My Filipino side of the family is huge. My dad has 10 siblings, and they all have children. So, growing up, it felt like every other weekend was spent celebrating someone’s birthday, graduation or some occasion.
And we all know what celebrations call for: cake! While our family is chock full of chefs, there was only one baker among them: my cousin Katrina.
She was our designated cake maker, and her signature confection was chocolate cake paired with the most decadent mocha buttercream frosting that our family could not get enough of – ever.
By the time it came to blowing out candles and cutting the cake, it was strewn with finger swipes from everyone sneaking a taste.
Her frosting was luxuriously silky, rich and not overly sweet. After she left Alaska, I eventually took over the baking reins and absolutely had to have her buttercream recipe.
Stemming from a baking cookbook titled “The Cake Bible,” Katrina said it was the classic buttercream recipe by Rose Levy Beranbaum, an American baker and author of the book.
There are many types of buttercreams. American buttercream, which combines butter and powdered sugar, is the easiest to make. It’s commonly used on store-bought cakes and is very sweet.
Swiss and Italian buttercreams are meringue-based using egg whites, sugar and butter to create light and creamy frosting.
French buttercream, the recipe I’m sharing, uses egg yolks, a sugar syrup and butter. The egg yolks add a rich, custard-like flavor and a gorgeous kiss of yellow color. It’s mildly sweet and ultra-smooth, piping sharp and beautifully, and it takes to flavorings well.
While the process is quite simple, I recommend using a stand mixer, and a candy thermometer is a must. Starting in a stand mixer, 6 egg yolks are beaten until thick and pale.
Meanwhile, a mixture of sugar and water is heated to 238 degrees on a candy thermometer. With your stand mixer on low, the sugar syrup is then slowly streamed into the yolks and mixed until cooled.
You have to be very cautious with the sugar syrup, as it’s super-hot and can burn you. Once the mixture is cool, butter is added by the tablespoon, followed by the vanilla extract, or other flavorings, and a pinch of salt.
It’s then ready to be slathered on a cake and piped into swirls on cupcakes or as a filling for macarons and cookies. With food coloring drops or gel, the buttercream can easily be colored to match any party theme and colors.
Different extracts, fruit purées, liquors, nut butters, spices, cocoa powder or melted chocolate can be added in to taste.
And for Katrina’s delicious mocha version, dissolve about 2-3 teaspoons (or more, to taste) of espresso powder with a few drops of hot water to make a thick paste, and incorporate it into the frosting.
This batch of buttercream is enough to fill and frost an 8-inch cake or frost 24 cupcakes. It can also be frozen for as long as 3 months. Just thaw overnight in the fridge and whip before using to get it back to its creamy consistency.
I keep my frosted goodies refrigerated and let them come to room temperature for serving. And since buttercream is primarily butter, it doesn’t take to heat well. So, avoid having it in direct sunlight, as it will soften and melt.
French Buttercream Frosting
6 egg yolks, room temperature
1 cup sugar
½ cup water
1 pound (4 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract, or other flavoring of your choice, to taste
Pinch of salt
Add the egg yolks into the bowl of a stand mixer. With paddle attachment, beat on high speed until pale and thick.
Meanwhile, combine the sugar and water into a saucepan and place on a stove over medium high. Clip a candy thermometer to the side of the pan. When the syrup reaches 238 degrees, remove from the heat and take out the thermometer.
With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the syrup to the yolks in a thin stream, pouring down the side of the bowl to avoid splattering the syrup with the paddle. Be careful, as the hot syrup can burn you.
After all the syrup is incorporated, beat on medium until the bowl feels cool to the touch and the yolk mixture has cooled to room temperature, about 15-20 minutes.
Add the butter one tablespoon at a time, mixing well between each addition. Add the vanilla (or other flavoring) and the pinch of salt; beat until the butter is fully incorporated and the buttercream is smooth.
The mixture will become thin and may look curdled at first but will thicken and become smooth as it beats.
Use the buttercream immediately or refrigerate it in an airtight container or for as long as 2 weeks or freeze for up to 2 months. To use refrigerated or frozen buttercream, bring it to room temperature, then beat until smooth.
Audrey Alfaro can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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