Buttercream Quickie

I did not leave my cake out in the rain.

Last night I baked a dark chocolate-espresso layer cake for a co-worker’s 80th (!) birthday party today.  She’s a completely amazing – she still rides her bike around New York City, and is constantly flying around the world speaking at fancy-pants conferences – so she gets a completely amazing cake.   We tried to surreptitiously find out what her favorite flavors are, but she immediately saw through our pathetic ruse (did I mention she’s a genius?) and cornered me in the office kitchenette to announce that her favorite flavors are coffee, chocolate and lemon, and that she would be bringing something lemon-flavored herself.  I like her non-nonsense demeanor and the fact that she looks adorable in a bike helmet, so I made her a dark chocolate-espresso cake with vanilla buttercream and raspberry preserves.

I’m not posting pictures of the finished product, because I somehow thought it would be a good idea to try and write something on the cake when I was totally done frosting it – which was after midnight.  The result was very happy-hands-at-home (which I am, but I try to keep up public appearances, y’know?) and no one really needs to see that.

I’m here to tell you about the buttercream anyway.  I don’t like the straight-up confectioners sugar blended with butter-type frostings, and I don’t like the drama of making real buttercream – the egg yolks, the sugar syrup, the candy thermometer, the technical precision , the final beige-ish color – and because it always seems too greasy to me.

This buttercream is like the kinda slow cousin of Italian buttercream and seven-minute icing: cute and friendly but not complex.  It’s incredibly easy to make and can take a good amount of whatever flavoring you like.  If you opt to go plain or flavor with extracts, it’s a gorgeous creamy white.  It’s easy to work with and holds its shape beautifully.  It is, I believe, the perfect buttercream.  Try it the next time you’re about to dump a zillion pounds of confectioners’ sugar in the mixer and I’m sure you’ll agree that this is an A++, will do business with again buttercream.

Best Buttercream
4 egg whites
1 c. granulated sugar
4 sticks unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces each
Flavoring of your choice (melted chocolate, liquor, fruit purees or curds, cream of coconut, etc)

Put the egg white and sugar in the bowl of a standing mixer and place over a double-boiler.  Heat, whisking often, until sugar is combined and mixture is quite hot to the touch.  Transfer bowl to mixer and mix on a medium-high speed until the mixture is fluffy and glossy and the mixing bowl is barely warm to the touch.  At this point start adding the butter one chunk at a time, waiting until each chunk is incorporated before adding the next.  Near the end, it will probably start to look a bit curdle-y.  Keep beating, and in less than a minute this will disappear.

Flavor the buttercream however you want.  Extracts and oils are fine.  The cream can also take up to 1/3  of a cup of melted chocolate, cream of coconut or fruit purees, and up to 1/4 of liquid flavorings.  A few tablespoons of powdered espresso dissolved in a small amount of water + 2 tablespoons of kaluha make an excellent coffee frosting, which I often use with the cake linked above instead of ganache.  Extra frosting can be stored in the freezer for up to 6 months; thaw and re-beat before using.

16 thoughts on “Buttercream Quickie

  1. Heh, heh. Quickie.

    I’m going to have to try this recipe, because I definitely need help in the icing department. I don’t really like the butter/powdered sugar version, either, but I use it anyway.

  2. Emiline: It really is great. Let me know how it goes for you! (and I’m still excited to make your cheddar beer biscuits this weekend).

    Jodi: I bet you do look cute in a bike helmet. And yes, you can still have this cake.

  3. Man, Michelle, this reminds me of birthday cakes back in Evanston … only this one looks like it tastes good, and it didn’t come out of a box!

  4. I think that cake looks pretty damn tasty. I love chocolate cake with jam. And who the hell doesn’t like a good buttercream? Assholes and vagrants, that’s who.

  5. The cake looks tasty, and I’ll have to check out that recipe for buttercream frosting.
    I’ve always done it the old fashioned (and complicated/annoying) way.
    I’m always looking for ways to make my baking a lot easier and quicker, so this looks like it may be the way to go. This one takes all of what, 7 minutes?
    That’s definitely for me.

    Thanks for the post!

  6. Mandy: I still have nightmares about the blue frosting from the “Titanic” cake.

    Joyous: I’m blushing. Everyone here should know that Joyous herself is a most excellent baker.

    Heather: Also republicans.

    Adronus: The whole thing really does take 10 minutes start to finish, and the texture is killer.

    Thanks for reading, everyone!

  7. Pingback: My Darling Clementines «

  8. Knowing the glorious person for whom it was baked and having had the immense pleasure of eating a slice…. Thank you Michelle!

  9. I got lucky enough to crash that party for that amazing 80 year old. Just to underscore the ‘kudos,’ the cake WAS to die for. And the creator of the cake is also a genius.

    I’m calling you, Michelle, for my SIXTIETH birthday, even though I look ridiculous in a bicycle helmut.

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