Italian Meringue vs French Buttercream

I have been longing to make a proper layer cake for months now, but I do not have the necessary equipment (cake stand, turn table, offset spatula, regular spatula, serrated knife, cake pan, e), time, or occasion to justify spending hours on a cake… But I did it anyways!! My saving grace, my holy grail, my kween was a round cookie cutter, which saved me from needing a cake pan, serrated knife, or occasion (since mini cakes seemed justifiable to make on a whim?). A quick trip to get an offset spatula, an inverted plate turned turntable, and a cutting board turned cake stand later, I was ready to go.

I initially intended to post only pictures of my finished cakes, since I am not familiar enough with cake making to come up with my own recipes, but since I ended up with two small cakes, I thought I would take the opportunity to compare two lesser-known buttercreams for the flog. The cake world has so much more to offer than the traditional American buttercream, so if you’re interested in exploring the international world of frosting, see my full-fledged rant below. If not, scroll through for some food pics.

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Most people know and love the American buttercream, a classic combination of butter and powdered sugar. This buttercream is a home cooking staple mainly because of it’s simplicity; whip softened butter and powdered sugar together until you like the taste, adding some heavy cream to achieve the desired consistency. However, I find that this method produces a butter cream that is WAY TO SWEET to frost an entire cake with, and although the consistency is ideal for filling macarons and frosting the occasional cupcake, I try to avoid it because it makes everything one-dimensionally sweet.

Enter the Swiss, Italian, and French buttercreams. These three buttercreams involve whipping either egg yolks or whites with granulated sugar, and beating in softened butter. The eggs not only cut the sweetness of the butter cream, but also make the final product more airy and spreadable. Here is more than you will ever need to know about each countries’ buttercream:

Swiss Meringue Buttercream (not used in these cakes):
This buttercream is made by whipping softened butter into a Swiss meringue. Instead of beating granulated sugar into frothy egg whites like a traditional meringue, the egg whites and granulated sugar are heated over a ban marie(double boiler) until the sugar is completely dissolved. The warm egg white mixture is then whipped to stiff peaks and the butter added when the meringue is at room temp. This is the most food safe method of preparing your frosting since heating the egg whites effectively pasteurizes them. Check out this recipe, which lists ingredients in both grams and standard measurements.

Italian Meringue Buttercream:
This method will produce a buttercream remarkably similar to the Swiss Meringue, but does not fully pasteurize the egg whites. However, I prefer it because I am comfortable with Italian Meringues (I also use the Italian method for my macarons). Instead of heating both the egg whites and sugar, the sugar is heated to 240F separately, and the hot sugar syrup is  then streamed into the egg whites while whipping. This sounds daunting, but if you invest $10-15 on a candy thermometer, it yields a glossy and fool proof meringue. I used Yolanda Gampp’s Italian Meringue Buttercream recipe. It worked beautifully, but quick side note: the meringue and butter will curdle at first. Do not add in more butter or stop whisking, eventually it will come together again! I made the mistake of thinking my buttercream needed to chill instead of whisking beyond the curdling stage, and ended up ruining the butter cream.. four times!! Persistence is key.

French Buttercream
The French buttercream is essentially the Italian buttercream but instead of using egg whites you use egg yolks. It yields a velvety, naturally yellow frosting that is less sweet than the classic buttercream and richer than its Italian counterpart. This method, however, does not pasteurize the egg yolks and while you can find pre-pasteurized egg whites on the market, I do not believe you can buy pasteurized yolks. Therefore I opted for the Swiss-French buttercream; the egg yolks are mixed with the sugar and heated over a double boiler before whipping. Softened butter is then incorporated into the cooked, frothy yolks.

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French Buttercream (left) vs Italian Meringue Buttercream (right)

note: no food coloring was used for the base of these two cakes. The French buttercream is really that yellow! I owe it to some good quality yolks and butter.

The French buttercream was much sturdier than the Italian simply because egg yolks hold less air than whites, which made for a more stable cake. I preferred the combination of the funfetti cake and Italian buttercream however, since the light frosting worked well with the light cake. I flavored the Italian buttercream with vanilla bean paste instead of vanilla extract, and it yielded the best frosting I have EVER TASTED. The egg whites are a blank canvas, and because of the fat in the butter, this frosting carries flavor incredibly well. With only 1/2 tsp of vanilla bean paste the entire batch of frosting tasted like vanilla ice cream. Due to the egg yolks, the French buttercream will always have a distinct, custard taste which would work well as a base for chocolate or coffee buttercream.

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SAM_2448.jpgSince I don’t have a turntable, I frosted these cakes on an inverted round plate. I held the plate at the edge of the countertop and spun it while frosting. My makeshift turntable combined with my inexperience frosting cakes lead to a rough finish. I actually really dug the imperfect frosting on the wooden cutting board… so lets just say I was aiming for a rustic vibe! I embellished the cake with some left over Italian buttercream that I died pink to indicate the strawberry layers, some left over sprinkles, and a tiny macaron. Side note on the tiny macaron: I did not make a tiny macaron for this tiny cake, that would be crazy. I was making a batch of macarons (see prev. post) simultaneously, and I often make mini macarons with the batter at the end of the piping bag as a treat for myself/to test the flavors. As I was about to eat this tiny macaron, I saw the pink and white cake, had a brain blast, and put it on the cake instead. I still can’t get over how cute it looks.. I want to only make mini macarons from now on!! Macarons for dolls! Macarons for babies!

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A complete list of recipes used:
Funfetti Cake
Italian Meringue Buttercream
French Buttercream

 

 

 

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2 Comments

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  1. orrr we can bake over the summer bc i have all that equipment hehe :3

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