Tag Archive: Swiss meringue


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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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!