Last night I spent some time testing and perfecting a butter cream recipe for an upcoming project. While I was knee-deep in Swiss meringue and butter, one of my housemates came into the kitchen to bake a cake. As I labored amongst simmering water and whirling mixer, she adeptly cleaned up her spoon and bowl, popped the cake in the oven, and was out in a flash.
Turns out she was making a pink camouflage cake that she would ultimately top off with a quick frosting of Cool Whip and instant vanilla pudding mix. If pink doesn’t suit you, this trendy cake mix offered by Duff Goldman features another option: a hunter’s variation in shades of tan, brown and green, with a suggested bright orange frosting.
I briefly helped out by dabbing colorful splashes of cherry flavored fuchsia, hot pink, cotton candy, and creamy white batter into two cake pans—to create that splotchy look. By the time I was done messing around with mocha buttercream she had whipped up her frosting. I gave it a quick taste. Even in my head-spinning, sugar-overloaded condition, I had to admit, it wasn’t bad: creamy and light.
But, call me a purist; I still prefer the real deal. With all this effort—I’d better prefer buttercream.
Buttercream is a light, fluffy frosting of sugar, whipped egg whites or yolks and butter which often incorporates meringue as its base. In American bakeries, buttercream often consists of powdered sugar whipped until light with a fat such as margarine, heart-arresting shortening, or even lard.
Buttercream made with meringue has a creamy, silky texture. In the Swiss-style meringue used here, egg whites and sugar are heated and then beaten to a fluffy state until cool; then the butter is beaten in a little at a time to form the bonded buttercream mixture. Since it is easy to work with and stands up to considerable abuse, its endless adaptations make it an elegant addition to many cakes and cookies.
- 2 large egg whites
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- 1 ½ cups unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon portions; room temperature
- ½ tsp. vanilla or other appropriate flavoring (see below)
- Place egg whites and sugar in metal bowl of a standing mixer and whisk together.
- In a pot that fits the mixing bowl, bring water to a simmer over moderate heat. Place the mixing bowl with egg whites over the pot and lightly whisk until the sugar is dissolved and mixture is hot, 130-140 degree, about two minutes.
- Lock bowl in mixer and beat with wire whisk attachment on medium-high, until no longer hot and fluffy, glossy peaks have formed, about five minutes.
- Beat in butter one tablespoon at a time, using paddle attachment, adding more when it has been incorporated. If it breaks, continue beating, it will become smooth and creamy.
- Add the vanilla or other flavorings and beat to incorporate. Yield: about 2 cups.
Chocolate: replace vanilla with 6 oz. Bittersweet chocolate, melted with 3 Tbsp. liquid such as milk or hot coffee; allow it to cool before using.
Rum or syrup: replace vanilla with 2 Tbsp. rum, brandy, or favorite fruit syrup, whisk in a little at a time until incorporated.