Weekends / swiss meringue buttercream
Similar to how people say “life is what you make it,” so are weekends. I’m a freelance copywriter/content writer, which means I’m essentially glued to the computer around the clock. When you pair that with baking, it means that weekends don’t… really exist. Friday is a cake baker’s Monday. Sunday is Friday. But Monday is actually Monday, too, because that’s when the rest of the world works and will reply to emails.
It’s been an interesting transition, but in addition to being eternally exhausted, I’ve learned that you really have to force yourself to take little breaks. Don’t get me wrong: having such an open schedule allows for naps, which are the only things keeping me alive. God, I love naps.
And you know what naps are good for? Sleeping through hot weather. Which is what Vancouver has been experiencing. (Although I might have to change the tense of that sentence soon; I think summer is almost over here. You had a good run, Vancouver Summer 2018.)
Except you know what hot weather sucks for? Well, a number of things. I am honestly the biggest POS in hot weather. I hate being sticky and sweaty and inner thigh chafing (IT’S A THING—GET OVER IT). But it’s especially bad for American buttercream.
American buttercream is really just butter, icing sugar, a bit of salt, and sometimes a bit of milk or cream if you’re feeling saucy. It’s not particularly great in warm weather. It gets—how should we put this—blobby. I had to transport a cake a couple of weeks ago and made the mistake of sticking with my trusty American buttercream recipe. Only 25 minutes were spent in the car, with the air conditioning blasting so hard that I couldn’t feel my feet anymore, but the cake still lost a bit of its structural integrity. So needless to say, I had to switch it up.
Enter: Swiss meringue buttercream.
Similar to French or Italian meringue buttercream (more on these babies later), Swiss meringue buttercream uses egg whites, which creates stability. Without getting too science-y (because I won’t front: I am not a science-y minded human), Swiss meringue buttercream is great for cakes that need to be out of the fridge and on display. It’s perfect for weddings and the like. I was initially a little intimated to try a new buttercream recipe for an order, and while it’s a little more labour-intensive than American buttercream it is SO. MUCH. BETTER.
Light as a cloud, dreamily spreadable, and not sickeningly sweet. I am a believer. Let us pray at the altar of Swiss meringue buttercream.
So, first, you need to whisk egg whites and sugar in a makeshift bain-marie (so a clean, grease-free metal bowl that fits snuggly over small pot). The egg whites need to cook so it can be safely consumed, though pasteurized egg whites are technically good to go. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve eaten raw egg and I’m fotally tine. Not condoning it or anything. It’s just something I do.
But I digress.
The sugar should fully dissolve in the egg whites as you whisk it. The temperature of the mixture should reach 140 F. Once one of those things happen, remove the bowl from the heat and whisk it on high on your stand mixer until it forms stiff peaks. This can take a while, like 15 to 20 minutes. So do the dishes. Watch an episode of Friends. Take a quick shower. Or something.
When that’s good to go, switch to the paddle attachment and mix on low while slowly adding your butter (room temperature) to the egg-sugar mixture. Most recipes suggest that you cube your butter, but I am a lazy and impatient person, so I add it in big chunks.
At this point, your buttercream will look a little soupy. Keep mixing. Then it’ll look a little chunky or curdled. Keep mixing. I know it’s off-putting, but that’s just how it goes.
Eventually, it’ll turn into silky, dreamy, sensual (what?) Swiss meringue buttercream. It’s like magic, and it’s one of the most satisfying things to watch happen.
Swiss Meringue Buttercream
Makes about 5 cups
150 grams of egg whites
250 grams of white sugar
340 grams of butter, softened and cubed
Vanilla, to taste
1. Put small sauce pan and fill with water 1/4 way full; bring to a low boil.
2. Whisk egg whites and sugar into mixing bowl, and place over sauce pan. The mixing bowl should fit snuggly over the pan, and the water should not touch the bottom of the bowl.
3. Continue to whisk until sugar has fully incorporated into the egg whites; if the mixture still feels grainy, keep whisking, or until mixture reaches 140F. Remove from heat.
4. With the whisk attachment, whisk the egg-sugar mixture on medium-high in a stand mixer until stiff peaks form.
5. Replace whisk attachment with paddle attachment with speed on low, and add butter slowly into the egg-sugar mixture. At this point, your buttercream may appear soupy—this is normal. Continue to whisk until it comes together.
6. Flavour buttercream.