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

Classic Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

Buttercream frosting is probably the most commonly used frosting out there, mainly because it is extremely versatile and pretty simple to make.  If you start with a vanilla base, you can add extracts, melted chocolate, frozen lemonade, mashed fruit, and even maple syrup to customize the flavor to you or your client’s liking.  My most common requests have been for the classics – vanilla and chocolate.  I recently made a batch for the cake I made for my family to celebrate Father’s Day so I even have some pictures to share.  Here’s the recipe:

You will need:

3 sticks unsalted butter

2 – 2 1/2 32oz bags of powdered sugar (depending on how stiff you want it)

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons vanilla extract

about 3/4 c of milk or heavy cream

This recipe yields about 7 cups.  Depending on how you plan to decorate, this should be plenty for a 8″ round, three layer cake.

**I recommend at the very least an electric hand mixer, if not a stand mixer.  There’s a lot of beating involved!

*** A note about the butter:  be sure it is UNsalted! If you use salted butter, it will taste different!  If all you have is salted or you bought it by accident, simply omit the addition of the 1/4 teaspoon of salt or you will have super salty frosting!

All Ingredients

First things first, lay out all of your ingredients to make sure you’ve got everything you need.  Luckily, the recipe does not have all that many to keep track of.  I also recommend leaving your butter out on the counter about a 1/2 hour before you’re going to use it to let it soften up a bit, although you can just microwave it if you forget to take it out ahead of time or it needs a little help.

Directions:

1. Place the sticks of butter onto a microwave safe plate.  Pop the butter in there for 15 second intervals.  The butter is soft enough when you can press your finger into it and it leaves in indent, but it doesn’t totally implode at your touch.  If you happen to melt your butter by accident, stick in the fridge for a couple of minutes to firm up a bit.  You need it to be stiff enough to whip up.  Add the butter into your mixer and begin whipping until it is light and fluffy, about 3 – 5 minutes.

Whipping the Butter2. Once the butter has whipped up, begin adding powdered sugar.  I recommend sifting the sugar before adding it to the butter.  Most lumps will come out while you beat it, but I think it combines better with the butter when it is sifted first.  I use my Bushia’s old school sifter.  Every time I use it, I remember what an amazing woman she was.

Sifting Powdered Sugar3. After you’ve sifted about half of the first bag, add it into the mixer on LOW speed.  Some of the sugar will fly out, but the lower speed helps keep it to a minimum.  After the first addition of powdered sugar, add about a tablespoon of milk with each new addition to help the sugar and butter continue to blend together so your mixer doesn’t work too hard.  You can also use heavy cream in place of milk; I find it creates a silkier texture and a slightly richer flavor.

Adding Sugar

4. After you’ve added the first bag of sugar, start on the next one and add the vanilla extract and salt. NO salt if you’ve got SALTED butter!  This is also the time where you can add the other extracts, fruit, syrup, or melted chocolate.  I don’t recommend adding food coloring until after the desired consistency is reached because adding more sugar will dilute the color.

5. Continue adding more powdered sugar until the desired consistency is reached.  If you want frosting that will hold its shape when piped, a good rule of thumb is to stick your large offset spatula straight up in the center of the frosting without the tip touching the bottom of the bowl.  If the spatula stays put, your frosting is ready.  If not, add more sugar and keep on beating.

6. After you add the color, you’re done!  It does take quite a bit of color to get it good and saturated.  I actually ran out of green food coloring while I was making this frosting so it wasn’t quite as dark as I wanted.  Luckily, with buttercreams, the color always deepens a bit so even if you’re not sure it’s quite dark enough, it will get a little darker by the next day, even after you put it on the cake.

Final Consistency

The frosting is ready to use as is.  Keep it in an airtight container on the counter out of direct sunlight.  Has a shelf life of about a week to ten days.  You can make it ahead and freeze it or stick it in the fridge if you’re worried about it being too hot in your house.  However, just make sure it comes completely to room temperature before you use it.  DO NOT MICROWAVE!  You will melt the butter and ruin your frosting!  You must have patience; leave it out a whole day or two before you want to use it.  After it warms up, re-beat the frosting to fluff it up to the right consistency again.

Voila!  Classic Vanilla Buttercream.  It’s not super sugary (despite the huge amount of sugar, weird huh?) and it tastes 10 million times better than the stuff that comes out of the can or the store bakery.  Give it a shot!  It’s pretty much impossible to mess up.

Go on!  Get your aprons dirty!  I want to see some powdered sugar hand prints on the fronts of those things!

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