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I made a chocolate malt cake for the first time the other day. I let the cake sit overnight to cool. I made the frosting while the cake was baking and put it in the fridge for the next day. The cake recipe had me cook the cake at 325 for 45-50 minutes. That turned out to be 10-15 minutes too long (when I checked it at 40 minutes it was very overdone). That's easy to correct for next time. The frosting is what's stumping me. The recipe is:

  • 3 sticks (12 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 3/4 cup malted milk powder
  • 1/2 cup whole milk, at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

When I added the first three ingredients it was a good consistency, if slightly thick. I added the rest and it became too thin. I added another 1 1/2 cups of powdered sugar and it was a lot better. I put it in the refrigerator to use the next day. Of course it became very firm. When I was spreading it onto the cake it kept getting so melty that I couldn't spread it consistently. I've never seen this happen before. It was so bad that I actually had to make a ganache to cover the bad frosting job. Next time I will definitely cut down the butter to two sticks and reduce the milk to maybe 1/4 cup. What else could have happened to cause this?

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    How long after removing the cake from the oven did you attempt to frost? – Mr. Mascaro Dec 29 '14 at 19:25
  • I had the same conclusion as jbarker2160 and Johanna; I typically make the cake the day before so it's had a chance to cool overnight. If I can, I make the frosting the next morning and give it a quick crumb coat, and then finish the frosting job that night. – Joe Dec 29 '14 at 20:25
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    Since I was baking all day, I couldn't be bothered to wait and frost it late at night. The cake sat at room temperature all night and the frosting went into the fridge. The cake was out of the oven about 15 hours before frosting. I've edited the original post to say the cake sat out overnight before getting frosted. – Brooke Dec 31 '14 at 13:59
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There are two things I would consider with the frosting. The first is that either the cake or the kitchen was too warm when you tried to frost the cake. It's happened to me a few times that I set the indoors temperature too warm in the winter and frosting keeps melting for me. Freezing the cake for about 20 minutes before attempting to frost it will usually make it easier to do a nice job too.

Otherwise, when you make a frosting recipe like that one, you want to mix all the ingredients except the liquid (in this case milk) together first, and the add the liquid, a little at a time until the frosting is the right consistency. Never add all the liquid at once. I don't think the butter was the problem, if anything you didn't have enough of it compared to the amount of milk.

  • Johanna, normally I only use a tablespoon or two of milk in buttercream frosting (added at the end to see how much I need). I also thought the amount of powdered sugar wasn't very much. But when making a recipe for the first time, I try to follow it as close as possible. It is possible that the house was warmer than normal, but I can't remember if it was cold the night before so the heat was on or if it was warm that day. The only other time I've ever had a problem with melting frosting is when I was too impatient to let the cake cool properly. That wasn't the case this time. – Brooke Dec 31 '14 at 14:07
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    @Brooke Since every other frosting recipe like this one I've come across says to add the liquid a little at a time, it was probably badly written instructions that tripped you up :) You sound pretty experienced, so I didn't think that you would try to frost a warm cake (most people only try that once...), but I felt it should still be included in the answer, for anyone who reads it later. – Johanna Dec 31 '14 at 16:22
  • Thanks Johanna. :) The only time I did attempt to frost a cake too soon it was in a disposable 9 X 13 pan and I was only frosting the top, so I decided (impatiently) to frost away. It ran all over the top and stuck to nothing! I just relooked at the frosting instructions and she wants you to blend the first three ingredients and then add the other three ingredients and beat for three minutes until "light and fluffy". I will admit I didn't originally see the three minutes part, but it was so runny there's no way it would have fluffed up (whole milk not whipping cream!). – Brooke Dec 31 '14 at 18:36
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I agree with the comments and answer. The cake does need to be cooled completely before frosting and room temperature does make a difference.

Based on personal experience, if a cake is to be stored at room temperature I will never use more than one stick of butter. Butter becomes soft at room temperature and frostings with too much butter do not hold up well.

What I do to compensate for this is to use no more than one-half to one stick of butter and substitute half & half for the milk. Simply mix the other ingredients together first and add the half & half until you have the proper consistency. This should work well for you, especially considering that you have salt as an ingredient for your frosting.

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    Why is the salt relevant? – Stephie Dec 29 '14 at 22:35
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    Hello @Stephie. Flavor. Even though unsalted butter is used, when you use less butter and add half & half the flavor does change slightly. The small amount of salt helps to make this almost unnoticeable. – Cindy Dec 30 '14 at 17:58

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