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Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Buttercream, Meringue, Ganache! Oh my!

Frosting is to cake as cheese is to pizza. It's essential, and can really brighten up a plain Jane cake. Admittedly, a good cake doesn't need frosting, but it'd be very unusual to serve cake without some type of frosting or icing. There are so many different kinds of frostings and icings, and there are so many ways to utilize them.
Carved buttercream? Who woulda thunk?

American buttercream ruffles.
Most of us are used to grocery store frosting. While that's fine for most people, it's full of chemicals, and it doesn't even have any butter in it, so legally they can't call it "buttercream." The copy-cat recipes are usually modified American buttercream, which is simply butter or shortening or a combination or the two, powdered sugar, and flavor extract. These are useful when you need something quick and simple, and if you're not used to other buttercreams. The copy-cat recipes are preferable to grocery store frosting because of the taste and ingredients. Grocery store frosting uses preservatives and artificial butter flavoring.

Beautiful rough smoothing with Swiss meringue buttercream.
Then there's three sorts of meringue buttercreams: Swiss, Italian, and French. What are the differences? Swiss is made by combining egg whites and sugar and cooking until the sugar is dissolved. Then you whip it up and add butter and whip some more. Italian is similar, but instead of cooking the egg whites with the sugar, you cook the sugar with water to make a simple syrup, then add it to whipped egg whites with sugar. You beat both of these buttercreams like crazy until you get light, fluffy goodness. French is similar to the Italian process, except you use egg yolks. The egg yolks make the buttercream way creamier and much more buttery tasting, but because of its creamier texture, it's much more difficult to pipe. Any of these three buttercreams are the go-to frostings for many professional cake artists and pastry chefs, especially in Europe.

Australia is known for using chocolate ganache to cover their cakes, usually followed by fondant if they don't want a dark brown cake. Ganache is probably the most simple frosting out of all of them; it's chocolate (usually bittersweet or semi-sweet) and heavy cream. However, it is probably the toughest to use because you have to use it when it's just at the right consistency/temperature, and it sets rather fast. Though its difficulties, it can be smoothed so well that you'd swear it's fake. This makes for a rich, delicious, and sleek-looking cake.
A smooth ganache-covered cake. Tutorial via TLB
The "Madhatter" style cake by Planet Cake. They ganache their cakes first, then cover them in fondant. Look at those crisp edges and clean lines!
Now, most people who aren't decorators turn to canned frosting found in the baking aisle. That's really fine. Kudos to you for wanting to make a cake yourself.
Pretty if you made these for your daughter's
tea party. Sad if you're pretending to be a
Canned frosting tends to be gooey and has a shiny finish, so it's easier to just slap on and call it good. However, trying to sell those baked goods and make a business out of them is NOT okay. The frosting is not meant for piping, so it won't look good on cupcakes, and it definitely wasn't made to smooth out like buttercream or ganache, so you'll most likely get a lumpy mess. Personally, I have no idea what it'll do to fondant over a long period of time, but I'm sure that with it being so gooey it won't hold it's shape when covered. Either way, if it looks like it was piped with a ziptop bag, it's not suitable for any sort of "business." The only exception to the rule would be if you're baking for a fundraiser or something similar.

Buttercream frosting and ganache all have their advantages and disadvantages, and they all require patience and practice, which is why no one should ever jump into decorating head first. Take the time to try all the different varieties and see which one(s) works for you. From-scratch recipes always taste better, and you can assure your audience that what your whip up is not only fresh, but chemical free. After you've chosen the perfect frosting for you, your next step is learning how to use it effectively. Then you're on your way to making amazing cake!
Like these. I just love the style Yuma Couture Cakes brings to every single cake.
Ok, I'm done now.

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