From the time I tasted my first French pastry (not yet in France, sadly, but at Notte's Bon Ton Pastry shop in Vancouver), I have been a buttercream snob. All those cupcake shops that claim to have buttercream icing, and then pile on that pancreatic crisis of icing sugar and shortening, drive me crazy.
So when I make cupcakes, I make REAL buttercream. But I sometimes only make cupcakes once a year, at my kids' birthday party, so in between I forget some of the finer points.
While I was grateful to Martha Stewart for her cupcake ideas, and for the Swiss Meringue Buttercream recipe that I use most often, after successive years of absolute panic while making this buttercream, I take issue with her recipe instructions.
I have friends who fear buttercream, because it seems hard. With the right equipment, namely a stand mixer with a lot of horsepower, it is practically fool-proof. But I manage to forget that from year to year.
On my first foray into Swiss Meringue Buttercream, I was nine months pregnant, it was D's second birthday, and I was determined to make these cute little lion cupcakes from Martha Stewart's Cupcakes. He's a Leo, you see. My sister was helping me prepare the cupcakes, and her job was to cut mini-marshmallows in half with scissors, to make the lions' muzzles. Absurdly, she had so much fun with it, she constantly asks if I want her to cut up marshmallows whenever she visits.
I had made the buttercream a couple of days earlier, so decided to freeze it, which Martha Stewart says is just fine. You just 'bring to room temperature and beat with paddle attachment on low speed until smooth again, about 5 minutes.'
Here's the trick with Swiss Meringue Buttercream. It may take WAY longer than five minutes to become smooth again, and before it becomes smooth, it breaks down into a horrifically curdled mess, and if you don't remember the trick with Swiss Meringue Buttercream, you will become convinced that it is ruined and you have to start again.
I sent my sister to the store to buy another pound of butter, wondering how I would ever pull off making another batch of frosting AND decorating the cupcakes before guests arrived. As she left, she said, "Just leave it running and walk away. I'll get your butter, but it's going to be okay!" And you know what? It was. It just starts to magically come together and what used to look like watery cottage cheese now looks like beautiful, silky, perfect frosting. But that experience took a year or two off my life.
And guess what? It happened again this year. Except this time, it was the first round of mixing the frosting that took forever to come together. It looked remarkably like cottage cheese, and it mixed for at least 20 minutes without changing. I actually texted my sister, who lives 1800 km away: "Swiss meringue buttercream stresses me out every time. Can you run to Extra Foods and get me another pound of butter?" She replied, "Just keep mixing! It will be fine. BREATHE! ;)" And then a few minutes later, "Do you need me to cut marshmallows?"
I did walk away, and it did come together. But seriously, Martha. Five minutes? I think it's important to let anyone who is trying Swiss Meringue Buttercream for the first time know that it can take 10 times that. Don't give up. I have never had to throw away a batch. It has always turned out perfect. Eventually. Thanks again, sis!