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May 6, 2005 04:37 PM

Fantastic Buttercream and filling report

  • k

I just finished making a cake. I've been in the mood to bake for a few days so I decided to go with that feeling after visiting Cafe Lalo last night in NYC and having a rather uninspired lemon (where?) coconut (dry) cake (dry and tasteless).

Now I have to make a confession: my grocery store has been carrying an organic boxed mix that I thought I'd try. Interestingly the box mix calls for milk, oil and eggs. I don't think I've ever seen a mix that calls for milk before. Because I like seriously dark chocolate I added about a tablespoon of cocoa powder. I haven't tasted the cake yet, but we'll see how it is. (I did decide, however, that this box mix was no easier than a lot of the recipes I use and I probably won't buy it again unless it's the best I've ever tasted.)

However! For the filling I decided on basically a chocolate pudding with semi-sweet chocolate melted in. Gives a nice consistency, thickens it up and makes it richer. Somewhere between a ganache and a mousse. I poked small holes (chopstick) all over the bottom layer to let some of it ooze into it.

I ALWAYS make chocolate cake with chocolate icing and I thought - ok, how about a nice vanilla buttercream?

Now, I grew up with butter, milk, confectioners sugar frosting and while I love the sound of the 'real' buttercream frosting I learned about on here, I don't have a candy thermometer. I also don't enjoy cooking 'precise' things as much as I do things I can play with. The search was on for a recipe.

Unfortunately I also discovered that I only had two and two thirds sticks of butter (not the four called for in most of the buttercream recipes I saw) and limited amounts of confectioners sugar if I ultimately wanted to fall back on my childhood recipe.

Then I found what was described as a "southern custard frosting" recipe with which I knew I could play. This is step for step my process (some changes made to original recipe because of limited ingredients in one or more categories):

4 Tbls of flour
1 1/2 cups of milk

Mix in just a tad of the milk to form a paste then slowly add in the rest of the milk and whisk constantly over medium heat until boiling and thick. Take off the heat and add in 3/4 cup of granulated sugar (1/4 at a time) until melted. Place in a shallow pan with ice water stirring occasionally to cool to room temp.

2 2/3 sticks of butter, softened (next time I'll try it with 3, I used unsalted)
3/4 cup confectioners sugar
1/4 teaspoon of salt
2 tsp.

With mixer on medium, whip butter a bit and then slowly add in sugar and salt until well combined. Next whip in the completely cooled custard mix until light and fluffy. Finally add 2 tsps of vanilla.

I was so happy with this I could spit. It is light and not too rich or sweet - just right for a rich chocolate cake with chocolatey filling. Also the perfect spreading consistency - very refined and smooth, like the stuff I get at an excellent bakery. It doesn't have any of the gritty feelings or oversweetness that even the best stuff I grew up with can have.

This makes a lot of frosting. You could easily half this recipe for a two layer cake if you were using something else for the middle layer(s). I like a lot of frosting so I used it all. It's light enough that I don't think it will overpower.

Now, I'll have to report back once we dig into the whole cake (lord knows I've eaten enough of the frosting now).

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  1. Hi Krissywats,

    What you've described was called, in my Northern Minnesota childhood, "Wedding Cake Icing". It's a great pudding-like homecooked frosting, and I must say it lends itself well to chocolate cakes. Glad you enjoyed it. I learned it from my mother, and only learned later on that this is an old-fashioned and very widespread homemade icing.

    I like it because it's generally not too sweet or too buttery, too things which are great in a "real" buttercream, but can make a cake sometimes, in my mind, too rich.

    Oh, and you don't need a candy thermometer to make "real" buttercream anymore. Run, don't walk, to go get Ruth Levy Berenbaum's "The Cake Bible". Her NeoClassic Buttercream requires no temperature taking and yields truly FANTASTIC results.

    6 Replies
    1. re: Mrs. Smith

      I was just discussing with a Chowhoundress that she should get the Cake Bible - but I guess I should too. OK OK, i'll do it!!

      1. re: krissywats

        And until you do, this is the world's simplest real buttercream, and the standard at every bakery I ever worked at:

        Swiss buttercream
        4 egg whites
        1 cup sugar
        3.5 sticks butter, room temp

        Put whites and sugar in a bowl over simmering water. Whisk until sugar is dissolved and mixture is warm to the touch. Remove from heat. Whip until cool. Add butter piece by piece. Whip like heck.

        That's it. No need for a thermometer. Really, you can't screw it up - at a bakery that used to make this in huge batches, we would just throw everything together in the big old Hobart, light a few Sterno under the bowl and let 'er rip.

        Also, if you find real buttercream too buttery, I think the classical version of what you made is a German buttercream, which is simply a standard pastry cream blended with a standard buttercream. Surprisingly perhaps, these two recipes, which are each quite rich on their own, somehow seem lighter blended together. This is usually used for filling, not finishing. You might try it sometime; you could like it. (Both buttercream and German buttercream freeze well.)

        1. re: curiousbaker

          Thank you so much for this (8 years later!). I was in a bind, didn't know what frosting to make and the guests were coming in a couple of hours. This was super easy and delicious. I would next time make sure the butter is a little softer than room temp (at least my room) so that it blends in more easily. "Whip like heck" is a good policy, too.

          It went on the cake (the yellow cake from Cook's Illustrated) easily and beautifully, and my baby's 1st birthday cake was a hit.

          1. re: rekha6

            Butter blends easier if you beat it first, then add it to make the buttercream.

        2. re: krissywats

          Hey Krissywats a HUGE THANK YOU for the frosting post. I made my standard chocolate cake (from Epicurious) only needing 2 cupcakes (special dessert for special friend!) and made the rest into the cake. Not wanting to make an expensive ganache I decided to make your frosting and unfortunately it is too thin for me to spread just yet (my fault, I'm impatient) but keep sticking my finger in the 'fridge while it cools...yum, I know my chowpups will dive on this cake once it's complete!!!!

          1. re: 4chowpups

            I'm so glad!! I'm such a freakin' people pleaser, you've no idea how happy crap like this makes me...

      2. Hey Krissywats,
        Thanks for the recipe, I've been ISO a great frosting that is EASY and this sounds just right!! Let us know how the cake was. I'd like to try a similar idea with white cake and custard filling...I'm missing the coconut custard cakes from my hometown and here where I live they don't make them!!

        2 Replies
        1. re: 4chowpups

          Hum, the frosting you describe sounds like a variation that was in use certainly before the Depression, as an economical, not too sweet frosting. I KNOW I have a couple of recipes somewhere in my cookbooks, and I'll look for them. 4chowpups, it's a pity that Greg Case just closed his bakery on Medford St. in Somerville: he made a wonderful white coconut cake with passionfruit curd! If you have a craving (and because with 4 pups you're guaranteed busier than me) write me, and I could try to come up with something for you! In the middle of the month I make desserts for Community Cooks in Somervile, and what's one more?

          1. re: pastrytroll

            Thanks a bunch Pastry Roll. I also found a Brazilian restaurant in Peabody that makes what sounds like a similar cake. It looked fabulous in the case.

        2. As I suspected the filling and the frosting were superb - the cake was a great flavor but a bit dry - might this be because I added a Tablespoon of cocoa without adding more liquid? I was also a very bad girl and didn't use simple syrup on my layers - this would have helped.

          I'm also curious if anyone knows how to take the custard frosting recipe I have in the original post and make it chocolate? Cocoa powder during the flour/milk phase? Bittersweet or unsweetened melted chocolate added at some point (my fear there being that it would make it more runny)? Any thoughts?

          3 Replies
          1. re: krissywats

            I've done a French buttercream, which is pastry cream and butter, and have just added chocolate ganache at about a 12:1 ratio.

            As for the cake, cocoa does suck the moisture out of things. But you shouldn't ever need simple syrup on a cake unless it's a sponge or genoise.

            1. re: meta

              Just realized I should mention that if adding ganache, it shouldn't be warm or cold and stiff. Cool and pour in.

              1. re: meta

                It's true that only a genoise/sponge needs a simple syrup, but almost any cake can be improved by it. I use syrup on pretty much every cake I make. But I agree absolutely that the addition of a single tablespoon of cocoa shouldn't make a cake so dry that it requires syrup to taste good.