i’ve been off my feet for about three and a half weeks now. i had to have a foot op to repair some damage i did last year running for the gautrain. i have learnt, in the time i have been stuck in my bed, that when your mother says not to run, she’s not flippin’ kidding.
since i can’t get into the kitchen (which believe me after more than three weeks is causing serious stress) i have no choice but to regale you with stories of baking past.
today i have chosen french buttercream as a talking point. you relax…i’ll do all the talking.
i have mentioned before that i am not a great fan of icing. most of the cakes that you buy at coffee shops and home industries have that icing sugar bite to them, making the toping more of a paste than a cream. added to this i have married into a family that choose a “middle-cut” when choosing cake pieces. what is a “middle-cut”? its a piece of cake with icing on the top only. they aren’t fans of icing either.
so if icing is meant to enhance a cake why do we end up scraping it off? well i think this is mainly because the focus has changed to dressing cakes up instead of making them more delicious. adding more icing sugar to the icing gives you a stiffer end product which holds itself better. this is all well and good but when your guests hand back side plates with scraping of icing on it thats just wastage and you know how i feel about that.
so for the most part i avoid icing. i was happy to discover cream cheese icing because it was more creamy than pasty. also i add much less icing sugar than the recipe stipulates. i baked a chocolate guinness cake for my sisters baby shower last year. the icing was too soft to hold the piped icing shapes that i used to decorate it but there was no left over icing on the side-plates. i know we eat with our eyes and i always appreciate beautifully presented baked things but in my personal capacity i’m not willing to sacrifice taste for looks. i feel like i may be coming off a bit strongly on this topic but bear with me.
so needless to say i was keen to find alternatives to icing. my first attempt at an alternative was the brooklyn blackout cake (hummingbird bakery cake days). its a three layer chocolate sponge sandwiched and covered in chocolate custard and a coating of fine cake crumbs. now if you haven’t seen this cake it looks trully impressive. however as per normal i wasn’t happy with the recipe and had to go my own way. the chocolate sponge recipe i followed to the tee but i wasn’t happy about making a chocolate custard that was free from eggs and milk/cream. so i made my own custard. it didn’t thicken enough so i had to compromise and add some cornflour but i did so begrudgingly. the result was two layers of sponge ( i had yet to procure 20cm cake pans) sandwiched and topped with chocolate custard. it was delicious but didn’t look anything like a brooklyn blackout cake. it was devoured nonetheless.
this little experiment with custard though not wholly successful gave me new hope that an icing-sugar-free solution was out there.
then it happened.
i was paging through my pellaprat book as i am sometimes prone to do and i stumbled upon french buttercream. at first i was a bit confused because the recipe base was a creme anglaise. i always feel like such a ponce when i pronounce creme anglaise properly.
anyhooooo, the recipe basically says to make some custard, let it come to room temperature and then beat in some butter. surely not. surely it can’t be that simple.
i had to give it a go.
i made a batch of vanilla cupcakes and then got started on the custard. i don’t know about you but i like creamy custard…so i use cream…naturally.
i used 4 eggs yolks, half a cup of castor sugar and 500ml of cream. oh and vanilla seeds.
the trick is to to beat the eggs and sugar together until the mixture is very pale and fluffy. note that paleness is comparative to the yellowness of the yolks you use. so it must be paler than when you started.
i add the warmed cream to the egg mixture, beat to combine and then add it back to the rest of the cream and mix till thickened. at this point you need to bring the custard down to room temperature. the preferred way is to place the pot in some cold water and stir until cool. this ensures that the custard doesn’t split as it cools.
then you beat in some room temperature butter. now here’s where things go a bit south for me. i have done this a few times and everytime i make a plain butter cream i.e. vanilla my mixture splits. you can see from the images below that i do not get a nice smooth cream.
i found a julia child reference on the internet that said to keep adding butter if it splits and it should come together. from a taste point of view more butter starts to get pretty rich. though the images above show a split cream it is still light and very tasty. it may be the fact that i use cream to make the custard. maybe that’s just too much fat in the recipe and milk would be a better option. good thinking. i’ll look into that.
the way i did get the buttercream to work however was my favourite way…with chocolate. i melted about 100g of dark chocolate before beating it into the butter and then added the custard…et voila
this cream is sheer bliss. super creamy with a nice chocolate hit, actually not unlike the filling of the lindt lindor balls. it finishes beautifully on cakes.
i still have some work to do on the vanilla version of this cream but i will persevere. for now i’m happy to have discovered a solid alternative.
lessons learnt: sometimes too much fat can be bad…as incredible as that may seem. and hence…balance is key. financiers are a good way to get rid of spare egg whites (more on that to follow soon)
last note: hoping to get my kitchen legs back soon and write you guys some current events stories.