After making a birch stump cake last month, I've been wanting to try more buttercream designs and practice the technique of chilling/smoothing swiss meringue buttercream. Luckily, we decided to throw my mom a belated birthday party which gave me the opportunity to whip up some cake and icing. Birthday parties = the perfect and most appropriate occasion to serve birthday cakes.
Normally when I make a cake, I plan out the design a few days before with little sketches and a colour scheme and get started on any details that need to be made in advance. But this time I was preoccupied with the main course which was going to be slow cooked brisket (learning to make ALL THE MEAT was a New Year's resolution of mine). I had finally tracked down a nice cut at a local butcher and the thing was as big as my front car seat. So all my party-food-planning was brisket based research to avoid messing it up.
When it came to the cake, I knew I was going to bake a couple of 6 inch vanilla layers, use a berry buttercream for the inside, and swiss meringue for the outside with a smoothed design. But beyond that hadn't really thought ahead to what the design would be. I figured I'd just wing it.. really living on the edge over here.
The cake was baked the night before and iced with the berry buttercream. I used my laid-back mish-mash method of making buttercream that I outline in this Eat North article. Basically, I just mix together Stirling unsalted butter, icing sugar, berry puree, and some whipping cream until it tastes good and spreads nicely.
The day of the party I made a batch of swiss merginue buttercream (SMB) using Stirling's Churn84 to make it extra rich and satiny. Unlike regular buttercream, I always follow the recipe for SMB to avoid a curdled bowl of sadness. Nothing puts a kink in your decorating plans like babying a batch of buttercream gone bad.
For the colour scheme, I rummaged through my gel food colouring and picked out some blues and greens and a buttercup yellow that went nicely together, then tinted the icing and packed it into desposible piping bags.
After the cake had chilled in the fridge enough to firm up the berry buttercream, I took a moment to note how horrible the berry pink looked with the blue/green/gold combo of swiss meringue. Noted it, but didn't sweat it because the pink was going to be covered up completely with the other colours.
(ok.. maybe a little fretted because obviously the progress photos would/do showcase the berry-pink with the other colours. But whatever.. we're living all care-free and design-less and a clashing colour isn't going to rain on our birthday cake parade.)
My mom loves bright and colourful things, so after rummaging through my cookie cutter collection I decided to make a colourful star-burst design. I used a star shaped cutter to make indentations in the chilled icing act as a guide for the piped icing..
The colours were alternated over and over until the stars were filled in, and white icing was piped to fill in the edges. It was fun and sort of relaxing.. like making an edible doodle. Once the entire top of the cake was covered, I placed it in the fridge to firm up completely before moving to the next step.
Once the icing was all chilled and firm, I used an icing spatula to scrape the top of the cake smooth. It's easy to do: just scrape with even pressure, wipe the spatula blade, then scrape a bit further until the entire top is smooth, even, and the design looks like it was magically painted onto the buttercream.
Then the sides of the cake were covered with white SMB with some smears of blue at the bottom to add to the sort of doodle-y painted effect that was happening at the top. Back into the fridge to chill..
There were gifts, sangria, a very successful brisket (thanks Smitten Kitchen!), and once nobody had room for another bite.. there was cake. And to my surprise, the pink layer inside the cake looked lovely in contrast to the coloured icing on the outside. It was a great party for a great mom, and winging the cake design worked out nicely. I mean, I don't think I'll make a habit of it but it's nice to know if I'm otherwise preoccupied with a piece of meat as big as my torso I can still throw something worthy of a birthday party together.
Swiss Meringue Buttercream
Courtesy of Sensational Buttercream Decorating: 50 Projects for Cakes, Mini-
Cakes & Cupcakes by Carey Madden, 2014 © www.robertrose.ca Reprinted with publisher permission.
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 Churn84
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
Full Disclosure: Stirling provided me with butter, but I bake with it because I genuinely enjoy the product and find the quality makes a difference. I did not receive payment for this post