Saturday, September 3, 2011

Miracles of Butter - Swiss Buttercream

This blog is supposed to update once a week.  For a while, I've had a lot of backed-up posts, intended to be saved for when school gets busy.  However, I find that I want to write as soon as I make the item and this doesn't quite fit with real time.  For example, I've actually been back at school for a week, yet this post was written way back in early August.  Sigh.  But I did promise that my next post would be the frosting, so here it is!

 I've never made real frosting before.  I can't stand the canned frostings or the ones on top of cakes sold in the supermarket.  They're just too sweet and have this strange texture.  I do like adornments on my cakes.  I've baked for a few years, whipped cream to a delicious, light dressing for my cakes, decorated with fruit and glazes and ganaches.  But buttercream scares me like no other recipe.  My best friend used to make this amazing French buttercream in her standing mixer, carefully spreading it on a cake that some lucky person had commissioned.  Once I even helped her with this process.  But I considered real buttercream frosting to be the domain of professionals, real bakers who were known for their cakes and had real standing mixers.  

No longer.  I have decided that I am going to do my best to be a real baker.  I will dare to use high-quality expensive ingredients, I am going to take a risk.  There are many things I love to do, and baking is one of them.  I will will throw myself headlong into my passions and attempt the recipes that only the real bakers make.

When I was making this, I was terrified for a while.  The egg whites had been heated to 160°F, then beaten to stiff, glossy peaks.  All went well, if rather nervously, until the butter. My beloved handheld mixer is currently broken and only works on its highest setting, so when I added the first tablespoon of butter, egg white and sugar flew everywhere, splattering me, the microwave, the counter and nearby implements.  After a few more tablespoons of the exact same thing happening, I tried using the balloon whisk to incorporate the butter, then mix again using the highest (only) setting.  This resulted in lumpy frosting until about halfway through the butter, when the frosting simply broke, resembling cottage cheese.  Panic slowly seeped into my brain like the liquid pooling under the mutilated chunks of butter.  Hurriedly I checked the book, pinning all of my hopes on the last sentence: "Beat at high speed until the buttercream is smooth, about 1 minute."  That was one step I could do.  Doggedly I pushed butter into the frosting, beating at high speed.  Then vanilla, and "beat at high speed."  I think I prayed for the entire 5 minutes it took for the frosting to come together.  If I hadn't needed both hands to hold the mixer, my fingers would have been crossed.  Then...

The most miraculous thing to come from my kitchen yet!  I was utterly stunned when slowly the chunks resembled less soggy blobs of grease and more silky buttercream.  The last time something curdled on me, it was white chocolate whipped cream, and I gave up in the end.  This time, I was amazed at the frosting.  Light and fluffy, rich and so much more compliant than the whipped cream I usually use.  I love buttercream!  Now, if it didn't require so much butter...

Swiss Buttercream from The Cake Book by Tish Boyle (½ recipe)
Makes about 2 cups, enough to lightly frost and fill a 9" round, 2-layer cake

2 egg whites (the largest you can find, but I'm not sure if it matters.  Original recipe called for 5 egg whites, 2x the other ingredients and made 5 cups of frosting)
½ cup sugar
1½ tablespoons water (1 tablespoon = 3 teaspoons)
½ lb. butter (2 sticks)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 large bowl, preferably metal or other nonporous material
1 skillet or pot, to hold water (the large bowl will rest in the water)
1 instant-read thermometer (I used a clean meat thermometer)
½ tablespoon measure OR
     ½ teaspoon measure
     1 teaspoon measure
1 tablespoon measure 
½ cup dry measure
1 balloon whisk
1 mixer with slow, medium and fast speeds 


1. Whisk together the egg whites, sugar and water.  Bring some water in the pot to a simmer and place the egg white mixture in the pot.  Keeping the water in the pot at simmer, whisk the egg white mixture gently until the thermometer reads 160°F.

2. Once the thermometer hits 160°F, turn off the fire and immediately whip the egg whites at high speed until they show stiff, glossy peaks.  The mixture should be cooled to about room temperature by now.

A delightfully fluffy mass that deflates when butter is beaten into it...

3. Reduce the speed on the mixer to medium and slowly add the butter, one tablespoon at a time.  Do not worry if the butter appears to clump together and the frosting looks like it's dying.  Keep adding the butter slowly and mixing.  Breathe in, breathe out.

Bits and pieces of butter slowly incorporating...

4. Add the vanilla and beat until it is smooth.  This is the cool part, where the miracle happens.  Slowly the butter and egg whites will emulsify and merge.  The butter will whip to be fluffy and the egg whites will bind together in one smooth, luscious and indulgent frosting.  Enjoy!  It spreads beautifully and melts on your tongue like the mere dream of butter and sugar.

The clouds of butter and sugar, ready to enhance any cake you can find...

My lovely friend with the final cake!

No comments:

Post a Comment