I’ve found THE vanilla cake..what now?
So I’ve found my go-to vanilla cake for my DD’s birthday project. Next would be to find the frosting that goes with it. I had a couple of conditions to consider, and if you are like me and baking for your kid’s party at school, you may face the same situation. I had planned for cupcakes frosted with buttercream and then topped with fondant and gumpaste decorations. Sounds a platefull.
The cupcakes would be baked and decorated the evening before the day of the party, celebration would be midday, sometime before noon. So there are a couple of things to keep in mind:
1-decorations should withstand the humidity and heat for all those long hours, and still look pretty at the time of celebration. In our heat and humidity, buttercream will wilt if left on the counter for long hours, and hardens and needs to be defrosted if refrigerated. Once defrosted, they will condense and form beads of moisture. All this moisture is not good for the fondant/gumpaste toppers.
2-if mixing fondant/gumpaste decoration with buttercream, the fondant should be put on the buttercream layer at the last possible minute. Why? Because the fondant will absorb some of the moisture from the cream, not to mention the environment, and they will wilt.
3-if decorating with 100% fondant/gumpaste – you will not have the above issues to worry about. You can just finish the cake the night before and hit the sack. BUT, these will be eaten by kids, and gumpaste dries hard, and is usually not advised to be eaten (although it is edible). Meanwhile, fondant will remain pliable, and the buttercream layer underneath it will make it even softer. But it is not that palatable, just very, very sweet and kids may like it, but its not that healthy. I don’t like my kids to eat all that sugar (if I can help it) but taught them to peel it off and just eat the cake/cream underneath. So I wouldn’t do the same to other kids.
4-the biggest issue of all – if you are a full time working mom like me, you will not have the liberty of decorating it the morning just before you send the cakes to the preschool. Unless you take the day off. But then again, you would have taken some time off the day before to bake the cakes if it is a big celebration. Though tempting, I didn’t feel necessary to take 2 days off work just for this. Better to keep some offdays for other things right?
My Solution? Bake the cakes in the evening after work, and burn the midnight oil to frost the cakes, and decorate it with the toppers before I go off to work (that would be 6am!) and hope for the best. But this doesn’t solve #1..
So that spurs the search for THE buttercream frosting. okay okay. scratch that. I am really a novice when it comes to decorating a cake with buttercream and having to let it stand for long hours! Also, I really wanted to try to make all sorts of buttercream. heh. You just wasted a couple of minutes reading my what-nots up there. 🙂 so lets get back in track..
There are many types of buttercream icings or frostings, traditional American, Swiss, Italian, French – each known to have their own pros and cons, not to mention unique taste and texture. The most generic and easy to whip up would be the American buttercream, just butter and icing sugar mixed together, and colored to taste. This buttercream is most economic, even more so if we use half butter and half shortening ratio, and tastes very sweet – thus, a hit with youngsters. I personally don’t favor this type of buttercream for its powdery taste and cloying sweetness, and so does my DD. “It tastes yucky!” according to my eldest DD who is a picky eater, but the little one absolutely loves this. But she loves anything sweet, so no arguments here.
A more Malaysian version of buttercream would be to use krimwell – a type of shortening which tastes better than the generic vegetable shortening. I would think this is hi-ratio shortening. But if this is the same as commercial home-made cakes, which I suspect it is, then I don’t think I like the greasy taste of krimwell buttercream. Some other buttercream recipes use condensed milk. I wonder how that turns out.
I decided to try the most feared but the best buttercream out there – the Italian meringue buttercream, and compare it to Swiss meringue buttercream, and the traditional American buttercream. The Italian buttercream is known to hold up really well even in very hot temperature. Next on the list would be Swiss followed by a high ratio shortening American buttercream.
The Italian and Swiss buttercream has similar procedure, but results differ. Italian buttercream has a finer texture and tastes a little bit better than Swiss. Making the Italian buttercream is a little tricky though, since sugar syrup has to be boiled to the softball stage, and once you’ve passed this stage, adios amigos! your buttercream may not turn out as expected. This is my first time trying to make this type of buttercream, and lets just say, I did have some panicky moments. But most of all would be that the buttercream didn’t firm up! Even after A LOT of whipping, and cooling it in the fridge at intervals. Whip, whip, whip IS the trick to fix runny Swiss buttercream, I thought it would be the same with Italian. I did not know where I erred, but finally I got tired of whipping and covered the mixing bowl and stick it in the fridge, and walked away. Trying not to think about the gooey mess. I mean, I made Swiss buttercream and got it right at the first try, so what was so difficult about this one? Maybe that was just a beginner’s luck?
Next morning, I took a peek at the goo in the mixing bowl, yep. still soft allright. Decided to whip it up real quick to see if anything changed. So I whipped it for about 3 minutes, and voila! It turned out beautifully!! I couldn’t really believe myself. I guess some things are worth waiting for. But if I got it right in the first place, it wouldn’t have to spent an overnight in the fridge. Maybe my candy thermometer was off and the sugar temperature haven’t really reached softball, or maybe I whipped the eggwhites till its too dry.. So you guys may want to try this trick if your Italian/Swiss buttercream is just a gooey mess like mine. Don’t give up too soon and throw it away, that would be a total waste. Waste not, want not.
Anyways, the Italian buttercream piped nicely, and tastes heavenly! Even without additional flavorings other than vanilla..YUM is all I can say! Just look at this little fellow’s happy face, need I say more?
Next, I made a small portion of the traditional American buttercream using half butter and half shortening ratio and piped that too.
I didn’t bother to make another batch of Swiss buttercream, since I already knew its behaviour. Refer here.
Freshly piped Italian buttercream v.s. American buttercream
12 hours later…
these were left on the counter (covered of course)
1 day later…
They look pretty much the same as above, even the squigly wiggly American buttercream remained the same. I kind of stress tested the traditional buttercream here, just to be certain.
Both held up pretty well in 30 degrees Celcius heat and humidity over the span of 12-24hrs. Both kind of ‘set’ a little – you can tell by the peak of the frostings I purposely piped and the squiggles. Other than that, shape, grooves remained solid. Plus, the American buttercream crusted very nicely, more so compared to the Italian buttercream. I would guess the Swiss buttercream would behave somewhere in the middle.
Taste & Texture – Italian buttercream wins hands down. It is much smoother and not overwhelmingly sweet as the American buttercream. Swiss buttercream also tastes smooth, but not as fine as Italian. Most importantly, both doesn’t taste powdery or even slightly gritty.
For small and special occasions, I would definitely use Italian or Swiss buttercream. For THIS purpose though, (THIS would be the celebration at school for 100 cupcakes), I will use the American buttercream for several reasons. 1-It does not contain any eggs, so it is safer for I do not know if there are any kids with egg allergy at her school. 2 – Very economical compared to eggs. Need I say more.
I did say I did not like the powdery taste of buttercream even after sifting the icing sugar twice, but this is not for me to gobble up 🙂 Nevertheless, I felt dissatisfied that my buttercream has that not so smooth taste. I tweaked the traditional buttercream recipe here and there, did a few experiments, and finally came up with my own methods and recipe – guided by my reasearches of course, and came up with THE PERFECT traditional buttercream. No grittiness, no powdery taste, and most of all, NOT overwhelmingly-icing-sugar-sweet! YEAY! So now I’ve found my go-to traditional American buttercream recipe which is so fine and smooth, and pipes beautifully!
I swear, even I can eat this by the spoonfull! Smooth, creamy, yummy! Not too buttery, not too sweet, doesn’t have that greasy aftertaste. Crusts very well, holds up really good. But a big pointer in my book would be, NO powdery taste!
oh.. did I mention this is strawberry buttercream? nice pinky color, eh? YUM!