A primer on glazes

This post is all about glazes, icings, syrups, bun washes etc. Basically the finishing touch for buns, cakes and pastries when you don’t want to leave them plain but when something heavier, like a buttercream or ganache frosting doesn’t feel right.

When I started developing recipes, one area I found surprisingly confusing were icings and glazes – recipes varied so much and there were definitely a few disasters (either they would not set or they crystallised and turned opaque when they should have been transparent and glossy). Through trial and error and copious note-taking, I have discovered what works and what doesn’t.  I thought it would be helpful to share some of these basic formulas, my favourite variations plus some ideas for playing around even further with these basic formulas. And if you have some ideas or tried and tested recipes for glazes that you want to share, please do so in the comments!

Powdered Sugar Icings and Glazes

For a perfect powdered sugar icing or glaze, three things are of prime importance:

  1. Sifting the icing sugar – no one wants a lumpy glaze;
  2. Whisking slowly so you don’t incorporate any air bubbles into the glaze;
  3. Getting your ratio of powdered sugar to liquid ingredients right – this will ensure that an icing to top a loaf cake stays on top of the loaf cake rather than running down the sides of the cake and pooling into a puddle on your serving platter; it also helps to ensure the icing will set.

The basic recipe has 2 ingredients only – icing sugar and milk. But the options for variation are almost infinite. I have posted below the basic formula plus some of my favourite variations and ideas.

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A Simple White Icing Sugar Glaze (enough for 1 loaf cake, a couronne or similar)

Notes: This produces a thick but pourable glaze with a soft set.  Perfect for brushing over a couronne or pastries. If you want an even thicker glaze with a harder set, i.e. a glaze that is thick enough to glaze a loaf cake and where the glaze will only slowly creep down the sides of the loaf cake, reduce the milk, starting with 1 tbsp and going up to maximum 2 tbsp. As for the milk, any dairy or nut milk will work – I often use rice or oat milk since that is what I typically have in my fridge.

Ingredients

125g icing sugar
2-3 tbsp milk

Directions

Sift the icing sugar into a bowl then slowly whisk in the milk until you have thick but pourable glaze. Cover your still warm cake, couronne etc. with a thin layer of icing using a spoon or a pastry brush.

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Flavoured Icings

As much as I love a simple white icing sugar glaze, it’s also nice to change things up every once in a while. As long as you stay true to the basic formula (too much liquid and you will end up with a runny icing that won’t set properly) and the world is your oyster. You can either change the flavour of your glaze by changing the liquid (e.g. substituting lemon or orange juice, coffee, tea or wine, whiskey, mescal etc. for some or all of the milk) or by adding additional dry ingredients – e.g. cocoa powder, kinako or matcha. You can also add fragrant tea leaves that have been finely ground in a spice grinder (e.g. earl grey or rooibos or lapsang souchong) or adding spices like cinnamon, nutmeg or cardamom to the glaze.

Below I have posted the recipes for a maple-syrup flavoured glaze (pictured below) and a Kinako glaze. But you could also try this whiskey flavoured glaze like I used for these masa harina madeleines (pictured above). I also love the sound of this olive oil icing glaze that adorns a pumpkin loaf cake in the Gjelina book and that Valeria wrote about here.

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Maple Syrup Glaze (enough for a thin layer of icing on loaf cake or 8 miniature cakes like these mini baked doughnuts)

Ingredients 

125g icing sugar
1-2 tbsp maple syrup
1 tbsp milk
Pinch of sea salt

Directions

Sift the icing sugar into a bowl then whisk together all the ingredients until you have a smooth glaze. Using a brush or a spoon cover the still warm cake in the glaze.

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Sumac Glaze (enough for a loaf cake)

Notes: I discovered this glaze when working on a Middle Eastern twist on the classic lemon drizzle cake and fell in love with its mottled blush pink colour and the fact that you can make a lip-puckeringly tart glaze even when you are out of fresh citrus. 

Ingredients

125g icing sugar
1 tsbp sumac
2-3 tbsp water

Directions

Sift the icing sugar into a bowl, stir in the sumac and then whisk in the water until you have a smooth glaze. Using a brush or a spoon cover the still warm cake in the glaze.

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Kinako Glaze (enough for a loaf cake)

Notes: Kinako is roasted soybean flour that is commonly used in Japan in sweets. It has a flavour similar to roasted peanuts and is delicious in ice cream, cakes or whisked into hot milk as an alternative to a matcha latte. It also adds a delicious nutty finish and nice colour contrast to black sesame seed cakes like this one when whisked into the icing.

Ingredients

125g powdered sugar
20g kinako
3-4 tbsp milk

Directions

Sift the icing sugar and Kinako into a bowl then whisk together with the milk until you have a thick but pourable glaze. Using a brush or a spoon cover the still warm cake in the glaze.

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Bun wash

A bun wash, like the name implies, is used to glaze buns like these hot cross buns. But a bun wash can equally be used to glaze enriched loaves like challah or Brioche, for example, or for giving pastries like a pain au raisin an appetising sheen. While a sauce pan and a bit of heat are involved, a bun wash is nothing more than a simple sugar syrup that results in a shiny and slightly sticky transparent glaze.

Notes: Any leftover bun wash can be stored in the fridge and used to sweeten ice coffees etc.

Ingredients (enough for 6 buns, double the recipe for a brioche loaf)

50g sugar
25g water

Directions

In a small sauce pan bring the sugar and water to a boil and cook just long enough for the sugar to dissolve completely. When the buns (or pastries or whatever else you are making the bun wash for) are out of the oven, brush generously with the bun wash.

I typically use a plain bun wash, but that should not stop you from adding some additional flavour, e.g. by substituting half the sugar with honey or stirring in some orange blossom water or rose water when the bun wash is ready.

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Jams and Jellies

An easy way to add shine to galettes and pastries is to brush them in jams or jellies. A classic way of doing this is called ‘abricotage’ where strained apricot jam is heated with a small amount of water (typically 10 per cent by weight of the jam) until melted and then brushed all over your galette, pastries or cake. While apricot is the most common jam to use for this (I suspect because of its subtle flavour and light colour), you could also try using different jams and jellies. A favourite of mine is to use quince jelly – not only is there no need to strain out any pieces of fruit, but I adore the flavour of quince jelly (it pairs beautifully with apple tarts).

One alternative way of glazing fruit tarts is one I picked up from Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse Fruit book. She suggests using the peels and cores of fruits to make a jelly. The basic formula for an apple tart is to use the peels and cores of the apples you used for the tart, place them in a sauce pan with 100g of sugar per 1.25 kg fruit and enough water to cover the apples. You then simmer this for 25 minutes until nice and syrupy. Once strained you can use this syrup to glaze your tart.

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Syrup 

Syrups are used to add moisture, flavour and sweetness to baked goods. Like a bun wash they also give baked goods a nice sheen. We are probably all familiar with syrup-drenched baklava. But syrup is also what makes babkas so deliciously sticky, sweet and ensures they stay moist for days. The preparation is the same as for bun wash – a basic sugar syrup. However, here the syrup this is made from equal amounts of water and sugar, resulting in a more liquid sugar syrup.

Notes: As for the bun wash, any leftover syrup can be stored in the fridge and used to sweeten ice coffees etc.

Ingredients

100ml water
100g sugar

Directions

In a small sauce pan bring the water and sugar to a boil until the sugar is completely dissolved. Prick your still warm cake or loaf all over with a wooden skewer, then slowly pour the syrup all over the cake or loaf. It may seem like a lot of syrup and it may take a while for the syrup to be completely absorbed, but it will happen!

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Honey and Cinnamon Syrup

Notes: It is easy to vary the basic syrup recipe – e.g. by substituting honey for some of the sugar and/or adding some spices – like I did for this cinnamon and walnut babka, a recipe I adapted from Honey & Co. You could also try substituting the water with a fragrant tea or fresh citrus juice or replacing part of the water with alcohol like rum. You could also add a teaspoon or so of orange blossom water or rose water right at the end. 

Ingredients

100ml water
60g sugar
40g honey
1/4 tsp cinnamon
3 cloves

Directions

In a small sauce pan bring the water and sugar to a boil until the sugar is completely dissolved. Prick your still warm cake or loaf (still in  all over with a wooden skewer than slowly pour the syrup all over the cake or loaf. It may seem like a lot of syrup and it may take a while for the syrup to be completely absorbed, but it will happen!

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