Category: Tips and tricks

After a hard drive failure and dropping my brand new iphone into the toilet, I can’t believe I finally finished this novella of my base recipe.  It has pictures.  It has FAQs.  It has awesome.  It’s on etsy.  It was the easiest way I could find to get this to you.  The bad news is after they take their cut then Paypal takes their cut, well, lets just say I’m not making much on the sale price.

Beyond Buttercream’s Base Recipe and over 20 variations

Cover art 2

Beyond Buttercream Recipies

Thank you all!  And let me know if you see typos.  I rushed this out under the most crazy of circumstances.


Sugar Flower Supplies

I love making flowers.  Seriously.  Love it.  It’s an expensive love to get into, I’ll tell you that – no doubt about it.  So finding a reliable source for cutters and veiners is essential.  I mean, if you have a consultation with a bride and she has her heart set on covering the cake with a certain type of orchid, it’s really helpful to know right where to go online to buy the cutter you’ll need – and it’s a real bummer to buy something online, finally getting it, and it sucks.  So I wanted to tell you all about one of my go-to sources – Sunflower Sugar Art!  And guess what?  They are running a sale right now!  Use the code “HOLIDAY” for 30% off (until December 2nd, 2012).

Thanks for letting me share the discount code, Pilar!

Making cake is an expensive hobby. Extremely expensive. There are so many tools, gadgets, colors, dusts, cutters, and do-dads it’s overwhelming. And the more specialty the stuff is, the higher the price tag. If you do this as a profession (or addiction), you are constantly buying buying buygin, and it can get seriously out of control.

Just like anything, there are high priced tools, cutters, veiners, etc. that you can spend thousands on at the cake store.  The thing is, some of it is stuff that’s repackaged and marked up or you can just as easily use something cheap in place of that super expensive specialty item. That’s where hacks come in.

A “hack” is repurposing something for something else that it wasn’t designed for. I have a few cake hacks I want to share.

Bubbles in Fondant:
There is no purchased tool that exists and is marketed for popping those pesky fondant air bubbles. A lot of people use straight pins. I don’t. First, straight pins are not marketed as a food product so they aren’t exactly sanitary, they are also dangerous. I actually rolled a straight pin into my fondant once because I was in a hurry, set the pin down on the counter, forgot, set a ball of fondant on top of it, and rolled away. Talk about a close call!

My Hack:

I use hypodermic needles. Yes, the kind you get when you have diabetes. Let’s face it, everyone knows someone with diabetes – ask them for a few of their needles. The needles themselves are tiny, it’s much harder to loose track of them, and they are sterile. They work wonderfully and you can’t see the pin prick on your fondant at all.

The Cheapest Flower Veiners You’ll Ever Use

If you are in to making sugar flowers, you quickly realize that there is not only a special cutter for every single flower; there are also special silicone veiners for them. The cutters are generally pretty spendy, but good veiners are crazy expensive. Certain flowers have certain characteristics, and if you are a true naturalist and want a 100% botanically correct flower, you probably want to spend the money on the veiner. But if you are like me and are perfectly happy to have the flower look 95% botanically correct, you are perfectly happy with short cuts. And boy, do I have one for you.

My Hack:

Dried corn husks. Like what they make tamales in? Some only are a little rippled. Some are a lot. You can flatten them out a bit if you need to. They are marketed as food so they are sanitary and you can buy a crapton for less then a buck. I have an all-purpose silicone veiner that I paid $80 for that is mostly retired in favor of the deep groves and veins that I can get using a dried corn husk.

Another cheap veiner? Viva paper towel. Flowers like magnolias, white orchids, and roses have some texture, but not much. Sure, you can buy silicone veiners, but they are really unnecessary for those of us that just want “close enough”. Just dust a Viva with some cornstarch and press your petal into it. It leaves a very natural surface on the petal and makes them more realistic. The microscopic grooves also help the petal to grab and retain colored dusts.

What about you? What hacks do you use when making cakes?

I’ll get straight to it – it’s Valentines day.  Some if you are going to be adventurous and attempt to make your loved one a fancy dinner at home.  Some of you are going to be spending the evening alone eating take-out and watching porn.  Whatever, chances are the thought of making anything tasty for dessert is frightening, too much work, or not worth it.  Well, have I got a recipe for you!

Molten Chocolate Cake.  From scratch.  Made with crap you probably already have in your house right now.  In under 2 minutes.  In the MICROWAVE.  That’s right, the microwave.  Sounds like a stoner’s delight, but trust me, this cake is restaurant quality, and once you make this you will never need another recipe to get a quick chocolate fix again.

Molten Chocolate Cake (makes 1 serving, only make one at a time)

3 tbsp. flour

3 tbsp. packed brown sugar

3 tbsp. coco powder (unsweetened)

3 tbsp. oil

3 tbsp. water

Pinch of salt

1 piece of chocolate (milk, bittersweet, white, whatever.)


Easy to remember - 3 tablespoons of everything

Throw all ingredients in a bowl except the piece of chocolate and mix with a spoon until smooth.

Pour into a microwave ramekin (or a coffee mug if you don’t have one).  Tap the ramekin on the table to settle the batter and smooth out the top.  Microwave on high for 1 minute 30 seconds.  DO NOT OVER-NUKE.  You’ll know it when you smell it.

1 minute 30 seconds later!

1 minute 30 seconds later!

Your ramekin will be HOT so use mitts to take it out.  Break your chocolate into pieces and immediately stuff it in the center of your cake.   The heat of the cake will melt your chocolate.

Melty Chocolate

Melty Chocolate

Then get all fancy schmancy and dust with some powdered sugar and garnish with some whipped cream, vanilla ice cream, or some chocolate dipped strawberries (yeah, I really just had these “laying around”).

Nom Nom
Nom Nom

Voila!  Happy Valentines Day!

Edited:  Yeah, originally posted with some stupid spelling errors that I hope I fixed.  That’s what I get for rushing 😀

So many Massas, so little time

Every one one of these is a Massa.

There are many different brands of fondant, and like any product, you have the cheap stuff that is pure crap in flavor and workability (Wilton), stuff that works great, tastes like paste but is a good price point (Satin Ice, Fondex), and so-called gourmet stuff that’s expensive, supposed to have the best workability and is supposed to taste fantastic. Long ago I dedicated myself to only using products that enhance the flavor and performance of my cake and am willing to pay a higher price point for it, so finding the perfect fondant was no small task.  Here in San Francisco I was fortunate enough to come across Massa Ticino Tropic made by a company out of Switzerland called Carma.  I love it.  I love working with it and I love how it tastes.  Confusingly, there is another brand of “Massa” made by a company called Albert Uster Imports (AUI), also out of Switzerland.  So many people in the cake world get the two brands confused, not realizing they are two totally different manufacturers.  They often say stuff like “Massa is the best!” generally followed by “but it’s too expensive”.  True, compared to those 20 pound pails of Satin Ice that generally run about $2.50/pound plus shipping wholesale, the gourmet AUI and Carma cost considerably more, as you’ll see below.  But I always ask, what brand of Massa is “the best”?  They say… “huh?”  I don’t think I’ve ever spoken to someone that has actually had both brands and knows what the differences are.  Add to it that AUI has 2 different Massa fondant lines and it’s just mass confusion.  So I wanted to know, what’s the difference between the 3 Massas?

I happen to be a lucky girl.  I regularly use Carma’s Massa Ticino Tropic, but recently was inspired to contact Albert Uster Imports to see if I could get samples of their fondant for a fondant throwdown.  They were so kind to send me a ¼ bucket of Massa Grischuna Americana and small samples of Massa Grischuna Neutral, White Chocolate Massa Grischuna, and some Dark Chocolate Massa Grischuna.  I’ve compared them and wanted to share my opinions with you.

This product review is not so much for the general public because neither AUI nor Carma fondants are something you are going to find at your local cake store, although both can be purchased online by anyone.  This post is for my decorator peeps that have wanted to know what the differences are but haven’t had the opportunity to put them side-by-side, or for my other decorator peeps that use Satin Ice but are interested in switching to a higher quality product but don’t know which one to switch to.  I am in no way affiliated with any of these companies, and am not getting paid for my opinion, although I wouldn’t turn any money down if Carma or AUI happen to want to start giving me money :D.

First, definitions.  According to the AUI website, Massa Grischuna Americana is “completely opaque with a soft consistency for a perfect all-white wedding cake”.   It is the most expensive of all their fondants and I was told it was “the best” that they offer.  I’ll be referring to it simply as “Americana”.  Massa Grischuna Neutral is described as “easy-to-use rolled fondant with a wonderful soft consistency”.  This seems to be their standard line of fondant, with Massa Grischuna Neutral coming in white, ivory, chocolate, white chocolate and 2 pre-dyed colors that change seasonally.  I’ll be referring to the white fondant sample I got as “Neutral”.  Carma’s Massa Ticino Tropic is described as “for covering special occasion and wedding cakes, for decorative purposes and display items.  Suitable for coloring, easy to roll out and shape.  Special recipe for tropical climates – Especially suitable for small decoration pieces, dry quickly.”  To make this easy, I’ll be referring to Carma’s Massa Ticino Tropic as “CMTT”.  Neutral is supposed to be a direct competitor to CMTT and AUI’s Americana is supposed to be “better” then both.

Ground Rules:

Fondants were tested based on cost, flavor, workability, texture and appearance STRAIGHT OUT OF THE PAIL.  Adding additional chemicals like tylose powder or gum-tex to get a more workable consistency or to make a gumpaste alternative was not tested, nor did I mix one brand of fondant with another to make hybrid fondants.  I only the used standard fondant helpers like corn starch to prevent sticking, powdered sugar to help with consistency,  and shortening if the fondant became too dry (if necessary).

Balls of Massa

Balls of Massa

Company Differences

Albert Uster Imports have representatives, distribution hubs, and customer service in the US.  They participate at trade shows and even have a Facebook  and Twitter page.  Carma is not in the US, and their website has some really horrible English on it.  All information about Carma as a company I get from my food distributor, but it does look like they have a customer service rep in Chicago that it never occurred to me to call.  For ordering information please go to their websites and inquire direct with them, or use your Google-Fu to find retail websites.


CMTT comes in 15.4 pound pails. AUI’s fondant comes in 13.4 pails.  AUI does not sell wholesale so if I needed a pail I’d have to order it online just like everyone else.  Americana runs a whopping $79.90 (that’s almost $6/pound) plus shipping.  Neutral is less expensive at $61.97/pail.  I can’t tell you how much I pay for my pails of CMTT because the price list from my gourmet food distributor is confidential, but I can say that I pay a lot LESS then I would for AUI (all versions) but more then Satin Ice, and I can pick it up or have it delivered thru my local distributor for free.

Winner:    Carma’s Massa Ticino Tropic.  The 2 extra pounds over AUI in the pail make it a better price point even if I had to pay for shipping.


All commercial fondants seem to have one or more hydrogenated oil product in it, and both Carma and AUI are no exception.  I hate that.  Really hate that.  The only way around it is to make your own fondant.  Believe me, if I had the space and time I would.  Real homemade fondant is out of this world delicious, but I’ve already covered in a past blog post that I need to use commercial fondant at this time.

Winner:  Having only the ingredients listed on the Americana pail vs, Carma’s Massa Ticino Tropic, Carma wins.  It has fewer ingredients listed on the pail.  I don’t really know what they are, but I stick with the rule of thumb that “less is more” when comparing labels.


CMTT has a heavy texture that you could almost describe as gritty?  When you initially get it out of the pail it feels dry until you start working it.  It quickly smoothes out and becomes elastic and somewhat soft.  You don’t even really have to get it super soft to roll it out, in fact I find the more I work it the harder it becomes to work with.  I’ve never gotten elephant skin and pockmarks are easy to polish out.  I easily lift it on my arms to cover a cake (up to 24” diameter) rolled at 1/8 “ thick.  Air bubbles are easily taken care of with a pin and a fondant smoother, it polishes to a nice sheen, dries to a nice crust, polishes beautifully, stacking is a breeze, and decorating on it is easy.

Americana has a much finer, sticky texture right out of the pail.  I actually had a problem getting some out it was so sticky.  Once you start working it, it gets even sticker, and I had to add corn starch to my silicone fondant mat just to kneed it, which I generally don’t have to do until I start to roll.  It’s very elastic, dare I say droopy.  Rolled at ¼” thick, I lifted it to cover a 6” test cake and it started stretching on my arms.  I got it on the cake and started smoothing with my hands but it tore in several places, stuck on itself and it puckered at the base.  It also thinned out in spots to the point where I could see the cake under it.  Because it was so sticky I couldn’t smooth the pucker and it frustratingly kept sticking to my fondant smoothers so I had to dust the entire surface with corn starch.  Still couldn’t get dents and puckers out.  After a few minutes you could see the shape of the cake and filling under it and I couldn’t imagine what would happen if I started getting an air bubble.  I can’t see being able to pop the bubble and working the fondant back into shape.  I pulled it off, kneaded in powdered sugar, rolled it really thick (1/4”) and was almost able to get the same coverage as CMTT.  It was still sticky though, and no matter what I did I couldn’t get the puckers out at the base of my cake.  I should also mention that they weren’t kidding, Americana is opaque and weird looking to me, where Neutral and CMTT is white.  I’ve been told that the opaque quality means it will stay true to color if you add coloring, but what a wet mess I imagine it would make as soon as you start to add gel color to this fondant that is already super soft, you would have to use powder color.  I don’t get the whole “perfect all-white wedding cake” that they advertise since this stuff just looked weird and if you take a look at the photo I’ve included, Americana is NOT as white as the fondants I am comparing it to.  Lastly, I don’t think you could use this on a chocolate or red velvet cake.  You’d be able to see right through it.

Due to the small sample of Neutral, I didn’t have enough to cover a cake so I can’t judge it fully at this point, but the texture on my fingers was right in the middle of Americana and CMTT.  A little sticky, but with some depth and a bit of grit.

Winner:  Carma’s Massa Ticino Tropic.  After all the problems I had with the Americana to cover my cake this is a no-brainer.

How It Dries

I admit, I did not allow my tester cake to sit covered in Americana, I ended up pulling it off and using CMTT for the finished cake because of the reasons I described above.  But I though I’d try and use it for some dried fondant pinwheel decorations I needed to make for a cake the following day.  I again had problems getting the texture right with the Americana, it rolled really thin but stuck to everything, including my exacto knife no matter how many times I cleaned my blade.  I had to let it sit before I could really cut stuff out of it without it stretching and sticking.  It also dented really easy, which was really annoying.  The following day it was still bendy without being brittle.  This is actually not a bad thing, you can made decorations in advance and still have some room for error when you fit them to a cake and you can carefully manipulate your mostly-hard pieces of Americana without them breaking.  I see this being really great for bows and flowers too, assuming you don’t dent your pieces with your fingernails.

CMTT cuts into anything right out of the bucket and dries almost as hard as gumpaste very quickly as advertised.

Due to the small sample I was unable to judge Neutral properly.

Winner:  Toss up – Being able to cut straight out of the pail and have pieces dry quickly using Carma’s Massa Ticino Tropic is great when moving fast, but I can see the advantage of cutting decorative pieces out of Americana and have them dry so they are easy to handle but still slightly bendy so they will still mould onto the cake easy.  I’ll be doing more test pieces in the future.


CMTT smells divine as soon as you open the pail.  It’s a mix of marshmallows and sugar, it smells sweet and decadent.  Fresh CMTT tastes really wonderful and I don’t taste any chemicals, which is unusual for fondant.  It does have a slight gelatin mouth feel.  Once it dries on a cake it has a nice crust on the outside but is slightly gummy on the inside.

As soon as I opened the pail of Americana I honestly would not have been able to identify the contents as food, let alone something sweet.  All I could smell is chemicals and plastic (from the bag it’s sealed in).  It didn’t taste much better.  It is not as gritty on the tongue as CMTT but is more gelatinous.  Something strange happened, once my pinwheel dried it lost all flavor.  I didn’t even taste anything slightly sweet.  I guess that’s a bonus for people that hate fondant since it won’t add any flavor to the cake.  I have not tried to add extract to the Neutral to see how it takes flavoring, but I have done it with CMTT, the only flavor it takes well is almond.  I think it’s because it has it’s own flavor and it doesn’t mesh too well with other extracts like lemon, orange or hazelnut.

Neutral did taste decent, it was sweet like CMTT and had the same slightly gritty mouth feel, but it left a nutty chemical aftertaste.

Winner:  2 blind taste testers chose Carma’s Massa Ticino Tropic over both AUI fondants, and I agree with them.  Carma tastes better and compliments the flavor of the cake.

AUI White and Dark Chocolate Fondant

Carma doesn’t make a chocolate or white chocolate version, so really, the whole reason I got a hold of these AUI products was to get my hands on a tasty commercial chocolate fondant.  As you can probably tell though, I do have a bias, I used to make both white and dark chocolate fondant from scratch using high quality chocolates for both.  Being a chocolate snob, I turn my nose up to products like candy melts that contain no real chocolate and anything with “chocolate flavor”.  Homemade chocolate fondant tastes like a rolled out bar of chocolate on the cake, or like a nice coating of ganache.  I had high hopes for AUI because I know a lot of top cake artists use it and claim the flavor is wonderful.  I completely disagree.  The dark chocolate tastes like a Tootsie Roll.  Now, I know, lots of people like Tootsie Rolls, but I don’t.  I don’t think they taste anything like real chocolate.  Tootsie Rolls aren’t even made with real chocolate, and even though I only got a small sample envelope of the dark chocolate fondant and didn’t see an ingredient list, I’d be surprised to see this have any real chocolate in it at all.  I was extremely disappointed in the flavor.   Due to the small sample I was unable to test it on a cake, but I did use it to make ball centers for some flowers.  Not the most challenging of tests, I know.

I did, however, have enough white chocolate fondant to put on a cake.  It is a little opaque and softer and stickier then CMTT.  The flavor is not too bad, again not having an ingredients list, I would be surprised it was made with any cocoa butter either.  I mean, I wouldn’t sit down and nom on it, but I don’t think it’s too bad.  But I have to say, judging on it’s workability I was pretty impressed.  Getting it on the cake went as easy as my beloved CMTT rolled at 1/8”, it was nice and smooth, it adhered to Swiss meringue buttercream really nice with NO air bubbles.  I was able to roll it really thin to cover the cake drum and it dried on it overnight decently.  My complaint is that it does not dry very much.  CMTT almost creates a shell around your cake and it takes a real slip up to dent it, and the dent will smooth right out using a piece of fondant or your fondant smoothers.  The AUI’s white chocolate dried to the touch, but it stayed soft after 24 hours.  So soft smooshing the cake was really easy, and smoothing it back out wasn’t.  Decorating on it was really interesting, my ruler left dents just touching it,  I had a hard time scoring it, and I couldn’t do some of the decorative elements to the surface that I had originally planned like some crimping and some shell indentations because my tools bent the fondant in, instead of just marring the surface of the fondant.  In the end I adjusted my design and made it work.

Finished Cake using AUI's White Chocolate Massa

Finished Cake using AUI's White Chocolate Massa, with white chocolate massa fondant flowers, black royal icing swag, and gold royal icing swiss dots. Purchased topper. Red velvet cake with vanilla bean Swiss meringue buttercream.


I’m dismissing using Americana to cover a cake.  That was an exercise in patience that I don’t have.  I plan on using up what I have making decorative pieces.  That leaves CMTT vs. AUI’s Neutral.  Without having a full sample of Neutral I can’t be sure, but I imagine it probably performs as well as AUI’s white chocolate massa as far as workability to get on a cake.  The only mystery is if Neutral stays soft like the white chocolate version, making it difficult to design on.  But right now, If I had to choose between Carma’s Massa Ticino Tropic and AUI’s Massa Neutral, I’d go with Carma’s because it tastes better, has a lower price point, and handles as you would expect your fondant to handle.   As for the chocolate versions, I disliked the flavor of the dark chocolate so much I can’t see ever using it, but I am was mostly happy with the white chocolate once my cake was decorated.  But honestly?  I didn’t like it enough to want to buy a full pail and start using it regularly.  I will be sticking with making my own chocolate fondants in the future.

I want to thank Albert Uster Imports for supplying me with the samples used for this post.  Your customer service is top notch.

Hey!  Agree?  Disagree?  Questions?  Leave a comment!

If you read much of my online dribble, you’ll notice I talk about butter temperature.  A lot.  The temperature of your butter effects everything.  I swear.

Recently I got into an online debate with someone about how warm butter should be when making Swiss meringue buttercream (SMBC).  To recap, when I make my SMBC I take my butter out the night before and make sure it’s room temperature.  I also say to dump it all into your bowl at one time (if your bowl can handle it) and mix on LOW.  As was pointed out to me, my method is contrary to several very famous cake artists and pastry chefs.  Toba Garrett’s very famous recipe says ” the butter should be slightly moist on the outside but cold inside”.  Ben Ron-Israel’s recipe says “butter, softened”, which means the butter should be cold enough to pick up with your fingers, then to add it in pieces.  Both say to mix on medium high.

If you have ever made this type of buttercream you’ll notice the finished product almost always has air pockets in it.  Nobody really talks about them for the home cook, but those pesky air pockets are hard to get out of the buttercream.  It does not go onto a cake smooth and leaves pock marks that you have to fill in if you want a professional finish.  Air pockets are one of those things that get worse the more you try to mess with them, too.  There are a few ways to deal with them, you can smooth your cake as best as you can, let the buttercream firm up in the fridge/freezer then fill them in one by one, or you can take your bowl of buttercream and hold it over warm water to raise the temperature by a few degrees while stirring and it’ll get rid of them.  But you also can melt your buttercream, which sucks.

Believe me, I know how it looks and sounds when some crackpot blogger says to do something totally different from these very famous, very well respected, super awesome cake artists whom I also worship.  I did it their way for a long time, and I’ve spent my fair share of time filling in pock marks and melting buttercream over water.  I just accepted it as part of how these things are done. But one day, I was making some SMBC and had a pound of butter on the counter that had been sitting out overnight.  It was nice and soft.  On a whim, I used it.  I was adding a bit at a time using a spatula because it was too soft to pick up and had my mixer on medium high, but 1/2 way there I turned my mixer onto low (so nothing would slosh out of the bowl) and chucked the rest in because, well, I’m impatient and was in a hurry.  To my surprise, 5 minutes later I had the smoothest buttercream I had ever made.  The next time I made a batch I tested my new theory… I used soft butter that had been taken out the night before, I had my mixer on low and I threw the whole pound in.  Again I got super smooth, super silky SMBC with very few, if any, air pockets.

Some have argued that my location makes this method possible since I don’t deal with high heat in San Francisco.  This is true, but neither do you if you live in an area where it gets hot outside.  You have air conditioning.  I know you do.  If you don’t have air conditioning and it gets 100 degrees in your city, do yourself a favor and move.  Dude, that’s just unlivable, man! Why put yourself through that when I know the rest of your city has air conditioning?  😀  Seriously though, I assume your home kitchen is in the low 70’s, which is fine for buttercream making.  If it’s warmer then that you are going to have problems making any buttercream, not just Swiss meringue.

Some have argued that my location makes this method possible because I don’t deal with high humidity.  So I started paying attention to to see how humid it gets in San Francisco.  To my surprise, I DO in fact live in very high humidity.  San Francisco is a 7×7 square land mass surrounded on 3 sides by water and covered by a constant marine layer and fog… 90% of the year. Our humidity never dips below 60% and averages around 75% with a very low dew point (it’s 78% right now).  Which means it’s humid.  Granted, it’s not 100 degrees so most people don’t notice how humid it is, but it’s just as humid as the East Coast or Florida. measures humidity exactly the same all over the world so, no New York, you don’t have “special” water making it more “wet” then California.  The measure of humidity in San Francisco is the SAME measure of humidity as, say, Tampa Bay, FL (which by the way, at the time of writing this has humidity at 49%.  Just sayin).

Because there have been a few people in different parts of the world that have had a hard time making any SMBC recipe, out of curiosity I made a batch of my SMBC documenting temperatures and humidity/dew point at the time I made it.  I’d love to get to the bottom of why it works here and maybe doesn’t work there, and the only way to do that is to document the exact conditions I work in.

Outside: 59 degrees, Humidity, 84%, Dew Point 54 degrees. Yes, in July.

Tools used for this experiment:  My super cool Rubik’s Cube clock/alarm/thermometer/calendar I got from Think Geek which is shockingly accurate, and a meat/oven thermometer I got form Sur La Table.

Room Temperature: 70.8 degrees, Butter Temperature, 70 degrees. Disregard the "oven temperature" reading, as it is measuring my oven temperature.

Meringue Temperature: 83 degrees, cool to the touch.

Finished Buttercream: 75 degrees.

Notice my awesome texture?  No?  Well here’s a close up!

At 75 degrees, this buttercream is perfect for me to put on a cake or pipe onto cupcakes with very few air pockets.  So, if you are still having problems, let me know the conditions of where you are, maybe we can get to the bottom of this together!

Hi!  So guess you are probably wondering where my magic recipe is!!!!

Update 2/10/14

Thank you for your interest in my much loved recipe. Due to popular demand, I have rewritten it and provided 25 amount of variations as well.  It’s 17 pages and on Etsy.


UPDATE 1/14/14:

I am amazed and humbled that this post continues to get hundreds, some days thousands of hits per day.  Since I wrote this blog post, I have answered the same question a lot.  And when I say a lot, I mean probably over a thousand times…  “THIS TASTES LIKE BUTTER! I DON’T LIKE IT!.”  I don’t want to put you off me and I especially don’t want you to NOT try and make SMBC, but this is the very first thing I want you to read about Swiss Meringue Buttercream even if this is the first time you have ever heard of it, the first time you tried to research it, or even the first time you made it:

IT TASTES LIKE BUTTER BECAUSE IT’S SWEETENED BUTTER.  THE AMERICAN STYLE ICING YOU NORMALLY EAT IS EXTREMELY SWEET AND TASTES LIKE SUGAR BECAUSE IT’S SUGAR THAT HAS BUTTER/SHORTENING ADDED TO IT TO MAKE IT SMOOTH-ABLE. See the difference there?  If you are used to eating icing made from the recipe off the back if the powdered sugar box, SMBC will take getting used to because it doesn’t even come close to having the same amount of sugar in it.  I say in the below instructions to FLAVOR IT.  A LOT.  WITH A LOT OF FLAVOR.  One batch of this holds 1/2 a pound of melted chocolate or 1/2 pound of strawberry puree and will still be a smooth-able, workable buttercream.  You would never be able to add 1/2 pound of strawberries to flavor powered sugar type icing – it would be soup.  That’s why things like artificial emulsions or flavorings were invented so you can use 1/2 of a teaspoon of that “flavoring”, add it to your powdered sugar icing and it will not change consistency.  SMBC is the type of buttercream you use when you do not use artificial flavorings or emulsions and want to use the real thing.

If you’ve made this and didn’t add enough flavoring and though it was “too buttery”, I really encourage you to make this again.  Then, once you properly flavor it, PUT IT ON A CAKE.  Butter by itself is not something I can eat a teaspoon of.  Put that teaspoon on some warm, fresh baked sourdough bread and it’s one of my favorite things in the universe.  Unflavored SMBC is the same thing.  It’s my favorite thing to put on red velvet cake, hands down.  But ALL of my SMBC has a ton of real, natural, fresh flavoring in it.

Now with that, read on.  See additional notes at the bottom of the tutorial.  END UPDATE

I use Swiss meringue buttercream exclusively on my cakes unless a customer requests otherwise.  Some of you may ask, what is it?  Well, Swiss Meringue buttercream is simply… awesome.  But let me explain, it’s NOT the super sugary-sweet frosting you’ve probably been eating most of your life.  That’s called American Buttercream.  It’s what most bakeries, supermarkets and most cupcake stores that I’ve been to  (unless they advertise differently) ice their cakes with.  American Buttercream is generally made out of shortening and powdered sugar, so don’t ask me how they get away with calling it “butter”cream, since most of the time it contains no butter whatsoever.  Sometimes they will use 1/2 shortening and 1/2 butter, but especially the larger chain bakeries use what’s called high-ratio shortening (which can contain trans-fats, despite the recent California ban).  Some bakeries don’t even use real cream cheese in their cream cheese icing, they use cream cheese flavor.  American Buttercream does have several benefits, it is easy to handle because the outside dries to a “crust”.  It has a much higher melting point because of the shortening so it can withstand being in warmer climates.  It can hold all kinds of shapes like sharp petals on a piped rose and can be super white because Crisco is white and so is powdered sugar.  Powdered sugar also dyes really well so it can be made into all kinds of colors using cheap food coloring and can be airbrushed on because of the crust.  It has a year-long shelf life (if not made with any butter) so cakes can be made days in advance and sit on the bakery shelves waiting for you to buy it.  But most of all, it’s cheap and super easy for the bakery to make, making it really easy on the decorator.  But lets be honest, it’s super sweet, gritty from the powdered sugar, and leaves that weird film in your mouth (from the shortening).  I mean, I like it on occasion since I was raised on it too, but ever since I tasted European buttercreams I’ve never looked back.

On the flip side, the Europeans have their own distinct meringue buttercreams that they have been making since the 1600’s, and it does not involve powdered sugar or Crisco.  There are 3 basic types, Italian, French and Swiss.  All three involve melting sugar adding it to eggs, whipping it into a meringue, then adding butter once the meringue is cooled.  The result is a light and smooth and it’s not super sweet.  It’s never gritty and it never dries out crusty.  Top bakers and professionals use this gourmet buttercream exclusively, like Ron Ben-Israel, who is the IT decorator in NYC.

It does have some downsides: it has a very distinct finish to it when smoothed onto a cake, it will never be super white because I use organic sugar and real butter, and it has a lower melting point so if it’s warm out (75d+) it can melt.  It takes patience and technique to make and it is also is meant to be eaten fresh.  It does not have the year-long shelf life that American Buttercream can have.  Personally, I don’t call that a “bad” thing.  In fact, I think food that never spoils is not food I want to eat!

Today I want to share with the world my unique recipe and detailed way explaining how I make it, because again, if you are so inclined to make this yourself, then you deserve down-to-earth instructions on how you can do it!  But if not, you have my number ;D.

Recipe ingredients

Jennifer Bratko‘s Swiss Meringue Buttercream

6.25 oz egg whites (by weight, not liquid volume.  Could be 5 eggs, could be 7, for best results always weigh if you can).
7 oz sugar (or 1 cup)
pinch of salt
1 lb of unsalted fine quality butter, 72 degrees or warmer

In a medium saucepan, put about an inch of water and bring to a boil.  In the mixing bowl of your Kitchen Aid, put your egg whites, sugar and salt and lightly whisk.  Then put your mixing bowl over your pot of boiling water.  Like so:


You need to keep the eggs moving with your whisk to prevent scrambling them, but you want to get the temperature of the eggs up to 160 degrees.  “But Wait!”, you say, “I don’t have a candy thermometer! How do I know the temperature?””  Well, the sugar will dissolve at 140 degrees, and your eggs will start to really steam and get foamy by 160.  As long as you are in this range you are fine!  It generally takes me about 3 minutes for one batch to get to temperature.

Remove your bowl from the pot of boiling water and pop it onto your Kitchen Aid stand mixer with the whisk attachment.  Beat on high until stiff peaks form and the bowl is cool to the touch. This may take 10 minutes or more. “Uh, Jen, I only have a hand mixer, can I still make this?”  Why, yes you can!  It just might take a little longer and you have to stand there.  A stand mixer allows me to channel my inner Ronco and “Set it, and FORGET IT!”

This is important – you have to get STIFF PEAKS with your meringue.  Sometimes I’ll even let my meringue (gasp!) deflate a bit. It IS possible to have a cool bowl and only medium peaks… If you can’t scoop your meringue to one side of the bowl and have it stay put, then it’s not stiff enough.  So channel your inner Dore and “Just keep mixing, just keep mixing…”

Stiff peaks

OK, stiff peaks reached… now swap out to a paddle attachment and add your room temperature butter. Yeah, dump the whole pound in there, I won’t mind, and neither will your meringue.   Mix on LOW. Yes, LOW. Not medium low, not #2, but the lowest setting your mixer has. “But wait!”, you say, “I’ve been mixing for 3 whole minutes and it looks weird!”   Yes my friend, it’s gonna look curdled and soupy.  That is exactly what it’s supposed to look like!

Science, baby.  Science is happening.  This step can take up to 15 minutes because you are creating an emulsion with eggs + sugar (which you did over the stove), then sugar/eggs + butter.  But butter is generally 80% fat, 20% water, so the fat from your butter is going to emulsify FIRST with your sugar/eggs, leaving the water content to bond last. You can’t rush it, you just need to let those molecules bond and do their thing. DON’T crank your mixer up on high because you are impatient! It will eventually come together, but it’ll be mad at you.  You broke it (the meringue) so it’ll give you the finger.  When you allow science to do it’s thing, you should get about 5 cups of fluffy, silky, sexy buttercream.  BUT, if you rush it, it’ll taste like sweetened gobs of butter, will be really yellow and opaque looking, and give you a full cup less in volume.

TIP! If you can pick your pieces of butter up with your fingers and it’s still firm-ish, your butter is too cold and will take much longer to emulsify. So for perfect results make sure that butter was pulled out the night before and is nice and soft.

“But wait!”, you say, “I forgot to pull it out the night before!” Try grating your cold butter with a cheese grater to maximize surface area to warm it up. Then let it sit to warm up for as long as possible before use.

Once you have light, fluffy smooth finished buttercream, you can add a whole variety of flavorings, spirits, purees, and chocolate to it.

So there you have it!  I hope this makes it as clear as possible to get best results, please post your successes, failures, and feed back below.

ADDITIONAL UPDATE 1/14/14: I have made more sweetened versions of this by adding as much as 14 oz. of sugar for one batch.  If you make as written and you want more sweet, you can tweak it a bit and in this case, add more sugar and come up with your own recipe!