Tag Archive: from scratch


Rant: “Salted Caramel”

Even the President has gone crazy for Salted Caramels

Even the President has gone crazy for Salted Caramels

OK people, we need to have a heart to heart.  There is a trend right now with “Salted Caramel”.  Look!  Salted caramel cake!  Oh boy!  Salted caramel mocha!  Wow!  Salted caramel ice cream! Sigh.

Gross.  Seriously people?  GROSS. This trend has been driving me batshit.

“Salted caramel” is NOT supposed to just be salt-y caramel.  Salted caramel is divine.  Salt-y caramel is disgusting!  What’s the difference?  Well, it seems this all started in France, where a famous candy store started sprinkling fleur de sel on their caramels.  The fad took hold and now every idiot from Starbucks to Wal Mart is adding a ton of salt to their caramel-flavored stuff and is selling to it the masses like it’s some gourmet flavor that has recently been invented.  Ug.    Call it “Salted Caramel” or “Salted Chocolate” and people are snatching it up and handing over fistfulls of cash.

OK, the soap box is out – and here you go… Salted caramel is regular caramel that has rock salt, fleur de sel, or another non-processed salt added at the end either on top as a finishing salt or it is folded in past the stage where the salt can dissolve and incorporate fully into the item.  You have to use specific types of salts that do not melt or dissolve so they remain in large crystals.  You do NOT want it to effect the overall composition of your treat and make it salty.

Why?  When your teeth bite into a crystal of salt while a sweet thing is in your mouth, it gives a jolt to your palate intensifying whatever you are eating.    It’s a trick on your taste buds and pleasure receptors.  This is an experience that does not happen with a big’ole spoonfull of table salt added to super sweet Criscocream icing, table salt added to the fake caramel syrup in your caramel mocha, or the table salt that Wal Mart is throwing in their cheap-ass ice cream.

PS – I’ve always had a salted chocolate cake on my menu, only I called it “Dark Chocolate Fleur De Sel” because I actually spend the money on imported fleur de sel from France.  But as a test, I changed the name of the cake to “Salted Dark Chocolate” and left the cupcakes called “Dark Chocolate Fleur De Sel” in February, just to see if people would respond better to the words.  Same recipe, same cake presentation, same cupcakes.  Guess what my #1 seller was last month?

Fleur De Sel... I mean Salted Dark Chocolate :D

Fleur De Sel... I mean Salted Dark Chocolate 😀

Yup.  It’s a damn tasty cake, but still, I was very surprised at how many I sold just by changing the name.  So OK, I’m not above riding a fad to sell my cake, so I am permanently changing the name of both the cake and cupcakes.  AND… as an added bonus, introducing…

Salted Caramel

Salted Caramel Cupcakes - Devil's food cake with a salted caramel Swiss meringue buttercream made with imported fleur de sel.

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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.)

Ingredients

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 😀

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 Weather.com 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.  Weather.com 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:

Ghetto!

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!