Baking Basics: Swiss Meringue Buttercream

Although store bought icing can sometimes do the trick, when I spend the time to bake a homemade cake, I want to ice it with something special as well. I find traditional American icing, sometimes known as Confectioners Frosting or Vanilla Frosting, too sweet, essentially being just a combination of butter and confectioners sugar. So, for me, the perfect type of icing to use is Swiss Meringue Buttercream. This is the type of icing that wedding cake designers typically use on their thousand dollar cakes and once you get the hang of it, you’ll never go back. Swiss Meringue Buttercream has a fluffy, satiny texture and isn’t as sweet as American icing due to the addition of egg whites. It can seem intimidating the first time around, but do not fear, once you’ve done it once or twice you’ll be a pro.

Swiss Meringue Buttercream has three required ingredients: egg whites, sugar, and butter. This will make a buttery base to which you can add additional ingredients to get your desired flavor. You can add chocolate, extract, or any flavor puree to do this.

The ratio for Swiss meringue buttercream is easy to remember. It is 1 part egg whites: 2 parts sugar: 3 parts butter.

A basic recipe for Swiss Meringue Buttercream:
4 oz egg whites
8 oz sugar
12 oz room temperature butter

The steps to making Swiss Meringue Buttercream are quite simple:

1. Cut up the butter into tbsp sized pieces. Set aside.

2. Combine the egg whites and sugar in a bowl and place over simmering water. Whisk the two together gently, but consistently, until the temperature on a candy thermometer reaches 160 degrees. If you do not have a thermometer, test the mixture by using the finger test. Dip your index finger in the mixture and rub between your thumb and index finger. The mixture is ready when it no longer feels grainy.

3. Once the mixture has reached the right temperature, remove the bowl from the water and begin to whisk with an electric mixer. Start off slow and as the mixture gains some volume increase to high speed.

4. When the mixture has reached firm peaks and the outside of the bowl feels cool to the touch, reduce the speed of the mixer to low and add in all of your butter at once. Continue to beat until light and fluffy.

5. If adding in any additional flavoring, extract, or puree, this is the time to do so.

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Kitchen Essentials: Zester/Grater

Walking into a store like Williams-Sonoma or Sur La Table can be an overwhelming experience. How do you know which tools you need to have in your kitchen and which are unnecessary and will forever be gathering dust? To help answer some of these questions, I’m starting this Kitchen Essentials column.

Ever wonder how restaurants get that fine dusting of chocolate onto the top of your dessert? How about how to get that fine lemon zest a recipe calls for?

Enter the zester! Developed initially by the company Microplane, as a new type of woodworking tool these hand graters can now be found manufactured by many different brands and are a real lifesaver in the kitchen.

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Valentine’s Day Olive Oil Cake with Tangerine Marmalade and a Giveaway (now closed)!

Photo by Sara Remington


Each year around this time, my hubby and I try to come up with a plan for Valentine’s Day and usually it winds up being an overpriced meal out because we’re both too tired to cook. But this year, we are staying in and I am honored to have been asked to be a part of a Virtual Valentine’s Party to celebrate the release of Sarah Copeland’s new cookbook, The Newlywed Cookbook: Fresh Ideas and Modern Recipes for Cooking With and For Each Other.  We won’t be able to be together on the actual day, so we decided to celebrate a week early with a delicious meal and finished it off in the best way we can, with cake.

There were all the obvious finishes to the meal which pretty much all revolved around chocolate, chocolate cake, chocolate soufflé, chocolate dipped strawberries, but I decided instead to take it in a whole different direction and baked Sarah’s Olive Oil Cake with Tangerine Marmalade. It was so simple to make and tasted just divine.

The marmalade was just tangerines and sugar, which boiled on the stove until the rinds were soft and the juice syrupy. The most difficult part was probably dealing with the millions of seeds that tangerine’s have. The olive oil cake was a cinch to make and could easily be prepared in under 20 minutes.

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Baking Basics: Ganache

I find that many people are intimidated by baking because they’ve always been told that they need to be very careful to measure everything exactly or their cake, pastry, icing, etc will not turn out correctly. While this is true, there is no need to be intimidated. Baking is all science and math, and like math, it is essentially a serious of formulas. Once you get the formulas down, you can create anything your heart desires quite easily. I am starting this Baking Basics column to help show you some of these formulas and basic recipes that once mastered will open up a world of possibilities for you.

Ganache, a silky combination of cream and chocolate, is one of the easiest recipes up a pastry chef’s sleeve and can be used in a multitude of ways. Ganache can be used as frosting in a cake, as the filling to truffles, or poured over a cake to form a glossy chocolate finish. It can be made with any kind of chocolate, though semi-sweet is customary.

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Decorated Gingerbread Houses!

As the weather here in NY starts to cool down, I’ve got one thing on my mind and that’s Gingerbread Houses! Luckily for me, so did City Harvest who teamed up with pastry chefs around the city to set up Gingerbread Houses in the lobby of Le Parker Meridien on 56th street in Manhattan. There are 7 houses on display there. Here are some pics of my favorite 3.

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Best Thanksgiving Decorated Cookies from Flickr

Originally posted on Flickr by thebearfootbaker.

Cutting out cookies in various shapes and decorating them with royal icing for to give them a festive Thanksgiving feel is such a fun idea for desserts this year. We have been scouring Flickr to find you the best looking Thanksgiving cookies and will be posting them here to give you some great ideas!

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Rethinking Thanksgiving Desserts

Cooking a Thanksgiving meal is always a stressful undertaking, but don’t flake out when it comes to dessert! Of course, you can always choose to just go ahead and buy that Trader Joe’s pie again this year, but why not try your hand at baking something to finish off the meal? With so many great options for both the novice and experienced baker out there, have fun with it and go a little crazy! Feel free to think a little out of the box with your desserts, or you can go traditional, but with you baking it, your guests will be sure to be pleased no matter which way you go.

You can always make a traditional pie. There’s a reason why apple and pumpkin pies remain such Thanksgiving staples, they’re easy to make and sure to please. And lets be honest for a moment, they’re such institutions that guests practically expect to be getting a slice at the end of the meal. Just be sure that if you’re going to make a pie, please make the crust yourself. The pie will be so much better off for it and your guests will definitely thank you. Maybe try mixing it up a bit by adding some cranberry into your traditional recipe and making a cranberry-apple pie.

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That’s all folks! Pastry School is Done!

Well, now that all 400 hours of classroom instruction were over, all that was left to do was graduate and head off to our internships.

  The room was all set with our cakes, portfolios and treats we had made specially for graduation. We all waited anxiously to welcome our friends and families into our ceremony. The ceremony was short and sweet, with each of us receiving a book and a toque blanche, or white hat and then spending time looking at each other’s cakes and saying our goodbyes.







Check out all of the cakes from our graduating class!

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