Basket Weave Orchid Wedding Cake with SMBC

As I mentioned previously, Swiss Meringue Buttercream (SMBC) is my absolute favorite frosting.  It is so unbelievably good, once you try it you will NEVER want a different kind of frosting again.  I first discovered SMBC when I was preparing for my wedding cake back in 2012 and I have never looked back.  It may come off as a tricky frosting at first, but it is really not that bad to make and it is actually quite forgiving.  So, as promised, here the is post on SMBC!

My dear brother and wonderful sister-in-law have been married for five years now, however, they never really got to properly celebrate with the extended family due to circumstances beyond their control.  Long story short, my brother was in the Marine Corps stationed in California, was about to be deployed, and wanted to make it official with his sweetie before he went overseas.  So my dad and I hopped on a plane and had the privilege and pleasure of being present at their wedding, which was really heart-felt and sweet.  Unfortunately, all the other family members and friends in the Midwest did not get to come.

All smiles after the ocean-side ceremony!

So, in honor their five year anniversary (and for an awesome excuse to have a party) they decided to have their wedding reception.  Naturally, they asked me to do the cake and I was super pumped.  The cake was a three-tier, fresh raspberry cake with fresh raspberry filling, and mint SMBC.  I did a basket-weave pattern on all three tiers and added (fake) orchid blossoms.  It turned out really pretty and quite delicious.

Orchid Basket Cake

Bride and Groom

My brother is such a dork…

Now, without further ado, the SMBC!  Below is the recipe I used for this cake.  I ended up with about 3 cups of frosting left over.

Mint Swiss Meringue Buttercream Frosting

Ingredients/Equipment

15 egg whites, LARGE ONLY, room temperature

3 3/4 cups granulated sugar

9 sticks of UNSALTED butter, room temperature, cut into cubes

*A note on the butter:  Please DO NOT substitute salted butter in this recipe.  The added salt will bring out the butter flavor WAY too much and no amount of flavoring will mask it!  Trust me on this.  The first time I made SMBC I only made a tiny batch to test out the technique.  I didn’t want to run to the store for unsalted butter so I used the salted butter my mom had in her fridge.  YUCK.  The texture was great and I could see the potential for the frosting, but it tasted like whipped butter.  Once again, DO NOT use salted butter!

a pinch of salt

2 teaspoons mint extract

Electric mixer with whipping attachment, beating attachment, and detachable mixing bowl.

Spatula

Wire whisk

Large sauce pan, which you will place your mixing bowl on top of; make sure it’s a snug fit.

Lemon juice

Ingredients

As with any recipe, lay out all of your ingredients to make sure you have everything you need.  You don’t want to be running to the store for more butter halfway through the recipe!

The first thing you want to do with Swiss Meringue Buttercream, and you absolutely MUST do this, is lay out your equipment and wipe EVERYTHING down with lemon juice.  This eliminates any traces of grease that may be present which would ruin your meringue and thus destroy your SMBC.  DO NOT FORGET TO WIPE EVERYTHING!  The saucepan, the whisk… EVERYTHING!

Put about an inch of water in the sauce pan and get it simmering, but not boiling.  You want it to make steam, but not bubble up and splash.  Place your room temperature egg whites and sugar in the mixing bowl from your mixer and place on top of the sauce pan with simmering water.  Using a wire whisk, whisk constantly until the sugar is completely dissolved and the egg whites are hot.  To test if the sugar is fully dissolved, stick a clean finger in there and rub some of the mix between your thumb and forefinger – you should not feel any grains of sugar.  If you feel grains, keep whisking; if it’s smooth as silk, you’re ready for the next step!

Simmer Whites and Sugar

Bring your mixing bowl over to your mixer and while using the whisk attachment, begin to whip your egg whites and sugar mixture until the meringue is thick, glossy, and the bottom of your mixing bowl feels room temperature to the touch.  FYI, this can take a while.  Most recipes I’ve seen call for up to 10 minutes, but every time I’ve made SMBC, it takes me at least 20 – 30 before the meringue is stiff enough.  Could be because of strength of my mixer, my crappy whisk attachment, or kitchen environment.  I don’t know, but if it takes longer than 10 minutes, do not panic!  Keep on whipping!  You’ll know it’s the right thickness when you can make medium-stiffness peaks in the meringue.  If you reach proper thickness and the bowl still feels warm, stopping mixing and let the bowl cool off.  You do NOT want to add butter until the bowl is room temperature because it will melt!

The Whipping Process

Now that your bowl is room temperature and your meringue is gorgeous, you can begin to add butter.  And yes, it is a lot of butter.  This frosting is not for people on any sort of diet.  Switch to your mixing beaters instead of the whisk and turn on the mixer to low.  Add butter one cube at a time, incorporating between each addition.  This is the scary part of making SMBC.  Adding the butter ends up being not pretty for a while – your frosting will look like cottage cheese for a few minutes.  You may find yourself thinking, “What have I done?!”  Once again, DO NOT PANIC!  Keep on mixing!  It will come together, and it if doesn’t it could be a number of factors which I don’t have the time or expertise to diagnose, however, if you follow the recipe carefully, it should be fine!  My overall advice is have hope and keep on mixing!  Also, it doesn’t hurt to consult the All-Knowing Google Machine for trouble-shooting wisdom on the subject. Continue adding butter until you run out and continue mixing until the SMBC magically turns into velvety goodness.  This can also take upwards of 10 minutes.

Adding Butter

Once your SMBC baby has reached the velvety smooth texture you’re seeking, add the flavoring extract of your choosing and the pinch of salt.  Continue to beat on low speed until well combined.  It is at this point that you can add additional flavor extracts, fruit purees, or melted chocolate to achieve the perfect SMBC of your dreams.

If you’re not using it right away, store it in an air-tight container in the fridge.  Just be sure to bring it to room temperature and re-whip it before you use it on your cake.  As I mentioned in my post on American Buttercream, do not, I repeat, DO NOT microwave the frosting!  I know it takes forever to come to room temperature if you just set it out on the counter, but you must be patient!  You do not want to melt the frosting you worked so hard to make!

That being said, keep in mind that this frosting is essentially all butter, therefore, it does not hold up particularly well in hot or humid environs.  If you’re doing a wedding cake, say, in the middle of July, like I did, keep the cake in an air-conditioned room or the fridge if it will fit until right before you serve the cake.  That way, the frosting will retain its shape and yummy texture.  Nobody likes melted frosting, so be sure to err on the side of caution!

What else can I say?  Swiss Meringue Buttercream is AMAZING and everyone should try it at least once!  But beware, once you have SMBC, you won’t want anything else!

If you have further questions or for trouble-shooting tips, check out these excellent blog posts on the subject:

Sweetapolita – SMBC and Happy Cake Bakes – SMBC

Raspberry Mulberry Cake

Happy Independence Day, everyone!

Looks like it is going to be a gorgeous day to celebrate our country’s independence.  For me however, this is the first year I will actually be celebrating the holiday for its intended purpose.  You see, July 4th always meant something different in our family.  Sure, our celebrations included family gathering, sweltering in the hot Grand Rapids sun, and cooking various foods on a grill.  It even included fireworks.  But it also meant cake and a lot of candles and it meant celebrating a remarkable life – it meant it was time to celebrate Bushia’s birthday.  “Bushia” is the three-generations-of-Americans version of the Polish word for “grandmother”.

My bushia was born July 4th, 1918 and was one of the most wonderful, amazing, multi-faceted people I ever knew.  She lived in a time where she remembered the doctor coming to her house in a horse and buggy to deliver her siblings.  One of her brothers, who was born premature, was placed in a box with blankets on their wood stove and he lived.  Bushia only went to school until 8th grade, and later earned her high school diploma when her youngest daughter graduated high school and her eldest daughter graduated college.  She was devoted to her faith, but was never preachy about it, and prayed the rosary every day while she walked on her treadmill.  She married my grandfather, a WWII Veteran, in 1947, and they had seven children.  She used to complain at 60 years old that she would never have any grandchildren – she ended up with 18 of us. That’s 23 of us now if you include our spouses.  Not long ago, she began accumulating great-grandchildren, 10 of them, and became known as “Bushia the Great.”

Bushia 2

Bushia passed away last year; one week after making her 96th birthday; one week after the whole family gathered one last time.  The funniest part about it is that she had been ready to go for years; she often said so.  But it was last year that her age, and her complications from having cancer, seemed to finally catch up with the fast paced woman.  She was 71 years old when I was born, so I count myself lucky every single day that I had her in my life for 25 years.  She was a true spit fire, an independent, opinionated woman with great insights on life.  I miss her every day.  This July 4th will be hard, as it is our first without her, so I did what I do best – I baked a cake.

Finished Cake

I didn’t specifically make the cake for her, but I thought of her all the while I made it.  She was a great baker.  She taught my dad everything he knows, which he passed down to me.  He is now the keeper of her sacred recipe box so if I ever need a recipe, I just give him a call when before I used to call her.  Plus, one of my best memories growing up is picking mulberries from the tree in her backyard.  All of us cousins loved those things.  We never failed to come back to the house with purple-stained fingers, toes, lips, and clothes.  There are several mulberry bushes along the path that we walk our dog and every time I see them, I think of summers at Bushia’s house picking the berries.  So this week I picked some and planned to eat them in some way – I ended up making a cake, two actually.  I wanted to try out a recipe I had found for a raspberry cake which I intended to use for my brother and sister-in-law’s five-year anniversary cake later this month.  I had raspberries and mulberries, so I went for it.

Raspberry Cake

1 cup raspberries

1 tablespoon water

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons sugar, divided

1 tablespoons baking power

1 teaspoon salt

1 stick unsalted butter, softened

4 egg whites, lightly whisked and room temperature

1 cup whole milk, room temperature

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon raspberry extract

Food coloring, red or pink, optional

As it turns out, the recipe is good, but the method is not.  Most cakes follow the pattern of beat the butter, add sugar and beat more, add eggs one at a time, add dry and wet ingredients, alternating in 3 and 2 parts.  This one was a little different, but I figured I would try it out the way the recipe was written for the raspberry cake and try the “normal” way for the mulberry cake.

I ended up making two two-layer 6 inch cakes, 4 inches tall each.  The raspberry turned out a nice shade of pink and the mulberry turned out a gorgeous purple.  So what did I do?  I torted each layer and stacked them all on top of each other because I’m crazy and apparently wanted a ridiculously tall cake.  The recipe yielded very moist, dense cake, which I like.  The raspberry wasn’t as strong as I would have liked, so I will tweak that.  Honestly, for the mulberry, it didn’t taste like the berries, it just had the extra kick of sugary sweetness, which is not a bad thing.  I would compare the texture and flavor of the cakes to red velvet, just without the hint of cocoa.  Overall, very good.  I will definitely store this one away for future use.  The way the recipe was written turned out fine, but the “normal” way with the mulberry cake fluffed up a bit more.  The raspberry cake just stopped level with the top of the cake pan.  I took pictures of the raspberry cake while I was prepping it, so I will follow those directions.

First, you’re going to want to cook the berries to release the yummy juices.  Put the berries, the small amount of sugar, and water in a sauce pan.  Stir until it starts simmering and cook about 10 – 15 minutes to release all the juices.  Take the sauce off the heat and let cool a bit.  Then, take a sieve and place it over a bowl to catch the juices.  Pour the berries into the sieve and press with a spoon to get all the juice out.  This can take some time.  A little pulp is okay, but you want to make sure you don’t have too many seeds, or in the case of the mulberries, any stems in the cake.  With the raspberry, I actually scooped about half the pulp into the cake.  I like the texture the seeds lend.

The Berries

Meanwhile, mix the dry ingredients in your mixing bowl.  Then, add the softened butter and beat lightly until you have pea-sized butter chunks throughout the batter.  Do not mix until smooth.  After that, add the lightly whisked egg whites, milk, and vanilla extract in two parts, mixing between additions.  Lastly, add the berries.  Use a little bit of red or pink food coloring if the color isn’t dark enough for you.  Keep in mind that colors bake out of cakes, so always go a little darker than you think.

Mixing

Bake in two 6” round cake pans at 350 for 40-45 minutes.  Turn the cakes out on wire wracks and let cool.  Then, you can begin stacking.  I used an 8 inch cake board.  Spread a little frosting on the bottom to help “glue” the cake to the board and prevent sliding.  Then, stack away!  Put a thin layer of frosting between each cake.  I would not suggest using filling of any kind for a cake this tall.  Slippage would be inevitable.  If you make a cake half this height, be sure to pipe a tall circle of icing about a half inch inside the edge of the cake to prevent the filling from oozing out.  When the cake is stacked, place the center dowel and measure it a little below the surface of the cake.  This dowel will help keep the cake stable at this height.  Put on the crumb coat and stick it in the fridge for a few minutes.  Then, add another layer of frosting, keeping it as smooth as you can.  Now you can decorate as you see fit!

Cake Building

Cake turned out pretty girly and cute. I rather like how it turned out. My only regret is that I didn’t quite have enough frosting to get the outside totally smooth.  I wanted to save it for the roses on top.  Not bad for throwing together a cake with leftover frosting I needed to use up.

After the Cut

This one’s for you, Bushia!  I love you and miss you every day.

Bushia and Cake

Have a great weekend all!

Some More Cakes

First up are the cupcakes I did for a recent craft fair.  I did three different flavors, all filled, about 110 cupcakes.  What was I thinking!?  It was actually a lot of fun and my mom helped.  After I decorated the cakes, she packaged them, which made it go much faster!  The first was carrot cake with vanilla buttercream frosting, and vanilla buttercream filling.  The second flavor was blue velvet cake with lemon buttercream frosting, and blueberry filling.  The third flavor was chocolate chunk cake with chocolate almond buttercream frosting, and raspberry filling.  They were a hit!  I would love to do another craft fair, but have been unable to find another one in the area that accommodates bakers who operate under the Michigan Cottage Food Law.  Bummer.

Cupcakes

This is the fresh strawberry cake with strawberry filling, frosted with vanilla buttercream, and garnished with fresh strawberries.  I must say, it was a little tricky to get those suckers to stick the frosting because they were so juicy!  Luckily after I laid the slices on paper towel to soak up some of the juice, they stuck just fine.  I was asked to make it for a former co-worker.  The banner says, “Best of Luck!”.

Strawberry Cake

These are a couple of other rose cakes I’ve done.  As you can probably tell, I’m a big fan of this technique.  It’s pretty easy to do, forgiving if you goof up, and looks so pretty.  First one is a blue velvet cake with blueberry filing made for my husband’s co-worker.  Second one is Mary Todd Lincoln vanilla almond cake with Swiss meringue buttercream frosting that I made for my 25th birthday.

Rose Cakes

Last is a cake my mom hired me to do for her church.  The top half is chocolate and the bottom half is marble, both with vanilla pudding for the filling.  I cut the cake to replicate the front of the church and piped the front windows as well.

Church Cake

A Few Cakes I’ve Done

Just thought I’d post a couple of pictures of some of the cakes I’ve done.

First one was for my dad’s retirement.  It’s three 8″ red velvet cakes, torted, with alternating frosting and sweet cherry filling.  Buttercream frosting.  He loves to golf, so I wanted to do a golf themed cake and cupcakes.  Used a grass tip to create the grass, small chocolate cookies for the holes, white chocolate truffles for the golf balls, and crushed graham crackers for the sand traps.  This cake was a lot of fun, but it hurt my hand so bad after doing all that grass!

Next are a couple of birthday cakes I’ve done for clients.  First one was chocolate cake and chocolate buttercream frosting.  The next was white cake with vanilla buttercream.

Quarter Sheet BirthdayVine Birthday Cake

This was a Welcome, Baby! cake I made for a co-worker’s nephew and his baby. Sheet cake was marble cake, the lower tier was yellow cake, and the top tier was chocolate cake, all with vanilla buttercream.  The rattles are cake pops, just one larger and one smaller on each end.

Welcome Baby Cake

Last one was a cake I made for my work Christmas party.  I wanted to try my hand at a checkered inside with red and green velvet cake with chocolate almond buttercream frosting.  The “pinecones” are made out of conical shaped chocolate fudge blobs with sliced almonds glued to them with melted chocolate.  I sprinkled rosemary on top to look like pine needles. Turned out pretty awesome!

Christmas Pine Tree Cake

Marshmallow Fondant Cake

Many people may have heard that (typically) fondant does not taste good.  I myself have never had it, so I couldn’t tell you.  I can tell you, however, that Marshmallow Fondant or, MMF, is quite tasty.  It is also pretty simple to make.

You need:

1 16oz bag of mini marshmallows

6oz of semi-sweet chocolate chips *For Dark Colors*

6oz of white chocolate chips (if you want chocolate fondant, but not dark)

3 Tablespoons clear corn syrup *For Dark Colors or Chocolate*

1 32oz bag powdered sugar

1/4 cup or more of shortening

First, grease the crap out of a large microwave safe bowl, pour in the marshmallows and microwave in 30 second intervals until they’re melted, about 1.5 minutes.  At this point, if you’re going the dark color route (or the white chocolate route), you add in the chocolate chips and stir until they’re melted.  You may need to microwave it a little more.  Keep stirring until all the marshmallows and chocolate are melted.  Add clear corn syrup at this point to keep the fondant from getting too stiff with the chocolate.  If you like, you can also add food coloring if you need a specific color, or you can add it later.

Then, stir in about half a bag of powdered sugar with a wooden spoon literally dunked in shortening.  Add the rest of the powdered sugar gradually until you have a thick dough.  Turn the marshmallow goo out onto a powdered sugar dusted counter top and begin kneading.  I suggest greasing your hands with shortening for this part; it does seem to help with the stickiness.  Once you reach a good consistency (think stretchy, but not weak or super sticky), form it into a ball and slather with more shortening.  Wrap it in plastic wrap and let it cool to room temperature before you roll it out or leave it on the counter in an air-tight container until the next day.  DO NOT REFRIDGERATE.  It will harden way too much!  Plus, condensation is the enemy of MMF!

If you go to use the fondant the next day, you may need to microwave it a little in order to achieve the right consistency again.  Do it for about ten seconds and then knead it out again.  At this point, you can add color if you didn’t already.  To add color, use a toothpick to apply the desired amount into the fondant and then knead away until the color is even, or go for a marbled look.

Pretty messy and sticky, but definitely tasty and relatively simple to make. The first time I used MMF, I was surprised at how easy it was.  The only problem I had was that I left it a bit thick when I put it on the cake, which I have since been more cautious about when I roll it out.  I made a two-tier chocolate chunk birthday cake with strawberry filling for a coworker of my husband’s.  It turned out quite well!  I did an 8″ and a 6″ tier, crumb coated with chocolate buttercream frosting.  I rolled out my fondant and added another coat of frosting, which I tried my best to make completely smooth, right before I covered the layers so the fondant would adhere to the frosting better.  Once again I visited the University of YouTube to learn the best ways to cover a round cake with fondant and the best way to wrap a strip of fondant around the top tier for the bow.  Ultimately, it turned out really well, especially for my first fondant cake.  I’d love to eventually take a fondant class to learn more techniques, including how to make a proper bow or flowers. Check out the cake!

Fondant Cake 1Fondant Cake 2

The Second Cake

After my wedding cake, I was approached by friends to do their wedding cake.  The groom’s mom remembered that I had done my wedding cake, so she suggested they ask me to do theirs.  I was a bit nervous, but also thrilled to be asked.  I agreed, and did it as my gift to them.  They wanted a vanilla almond cake, with almond buttercream frosting, and Bavarian cream filling.

**Just as a note, this was about a year BEFORE I became a Cottage Food Business.  Under the MCFL, I am NOT allowed to use frosting or filling that requires refrigeration to maintain food safety.  This means that I am NOT allowed to sell anyone a cake with Bavarian cream filling.  Bummer, I know, because that stuff is delicious!  So, if you are wanting Bavarian Cream filling, I unfortunately cannot do that for you.**

Disclaimer aside,  let me get back to the cake at hand.

As for sizing, they wanted a six-inch cake for them to cut (and have all to themselves) and 150 cupcakes for their guests.  So, I started hunting for recipes for Vanilla Almond cake and I found an awesome recipe. It’s called the Mary Todd Lincoln Vanilla Almond cake and it is so good you’ll jump at any opportunity to bake it.  I found the recipe after much Googling at bakethiscake.com. However, instead of using a tube pan as the recipe calls for, I made the six-inch cake and cupcakes.  It actually converted quite well to different pan sizes.  Pair this cake with almond buttercream frosting and Bavarian cream filling… OMG.  Best cake ever.  I even had people tell me at the wedding it was the best cake they had ever eaten.  Definite confidence booster.  It was official, other people besides my family and friends thought my cake was good.  Yay!

The First Cake

It was a fun, stressful, labor intensive process, but it turned out great and really showed me that I could do this as a business.  Not long after their wedding, I began the process of figuring out how I could become a business, and found the Michigan Cottage Food Law.  At times the law is tricky and annoying, but it’s the best way for me to pursue what I love to do!

 

The First Cake

I have loved baking and decorating cakes and cookies since I was a kid, but it never occurred to me that I could do that for other people, for money, until some friends asked me to do their wedding cake.  And why did they ask me to do their cake? Because I had done my wedding cake a couple of months prior.  I must say, the cake did turn out awesome, especially since it was my first “real” attempt at a cake.  And, compared to my prior attempts, it was infinitely better.  The first time I even tried a two-tier cake it turned out pretty pathetic.  It wasn’t even, the edges weren’t sharp, the frosting wasn’t very nice or smooth and my piping was dreadful!  However low-grade my effort was, I was determined to hone my skills.

Oh, the poor thing!

Oh, the poor thing!

I attended the “University of YouTube” (as my husband and I lovingly refer to said website) and studied up on some basic techniques.  I also found a frosting, Swiss Meringue Buttercream (SMBC), which is my all-time favorite frosting recipe EVER, but unfortunately, due to the MCFL regulations, I am not allowed to sell to my customers. :C  But, I will gush about SMBC anyway in a future post because it is awesome and not that hard for any baker to make.

Sorry to say I did not make the cake itself from scratch, but I had my reasons.  I was planning my wedding, baking and decorating the cake the morning of, we made the food, flower arrangements, and bouquets, too!  AGH!  What was I thinking?  I didn’t really want to spend the extra time to bake the cake from scratch.  Not saying that box cakes aren’t sometimes good, but with certain brands, you really can tell it’s not homemade.  So, without further ado, the cake!

Our Wedding Cake.  Cupcakes not made by me.

Our Wedding Cake. Cupcakes not made by me.

I made a three-tier white cake with vanilla Swiss meringue buttercream frosting.  No filling.  It was the first time, and only time, I have done a three-tier cake (so far anyway).  My husband drove and I ended up carrying it on top of a piece of plywood 20 minutes to the reception hall the morning of the wedding. Yikes!  The worst car ride of my life!  Lucky for me, there was no slippage or spillage or smudging of any kind.  Thank the Cake Gods!  I had my mom pick up three white roses (the stems I wrapped in foil before sticking them in the cake) and ta da! the cake was done.  A local grocery store made the cupcakes (150 of ’em) in our wedding colors, purple and green.

This cake has it flaws, which I see every time I look at the picture, but I made it with love and it turned out tasty and that’s what’s most important.  I’m pretty darn proud of my n00b cake.