019 at 10:40 am

      Ooh yes, that sounds about right!

  5. Joanna L
    March 20, 2019 at 8:06 am

    A word from the wise – this frosting is really stable, especially if you are going somewhere warm. It won’t melt in the sun like other frostings, because of the flour mix. However, it’s not indestructible. I made it to cover my wedding cake (a frosted fruitcake, not a big elaborate typical chocolate or carrot thing), and mixed up a batch the day before. The plan was to transport the cake, frosting and decorative flowers separate, and frost it on site. When I went to stir the frosting, which had been sitting in the fridge for a day, it separated! I couldn’t get it to come back together. One quick trip the the grocery store later and that’s how my wedding cake was frosted with Duncan Hines french vanilla frosting. So, don’t leave the frosting to sit.

    • Julie
      March 22, 2019 at 10:40 am

      Ha! what a great story! and thanks for the advice!

    • Oven Giggles
      August 6, 2019 at 5:47 pm

      So this has happened to me before. What I found was that once the frosting hits room temperature, you have to rewhip it to get the texture back to smooth. If you just stir it, it will look like it curdled. I hope this helped anyone for the future.

  6. Wendy
    March 21, 2019 at 6:00 am

    My mother made a similar frosting to frost her German tortes, (what I wouldn’t give for another slice of her tortes) she used butter, icing sugar and Dr. Oetker pudding, no flour. She made the pudding the day before, on the thicker side, and covered it with plastic wrap so a skin doesn’t form. Let it sit in the fridge and then the next day, mix it all together.

    • Julie
      March 22, 2019 at 10:40 am

      Whoah, sounds fascinating!

    • Julee Miller
      January 23, 2021 at 2:10 pm

      Yes! That’s German Buttercream. Although I make mine with deluxe pastry cream (all yolks, no whites). My all time favorite until I tried brown sugar Ermine. LIke fluffed caramel whipped cream. Sinful. I make one that is infused with orange oil for my gingerbread.

    • Linda
      August 1, 2023 at 9:14 pm

      Same thing as making own pudding with flour. The mix had flour and she made it on the thick side. I tried instant pudding on the thick side….It works….YES! Is Oetker instant?

  7. Ian
    March 27, 2019 at 7:11 pm

    Hi Julie , I feel silly asking this question , but here it goes . So many recipes that contain milk just say milk. I only buy skim and on occasion 1% . I have a feeling this recipe would benefit from a higher fat content milk or would it still work with skim. Thanks for all the great content on this blog.

    • Julie
      March 29, 2019 at 10:38 am

      Ha – great question. I’d think it would still work, as it’s simmered into a sort of a pudding with the flour. I still forget that skim milk exists!

    • Judy L
      November 25, 2019 at 7:19 pm

      I use 2% and it doesn’t affect the roux. As for the finished product, the butter more than makes up for the milk’s lower fat content 🙂

      • Julie
        November 26, 2019 at 7:45 pm

        Good to know!

    • Nancy
      October 8, 2021 at 1:11 pm

      I have actually made this with coconut milk with success. I wanted a coconut frosting to top lime cupcakes – I also added a few drops of coconut extract in place of vanilla extract.

      • Julie
        October 11, 2021 at 10:18 pm

        Oooh good to know!

  8. Jen S
    March 28, 2019 at 5:25 pm

    Hi Julie,
    My mom has made this icing for my birthday cake for most of my life. I am about to turn 40. It will be made once again! Love it. Thanks!!
    P.S. you did a great job at the word fest event this week!! What an awesome event!

    • Julie
      March 29, 2019 at 10:37 am

      Amazing, I can’t believe I’ve never tried it! And thanks – it was such a fun event!

  9. geometry dash
    March 31, 2019 at 8:56 pm

    This looks like something my kids would love!

  10. Louise
    April 10, 2019 at 9:55 am

    This icing is an absolute MUST for angel food cakes!

    • Julie
      April 13, 2019 at 11:31 am

      Oh yes, it would be so light and perfect!

  11. Marilyn Noble
    April 21, 2019 at 8:36 pm

    Finally tried a batch on a small chocolate cake today for Easter dinner. Fantastic! The icing was almost better than the cake! I made it yesterday, frosted the cake and left it in the fridge until today with no problems. Only downside – my cake icing/decorating needs work!

    • Julie
      April 21, 2019 at 9:04 pm

      Ooh, good to know! thanks!!

  12. JoAnne Ronning
    May 11, 2019 at 9:14 am

    Does this cover a single or layered cake?

    • Julie
      May 11, 2019 at 8:29 pm

      Should be enough for a double!

  13. Jenna
    May 15, 2019 at 12:53 pm

    Can you freeze this and use it if you just rewhip before you frost?

    • Julie
      May 16, 2019 at 12:21 pm

      I don’t know – I suspect it would go funny!

      • Anonymous
        May 23, 2019 at 4:00 pm

        I tried freezing and it definitely made it look and feel funny ?

      • Julie
        May 29, 2019 at 10:43 am

        Oh yes, I imagine it would!

    • Julee Miller
      January 23, 2021 at 2:12 pm

      As long as you leave it out until it gets to room temp. Then rewhip and it should fluff right up. If it gets either too cold, or too warm, it will start to separate. There’s a *sweet* spot.

  14. Vivian
    June 6, 2019 at 7:10 pm

    Years ago Edmonton had a great little café called the “Europa” on 118th
    Ave. I asked the chef what made his torte frosting so good, creamy and not so sugary sweet. He said it was made with pudding! He was Swiss-trained, so could this maybe also be known as Swiss Buttercream?

    • Lyn
      October 3, 2019 at 1:16 pm

      No. This is what’s known as cooked flour frosting. Swiss buttercream, like Italian and French buttercream, is meringue based.

  15. Trysh
    July 17, 2019 at 6:02 pm

    I’ve found many yummy icing/ frosting recipes that I’m going to try , this one being at the top. Sounds delicious !! But I actually came across this while looking for an icing my grandmother used to make. I don’t remember the icing but, my mother and her siblings do. They get excited every time they see a homemade cake and ask “ is that’s Mom’s sticky icing?” I’m not sure of anything else other than they all wants “Mom’s homemade sticky icing “. Can you point me in the right direction?

    • Julee Miller
      January 23, 2021 at 2:14 pm

      What you want is “boiled” icing. Basically a swiss meringue of sugar and egg whites beaten over a bath of simmering water. It would kind of flow onto the cake and always form a sticky surface when refrigerated. Very popular in the 50’s-70’s.

    • JJanson
      March 18, 2021 at 9:27 am

      Look for something called a “seven minute frosting”.

  16. Carol
    September 23, 2019 at 9:33 am

    This is my favorite icing. It’s the icing my Mama always used for her red velvet cakes, and so have I. Cream cheese frosting belongs on carrot cakes; Ermine belongs on red velvet

    But I never thought about putting chocolate into it. What a wonderful idea!

    • Julie
      September 30, 2019 at 7:45 pm

      Yes, it’s so delicious! So glad to have stumbled upon it!

  17. Lyn
    October 3, 2019 at 1:14 pm

    The trick to a really smooth cooked flour (Ermine) frosting is to dissolve the sugar in the milk/flour mixture just as it starts to get warm but before it starts to thicken. This eliminates any chance of the graininess that can come from using cane sugar.

  18. Kristy
    October 5, 2019 at 8:57 pm

    Can I use melted chocolate instead of cocoa powder?

    • Julie
      October 8, 2019 at 11:37 am

      Melted chocolate has a different texture, so it may work, but may change the finished texture somewhat..

    • Julee Miller
      January 23, 2021 at 2:18 pm

      Yes, you can make a glaze called ganache by pouring an equal amount by weight of hot boiled heavy cream over chocolate chunks in a bowl. Let it sit one minute to melt the chocolate, then whisk in the center with a hand whip until the whole bowl is thick and glossy. Will be a suace when warm, when chilled will solidify into a creamy thick substance. You want to beat it into the ermine cold from the fridge. It will whip in and make a fabulous whipped chocolate ermine. Add to taste.

  19. Nancy
    November 8, 2019 at 7:16 pm

    I have had success cooking the sugar with the milk and flour. There is a lot of room to play with this recipe – I have added raspberry juice to the custard and made an amazing topping for chocolate cupcakes! Also used coconut milk in place of regular milk, added a few drops of coconut flavouring while beating in the butter, and put that topping on some lime cupcakes! Virtually any flavour and/or colour can be added – the sky’s the limit! Oh – almost forgot – peanut butter too!

  20. Julie M
    November 21, 2019 at 9:00 am

    One of the things I really love about this frosting is that it is by far the most customizable buttercream. You can directly infuse any flavours you want without having to rely on extracts while making the pudding. The additional liquid content doesn’t really affect the final product as it is incorporated into the pudding anyways.

    This icing doesn’t really rely on the sugar for leavening either. You can absolutely use alternative sweeteners for this. I made a version with xylitol for my dad who has diabetes.

    Imagine that! Sugar free buttercream!

    • Julie
      November 22, 2019 at 2:02 pm

      Wow, great to know!

  21. Dana
    December 8, 2019 at 3:39 am

    Will reducing the sugar affect the stability of the frosting?

    • ara
      January 7, 2020 at 10:17 am

      If you can replace the sugar with xylitol, I don’t think reducing the sugar will affect it’s stability. Ermine recipes aren’t sweet though. More buttery than sweet.

  22. Debbie
    January 27, 2020 at 1:11 pm

    Any suggestions on how to make this a brown sugar/cinnamon flavor?

    • Julie
      January 28, 2020 at 3:45 pm

      Hmm… I’ve never tried it, so wouldn’t want to advise without knowing if it will work!

    • Julee Miller
      January 23, 2021 at 2:20 pm

      So easy! Sub half brown sugar or all brown sugar for the white, depending on how caramelly you want it taste. Add cinnamon to taste. Done it many times.

  23. Julee Miller
    April 2, 2020 at 5:33 pm

    Yes, brown sugar Ermine is an absolute delight. It tastes almost like caramel whipped cream that you wouldn’t get sick of eating. Sub the same amount of brown sugar for the white.

    A blend of pastry cream (pudding) and butter is German Buttercream! Also delicious.

  24. Kandy
    April 3, 2020 at 2:44 pm

    Has anyone tried using melted chocolate in place of the cocao power to make the chocolate version? Wondering if that would make the frosting too greasy or wet with the extra moisture/fat content.

  25. Anonymous
    May 19, 2020 at 3:48 pm

    Is this dutched cocoa or natural cocoa?

  26. Karen
    June 20, 2020 at 6:43 am

    I am going to frost my cake the day before, do I need to refrigerate the frosted cake overnight?

    • Julie
      July 8, 2020 at 4:19 pm

      I’m not sure, to be honest.. I’ve never stored it overnight, but I’d refrigerate it if I was going to!

    • Julee Miller
      January 23, 2021 at 2:23 pm

      If you refrigerate it, it won’t hurt it. Just poull it out of the fridge 2 hours before serving so it’s that silky fluffy texture when you eat it. Straight out of the fridge it crumbles before melting in your mouth.

  27. Brenda
    June 28, 2020 at 1:03 pm

    The vanilla version of this is in your Gatherings cookbook, but the recipe comes from Jan Scott. She uses almost the same amounts, but with 2 cups of icing sugar. It is the best icing ever and I have had to adapt it to dairy free. I use dairy free margarine and soymilk, if you can believe it. I am sure the original version tastes a bit better but it is nice that it can be adapted to suit vegans or people who are allergic to dairy. I was trying to find a chocolate version and stumbled across this one here! So funny because I was confused that you hadn’t tried it, even though it was in your cookbook. Then I realized it was a recipe from a section that Jan had written. A while ago, I made this icing, had a brain-fart and forgot to refrigerate the roux before adding the rest of the ingredients in. It was very soupy and could not be saved. I will now, always remember to refrigerate before continuing with the recipe! Sorry to ramble!

    • Julie
      July 8, 2020 at 4:18 pm

      Ha funny! Yes we did separate recipes! and she’s in Toronto so we didn’t get to try each other’s!

  28. Jennifer
    January 23, 2021 at 12:54 pm

    Would gluten free flour be okay to use?

  29. LOreal Bergh
    March 20, 2021 at 3:48 am

    Hi, can i put ganache over this frosting?

    • Julie
      March 23, 2021 at 8:51 pm

      I would think this frosting would be too soft to support ganache over top!

  30. Laura
    May 11, 2021 at 1:39 pm

    Made a 1/3 batch (1/3 cup flour, 1/3 butter, 1/3 sugar, 5 tsp flour etc) and added about 2 plump tbsp cocoa and it’s amazing and the perfect amount to frost 1 – 9 inch round cake on the top and sides. Buttery, chocolatey, awesome! Thanks!!

  31. Noreen
    June 8, 2021 at 9:30 am

    I just made the chocolate version and it’s great. I’ve made the vanilla version of this for years. My mom’s typewritten recipe card calls it Real Good Frosting. ? She’s going to love this chocolate version.

    • Julie
      June 15, 2021 at 11:24 am

      It is Real Good!!

  32. Greg Esres
    December 29, 2021 at 9:10 pm

    Ermine frosting is normally made with the sugar mixed in with the flour and liquid; this dissolves the sugar, which doesn’t happen when mixing it in with the butter, producing a smoother frosting.

    • Julee Miller
      December 30, 2021 at 10:56 am

      I’ve found that splitting the difference works the best – put half of the gran sugar in with the butter (creaming butter with the sugar incorporates loads of air and the crystals from the slowly dissolving sugar will eventually disappear) and the other half in with the pudding mixture (but I add it after thickening – both sugar and acid interfere with the thickening ability of the starch). So if you are making a sweet/sour frosting, add the acid later as well. With lemon juice it would be easy – mix that with the sugar and let stand for a few minutes before adding to the butter – it will help it dissolve even quicker. The whipping part of the recipe is where all that lovely air gets added, and it is directly impacted by the interaction of the sugar/fat in combination.

  33. Julee Miller
    December 30, 2021 at 10:49 am

    Update: I have made some silky, amazing, impromptu flavors with this frosting concept that have fulfilled my wildest frosting dreams in recent days – Coffee and Baileys, Intense strawberry using Castillo strawberry concentrate and pureed strawberries, Pineapple Fluff (yes, with thickened pineapple and lemon juices and a big glob of Marshmallow Fluff added), Bourbon and Ginger, and a divine Honey and Elderberry. As long as you are using roughly the same amount of a very thick pudding consistency, whatever flavors you want to introduce are easily integrated into the frosting, unlike regular buttercreams where introducing fruit and alcohol flavors has to be done lightly. The stabilizing quality of the starch-based paste allows you to increase the flavor-containing liquids that would normally separate from the butter. Next stop: Banana Cream and Peach Passionfruit !

  34. Kathie A
    April 9, 2022 at 7:23 am

    Excellent comments on adding flavors to this frosting recipe. Thanks everyone.

  35. Malika Green
    May 18, 2022 at 2:53 pm

    Would a pinch of salt be good in this ermine frosting? Many types of buttercream call for a pinch of salt. Just made the ermine today and I used gluten free flour. It worked great!

  36. Bunny
    October 9, 2022 at 5:12 am

    An Ermine Buttercream is an older style frosting, and it’s also the original authentic frosting for Velvet Cakes, i.e. Red Velvet, White Velvet, etc. It was, and still is, used in the south for 2 reasons: 1. It’s the closest in texture to whipped cream (of the 6 classic buttercreams – American, Ermine, French, German, Swiss, and Italian). 2. It holds up the best (of the 6 classics) in the southern heat. I also think it’s the most delish of the classics.

    I’ve never seen it made in a chocolate version before, so thank you so much for your recipe. As a Pastry Chef and a Culinary Arts Instructor, I will add your recipe to my recipe file. Normally when I need a chocolate frosting I make Rose’s Chocolate Buttercream. It’s also very stable at room temp as well as in hot and humid weather, since it’s stabilized with agar (like you’d stabilize whipped cream, Mock Whip Frostings, meringues, etc.) I’ll probably stay with my tried and true since it’s quick to make and has a long shelf life since there’s no milk, cream, or eggs, like many other buttercreams.

    The ‘updated’ way to make an Ermine is to cook the granulated sugar in the cooked base. This means that the butter doesn’t need to be beaten so long, so it will be a more stable buttercream.

  37. Endellion Hopkinton
    February 10, 2023 at 8:10 pm

    Unsalted or salted butter?
    How many cups is one serving?

    • Julie
      February 13, 2023 at 9:19 pm

      I always use salted butter. This should be enough to frost one layer cake!

  38. Auxilia
    February 21, 2023 at 6:11 am

    I’m so excited to try this! 🙂

    I presume that using regular, unsweetened cocoa powder is fine–the frosting is still plenty sweet?

    Thank you!,

  39. Crystal
    February 25, 2023 at 11:21 am

    So what I gather the cake is only good for the day you make it or the icing looses consistency or drys up perhaps? Or will it be good for several days? I like to make a cake and my family will eat it over a week’s time. Is this a icing I should avoid for that reason?

    • Georgia Duncan
      September 14, 2023 at 7:01 am

      Your cake will be good for quite a while beyond the date you plan to serve it…if it even lasts that long. I have cupcakes in the freezer that I made 3 months ago. Taking one out as wanted, let it that and enjoy…tastes the same as the day it was made. Just be sure if you have a frost free freezer (which most are today) that you have taken steps to adequately cover and seal the cake from the dreaded freezer burn: freeze, wraps in plastic wrap, then foil and for longer storage, again in brown paper bag.

      Ermine frosting is by far my favorite and as another reviewer has responded, the newer method of making this frosting is to add the sugar to the flour and milk mixture. The sugar dissolves and you only need to whip the butter. As a former cake decorator, I love this recipe for its ease and versatility. It is loved by everyone!

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