I know you’ve heard it before, mainly because i’ve said it several times myself here, Cooking is Art, but Baking is Science. And i got a doozy of a science lesson this weekend…
You know how much i hate cupcakes, right? I spelled it out in my now infamous post Can I be Frank? here in Of Whiskey and Wine. I really can’t stand those suckers. And i touched on a topic in a little piece called Nope, Too Much, but let’s make it official. Say hello to my nemesis buttercream.
It was my intention to have one of those amazingly annoying, but profit heavy $1 Cupcake Sales this past week. Suffice it to say, that fell dead on its head. But in the wake of it, i had a chef order dessert for a dinner party. No problem! She wanted strawberry minis with buttercream. You got it! I’ve made BC before and it’s always great! Easy Peasy! Deliver at noon Saturday. Plenty of time!
Batch #1 – Friday Afternoon & Evening
No, it shouldn’t take that long, but let’s just say it started off wrong. I mixed up the prep for whipped cream and BC by chilling my bowl and beaters. Do not ask me why i thought “chilled tools” and “room temp butter” were going to work out, cuz Science… Imagine my shock and awe when my butter froze to the bowl and wouldn’t move! I had to scrape it out of the bowl with – appropriately – a butter knife, put hot towels around the new bowl and heat my beaters. After a few minutes of corporal punishment, it found its get-right and whipped up nicely with the powdered sugar. I then added ground strawberry and blended. It came out lumpy, but it tasted great! I then attempted to pipe it into/onto the minis (I’m not even going to get into the story about the goose chase to find my piping tips…), only to be met with complete disappointment that i refuse to call failure. Buttercream 1 – Me 0.
Saturday 7a – Grand rising, Mrs. McGrumpy! No Saturday morning sunshine and rainbows in this court. Both sides were the wrong side of the bed. My night was spent devising more than sleeping. My recovery plan was to make more whipped cream, re-whip the BC and blend them so it would be smooth and fluffy. I would have to guess the little brats in the kitchen weren’t listening to my ingenious idea, as the chilly overnight indoor temperature made those minions harden to cement. It was pretty cool to see them come completely off of the minis looking like custom made mushrooms, but they were not keen on playing nice at all. Honestly, a mushroom would have been more cooperative.
“Let’s put a little cream in it to smooth it out,” said some evil little voice in my head. That was a great big No. The texture went south immediately. Grasping at straws, i tried to salvage it by blending in the freshly peaked, amenable whipped cream. You know how when two people get together they start picking up each others traits? Usually towards the good? Yeah, super negatory. The amalgamation that came from this ill-fated union was delicious, but far from a pipeable topping. It was more of a thin pudding consistency and somewhat lumpy. So being the “waste nothing” baker that i am, i filled the middles of the minis with the strawberry cream, banking on the extra moisture absorbing into the cake, leaving a creamy filling. Genius! But now i had no buttercream for the tops. Buttercream 2 – Me 1
Batch #2 – Saturday 8a
I should have quit while i was ahead. Not sure when that was, but that’s when i should have pulled the plug. This foray went so far south it was antarctic. Let me preface this chapter by reminding you creatives to never create when you’re in a bad mood! Oh my living God!
It began by running to the store to get more butter, more sugar and more whipping cream, plus fresh strawberries. I also picked up a couple other items on my way to the conveyor belt, but don’t we all? I go to check out and beep! Card declined. I tried it again. Still no. Then i remember that the money is on my other card, which was securely in my son’s pocket (another story i’m not getting into) at home as he slept peacefully, unlike his mother. So i transferred money from one account to the other so i could get the heck out of the store and get these minis topped. Beep! Declined again! Apparently, electronic banking doesn’t understand the urgency and humiliation of standing at a register trying to buy groceries! So i just get the butter and strawberries and head to my car. Before i could get the seatbelt on properly, my phone dings to let me know i had a deposit. Really? Couldn’t have done that 2 minutes earlier!? So i ran back inside, gathered my abandoned items and checked out. Did i mention i woke up in a funky mood so this wasn’t helping? Notwithstanding…
So I jump in with both feet making this new batch of BC. Yeah, that was not happening. Impatience didn’t allow me to whip the butter long enough before adding the sugar. It also convinced me to add the cream and vanilla too soon. I was too busy watching the clock and not focusing on the science project’s protocols. I ended up with a yummy bowl of buttery, cold mashed potatoes. Well, it tasted like frosting and it even spread like frosting, but it was certainly not a fluffy buttercream. For the life of me, i couldn’t figure out what i did wrong, but i didn’t have time to ruminate on it. I piped, sprinkled, photographed then ran off to deliver. They looked awesome and tasted great. That’s all i needed. For the moment… Buttercream 2 – Me 2
Batches 2.5 and 3 – Sunday 8a
I had an order of a dozen minis to deliver at 130p. Because my brain was so stuck on this BC mess, i jumped into that as soon as i woke up. Instead of plunging into the deep end this time, i decided to wade in by asking Google why i had a bowl of mashed potatoes on my counter (like literally, my husband suggested getting chicken to go with them because he didn’t know). Then came SCIENCE! My butter was too cold. Seriously. That was the whole mystery solved! It was too cold in my house for the fat molecules to expand, thus aerate. And adding cold cream was compounding my doom. No matter how long you try to force air into it, it’s not going to happen if you don’t separate the molecules. Freakin’ science.
So I scooped a small portion out, nuked it till it melted and poured it back into the bowl. I set aside another portion and added cocoa to melinate it. After warming my beaters and a couple of minutes of high powered whipping, Voila! i had buttercream again! Like a real bowl of vanilla creamy, fluffy, pipeable buttercream! And then i whipped up the chocolate bowl and it was just as awesome! I paired them into a piping bag and set them aside. Since i was finally smiling again, my batters came out perfectly with no measuring, and my minis baked up beautifully! Lesson learned: Attitude is Everything! I even went the extra mile and mixed the last of my whipped cream with more cocoa and piped that into the middle of the minis. I was feeling it!
And then i tried to pipe on the BC. At some point, you think i’d pay attention to temperature… It was thick as mud and had no intention of coming through that hole. FFS!!!!! I was soooo close to being finished! I just wanted to be out of this sugar marathon, but i was stuck with a constipated bag of sweet goop! i tried massaging it, giving it a bunch of warm hugs to coax it into submission. I was somewhat successful, but had to get the hardened gunk out of the piping tip to let the soft stuff out. (You know, the more i write this, the less appealing BC sounds…) Without going into details that only a mother would understand, i finally got it all loose. The angels sang chorus as i piled chocolate vanilla swirl buttercream on the last mini! I was finally done. Done i say! With an hour to spare no less!
Then the sugar wall hit. If you have ever been inundated with refined sugar for an extended period of time, you know what the sugar wall is. Your body finally crashes from the unintended (or maybe partially intended) sugar ingestion. SCIENCE! My eyes closed as soon as i hit the couch and i was down for the count. Really i was only out for about 20 minutes, but it was like heaven! Delivery went perfectly and i waited patiently for reviews from my clients. Both were over the moon with their orders! And it’s Me for the win!
So boys and girls, what have we learned today? Every part of a baking recipe has a very important purpose. Levening agents, fat content, liquid volume and gluten activation all have specific and necessary ingredients. Then there’s temperature. The all powerful, invisible agent of creation and destruction. Make sure you’re paying attention to the instructions; room temperature, chilled, melted or heated, every degree makes a difference. Remember that, ok? oh, and Bill Nye and Neil deGrasse Tyson rock!