Everyone has their own sins in the kitchen and mine is butter. It is a staple item in my fridge, no wonder I need to go on a diet from time to time. Butter goes well with nearly everything: pasta, fish, vegetable dishes and especially cakes, where it works well both in the batter and in the cream. When it comes to buttercream, there are several ways to prepare it. My very favourite recipe for it is Swiss Meringue buttercream. I learned the procedure years ago from a youtube video and have used it ever since.
What’s so wonderful about Swiss Meringue buttercream is that it is fairly easy to make and has a beautiful texture. It pipes easily, allowing to make any kind of decoration with it. Its only drawback is that buttercream is extremely temperature sensitive, so working with it on a cake in a warm room may require a few breaks in the fridge to let the cake cool down. Once left in the fridge, the cream hardens a bit and the whole cake will immediately settle. Being egg-white based, Swiss Meringue buttercream can be pretty white (provided a butter light in colour is used, otherwise it will take the yellowish shade of the butter), thus proving excellent also when coloured, as the colours will not be too altered. But the best version possible, to me, is Swiss Meringue buttercream combined with chocolate, which I used on my latest cake.
Swiss Meringue Buttercream is made of three ingredients following this proportion:
- x egg whites
- 2x confectioner’s sugar
- 4x butter (room temperature)
Were “x” stands for the weight of the egg whites. The weight of the icing sugar will be double the weight of the eggs, and the weight of the butter will be four times that of the eggs. Say, if you have 50 g of egg whites, you will use 100 g of sugar and 200 g of butter. For my latest cake I used 64 g egg whites, 128 g confectioner’s sugar and 256 g butter.
Plain white buttercream tastes better if some vanilla is added, to soften the taste of butter and enhance the sweetness of the sugar. When making chocolate buttercream vanilla is not needed, as chocolate will already dominate in taste. For my cake I used 100 g of dark chocolate. The quantity of the chocolate can vary according to taste, virtually there is no limit to the amount of chocolate one can add.
To make chocolate buttercream, start by melting the chocolate and setting it aside to let it cool down to room temperature. In a bowl over simmering water combine the egg whites and sugar with a hand whisk, and keep mixing until the mixture is homogeneous and no lumps of sugar are left, always over simmering water. The mixture is ready when it appears smooth to the touch and you can’t feel the graininess of the sugar. Take away from the heat and transfer to another bowl, where the butter will be incorporated. Now switch to an electric hand mixer and start beating the egg and sugar mixture until it cools down to room temperature – it may take up to 10-15 minutes. The mixture will change in colour and texture, becoming a very white satin meringue. Only when it has cooled off, the butter can be added. Still keeping the mixer at medium speed, incorporate the butter by small chunks, one after the other. The mixture may stay pretty liquid until almost all the butter is added – nothing to worry about. Get to the very last chunk of butter while still mixing at medium speed and the mixture will change in texture and become creamy. If it doesn’t happen, it means that the butter was too soft. Set in the fridge for a couple of minutes and then beat in more butter until the right consistency is reached.
To make chocolate buttercream, this is when the chocolate is added: once the buttercream is done, pour in the melted chocolate and mix until combined. The result will be a brown fluffy and soft cream that will spread marvellously.
To my taste, this cream is too heavy for filling a whole cake, so I prefer to use it to cover cakes that I have filled with a lighter type of cream. It works very well also on cupcakes, especially given its pipeability: it allows to create decorations that are also delicious to eat.
Buttercream naturally hardens a little in the fridge, and adding chocolate this cream will get even firmer. This is why I really like it for the sides of cakes: once cooled in the fridge, the cake will nicely hold its shape, making it easier to transport. While it’s better to let it harden a little in order to pipe it, this cream works well also when it’s soft. For example, I decorated my latest cake with a wave pattern that I achieved by gently pressing a sheet of parchment paper to the smoothed top of the cake, and gently lifted from all four corners sliding them towards the centre. Simple but smashing!