Shirley was, to the best of my memory, a mean woman. Not pleasant and not well put together. Shirley was not friendly, at least not to us, although she seemed fond of her gaggle of cats. How my family fell into buying our special occasion cakes from her I cannot say. I was too young to know the politics of that. I suspect that she was the relative of a friend and we were under some sort of unwritten obligation to do so. Whatever the case, I grew up eating birthday cakes and special holiday cakes made by Shirley. I do not know her last name but the frosting she made, in my mind, is synonymous with a celebration. Like many foods from childhood, one bite can take you back 20 years. Before she passed away we were fortunate enough to get her icing recipe “Shirley’s Buttercream.” After she was gone we referred to it as “Dead Shirley’s Buttercream”.
When I first started cooking professionally I had the opportunity to try many pastries, some of which really were amazing and in some cases just ridiculously good. Some pastries that really made an impression are baklava, Eaton mess, pavlova, and soufflés. Not to mention the many awesome original creations by pastry chefs around the country. One thing that has always left me unsatisfied, however, is the icing on cupcakes and special occasion cakes. . . it’s always too refined, not sweet enough, not Dead Shirley’s!
I had given the recipe out for a few years to any colleague who wanted it, after singing the praises of my wonderfully unrefined icing of course. One day, while working at the Ritz – Carlton in Dearborn Michigan, we had a visiting Pastry Chef from the Ritz – Carlton San Francisco. The most amazing thing was that he was making a recipe called “Dead Shirley’s Buttercream”! I asked him where he got it and he said from a friend who is a Pastry Chef. Not being able to resist I asked him if he knew the origin of the name. He did not but speculated that it’s so full of sugar and fat it must have killed someone named Shirley. . . He may have had a point!
Dead Shirley’s Buttercream
Makes about 1 quart (enough to ice 30 – 35 cupcakes)
360 Grams Confectioners’ Sugar
200 Grams Butter
200 Grams Shortening
15 Grams Vanilla
- Combine in a electric mixing bowl with whisk
- Start on slow until the ingredients come together then turn up slowly
- Beat on high 10 minutes
- Store in a cool place covered in plastic for up to a week, you do not have to keep in a refrigerator unless keeping for an extended period (just be careful its covered so it does not take on any off flavors)