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

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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

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.