Sunday, February 6, 2011

Swiss meringue buttercream...It's about time I wrote something!!!

I know, I know it's been a couple of months since I have written a word... I have multitudes of excuses... Wanna hear them? Now? No? oh... ok then I will just apologize and get on with it!
How about if I answer the tons of questions that I get about how I get such smooth and shiny icing on my cupcakes and how I make my wedding cakes so straight and smooth?
Ah, you like that idea... great! I will also share some of the beautiful cakes I have been making lately!
This one has fondant icing but the next one is Swiss Meringue buttercream. 
This is the Buttercream cake with real ribbon on it and fresh flowers.

I prefer to use European style buttercreams such as the Swiss meringue and the Italian meringue but I also like a french style butterceam which uses a pastry cream and butter combo. This one is highly perishable however so I hesitate to use it on any cake that has to sit out at room temp for more than 4 hours.
I will give you some tips I have learned about how to be successful with these types of real buttercreams.

Swiss Meringue Buttercream
Makes about 4 cups

4 large egg whites
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 cup unsalted butter, (2 sticks), softened, cut into tablespoons
2 tsp. vanilla

Put egg whites and sugar into the top of a double boiler over a pan of simmering water. Whisking constantly, cook until sugar has dissolved and mixture is warm (about 160 degrees).

Pour heated egg whites into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat egg white mixture on high speed until it forms stiff (but not dry) peaks. Continue beating until fluffy and cooled, about 7 minutes. With mixer on medium-low, add butter two tablespoons at a time, beating well after each addition. Increase speed to medium-high; continue beating until frosting appears thick, about 3 minutes. Reduce speed to low; add flavoring and continue beating 2 minutes to eliminate air bubbles.
This recipe can be doubled or tripled with no problem! 

Sounds easy enough, eh? Well, it is when you understand the method and what it takes to not get either "cottage cheese" or "butter soup"... my pet names for the common problems.
Both problems are fixable but you need to know what happened in order to fix it right? 
The first problem, "cottage cheese", is when your meringue and butter are to cold to emulsify or incorporate properly. The important thing to remember when putting the butter into the meringue is they need to be about the same temperature. If the butter is too cold and the meringue cooled to room temperature then you will get very stiff or even broken buttercream. This can be remedied by adding a bit of heat to your bowl and whisking. You can either put the bowl over low heat while whisking by hand or leaving it on the mixer get out your little brulee torch and torch the bottom of the bowl moving the flame around not leaving it one place to actually melt the butter but to warm it so they smooth out and mix together properly. 
This comes to the "soup" problem... too much heat and the butter melts into the meringue giving you a buttercream that never seems to thicken up. This can be remedied by putting the bowl of buttercream in the refrigerator and letting it stiffen up in there, usually overnight so give yourself plenty of time the first time you make this ...just in case... Pull the bowl out and put it back on the mixer with a whisk. Put it on low speed and let it go until it smooths out and comes together. This may take 5-10 minutes so be patient! If it looks like it is not coming together after that amount of time then you can add a bit of heat to the bowl, being careful not to over heat it again! 
NEVER throw your buttercream away if it isn't right!! That's a lot of butter!! Try to fix it and if you are feeling desperate that nothing is working then you can add a bit more butter to it! Use it as a filling by adding some melted unsweetened chocolate to it... it will taste great but it will be hidden in the center rather on the outside. To reassure you though, you CAN fix most any problems with buttercream by being patient and understanding how this all works!