Tuesday, November 22, 2005
(Note the newly broken whip? Just in time for the holidays. Grr.)
Last night I hauled home piles of groceries from the store, baked cornbread and tore up white bread for stuffing, made cranberry sauce, cooked sweet potatoes for pie, gathered my recipes, and made buttercream for a chocolate cake.
I have vague ideas about a book I would like to write one day called "French Pastries in Ten Recipes." Basically, there aren't that many things you need to know how to do to make most traditional pastries. You just have to learn the basic recipes and then combine and flavor them in different ways. And one of the basics is buttercream.
A lot of people are intimidated by buttercream, and I'm not sure why. There's a common idea that it is fussy and requires a candy thermometer and an advanced degree and possible a sacrifice to St. Honore or something. Not true. Not true at all.
At the bakery where I once worked, we made buttercream by putting all the ingredients in the big mixer, lighting a few Sternos under the bowl to warm it all up, and letting 'er rip. It always came out just fine.
Here's my buttercream recipe:
4 large egg whites (if you use extra large, you might need a touch more butter)
1 cup sugar
3.5 sticks unsalted butter, room temp
Put the egg whites and sugar in a bowl over some simmering water. Whisk until the mixture is warm and the sugar is dissolved. Remove from the heat, and whip (preferably with a machine of some kind) until cool. Add in the butter in chunks, and whip until thoroughly combined. If it seems a little stiff, warm it a bit and whip some more. Medium on a stand mixer is best; high will give you some big air bubbles, which only matters if you're doing smallish piping. If it seems a little melty, put it in the fridge, let it cool a bit, then whip again. Buttercream will always come together eventually, it just has to be the right temperature (just a bit higher that room temp is good.) If you make ahead, you will need to warm it a bit and rewhip for the best texture.
You can flavor this basic buttercream any which way. I'm planning on adding melted bittersweet chocolate and a little instant coffee dissolved in a tablespoon of Kalhua to this batch. (If I were making this for adults only, I would use bitter chocolate, but bittersweet will yield a more child-friendly result.) As long as you stay under two tablespoons of liquid, you're fine. Extracts, purees, concentrates, liqueurs - add what you like. One of my best buttercreams included nearly a cup of dried apricots, made soft with a soak in rum and simple syrup, then pureed.
Tonight I'll make the cake.