Avoiding A Cake Wreck: Butterscotch-Protein Frosting


What do you do when your oldest friend in the world hits a milestone birthday? For that matter, what do you do when anyone you really care about has a birthday?

You bake them a cake, that’s what.

Presents are wonderful, of course: diamonds, ponies, Eastern European babies, and whatnot. Whatever your choice, the recipient of these gifts will be pleased that you took the time out of your busy schedule to honor them.

But a cake? I think cakes are much, much nicer, thank you. Not a store-bought cake, though they can be very good, but one you make yourself. Baking a cake requires planning, it requires effort, it requires the surrender of personal time and energy. And, best of all, it demands focus– at least, it does for me.  You just can’t multitask when there’s a cake in the oven depending on you. Of course, I’m sitting here at my desk writing about making birthday cakes while the cake is baking away, but I’ve got my timer on. Since I’m doing nothing but think about this cake as I type, I think it is entirely allowable.

When Squid’s husband told me he was having a small get together for her birthday, my first thought was about the cake. “Do you already have something in mind for the cake?” I asked. When he said no, not yet, I asked if I could make it. So here I am, fretting away about a bunch of flour, sugar, and butter.

I had such grand plans for the thing. Two tiers, 35 years of inside jokes together manifested in marzipan, butterscotch, and chocolate. I had everything planned to the last detail. Or so I thought.

Things don’t always go as planned when a person like me, who isn’t in the practice of baking giant cakes, decides to do so on a whim. When there is math involved, my ideas tend to take a major hit or two. Butterscotch frosting? Oh, just double the given recipe. That should be enough. And it was, except for the fact that I needed about a half cup more powdered sugar than I had on hand. Ransacking one’s pantry while the stand mixer is whirring away is not always the best idea. Fortunately, there was vanilla protein powder on hand, so the frosting is now enriched with iron, phosphorous, and good old fashioned soy protein to support the bone and cardiovascular health of those who will ingest it. God bless the ability to improvise.

butterscotch frosting

Baking a big cake? Super, but I can now tell you that merely doubling the recipe for 9″ round layer cake doesn’t cut  it for a 14″ square one. Unless you just want one, perfect little layer, without filling. So I will run back to the store early tomorrow morning for more flour, butter, eggs, and vanilla. It serves me right.

But I don’t mind one bit. I happen to enjoy making mistakes. Especially tasty ones. So what if I have to bake another layer for the cake tomorrow? There is much to be said for the satisfaction I feel when a tender, vanilla-perfumed cake is first pulled from the oven. When cooling on its baking rack, I see it as a yellowish canvas– not quite blank, but mildly blistered and neutral, upon which I can go to town, as it were, in terms of creativity.

Protein-infused Butterscotch frosting studded with bits of brutalized toffee slathered in the middle of two layers of cake baked a day apart. I wonder if anyone will know which layer is newer? Hopefully, everyone will be to drunk on beer and side cars to notice. A thin layer of the icing outside covered in a perfectly smooth coating of chocolate. At least I hope it will be perfectly smooth. Do wish me luck.

The decoration of the thing will be the trickiest part of all. My piping skills aren’t what they used to be. My plan was to have a giant squid looking as if it were startled into squirting out the Birthday message in its ink. Trickier than I imagined, believe me.

marzipan squid

Instead, I ended up with a squid that looks rather only mildly bothered. Perhaps I shall have more luck with the starfish.

What started out as an exercise in what I hoped to be flawless, quirky perfection has turned into an exercise in pinpointing my own, personal foibles  and fortes (read: therapy). I had hoped to execute something beyond my own particular baking and sculpting abilities and have, so far, not done a terrible bad job at it, though it won’t be the image of the perfect (for Squid) birthday cake I had in mind.

And I think that’s just fine. In fact, I think she’ll think that’s just fine, too. Who turns down birthday cake? A birthday cake isn’t always about perfection. Like I said earlier, it’s about time and the offering of mental space and physical effort. And it’s about love, if you hadn’t gathered that already.

As I stood over the stand mixer, kicking myself for having to resort to adding protein powder in order to save the frosting, I had a Like Water for Chocolate moment. Was I about to add my own frustration into that frosting? Were my fellow party-goers going to take on my angst as well as a boost of muscle-building protein? I stepped back and thought about what I wanted that cake to say to Squid besides “Happy Birthday.”

I took a moment to re-arrange my thoughts and then started speaking into the bowl of the stand mixer, saying things like:

Thank you for being my friend for thirty-five years. I’m glad you had good enough sense to marry my college roommate. Thanks for the wonderful, surprising godchildren. Thank you for correcting me when I call things “retarded” by telling me how “gay” that sounds. I’m sorry I punched you in the face in the 5th grade. Thank you for out-reading, out-writing, and out-drawing me. Thank you for letting me be a part of your family.

Just, well, thanks.

And I hope you love the cake, however it turns out.

Butterscotch Protein Frosting:

Frosts on 9″ x 9″ round layer cake. Double the amount for a 14″ square cake. You do the math, since I can’t.


1 cup unsalted butter

2 cups light brown sugar

8 tablespoons whole milk

3 1/2 cups powdered sugar

1/2 cup soy protein powder

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

a heavy pinch of salt


1. In a heavy-bottomed, medium-sized pan, melt the butter over low heat. Add brown sugar to the butter and bring to a bubbling boil, stirring constantly. Add milk and return to a boil, all the while stirring. About 2 to 3 minutes, or until the sugar has melted and the consistency is smooth.

2. Remove from heat and pour molten mixture into the bowl of a stand mixer with whisk attachment. Add vanilla and let cool to luke warm.

3. On the lowest speed, gradually add powdered sugar until all of your stash has been exhausted.

4. Panic.

5. Rifle through pantry. Locate protein powder.

6. Hastily measure out powder and add to frosting.

7. Taste.

8. Smirk.

9. Frost.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

About Michael Procopio

I write about food and am very fond of Edward Gorey. And gin.
This entry was posted in Holidays, Rants and Stories, Sweets and the Like and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to Avoiding A Cake Wreck: Butterscotch-Protein Frosting

  1. Nicky D. says:

    Well, where to begin?
    Love the squid.
    I like to buy my cakes in shops, not stores.
    And I have to say the word “friend” is just barely managing to keep apart “oldest in the world.”
    Still, lucky, lucky, auld friend.

  2. Anders says:

    Try to mix some proteinpulver in the cake, that will make it really healthy 🙂

  3. michaelprocopio says:

    Yes, I should have been more careful with my wording.

    I’m delighted you love the squid. Squid’s youngest child ripped the top of its head off. I sent her away from the table without cake. I am certain, however, that she managed to lay her grubby little hands on some.

  4. Nicky D. says:

    Children always manage to get so sticky. We oughtn’t allow them to handle food until they’re at least seven or eight and have mastered chop sticks. Until then surely nutrition can be delivered via peanut butter pills, or strawberry injections.

  5. Judy says:

    I was there, at the party that is, not in the kitchen. The standing squid was VERY cool. But better yet the cake with its secret-ingredient frosting was fan f*ckingtastic. I ate and took a break and ate some more.Then I wished you were MY very bestest friend. Then I ate some more. Then I started to feel a little sick from over-indulgence and had to stop. AWESOME cake!
    ps my bday is in November……

  6. ksoohoo says:

    If you forget to smirk before you frost, can you do so afterwards for similar results?

    • ksoohoo says:

      Sorry. I just realized that my comment made no sense. But I’m tired… and the cake looked good and I liked this entry, so I felt a need to comment, no matter how unintelligently!

  7. Sylvia says:

    What a lucky girl. I love baking cakes but I’m never as creative in the decorations.

  8. jodi says:

    ksoohoo, I thought you made perfect sense. Maybe if you smirk “and” snicker, it makes up for it.

    How’d the protein powder infused frosting taste?

  9. roy says:

    Wasn’t that what brought Nemo down? A mildly irked and perplexed sugar squid.

    Why is melted brown sugar and butter a butterscotch while melted granulated sugar and butter is a caramel?

  10. michaelprocopio says:

    Miss SooHoo– Your question makes complete and utter sense, so it is left standing. I believe you can smirk at any point during the creation of this frosting.

    Nicky– I shall defer to you in all matters of child rearing.

    Sylvia– Why is it that I have a hard time believing anything you do would somehow lack creativity?

    Jodi– The frosting was actually delicious. Apparently, so was the cake, since everyone either agreed that it was or agreed to all get together and tell me it was to spare my feelings.

    Roy– We’re talking Captain Nemo, not Little Nemo or that cartoon one everyone was looking for a few years back, right?

    I don’t believe it was a sugar squid. I have inside information that the giant squid what offed James Mason in 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea was created out of vegetable shortening mixed with dried shrimp paste to give it a more marine-like verisimilitude.

    As for the whys and wherefores of butterscotch v. caramel, I just chalk it all up to magic, which is my answer to everything that I cannot explain.

  11. roy says:

    magic for unexplained techniques, unicorn meat for unidentifiable food proteins

  12. Your adventures in baking clearly turn out better than mine … this post reminded me of a birthday cake I once took to an office party pot luck; I am known for not reading directions particularly well, and the cake, while clearly homemade and perhaps virtuous for that reason, had some visible shortcomings.

    My boss took one look at it and remarked dryly, “I take it the cake is your … handiwork?”

  13. I made a frosting once using this peanut powder imported from the east. I think it was sweetened whey extract, very healthy to mix in a drink, and it made a very nice frosting that was healthy too.

Leave a Reply to ksoohoo Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Connect with Facebook