The Frosting Straight From Heaven


Spice cake with penuche frosting.  Yum!


I generally think of cake as the mechanism to deliver frosting to my mouth. Don’t take me wrong, I like cake, but I love frosting. To me, the best cake to frosting ratio is half frosting and half cake. However, if it’s a really crappy day, I want 90 percent frosting and 10 percent cake.  Now, deciding on the best cake to go along with frosting is a challenge and one that was hotly debated in my family for years.


All In The Genes


I’m positive I inherited my sweet tooth.  Hey, I’ve got to blame my predisposition to ingest all this sugar on someone.  Besides, my grandmother liked sweets and my mother loved them, so I must come by this frosting gene, naturally.


I need an evening treat.

Someone was always making or eating a cake at our house.

Icing Versus Frosting


Though they differed on their favorites, both my grandmother and my mom would enjoy a piece of cake whenever they could. My grandmother liked cake with icing (which in our family is totally different from frosting). My mother preferred frosting.  Icing is a concoction made from powdered sugar, milk and a smidge of vanilla. Frosting has many of the same ingredients, but it is thicker and usually has lots of butter and way more sugar.  Equally important:  You can slather on frosting in a delightfully thick layer, but icing is swirled or skimmed across the top of a cake to add a subtler touch of sweet.  I almost always prefer frosting.  I just can’t sink my teeth into icing.  However, I do believe there is one food where icing is more appropriate—warm cinnamon rolls.  For more on this debate, see my post “On A Roll”.



We Agreed On This


With all the differing opinions in our family on just about every topic under the sun, there was one fact everyone agreed upon—penuche frosting was hands down the best of the best. In case you’re wondering, we pronounced penuche as pee-nu-chee.  Penuche is a rich mixture of butter, brown sugar, powdered sugar and milk (see the recipe below).  I have to warn you:  This creamy, luscious manna from Heaven is so good it can easily send you into catatonic sugar overload. Oh, what a way to go!


Spice cake from a box.

Maybe Grandmom wouldn’t agree, but I always thought spice cake was the most “Penuche Worthy”.

To Each Their Own


Now, to say we all agreed upon the superiority of this exquisite frosting recipe does not mean there was agreement on what kind of cake it should cover.  My grandmother stood fast and firm in her defense of yellow cake.  I was equally convinced spice cake was the better mechanism for delivering penuche to my mouth.  And my poor mom couldn’t or wouldn’t make a clear choice, either to annoy us or perhaps keep the peace.


The Great Debate


As I look back, I’m amused by the quirky family “debate” we would always have whenever someone brought a particular frosting/cake combination to a gathering. The issue would arise as soon as the cake was served and went something like this:  1) My grandmother would make spice cake and put icing on it.  In a case like this Mom would be quick to say something like, “Oh, this would be so much better if it only had penuche frosting.”  In turn, Grandmom would sigh, “Tsk, tsk.” 2) Now, if grandmother made a yellow cake with penuche frosting, Mom would be just as much a contrarian.  She’d say, “Oh, this is okay, but the penuche would be so much better with spice cake.”  Grandmom would then expel a weary sigh, roll her eyes and go, “Tsk, tsk.”  3) Of course, if Mom made spice cake, you could almost count on it coming with penuche frosting.  Now, it was Grandmom’s turn to comment and she would say, “When I grew up we only put icing on spice cake.”  Mom would undoubtedly take the bait and say, “Yes, but this is so much better, isn’t it?” Grandmom could only shake her head, sigh and go “Tsk, tsk.”


After The Fact


Curiously, no matter what cake/frosting combo was served, no one ever turned it down.  Instead, they would sit there downing their cake while they debated which combination was best and what kind of cake was served the last time around. I sometimes wonder if we ever enjoyed the cake in the moment.  More likely, that didn’t come until the next go-round.


It Was Not To Be


Now, to borrow an old phrase from Mr. Nixon, “Let me make this perfectly clear:” Whenever I was served a piece of cake covered with penuche frosting I was one happy camper.  Sadly, this never occurred with a layer cake.  I say sadly because I like the frosting to cake ratio a layer cake provides (i.e. more frosting).  Yet the only way I was ever served penuche frosting was either on a 9 x 13 sheet cake or on a cupcake.


We did have an occasional cup cake, but no layer cake.

Go figure. I had my chance and I still made a flat cake.

Don’t Mess With Success


I can’t say exactly why, but neither Grandmom nor Mom ever served me a slice of layer cake with penuche frosting. I’m not sure if they preferred sheet cake, if it was too much trouble to make a layer cake, or because they always served it one way and it didn’t occur to them to do it differently. For whatever reason, the tradition stuck and I’ve never tried it on layer cake, either.  I suppose it’s one of those things you don’t mess with because so much of the “taste” of the cake is wrapped up in all the memories and times we shared together.


Gotta Love It

To this day, every time I eat a slice of yellow or spice cake with penuche frosting I inevitably think back on all those gatherings, and recall how Mom and Grandmom would always bicker over the virtue of various cake/frosting combinations. In some ways, I suspect those debates were simply a way to express their love for each other, or at least, to express their love for frosting.  No, wait, better make that icing.  No, frosting!  Icing!  Frosting!  Tsk. Tsk.


The Penuche Frosting Recipe


This frosting takes a lot of stirring.


1/2 cup butter

1 cup brown sugar (packed)

1/4 cup milk

1 & 1/2 to 2 cups powdered sugar (add a little at a time until it feels right)

The recipe takes about a cup and a half of powdered sugar.

After letting the mix cool, add in the powdered sugar.




Melt the butter in a pan on medium heat and then add the brown sugar.  Using a wooden spoon, stir constantly and bring to a low bubbling boil.  Now, stir in the milk.  Keep stirring and bring the mixture back to a low boil.  Remove the pan from heat and let it cool until the mixture is lukewarm.  Now, gradually add the powdered sugar and stir until the frosting is smooth.  Spread on the cake.

Spreading panuche frosting on spice cake.

Spread it on thick. Yum!

I guess the only question left is what kind of cake you’ll be trying this on.



For a simple and delicious cake anyone can make it, read:
A Chocolate Cake A Man Can Bake

For a yummy chocolate treat, read:
Chocolate Dipped In Chocolate

For a great anytime appetizer, you may enjoy our:
5 Minute Black Bean Party Dip

Or try these incredibly delicious snack bars:
Bliss Bars.  Yum!

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