May 19, 2008

Buttercream and a trip to California

This post was supposed to be about Buttercream. That's because:

1) I attended a wedding this weekend and the wedding cake looked beautiful but wasn't that good, mainly because I'm convinced they used some type of buttercream substitute.

2) because I am going to four weddings this summer and for one of them I am in charge of helping my friend find a good wedding cake maker in town and

3) because I just learned how to make Italian buttercream at work today!

But I don't have enough time to give you the book-length and well-researched version on the topic with I would love, love, love to give you. So, suffice it to say that buttercream is good. It is a necessary tool in the baker's repertoire. It is varied (there is French, Swiss, American and --the best of all--Italian buttercream). Colorings or flavorings are often added to it like vanilla, nuts, espresso and chocolate, and it is widely used in cake decorating because of its stable and easy-to-use consistency. It can be piped, reworked in any number of ways, softened for fondant, hardened for decorating, etc. etc.

The Italian buttercream we make at work for cakes (recipe and technique by Tom Huber) is made by whipping egg whites, heating sugar and water to 242 degrees and then adding the sugar liquid slowly and steadily to the egg whites and beating until it looks like perfect, shiny, just-fallen snow. Then you throw in chunks of softened butter, lots of it as you can imagine, and beat some more until it looks completely different but tastes divine and can be spread easily. If you need to chill it and use it later, simply soften it in a stainless steel mixing bowl and apply a blow torch to the bottom and sides of bowl. Or do whatever it is you do to soften stuff.

So, there you have it. I've never tried making buttercream at home, but will soon. There are lots of different recipes, like I learned today. But this one is pretty darn good. Try it the next time you have to make a wedding cake. (That was a joke).


I am about to leave town again --this time for Northern California. Yippee!! I am going to the wedding of a very good friend in Sonoma, then to Berkeley and other Bay area towns to visit friends and family.

I am really excited to spend some time in the food and wine country. To that end, I am planning to eat in a few exciting places during this trip (surprising, huh?)

So, for now I have reservations at Ad Hoc in Yountville, the Thomas Keller casual offspring of The French Laundry, where every night is a four-course family style set menu, all the chef's choice. I love the idea of not having to go through the agony of decisions and anxiety that is produced when making choices like what to order in a place like that! Whew. Thomas and his staff will have it covered and I am sure it will be incredible.

Then I will visit friends in Berkeley where I and one of my Italian friends from grad school have reservations at Alice Waters' Chez Panisse. I've never eaten there and Alice is one of my idols so I'm really looking forward to this. We may also visit her Edible Schoolyard project which would make the trip educational as well as super fun.

So, needless to say I will be blogging about all of this but it may be a few days before I can get to the computer. I trust you'll all still be there when I return. California here I come!


  1. hey, you're looking good...

    buttercream. wow. i live for the stuff. but tomorrow i am vegan/raw. 2 weeks. (went to city house tonight....)

  2. ummm... seriously, i do have to make a wedding cake in a few months. for a friend. as a present. and the buttercream is the part that has me scared shitless. so if you ever feel up to doing a full tutorial, i'm all ears!