Thursday, 4 April 2013

Buttercream Icing: the King of all Icings

Buttercream icing is possibly one of the most versatile kinds of icing there is. Either spread haphazardly or
piped artistically onto a cake, it still looks and tastes great, and is very quick and easy to prepare. In fact, the only thing simpler than it is good old whipped cream, which doesn't have the same keeping power as buttercream. It's just butter, icing sugar, milk and flavouring

Due to its simplicity, buttercream icing is easily flavoured, easily used, and easily stored. If you've made too much, you can keep it in the fridge in a air-tight box and it'll keep for up to a fortnight (in my experience). However when storing exercise caution: it must be kept airtight, because it's high butter content (and thus high fat content, sorry to disappoint) makes it a magnet for unwanted tastes and odours.

But Anna - I imagine hearing you say - I'm lactose intolerant? Do I have to give up buttercream forevar? Fear not! I have a friend who is lactose intolerant, and as such making cakes for him was a worry when it came to buttercream. I discovered, however, that it works just as well with margarine instead of butter, and water instead of milk; just make sure it's the soft kind, not the block kind. Then, even as a non-dairy eater, you can enjoy the silky creaminess of buttercream icing.

Here is how to make the baker's wonder material.

This will easily ice 12 fairy cakes, or ice the top and fill an 8 inch (20 centimeter) cake.
  • 6 ounces (170 grammes) butter, softened to room temperature
  • 12 ounces (340 grammes) icing sugar, sieved
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons (30 to 45 millilitres) milk, or more if needed
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla essence, or essence of your choice: such as peppermint or almond.
It is absolutely imperative that all the ingredients -- including the milk -- are at room temperature, otherwise the buttercream and curdle.

  • Beat the butter, vanilla essence and the first tablespoon of milk with about a third of the sugar to start with, using a wooden spoon or electric hand mixer, until fully blended.
  • Beat in another third of the sugar until fully blended with the second tablespoon of milk, then add the final third of sugar and beat continuously for about 3 or 4 minutes until light, fluffy and pale.
  • If the mixture is too stiff to use properly, add milk a teaspoon at a time until it's just right. It should be soft, but still hold stiff peaks when the beater/wooden  spoon is pulled out of the icing.

And that, truly, is it. The awesome versatility in application and flavouring has been hailed and capitalised upon by bakers for a very long count of years. If you want to make buttercream that isn't just plain old vanilla (which, don't get me wrong, has its time and place), then here are some simple tips, taking the measurements of the above recipe in mind.

If you want an orange, lemon or other citrus icing, take 1 whole citrus and grate off its zest (you want only the orange or yellow outer layer of skin, not any of the white bit underneath – known as pith – because it’s very bitter) and add this with the first addition of icing sugar before beating. Instead of the milk, add the same amount of the citrus juice. You can keep the vanilla essence in for extra sweetness, or replace it with citrus essence for extra zing.

If you would like a chocolate icing, replac½ ounce of the icing sugar with ½ ounce of cocoa powder. This makes a very rich, dark chocolate icing, so if you don’t like it as dark you can reduce the substitution, or use hot drinking chocolate power, which is sweeter.

If you would like a coffee icing, replace the milk with the same amount of very strong black coffee, either made with instant espresso powder or from a filter. If you're extra coffee mad, you can replace the vanilla essence with coffee essence.

For toffee or caramel icing, simply add a tablespoon of golden syrup or toffee-flavoured ice-cream sauce, which you can get from any supermarket. If you can get it, you can use butter-vanilla flavouring instead of the vanilla essence; I managed to get a few vials of such flavouring from Lidl.

For any kind of berry or soft fruit icing, such as strawberry, banana or raspberry, replace the milk with the same quantity of fruit purée (you can make this by squidging fresh or defrosted frozen fruit through a sieve) or add about an ounce of strained jam. Also, you could add some fruit flavoured ice-cream sauce, or milk-shake powder.

For coconut icing, replace the milk with the same quantity of coconut milk or juice. If you can get your hands on solid coconut milk, you can replace an ounce of the butter with the coconut milk.

For peanut flavoured icing, replace half of the butter with smooth peanut butter. If you can get your hands on any other kind of nut butter, you could use those too, such as almond, hazelnut or cashew nut. Similarly, you could substitute half the butter for any other kind of thick, sweet sandwich spread; like Nutella.

The options don't stop there! A while back I made Coca Cola flavoured buttercream on vanilla cakes, which was inspired by a recipe I read online for Coca Cola cupcakes. I tried the original recipe and it was a disaster, but I took inspiration from it to make another cake (at the time I was allergic to chocolate, so this recipe for moist chocolate cakes wouldn't have been for my consumption anyway). The Coca Cola flavoured icing was nice, but in future I think I'll reduce the cola over heat to make it thicker and more concentrated before adding it to the icing.

I hope this recipe serves you well!

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