I recently received Carey Madden's new book Sensational Buttercream Decorating which features tutorials for cake designs made only with buttercream icing: no gumpaste, no fondant, no sugar sheet. Just icing, icing, icing with lots of new and innovative techniques to achieve patterns, textures, and sculpted flowers.
The book itself wouldn't have caught my eye in a bookstore (to be honest, the cover is very average/basic) but I'm so glad I didn't pass it by. Inside, the cake tutorials are modern and beautiful and the information is thoughtful and well laid out. I haven't been this excited about a baking book in a long time, it's a keeper and I love that it's 100% buttercream. Not that I have anything against decorating with fondant (as long as it's marshmallow fondant) or gumpaste flowers, but this book offers options that I've never even considered.
Her cakes are all so pretty that I was having a hard time choosing which one to make first. My boyfriend suggested I try making the birch stump as a thank you gift for his coworker who had recently helped us cut down a tree in our yard. Taking down a whole tree is a lot of work (or so I hear.. someone managed to escape taking part in this particular task) so a cake was definitely in order
The book includes recipes for various cakes, but I turned to my trusty ultra-moist one bowl chocolate cake recipe. It's my no-brainer, no-fail, much requested, go-to recipe and I figured it would allow me to focus on the decorating aspect of the cake.
While the three 6 inch layers were cooling, I whipped up a batch of swiss meringue buttercream (SMB) using Carey's recipe and unsalted Stirling butter. If you've ever made SMB before you know it can turn against you in the form of stubborn, ugly curdles which sometimes refuse to be whipped into satiny peaks. This recipe worked perfectly though, 100% perfect.The SMB gods were kind to me and it came together all silky and smooth as soon as the butter was all added. No human sacrifice necessary.
Next, the cake and icing were layered and the outside of the cake was gived a quick crumb coat of icing before the whole thing was put in the fridge to firm up before decorating.
The first step in creating the birch log design is to pipe out the wooden rings on top. A portion of the SMB is tinted three different shades of brown then put into piping bags (ideally each bag would be fitted with a #8 tip, but I only had one tip so the other two bags were just snipped at the end)
The rings start as a circle piped at the center of the cake, then the different colours are alternated in rings over and over..
...until the entire top of the cake is covered right to the edge. Then the cake goes back into the fridge until the icing is firm. Once firm, it's time for the best step of all!
A flat edge, like an icing spatula is used to cut/scrape the rough parts of the icing off to reveal the smooth rings underneath! Because the icing is firm, it doesn't smoosh or smudge, it just cuts away to a flat ringed surface. So, so cool. I can't wait to try this technique with some of my own designs.
Next, the cake is iced on the sides with the un-tinted SMB and the icing is built up along the edges. I used an icing spatula to smooth the body of the cake, and then let it chill until the icing was firm. Next, I used a knife to cut the jagged top edges off then smoothed it level to the piped rings using the spatula.
Once the cake is all smooth edged and awesome, it's time to make the black birch markings on it. Carey's method is to pipe out thin lines of black SMB on one area of the cake at a time, then smudge them by holding the icing spatula vertical to the cake while turning the cake on a turntable.
The best part was that if I didn't like how they turned out, I could simply scrape them off and re-pipe the area. We were in a rush to get out the door, so I only spent a few minutes putting the stripes on (and that includes fixing a few I didn't like) and was really happy with the effect it made on the cake.
It was the perfect thank you gift, plus I think it would look adorable on a woodsy dessert table or at a BBQ.
If I were to make it again, I'd create more contrast between the ring colours (in real life you can see the three colours, but in the photos I find it hard to tell the difference between the lighter two) but otherwise I'd follow her tutorial again exactly the same.
The publisher was nice enough to give me permission to post Carey Madden's swiss meringue buttercream recipe. So go forth and may the SMB gods smile upon you and may a curdled batch never, ever cross your bowl. Amen.
Swiss Meringue Buttercream Icing
Courtesy of Sensational Buttercream Decorating: 50 Projects for Cakes, Mini-
Cakes & Cupcakes by Carey Madden, 2014 © www.robertrose.ca Reprinted with publisher permission.
Makes about 5 cups (1.25 L)
This meringue-based icing is sweet but not too sweet and light without being insubstantial, and it pairs well with just about any cake. The neutral vanilla flavor allows you to add flavorings as desired, to match (or contrast) the flavor of your icing to the flavor of your cake. This luscious confection is not only the icing on the cake but also the artist’s medium. Swiss meringue buttercream has a particular ability to stretch and bend, and a pliable firmness that allows for the creation of multidimensional decorations.
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
pinch of salt
1 cup large egg whites (about 7)
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups unsalted butter, softened (1 lb/ 454g) - I used Stirling's unsalted for this
1. In the top of a double boiler, over gently simmer water, whisk together sugar, salt, and egg whites. Heat, whisking constantly until sugar is dissolved and the mixture reaches 140F (60C) or is uncomfortably hot to the touch
2. Pour egg mixture into stand mixer bowl and beat on medium speed until soft peaks form and the mixture is cooled to room temperature. Beat in vanilla.
3. Meanwhile, cut the butter into small cubes, about 1/4 inch (5mm) in size.
4. Add butter cubes to the cooled egg mixtures, two or three at a time beating until all of the butter is incorporated and the icing is smooth and satiny.
5. Use immediately or cover with plastic wrap directly on the surface and store at a cool room temperature for up to 24 hours
Disclosure: The publisher provided me with a free review copy of this book, but I was under no obligation to provide a review of any kind. I often recieve review copies and only share the books that I truely enjoyed and thought that you would enjoy too. Stirling provided me with butter, but I did not recieve any payment for this post, I use their product because I enjoy it's quality.